The World’s First Feminist?
If you ask a feminist today who her idol is, she might say Simone de Beauvoir. But if you had asked the French intellectual, she would probably have told you it was Christine de Pizan — a woman from the 1400s.
In de Beauvoir’s best-known book The Second Sex, she wrote that de Pizan was the “first woman to take up a pen to defend her sex.” This French medieval author and intellectual, who served in the court of Charles V, not only managed to make a name for herself as a writer in a time when few women knew how to read, she was also a prominent defender of women’s rights. Of course calling de Pizan a “feminist” is an anachronism, and there’s no evidence to support that she was “the first,” as de Beauvoir wrote. But she certainly made the most of her exceptional upbringing and natural gift for the quill.
De Pizan was born in Venice in 1364 to an astronomer father who moved her to France at the age of 5 and taught her to read and write. She married a royal secretary at 15, and her new husband continued to encourage her studies. It was his death, however, that would put de Pizan on a path to fame. Lawsuits tied up her husband’s estate for years, so she turned to writing, not as a pastime but as the only way to provide for her mother and three young children.