Claire Lacombe

Claire Lacombe (4 August 1765-?) was a French actress and revolutionary. She is best known for her contributions during the French Revolution. Though it was only for a few years, Lacombe was a revolutionary and a founding member of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women.

Early life

Lacombe was born in the provincial town of Pamiers in southwestern France. She became an actress at a young age and appeared in theatrical productions in the provinces before arriving in Paris in 1792.[1] She was not an outstanding success in the theater, and she was not entirely happy with her life. The acting company that Lacombe worked for moved from town to town and sometimes went to castles and the country houses of aristocrats. This probably had an influence in her decision to quit the company to become a revolutionary.

Revolutionary career

In Paris during the insurrection of 10 August 1792, Lacombe fought with the rebels during the storming of the Tuileries. She was shot through the arm but kept fighting on, earning herself the lifelong sobriquet, "Heroine of August Tenth. " For her bravery, she was awarded a civic crown by the victorious fédérés.[2]

Lacombe became a frequent attendee at meetings of the Cordeliers Club through which she became involved with the most radical elements of the Revolution. In February, 1793, Lacombe and another female revolutionary, Pauline Léon, founded the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women.[3][4][5] Composed chiefly of working-class women, the Society associated with the most militant sans-culottes and enragés.[3] They functioned partly as a fighting force among the market women of Paris, and employed violent tactics to root out anti-revolutionaries.[6]

Despite the deeply entrenched chauvinism of the time, Lacombe met a few revolutionary men who fought for women's rights. One of these was Théophile Leclerc, with whom she lived for a while, until he left her to marry Pauline Léon.[7]

Under the Reign of Terror, the enragés were suppressed along with most other extremist groups, including the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. On September 16, 1793, Lacombe, then president of the Society, was publicly denounced by the Jacobins to the Committee of General Security. The Jacobins accused her of "making counterrevolutionary statements" and having associated and aided a "notorious counterrevolutionary, the énrage Leclerc".[8]

Lacombe did her best to defend herself, but it was too late. She was briefly detained and then set free. The seed of distrust had been planted. The Society tried in vain to continue to petition the Convention. Most of the issues that they now dealt with were more trivial and less radical than their previous campaigns. The group had ostensibly been so notorious that the National Convention specifically banned women's organizations on 30 October 1793.[6] However, Chaumette's subsequent comments about men's having a right to having women care for the family, and how that was the only civic dutyy women had, reveals other reasons for the ban taking place.[9]

Barred from any political activity, Lacombe considered returning to her acting career. In April 1794, she was arrested as she prepared to leave for a theater in Dunkirk.[7] Lacombe was finally released from prison on 20 August 1795 (by order of 18 August 1795 signed by the Committee of General Security).[10] She went back to the theater but quit again after three months, and settled into a life of unrecorded obscurity.[7]


  1. Kelly, p. 89.
  2. Godineau, p. 111.
  3. Fremont-Barnes, p. 385.
  4. Kelly, p. 102–103.
  5. Sokolnikova, pp. 145ff.
  6. Doyle, p. 420.
  7. Uglow, p. 309.
  8. Godineau, Dominique: Translated by Katherine Streip. The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution. United States of America: University of California Press, 1998. Print.
  9. Hufton, Olwen. "Women in Revolution 1789-1796". Past & Present 53 (1971): 90-108. JSTOR. Web. 21 Nov. 2009.
  10. Léopold Lacour, Les origines du féminisme contemporain: Olympe de Gouges, Théroigne de Méricourt, Rose Lacombe, Paris: Plon, 1900, pp. 413-414.
  • Doyle, William (1990). The Oxford History of the French Revolution (2 ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199252985.
  • Kelly, Linda (1987). Women of the French Revolution. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 978-0-241-12112-2.
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory (2007). Encyclopedia of the age of political revolutions and new ideologies, 1760-1815. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-33445-0. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  • Godineau, Dominique (1998). The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06718-9.
  • Sokolnikova, Galina (1969) [1932]. Nine Women Drawn from the Epoch of the French Revolution. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press. ISBN 978-0-8369-1314-9. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  • Uglow, Jennifer S.; Hinton, Frances; Hendry, Maggy, eds. (1999). The Northeastern Dictionary of Women's Biography. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 9781555534219. Retrieved 21 September 2013.

Further reading

  • Larue-Langlois, Françoys (2005). Claire Lacombe: citoyenne révolutionnaire (in French). Paris: Punctum. ISBN 2-35116-002-9.
  • Pellosso, Marcel (2013). Rose Claire Lacombe (in French). Edilivre-Aparis.
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