Feminism and the Freethinkers Movement: Nelly Roussel
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, following the performance of Louise Michel’s La Grève, a number of ephemeral theaters were created to bring political issues and social protest to the stage. Both Nelly Roussel and Véra Starkoff were involved in this movement to create a theater for the people that would advocate the socialist ideal.They found a venue for their dramatic aspirations in the Université Populaire, a movement that began in the final year of the nineteenth century in which women were able to participate in theatrical activities as playwright, director, manager, critic, and actress. In 1899, Georges Deherme founded la Coopération des Idées, the first Université Populaire, in the Faubourg St. Antoine, a working-class district of Paris. Between 1899 and 1914, more than 200 such institutions were created throughout the country.Their goal was to educate the workers in order to produce new men and women for a new, freer society: to regenerate the individual to improve the social state. Deherme understood the notion of education in its broadest sense. Not content with organizing classes for adults, he wanted to provide a variety of medical, legal, and financial services, as well as recreational activities. The statutes of the Société des Universités Populaires in 1900 list a variety of such facilities and programs: a sports room, public baths, a library, a doctor’s office and a pharmacy, legal and financial consultants, an alcohol-free restaurant, a system of mutual benefit insurance, and a theater (Qtd. in Bulletin 24).
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