Child Killer


Faiseuse des anges

The Child Killer[1]

The somewhat brutal but deeply sincere article I wrote here nine days ago, “The Right to Abortion”, raised a polemic that has not yet died down.

An evening paper, very evening, even wanted to call it a vindication what was only meant as a plea for a defense; and then in good fellowship to call the attention of the courts to my humble prose.

But this does not bother me much since I do not believe that there is a State Morality. If one exists, it is like that savage mist where we struggle, under the official lights in the streets of London during foggy weather. The street lamps are too tall and too dim; you know that they exist and that they shine, but no one can see the light. And everyone holds out his lantern or torch to see where he is going so as not to twist an ankle, step in the mud, trip or fall in the gutter.

Thus the conscience of every human being guides them and points out the obstacles, cesspools and perils. Yet, some people still fall down and get muddy—it is only because the light was weak, flickering, in need of wax or resin or because the wind suddenly blew it out, creating shadows and opening the way for mistakes…

But do you see the Queen’s government forbid private lights on the pretext that it is an insult to the official street lamps?

They would end up nabbing anyone whose little light or candle bothered their neighbor, who threw some oil on their top hats, some tallow on their clothes or lit up those nasty shows. If there were a moral network of roads like there is a physical network, nothing would be better. Children and women walk around and we have to protect their innocence, vulnerability and decency.

As for snuffing out their consciences to establish the monopoly of a governmental conscience—one, indivisible and infallible—not that! Humanity has rights that take precedence over all the artificial legislations of the world. And when a question cuts to the quick, stirs up and inflames the people, go on and defend everyone’s right to say what they think, to scream out their opinions or anger, to march onward, in short, following their nature, character and instinct!

They tried this autocracy in religion and politics. Whoever blasphemed God or criticized the King had their tongue pierced, their throats cut—the stake and the butcher’s block were used as a pedestal for their apotheosis and the platform of their next statue…The blood of martyrs and the tears of the oppressed have fertilized the most unproductive soil—and freedom sprang forth one day, a giant flower flashing purple!

We almost have religious independence; we almost have political independence; but the centuries have marched on and the demands of man have grown just like his intelligence and his pride. Now he cries out for the right to life and all the old struggles, the old crusades start up again, rise from the grave against this demand as they will start and rise up against all the new demands that threaten the established order of things.

“You can choose your representative and you can choose your God,” say the judiciary, army, family and property. “What more do you want?”

“I want to eat,” the man says.

It is because he wants to eat that he does not have any more children and that deep in the heart of Batignolles[2] they just arrested the Child Killer. A bread peddler and abortionist who “operated” in the back of bar! More than two thousand women passed between her hands. Ah, those people who were choked up the other day over the scandal in Toulon and who discussed the pros and cons of the question of “honor” concerning abortion, will they deign to lower their eyes on the mass grave of human seed and discuss the question of “poverty”?

These women did not have 800 F to give to the sterilizer, like Madame de Jonquières had, the poor creatures who come pale out of the goring, leaning against the wall and then leaving a trail of red spots behind them like a wounded deer who had her teats eaten by the dogs but can still drag herself away… They did not have a louis, not ten sous; they paid in kind bringing a wool shawl, a new apron, their Sunday dress, a pound of sugar or a bar of soap—like for the wet nurse!

They were servants and maids of the leisure class who pitilessly threw them out into the street, and more than anything—oh, more than anything—they were workers. Not the worker seduced by rich boys who beguile our mothers, but married workers, legitimate wives who got married in the church and city hall and wear a wedding ring on their finger—they sold it sometimes to go there—and forced into crime, you understand, forced by too much despair, by their hopeless misfortune!

A mother of seven children came to the Child Killer to avoid the eighth. She cried and said, “My God, but the others still don’t have enough to eat!”

So let the poor practice abstinence! Yes, there are people who say this, who dare to utter this blasphemy. And the strange thing, the bizarre absurdity is that they are the very ones who preach repopulation!

But it is the only joy for the poor! The cold pushes them into each other’s arms and when their lips meet, for a little while they forget their troubles, their fatigue and tomorrow’s cares—these beggars are happy like the rich!


