Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: The Role of Women in the French Revolution

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: The Role of Women in the French Revolution
Elizabeth Monroe: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One to two class periods

Required Documents
Women in the Revolution


James Monroe was appointed as the minister to France in 1794. This was during the height of the French Revolution. During his voyage to France the Thermidorian Reaction occurred, placing the French government in total chaos, and overthrowing Robespierre. Although the Reign of Terror was essentially over, the guillotine was still being used to execute political prisoners.   Among these prisoners was Adrienne de Noiolles de Lafayette, the imprisoned wife of the Marquis de Lafayette, the great personal friend of George Washington and many other revolutionary era patriots and France's most prominent supporter of American independence. The wife of the Marquis was due to be executed when Elizabeth Monroe visited her in prison. Elizabeth Monroe had recognized the importance of social behavior in France and come to be known by the French as “La Belle Americane” which meant the beautiful American. This visit to the French prison caused the French to release the wife of the Marquis and her children because the unstable French government wanted to maintain their alliance with the United States.   This is an example of the effect of a woman on the French Revolution. Although women my not have had direct political involvement in the French Revolution they did have a significant effect.


1.  Students will define the role of women in revolutionary era France.

2.  Students will explain the role of several specific women in the French Revolution.

3.  Students will explain how women became symbols of French revolutionary values

Materials Required:

Computer, with Internet access; "Women's Role in the French Revolution Worksheet"


1.  The teacher will begin a discussion of how the roles of women have changed in the United States throughout history. Some questions to begin this discussion may include: Does you mother have a job? Did women in the US always work? What was the role of women when our country began? When did women get the right to vote in the US? Do you feel women were discriminated against in the past? How did women get the right to vote in this country? The teacher will explain to the students that they will be studying the role of women in France during the French Revolution.

2.  The teacher will assign the reading assignment on the role of women in the French revolution (see website below), along with the research questions provided on the worksheet that accompanies this lesson. This can be done in a computer lab, or the article can be printed and distributed to the students. It can also be assigned as a homework assignment.

3.  When the assignment is complete the students can share their answers with their classmates.

Extending the Lesson:

1.  An extension to this lesson could be to compare and contrast the roles of women in France to the roles of women in the United States or other nations.

2.  A further extension could be a research project on specific women of the French Revolution such as; Marie Antoinette, Marie-Jean Caritat, Marie Gouze, Etta Palm d'Aelders, Charlotte Corday, Louis-Marie Prudhomme, or Olympe de Gouges.

Sources & Resources:


Biography of Elizabeth Monroe
American First Ladies: Elizabeth Monroe
History’s Women: Elizabeth Monroe
James Monroe and His Mission to France
Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette
Women and the Revolution


This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District.