Hubertine Auclert

Hubertine Auclert (April 10, 1848 – August 4, 1914) was a leading French feminist and a campaigner for women's suffrage.

Born in the Allier département in the Auvergne area of France into a middle-class family, Hubertine Auclert's father died when she was thirteen years old and her mother sent her to live and study in a Roman Catholic convent. As a young girl she planned to become a nun but left the convent at age 16. Estranged from her mother, she lived with her uncle for a time but had to return to the convent a few years later, She left the convent for good in 1869 and moved to Paris. There, the ousting of Emperor Napoleon III and the establishment of the Third Republic opened the door to activism on the part of women who began demanding changes to the Napoleonic Code that would provide education and economic independence for women and the legalization of divorce.

Inspired by the high-profile activities of Maria Deraismes and Léon Richer, Hubertine Auclert became involved with feminist work and eventually took a job as Richer's secretary. Influenced by her life in a Catholic convent, and like many of the leading republican feminists at the time, Hubertine Auclert was a militant anticlerical. While the main focus of the French feminist movement was directed towards changes to the laws, Auclert pushed further, demanding that women be given the right to run for public office, claiming that the unfair laws would never have been passed had the views of female legislators been heard. In 1876 she founded the Société le droit des femmes (The Rights of Women) that supported women's suffrage and in 1883, the organization formally changed its name to the Société le suffrage des femmes (Women's Suffrage Society).

In 1878, the "International Congress on Women’s Rights" was held in Paris but to the chagrin of Hubertine Auclert, it did not support women’s suffrage. Resolute, beginning in 1880, Auclert launched a tax revolt, arguing that without representation women should not be subjected to taxation. One of her legal advisors was attorney Antonin Lévrier whom she later married. On February 13, 1881 she launched La Citoyenne, a monthly that argued vociferously for women's enfranchisement. The paper received vocal support from even the elite in the feminist movement such as Séverine and socialite Marie Bashkirtseff wrote several articles for the newspaper. In 1884, the French government finally legalized divorce but Auclert denounced it because of the law's blatant bias against women that still did not allow a woman to keep her wages. Auclert proposed the then radical idea that there should be a marriage contract between spouses with separation of property.

Auclert and her husband moved to Algeria in 1888 where they would remain for four years until he died and she returned to Paris. No longer able to financially support La Citoyenne, the newspaper closed but she continued her activism. In 1900, she witnessed the establishment of the "National Council of French Women" as an umbrella organisation for feminist groups in France all of which soon came to support suffrage.

In 1908 married women in France were finally given control over their own salaries but the 60-year-old Auclert continued her push for total equality. That year, she symbolically smashed a ballot box during municipal elections in Paris and in 1910 she and Marguerite Durand defied authorities and presented themselves as candidates in the elections for members of the legislative assembly.

Considered one of the central figures in the history of the French women's rights movement, Hubertine Auclert continued her activism until her death in 1914 at age 65. She is interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris; the sculpture on her tomb commemorates the "Suffrage des Femmes."