The unacceptable vice, you see, is only that the poor have a lot of children and society cannot feed them. What will the President/Judge say—for, they are going to bring these unfortunate women to court!—when one of them tells him what the mother of seven children said: “I killed that one so I could feed the others!”

He cannot tell them to be abstinent; another judge had united this woman to her husband so that they might procreate as much as possible. The law encourages and blesses mating and reproduction. But it is only a matchmaker, not a nanny. Would you like an example? I am sorry for always telling you sad stories, but, alas, life is like that…

Have you read about the suicide of Robin, the accountant, the day before yesterday? He was not rich and had given his half dozen children to the country. The parents and the whole brood were piled into a small room at 3 Rue de Birague—no more work, no more resources, nothing left to sell or pawn—the same, sad story as always!

Welfare services, notified by the landlady, a good woman, had allocated a meager sum when the last child was born in August and then went on to other projects without thinking any more about this poor family than about a litter of starving cats.

What did the father do? Oh, something simple and heroic. He threw himself in the river from the top of the Pont des Arts[3] and drowned to attract the attention and pity of the public for his family. A letter left on a bench explained this.

He succeeded. The welfare services have finally become concerned and are probably going to take the four youngest children. That leaves two—and the sick mother, half-crazy with despair. We can hope that the poor man’s sacrifice will bring them some condolence.

But again what is this social state that forces a man to kill himself to ensure a life for his children?

Yes, justice has subpoenaed the “clients” of the Child Killer. Two hundred women accused! To punish this clandestine scandal, the law is going to make it the most appalling public scandal that has maybe ever been seen. For, not all who resorted to the matron did so out of poverty. Some were sternly raised middle class girls or married women who wanted to hide their mistake. They are going to snatch them away from their parents or husbands and drag them to the infamous bench to tell everyone what they had risked their lives to hide—to cut off their future, wrap them in shame and throw them into the Morgue or onto the streets!

And you will tell me that it is morality! That the bud left to nothingness deserves tearing these mothers away from their children’s cradle whom a steady income or a legitimate family allowed them to have—and this is their absolution!

My word, they would say that women have abortions for fun, just to pester the police and thumb their noses at the judges! But their crime (if it is a crime) was committed in tears, despair and shame. They would have preferred not to commit it, come on!

They are the victims, not the culprits; victims of a social organization that in its desire for repopulation crowns the virgin girls and excommunicates the young mothers; it abolishes the “hatches”[4] and punishes infanticide; it does not recognize but brings disgrace on illegitimate children and forbids abortion; it says to the poor “increase and multiply” and lets their many descendants die of hunger!

It is society that inflicts misery on the poor and then denies them the right to refuse one too many! It is society that instills the fanaticism of honor in women and strikes them down if they are forced not to be dishonored! It is society, the ogress, that feeds on the flesh of young children murdered by its stupid laws and hateful prejudices. It is society that is the Child Killer!

[1] Gil Blas, November 14, 1890, signed Jacqueline.

[2] In the 17th arrondisement of Paris.

[3] A bridge that crosses the Seine from the 1st to 6th arrondisement in Paris.

[4] A small door in the exterior wall of a hospital that allowed women to leave children anonymously.



The Right to Abortion


Journal Illustre 16:11:1890

The Right to Abortion[1]

You have asked me, my dear editor and friend, for my opinion on the tragedy in Toulon. That was a dangerous thing to do—my opinion might be audacious enough to make the most daring stories published here seem innocent and tame.

Because, you know, there are two kinds of immortality: one that laughs while tickling the Senators’ belly buttons—that’s the one that all the regimes encourage—and another that stops, somber, before certain problems, that does not worry about how crude the subject may be but wades waist-deep in the filth without shivers or nausea if some being is drowning there and calling out for help at the top of their lungs in despair and in fear of abandonment.

It is that immortality that is mine and I am boldly and cynically going to give it free rein. It will surprise those superficial people who think that I am somewhat like the virtue of this newspaper, but it will not surprise those who are used to reading between the lines and who understand that what I write here today is only the logical, absolute, inevitable result of what I have written before.


First of all a word on the affair itself that they have called from day one The Scandal of Toulon. Oh yes, a wonderful scandal not so much for the accused but for the judges, the ultimate stupidity of justice, the blunder of Themis[2] all right!

