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Pelletier, Madeleine (1874–1939)

Erik Buelinckx

Subject History » Women's History
Legal and Political » Political Philosophy

Place Western Europe » France

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899, 1900-1999

Key-Topics biography, equality, feminism, revolution, women

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.01724.x


Born into the working class, Madeleine Pelletier, the first French woman to receive a medical degree in psychiatry, was a feminist and, by turns, a socialist, communist, and anarchist activist. Initially an anthropologist, she contested the idea, often used to argue that women were inferior to men, that brain size was proportionally linked to intelligence. As an adolescent she participated in anarchist as well as feminist meetings, but for some time sought state power for women and workers, rejoining anarchist circles only after World War I. She helped establish the French section of the Second International in 1905, fought for women's suffrage, and championed the Bolsheviks after 1917, visiting Alexandra Kollontai in Moscow in 1921. A partisan of free love, she nonetheless advocated and practiced celibacy until such time as women were truly liberated, and demanded in the meantime that women masculinize themselves in order to gain equal rights. She published numerous feminist articles in a broad range of magazines and became secretary of a radical group, Women's Solidarity, in 1906. Pelletier died in 1939 after being committed to a mental asylum on suspicion of practicing abortion. SEE ALSO: Anarchism, France ; Anarchism and Gender ; Bolsheviks ; First Wave Feminism ; Internationals ; Kollontai, Alexandra (1872–1952) ; Union for Women's Equality ; Sexuality and Revolution ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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