Marguerite Charlotte Durand, one of the most outstanding early French feminists, was born into a middle-class family on 24 January 1864. After a Catholic education in the convent Dame Trinitaire, Paris, she enrolled in the Conservatoire of Paris in 1879 (age 15), before joining the Comédie-Française in 1881. Seven years as a stage actress were followed by a brief marriage to Jean Herni Georges Laguerre (1858-1912), a young lawyer and politician, who introduced her to radical politics and journalism. Durand wrote her first articles for La Press, directed by her husband and serving the political ambitions of the French patriot, General Georges Boulanger (1838-1891). In 1891, she and her husband separated, and Durand began writing for a leading newspaper, Le Figaro. In 1896, after the birth of her only child Jacques (by the journalist Antonin Périvier), she was sent as a reporter to the Congrès Féministe Internacionale, organised by the French League for Women’s Rights.
What Le Figaro intended to ridicularise proved eye-opening to Marguerite Durand. She became an arduous fighter for women’s rights. On 9 December 1897, she founded the feminist newspaper La Fronde (‘the sling’ – a reference to 17th-century large-scale insurrections against Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) and his infringements of individual rights and liberties). It was unique in that it employed only women – journalist, editors, printers, etc. – and paid them the same salary as their male counterparts. Layout and coverage of subjects and events were typical of the dailies then. Yet, throughout its existence (1897-1905), it not only proved that women could do as good a job as men, it also campaigned for women’s rights and demanded, among others, that women be admitted to l’École des Beaux-Artes, to parliamentary debates and to the Bar association. And why should women not be named to the Legion of Honour? A first step in the right direction began with La Fronde’s women reporters, who were sometimes allowed entrance to places and events that until then only male journalists had written about.
Besides regular contributions to this and other papers, Mme Durand organised a Congress on Women’s Work in 1907, assisted in establishing trade unions for working women, tried to get women candidates accepted in the 1910 legislative elections (herself included), and established a summer residence for female journalists in Pierrefonds, in the Picardy region.
An attrative woman in elegant attire, Marguerite Durand became a much respected public figure, famous for her regular walks with her pet lion Tigre (Tiger). Her active support of women’s rights was instrumental in making campaigns for these ends more acceptable to the public. In 1931, she offered the bulk of her papers to the City of Paris. They became the foundation of the Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand, the first public feminist library in France, and today one of the best sources for research of women’s history and the women’s movement.
Here are some further sources you might find interesting:
- Durand’ life and collection at the Bibliothèque (French);
- Marie L. Murray Del Priore about the Library and Mme Durand (Portuguese);
- Mary Louise Roberts about Le Fondre (French);
- Some of Mme Durand’s original manuscripts, transcribed and published in three volumes online; For an English synopsis and listing, go here.