Flora Tristan

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Flora Tristan, socialist writer and activist

Flora Tristan (7 April 1803 in Paris – 14 November 1844 in Bordeaux, France) was a socialist writer and activist. She made important contributions to early feminist theory, and argued that the progress of women's rights was directly related with the progress of the working class.[1] She wrote several works, the best known of which are Peregrinations of a Pariah (1838), Promenades in London (1840), and The Workers' Union (1843).

Tristan was the grandmother of the painter Paul Gauguin.

Family tree[edit]

José Joaquín
de Tristán del Pozo
de Moscoso
Léonard Chazal
Jeanne-Geneviève Buterne
Mariano de Tristán y Moscoso
Anne-Pierre Laisnay
Pío de Tristán y Moscoso
Antoine Chazal
André Chazal
Flora Tristan
Alexandre Chazal
Ernest Chazal
Clovis Gauguin
Aline Chazal
Paul Gauguin
Mette-Sophie Gad
Émile Gauguin
Aline Gauguin
Clovis Gauguin
Jean-René Gauguin
Paul-Rollon Gauguin

Early life[edit]

Her full name was Flore-Celestine-Therèse-Henriette Tristan-Moscoso. Her father, Mariano Tristán y Marquis, was a colonel of the Spanish Navy, born in Arequipa, a city of Peru. His family was one of the most powerful in the south of the country; his brother Pío de Tristán became viceroy of Peru. Flora Tristan's mother, Anne-Pierre Laisnay, was French; the couple met in Bilbao, Spain.

When her father died in 1807, before her fifth birthday, the situation of Tristan and her mother changed drastically from the high standards of living they were accustomed to. In 1833 she travelled to his hometown to claim her paternal inheritance, which was in possession of an uncle. She remained in Peru until 16 July 1834. Though she never secured the inheritance that brought her there, Tristan wrote a travel diary about her experiences during Peru's tumultuous post-independence period. The diary was published in 1838 as Pérégrinations d'une paria.[2]

The Workers' Union[edit]

Tristan wrote this essay in 1843 after an extensive stay in Peru and a short trip to Britain where she produced works on the social conditions along the Channel. The Workers' Union was the last of her writings and gave her a public persona of political activist. Through this work, one can compare Tristan to similar Utopian Socialists including Charles Fourier (whom she knew personally) and the works of the French Socialists, the Saint Simonians, whose works she had studied through the years. Tristan took into account the studies and teachings of these previous socialists, but created a different solution to the suppression of not only the proletariat, but the working women as well. She was the first to connect the freedom of the working class with the deliverance of women’s rights.

Tristan recognized that the working class had been fighting for over twenty-five years to no avail. Her suggested solution is to act and create a Workers' Union. She sees a great advantage to this because “divided, you are weak and fall, crushed underfoot by all sorts of misery! Union makes power. You have numbers in your favor, and numbers mean a great deal.” Through union dues, she insisted on plans to provide the proletariats’ children with safe havens and increased access to education, to build palaces for the ill and wounded workers, and to reach out to manufacturers and financiers, including those among the nobility, in order to sustain and maintain such programs.

Although seemingly two different essays, Flora Tristan acknowledged the need for the liberation of women in order to complete the emancipation of the working class. The society is not whole and the working class itself is fractured. She argues that once society fixes the pieces of the fissure (women’s rights) then the rest will fall into place. In a sense, women’s liberation will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number of people thereby supporting a Utilitarian mindset. Although thinking positively about women’s liberation, Tristan did recognize that in the post-revolution French society, women would not be easily considered equal just because they are human beings. Therefore, Tristan had to make the argument based on a series of benefits to the male majority. In addition to introducing new ways of thinking about socialism, Tristan was also the first to ally the emerging social rights movement to the idea of women's liberation. In doing so, she laid the groundwork for a new ideology—feminism. She made the analogy between the proletariat to the bourgeoisie and the wife to the family before Friedrich Engels[3] in a posthumous collection of her notes by Abbe Constant entitled The Emancipation of Woman and the Testament of the Pariah: “The most oppressed man finds a being to oppress, his wife: she is the proletarian of the proletarian.” Tristan's analogy is also more articulate than Engels'. The Worker's Union explained that the liberation of women would be the continuation of what the French Revolution had initiated. Thus women too, like the proletariat, would have their day: “What happened to the proletariat, it must be agreed, is a good omen for women when their '1789' rings out.”

Her effort at creating a common union was the last before Flora Tristan’s death in 1844. By drawing and building upon her colleagues’ and mentors’ socialist concepts, she attempted to create a logical and reasonable plan that the proletariat could realistically achieve. She opted to change the angle previously attempted and was able to include women’s rights as an important lever in the machine to create an independent Workers' Union.


Mario Vargas Llosa, in his historical novel The Way to Paradise, analyzes Flora Tristan and her grandson Paul Gauguin's contrasting quests for the ideal life through their experiences in and outside their native France.

Place Flora Tristan (48°49′57″N 2°19′14″E / 48.832394°N 2.320632°E / 48.832394; 2.320632) in the XIVe Arrondissement, Paris, is marked with a sign describing Tristan as "Femme de Lettres" and "Militante Féministe".


  1. ^ "Flora Tristan." Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions.
  2. ^ Doris and Paul Beik, Flora Tristan: Utopian Feminist: Her Travel Diaries and Personal Crusade. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993
  3. ^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Condition_of_the_Working_Class_in_England, 1845


  • Tristan, Flora. The Workers Union.Translated by Beverly Livingston. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983, 77-78.
  • Máire Cross: The feminism of Flora Tristan. Berg, Oxford, 1992, ISBN 0-85496-731-1
  • Máire Cross: The Letter in Flora Tristan's Politics, 1835-1844", Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004, ISBN 0-333-77264-4
  • Flora Tristan’s Diary: The Tour of France 1843–1844, translated, annotated and introduced by Máire Fedelma Cross. Berne: Peter Lang, 2002, ISBN 978-3-906768-48-9
  • Dominique Desanti: "A Woman in Revolt, a biography of Flora Tristan". New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1976. ISBN 0-517-51878-3
  • The London Journal of Flora Tristan, translated, annotated and introduced by Jean Hawkes. London: Virago Press, 1982, ISBN 0-86068-214-5
  • Peregrinations of a Pariah, Flora Tristan, translated by Jean Hawkes. London: Virago Press, 1985, ISBN 0-86068-477-6
  • Beik, Doris and Paul. Flora Tristan: Utopian Feminist: Her Travel Diaries and Personal Crusade. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993
  • Dijkstra, Sandra. "Flora Tristan: Feminism in the Age of George Sand". London: Pluto Press, 1992 ISBN 0745304508
  • Melzer, Sara E. and Rabine, Leslie W. Rebel Daughters: Women and the French Revolution. NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1992, 284.
  • Schneider, Joyce Anne. "Flora Tristan: Feminist, Socialist, and Free Spirit". New York: Morrow, 1980, ISBN 0688222501.
  • Strumingher, Laura L. "The Odyssey of Flora Tristan". New York: Peter Lang, 1988. University of Cincinnati studies in historical and contemporary Europe ; vol. 2.ISBN 0820408883

External links[edit]