chapter  9
‘The first strong woman’
Pages 18

The Jewish people were dead and debased and Jesus raised them up. The Christian people today are dead and debased and Flora Tristan, the first strong woman, will raise them up again.1

When Flora Tristan wrote these words in 1844, she was referring specifically to her role in radical politics and her activities amongst the workers, which she envisaged in zealous, even messianic terms.2 But she did not emerge in 1844 as a ‘strong woman’, a leader and visionary, suddenly and unexpectedly. Having assured Charles Fourier in 1835 that he would find in her ‘a strength uncommon in my sex’,3 she had demonstrated and developed that strength over a number of years and in a range of social situations. Her proclamation in 1844 thus represented not so much a sudden moment of self-recognition as a succinct statement of how she had long seen herself. If her self-representations as ‘mother of the workers’ and ‘lover of humanity’ showed Tristan adapting and expanding ‘feminine’ roles to endow them with new significance, her vision of herself as a ‘strong woman’ engaged with contemporary debates on womanhood, challenging the norm of feminine ‘weakness’ and the expectations about women’s place which followed from it. As ‘the first strong woman’ Tristan presented herself as a public figure and political leader, and simultaneously foreshadowed a place for other women in ‘public’ life too.