But is it really a blunder? It reeks more of vengeance—provincial vengeance that is rancid and moldy, with the stench of old maids and chafed honors. It looks infuriatingly like class revenge on a once powerful adversary, a man being torn apart by all the furies of the judicial authorities and high society—and the navy. Because the navy is involved as well. Monsieur Fouroux had once been under its command and when he was free of it he had fought against the abuses that he knew so well since he had suffered them.

Remember the Ginailhac affair. The mayor defended the local population and the newspapers against that arrogant second lieutenant—and he was right. Of course the maritime authority could not deny the evidence of the facts, but it was beside itself with anger for having to admit it publicly and punish the wrongdoings of one of its subordinates.

And of course Madame de Jonquières is the wife of a naval officer and the daughter-in-law of a rear admiral. The navy was sure that his choice of this woman had no other motive but to scoff at it and sully its collective marital honor.

Look at it carefully—never has the fight between the civil and military forces reached such a degree of underhanded intensity. Never has an elected city official come up against so much hatred and had to face so many traps laid out by so many tenacious paws clawing at the ground under his feet.

Read the details that were published—and so quickly! “Monsieur Fouroux was a republican…even a progressive republican…he knew how to make himself popular…the dock workers voted for him…” etc, etc.

There is something else in this affair than what they are telling us, believe me. Who turned him in? Who gave the immediate order for the proceedings? Why are they talking now about misappropriation and embezzlement and awful, pathetic slanders that make no sense? So senseless, in fact, that [Arthur] Ranc, Charles Laurent and others besides had to cry out “Silence!” and recall the angry men to some decency.

Do you know what the scandal of Toulon is? It is a warped novel of Malot[3] like Le Beau-Frère or Dr. Claude, a monstrous web of provincial bitterness woven around a man to bind him, hold him fast and suffocate him.

Mind you, I am not pleading his innocence. It very well could be that Monsieur Fouroux did what they accuse him of doing. And then afterward? Did he run his city worse because of it?

Among those who will be present on the day he goes to court—if he goes to court—of all the judges and witnesses, of all the jurors and spectators, including the bailiffs and police who will be in the courtroom, there will be more than a hundred of them, you understand, who are in exactly the same situation.

Abortion! I would really like someone first to tell me where and when it starts. I have got the readers of Gil Blas a little used to it by telling them explicit stories, but, really, I cannot mince my words this time.

A man who protects himself from the consequences of a tryst and a woman who immediately protects her future commitments—are they then abortionists? Logically the law should say yes. And naughty Onan[4] was also an abortionist when he scattered his unripe seed, which did not, however, prevent Israel from sprouting and harvesting! But in this case, the high schools, boarding houses, barracks, ships, convents, monasteries and townfuls of teenagers and adults where the sexes are separated and deluded are all abortion factories.

And at what point is abortion legal or not? The Church, at least, is logical in its ban and its defense. But the Penal Code—ah, what a joke!

As if the conscience (the only law in the world) made these distinctions and hid behind the deception. When a being has been dropped onto the earth so little and frail and so touching in its ugliness and weakness and when it has let loose its first cry, shaken its tiny hands and unclenched its tiny feet, then it is alive and sacred! Before that, there is a woman—and nothing but a woman, do you hear me! This is so true that in case of a problematic delivery the doctors do not hesitate to save the mother and leave the infant in the lurch! They would be sorely amazed to be treated as abortionists.

“But the repopulation…” the economists say.

Repopulation! The miserable hypocrites! What does that have to do with it? And how could you even pronounce such a word?

Repopulation! So, what do they do for all the families, the “oodles” of ten or twelve kids who find themselves in our society with neither food nor housing? The other day my colleague Montorgueil[5] in the headlines of L’Eclair pointed out one of these facts to the public indignation. Listen to this:

“There is an artist in Paris, a worker of great merit, Monsieur Maingonnat, lately residing at 13 rue Bayen, who earned a medal at the 1889 Exposition for his exceptionally delicate tapestries. This honest and hard working craftsman had eleven children; seven are left. For six weeks he has been homeless because they did not want children in the houses he contacted. He rented a small apartment in ten different houses in a row and gave a down payment to the super in each of them, but every time he showed up with his children they refused to accept him. I can cite for example the apartment managers at 74 rue Demours and both 3 and 10 rue Poncelet. The police chief whom he contacted to demand fulfillment of the verbal contracts established by the down payments refused to get involved. This punishment of eviction because of his children has lasted six weeks, during which time the unfortunate worker has used up all his savings—he has not been able to work at his trade as a tapestry repairman even though he is one of the best. So, he piled up his poor family in a room at his elderly father’s house, all except for his wife and two of his daughters who are in the hospital.”

