Flora Tristan

by Ai Thuy Lu,

April 2002



In 1844 Flora Tristan died of typhoid fever. In her short life span she has accomplished much. She was one of the first feminist socialists who believed in the emancipation of the working classes but also focus on equal women’s right as in integral part. She has published several books on the injustice that woman faced and of the working class. Influenced by her studies of leading Utopian socialist of the time, she wrote her most famous work, L'Union ouvrière (The Worker’s Union), which a socialist theory that called on workers' organizations in all countries to make common cause against capitalism is proposed. Her last work was “treated as visionary, as revolutionary, and by some as inspiring.[1]

 Flora Tristan was born in 1804 to a French woman and a Peruvian aristocrat. However due to French law her parent’s marriage was not recognized in France and she was considered an illegitimate child. Her father died and she was not allowed to inherit her father’s estate. She grew up in poverty in Paris, which allowed her to identify with the French working class. Flora then married Andre Chazal, her employer. However due to his ill treatment, she left him but was unable to get a divorce due to France’s law. She left him and traveled to England for reasons unknown and wrote her first book Women Travelers in where she speaks if the inequalities that women face and the treatment they get. She came back to France where her husband attempted to kill her. He was thrown in jail and she was free of her husband wrath. After the incident, Flora travel to Peru to ask her uncle for her father’s inheritance. She then wrote about her experience in Peru, the culture shock she experienced and the civil war that took place.

Upon the finishing of the book about Peru she began studying the leading Utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Considerant, and Owen. She respected their advocacy of no capitalism but with a non-violence approach and emancipation of women. She was also influenced by Robert Owen’s founding of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. This all lead to her work, The Worker’s Union.


 In The Worker’s Union she criticized capitalism and what it does to the working class in France. “Workers, your condition in present society is miserable and painful: in good health, you do not have the right to work; sick, ailing, injured, old, you do not even have the right to care; poor, lacking everything, you are not entitled to benefits…The fate of the animal ruminating in a stable is a thousand times better than yours. He, at least, is certain of eating the next day…[2]” Flora believed that welfare class, guilds and so on were inefficient and this separation caused the problems. Poverty she says is cause by the strife between the working class, causing them to stay poor. She called for unity and for the workers to come together and form the Worker’s Union Palace. This would compromise of a community where each man and woman donated 2 franc to be in. Here each man and woman would be equal. A woman contribution in this society would be vital for it success. The amount of money donated would start this community. A central committee would be chosen to allocate. Housing, factories, hospitals would be built. It would be self-sufficient producing what was need. All children would be educated. No one would go hungry and everyone would be provided health care. It would be a “harmonious society.[3]” With the abundance produced there would be no more greed, hunger, strife and most important equality.

Flora Tristan after completing this work of hers took a tour around France to inform the working class of her ideas and for them to unite as one to form this union. However her ideas never were implemented. The reasons for failure? It could have been the lacks of realistic methods for the implementation or just the fact that a utopian society has yet establish itself into the real world. Yet still Flora Tristan has greatly contributed to comparative economic history as one of the first feminist socialist.



1.)    Desanti, Dominique. A Woman in Revolt, a biography of Flora Tristan. New York, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1976.

2.)    Beik, Doris and Paul. Flora Tristan: Utopian Feminist. Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1993.

3.)    Tristan, Flora. The Worker’s Union. Tans. Livingston, Beverly. Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1983.

4.)    Xrefer. Flora Tristan-


[1] Flora Tristan: Utopian Feminist pg. xix

[2] The Worker’s Union pg. 38

[3] The Worker’s Union pg. 125





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