Student Research Projects

Women’s and Children’s Education During the French Revolution

Student Julie Spivey, ‘14
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department History
Course HIST 353: History of Women in Europe since 1700


This research examines why women fought to obtain an education during the French Revolution (1789-1794). Revolutionary women sought an education for themselves primarily because they wanted to educate their children to be good citizens in the new democracy. Influencing women’s campaign for education were the definitions of citizenship that evolved during the course of the Revolution. This research argues that despite the significant changes in the polity, political leaders defined women as “passive citizens,” meaning that while they enjoyed full civil rights, women were not defined as active political citizens. The central reason that women were relegated to passive citizenry was that male lawmakers defined women’s political roles based on their perceptions of women’s biology. Specifically, guided by a biological determinism that defined women strictly as mothers, lawmakers denied women an equal education, even though the same lawmakers simultaneously promulgated radical democratic reforms.