Repopulation! We need to take the last excrement of the Maingonnat family and smear it all over anyone who dares to preach repopulation to people dying of hunger!

What do they do for people with many descendants? Where is the reward and the encouragement they offer them, the support they promise, their generous aide, the lightening of their load, of their oppressive duties and their backbreaking obligations? Nowhere. Nothing—sorrow, misery and finally suicide—that is their fate!

Before clamping down on the unmarried or searching through the dirty laundry of midwives, it would be better for the law to pay its debts!

More working class women—even if married—would increase their posterity if the future Paul would not snatch the bread out of the mouths of Tom, Dick and Mary. Denying oneself everything is hardship; with one more it is misery. Sometimes working women get an abortion purely out of motherly love—they know all about this in the social economy and in the courts as well!

As for those women who risk their lives not so much to save their reputation but to keep the men around them calm, they sacrifice to a prejudice that the Penal Code alone is responsible for because nature certainly has no idea of it. When men placed a man’s honor under a woman’s petticoat, they should have thought at the same time about not making it a crime and punishing every act committed by a woman to save the semblance of this honor. Anything else is illogical and cruel.

After all, I repeat, they risk their lives when they refuse the motherhood hanging onto their guts—and danger ennobles the worst actions.

To be a spy in times of peace is base and cowardly; to be a spy in times of war is heroic and noble. The agents of public morality are hated; the agents of public security are respected. Why? It is the same job that differs only in its motives and consequences.

Yes, but the danger is there! The twelve bullets of the execution squad and the blade on high form its insignia—death legitimizes it.

The woman in sin offers her sinning flesh to the grave. She knows that she can die, she knows that she can waste away for good, lose her beauty, health and strength—and the motive that drives her is stronger than her fear’s revolt.

If you have stones in your yard, throw them at her—I won’t!


“But your pretty girls,” the respectable people say, “who worry about their waistline and their complexion?”

There are few of them. Women today are educated enough to know that a late “accident” often ages them and withers them less than a birth. And—wonderful thing!—the good people in question, who raise their offspring venerating Greek civilization, do not know that the people of Athens voted for Phryne’s[6] abortion because they did not want to risk such a perfect masterpiece being ruined.

We have not got there yet. These poor little Phrynes are everywhere and cannot live without a job for a year. Most of these gallant women have a child—young surprises—but have no more afterward… there would be cancellations!

Change jobs? Seeing that there are more hands than there is work and the honest women workers are dying of misery because of the lack of work, what would come of this competition on the labor market? It is better that they keep doing what they are doing… and avenge the others!

Then their unconscious philosophy is affected by the fate of the children who are born of the doorways. Children of thirty-six fathers? Sons of young girls? Flesh for heartache like they have been flesh for pleasure? Ah, no! And their morality spares them this immorality.

You see, abortion is a tragedy, a calamity—not a crime! The law does not have the right to punish its own work and its work alone. As long as there are illegitimate and starving children all over the world, the flag of Malthus[7] (stained with the blood of premature infanticide) will float above the band of rebel amazons who have been forced by your laws to keep their breasts dry and so have the right to keep their bellies infertile.


[1] Gil Blas, November 4 1890, signed Jacqueline.

[2] The Greek personification of law and order.

[3] Hector Malot (1830-1907) was a French writer whose rather realist novels were very popular until the 1930s. He was a friend and supporter of Vallès, a philanthopist and a defender of the oppressed whom Sèverine called “Malot the Honest”.

[4] Genesis 38. “He spilled his seed on the ground to keep from producing offspring” and was killed by God for it. Onanism is masturbation.

[5] Octave Lebesgue (1857-1933) under his pseudonym Georges Montorgueil.

[6] A courtesan in the 4th century B.C. who became rich and famous for her rare beauty.

[7] Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and his controversial theories on population growth.

