Women at the Jacobins

An observer of Jacobin club meetings in 1791, in the passage below, describes somewhat disorderly debates, in which speakers are shouted down from the rostrum and women participate openly. This is indicative of what this author sees as the "ungovernable" situation in Paris.


August 17th.

The hall in which the Jacobins meet, is fitted up nearly in the same style with that of the National Assembly. The tribune, or pulpit from which the members speak, is opposite to that in which the president is seated: there is a table for the secretaries and galleries for a large audience of both sexes, in the one as in the other. Men are appointed, who walk through the hall to command, or rather solicit, silence when the debate becomes turbulent at the club of Jacobins, in the same manner as the huissiers do at the National Assembly, and usually with as little effect: the bell of the president, and voices of the huissiers, are equally disregarded in stormy debates at both Assemblies.

I have been told that some of the most distinguished members in point of talent and character, have lately with drawn from this society, and that it is not now on such a respectable footing as it has been. Robespierre, who was a member of the Constituent Assembly, and of course cannot be of the present, has great sway in the club of Jacobins, by which means his influence in the Assembly, and in the common council of Paris, is very considerable.

There was not, properly speaking, a debate at the Jacobins to-day, but rather a series of violent speeches against him. I understand indeed, that of late the speakers are generally of one opinion; for Robespierre's partisans raise such a noise when any one attempts to utter sentiments opposite to what he is known to maintain, that the voice of the speaker is drowned, and he is obliged to yield the tribune to another orator whose doctrine is more palatable.

There were abundance of women in the galleries; but as there were none in the body of the hall where the members are seated, I was surprised to see one enter and take her seat among them: she was dressed in a kind of English riding-habit, but her jacket was the uniform of the national guards. On enquiry, I was informed that the name of this amazon is Mademoiselle Theroigne: she distinguished herself in the action of the 10th, by rallying those who fled, and attacking a second time at the head of the Marseillois.

She seems about one or two and thirty, is somewhat above the middle size of women, and has a smart martial air, which in a man would not be disagreeable.

I walked home about nine: the night was uncommonly dark, my way lay across the Carousel, along the Pont Royal to the fauxbourg St. Germain. I have frequently come the same way alone from the Caffé de Foy in the Palais Royal after it was dark. I never was attacked, nor have I heard of a single street robbery, or house-breaking, since I have been in Paris.

This seems to me very remarkable, in the ungovernable state in which Paris may be supposed to be since the 10th of this month.

Source: John Moore, Mordaunt: Sketches of Life, Characters and Manners in Various Countries, including the Memoirs of a French Lady (London: 1800).