1756 – 1793 A.D.
Madame Roland, a French patriot. Marie Jeanne Philpon was born in Paris; her father was an engraver of some talent, her mother a woman of fine qualities, and to whom Marie was deeply attached.
At an early age the child gave evidence of exceptional brain by the wide extent of her reading, which included Plutarch, Greek and Latin Classics, and the French philosophers. In the midst of her youthful studies she heard the sound of the muttering thunder which preceded the great storm of the French Revolution, and the condition of the people occupied her thoughts more and more, as she noted the violent contrast of their miserable poverty to the state and magnificence of their rulers.
In 1779 she married M. Roland, a manufacturer of Lyons, and her life was uneventful until the Revolution broke out ten years later. M. Roland, who held an important government position in Lyons was summoned to Paris to aid the National Assembly, and from that moment Madame Roland began to play a leading part in the drama. Her powers of thought, her clear sight, her vigorous speech, made her a valuable partisan, while her freedom from mere party instincts, her love of the people, and her high moral tone made her the ideal of the purer revolutionary spirit.
Events moved rapidly on, a new Assembly was formed, conspicuous in which were a little band of ardent men, the Girondists, full of zeal for a free Republic, but determined to achieve it by worthy means and to keep clear of violence and bloodshed. With these high-minded men the Rolands threw in their lot, and Madame Roland became the leading spirit of the party. But lofty ideals of the Girondists which might have saved the Republic could not check the approaching Reign of Terror.
Soon after the king and queen were sent to the scaffold, the leading Girondists were placed under arrest, but M. Roland, assisted by his wife, managed to escape. Madame Roland, thinking herself in no immediate danger, and having the care of their daughter, intended to follow later. The next morning she was arrested, and thrown into one of the lowest and most sordid of the prisons. Yet she kept a brave heart, refusing to attempt an escape which was offered by the kindness of her jailer, for fear of inciting her enemies to greater zeal in the pursuit of her husband.
It was while she lay in prison that Marat was killed by the hand of Charlotte Corday, and this hastened the end of the twenty-one Girondist chiefs who were in captivity. The death-sentence was pronounced on them, and they were led to the scaffold singing the Song of Liberty with their last breath.
A few days later, at a trial which was but a parody of justice, Madame Roland was declared guilty. She received her sentence with the utmost calmness, saying, “You consider me worthy to share the fate of the great men whom you have assassinated; I shall try to carry to the scaffold the courage they have shown.”
The next morning, having mounted the fatal steps cheerfully, she bowed her head to the statue of Liberty which stood near, and said in a firm voice, “O Liberty! what cries are committed in thy name!”
So passed this heroine of the Revolution, the representative of all that was fine and pure and good in that great movement. On learning of her death, her husband died by his own hand.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.