8-Abortion and Feminism



They dubbed her “The Child Killer”. In the backroom of a bistrot in Batignolles Constance Thomas had performed over 2,000 abortions before she was arrested in 1890. Along with this “angel-maker” they summoned 45 women to court: workers, maids, cooks, prostitutes, housewives, milliners, a flower vendor and a bookseller, many of them married and already mothers. They paid between 5 and 50 F to rid themselves of their burdens. Some could only offer a shawl or dress, a pound of sugar or their wedding ring. Officially only three women died in the course of the operation.

When the trial opened in November it was front-page news in all the papers, each participating in the heated debate on one side or another according to its editorial slant. Those calling for a harsh sentence supported the economists and politicians who denounced the crime as a veritable plague against society that was depopulating the nation and depriving it of necessary forces for the next war. With this in mind the government had raised taxes on bachelors, lowered taxes for fathers, made marriage mandatory and tried to enlarge its colonial population (even in the penal colonies). It also encouraged women to stay home and make babies. Abortion, then, was not only illegal, it was unpatriotic.

On the other side, however, the critics of this policy argued the real social causes of abortion. Women were faced with financial ruin if a child came into the world. Families that were barely scraping by could not afford another mouth to feed. Domestic workers would be fired if they had a child. There were also important medical reasons for legalized abortion that some doctors were quick to point out. And the upper classes wanted to avoid scandal, like in the case of Madame de Jonquières whose case had aggravated the issue.

When Constance Thomas, the Child Killer, was arrested, the public was still reeling from scandal of Toulon. Madame de Jonquières, the wife of a naval officer and the mistress of the former mayor of Toulon, was arrested for having aborted the fruit of her extramarital relation. In their privileged milieu they did not have to resort to the backroom of a bar, they paid 800 F for a clean and private operation with a midwife. On top of the abortion she was guilty of adultery, which was illegal, and sentenced to two years in prison. Ex-mayor Fouroux was given five years for complicity in the crimes. It was a tragedy worthy of a novel—with Fouroux’s two other mistresses, one of whom helped find the midwife and the other who turned them all into the police—but it was also an outrageous display of the country’s heinous and hypocritical laws[1]. “Hypocrisy is the thing that disgusts me the most in the world and it is a pleasure to rip off its sweaty mask” (Séverine in L’Eclair, March 23 1893).

With the case of “The Child Killer” and the lower classes, justice was even more heavy-handed. Twelve years of hard labor for Constance Thomas. Séverine was indignant. She had always defended the right to abortion (and the right to suicide as well) against the fetishism of life at any price as can be seen in “The Right to Abortion”, which carried a wave of controversy in its furious wake because Séverine’s stance was rooted deeper than the feminism of the time. Female anarchists sought to emancipate themselves from the role of mother and wife, from their physical and economic dependence on the child and husband. For the most part they went much further than the feminists in their demands regarding the body and sexuality by adding the moral slavery of marriage and prostitution to the material and economic servitude and basing everything on their general resistance to society at large. In short, women’s only hope was in revolution.

Now, Séverine’s feminism was rather unconventional. First of all, she was not a feminist. No one was. The word did not exist until May 1892 when it was invented at the Congrès Général des Sociétés, an international conference, which was organized for women’s rights, the third such congress held since 1878. Séverine had been invited to participate but had declined. Why? Well, it was not the first time she turned down her female peers. Back in August 1885 the Republican and Socialist Federation decided to present female candidates for the legislative elections. They came up with several names included Louis Michel, Marie Deraismes and Séverine. She was flattered but refused, giving three reasons: 1 – She was too much of a woman to do a job that required a more virile female; 2 – She was not and never would be part of any group or organization because she loved her independence too much; 3 – she long ago chose her post in the social struggle and so preferred to stay with the ambulance rather than mount the public platform.

Later we will see how she modified some of these opinions over time: she would join a group and she would speak in public, but she would do so only to support the feminists’ claims for social equality that she was fighting for—the right to work, equal pay for equal work, equal access to scientific and artistic studies, etc. But we will also see one thing she would never compromise: her disdain for the parliamentary system—she would never become a politician.

So, she fought for change in her own way, in her own corner, being the individualist that she was, using her energy and talent as weapons in the service of justice against the powers that be.

[1] Male adultery was only punishable when he was caught at home. A woman’s adultery anywhere could be punished.