Thérèse Chatillon

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Entry by Christiane Escanecrabe and Nicole Pellegrin, 2008

Both daughters of a cooper––literate along with his seven children––the Chatillon sisters were born in Châtellerault in Poitou (the present-day department of Vienne) during the latter half of the eighteenth century. Louise and Rose Chatillon, single and Catholic, were merchants who had a shop of their own . They are known only by a mention of Louise in the registries of the guilds renovated by the Edicts of Turgot, by the presence of their signatures on several deeds and by their quarrels with the revolutionary authorities in their town. On the eve of the Revolution, Louise usually chose between three titles to introduce herself: “draper”, “grocer” and “mercer”. But in 1796, she started calling herself a “merchant”. At that time, Rose was known as a “linen seller” and died as a “merchant” along with a third sister, Thérèse, widow of a pruner and owner of a house where all three sisters lived with their mother and Thérèse’s two sons.

In 1794, following a soap shortage, Rose and Louise began producing a cleaning ointment and drafted a petition in which they asked for the sale price of their product to be fixed as required by the detrimental Law of the Maximum (since September 29, 1793, a price cap was imposed on basic commodities and salaries). But the Chatillon sisters’ initiative was not much appreciated by the municipal administrators since the price that they requested was judged too high (in the meantime the price of soap in Marseilles had decreased by almost half in three months and did not last through as many loads of laundry). It was also argued that their product presented a risk of destabilizing the local economy by using the lard that candle manufacturers needed.

Two years later, on the 22nd day of Messidor in Year IV (July 10, 1796), policemen arrested a former canon of Ingrades–– known as a ‘réfractaire’ [ a ‘dissident’]–– at the home of the three sisters and being given shelter by them. Considered to be the accomplices of the ecclesiastic, they were arrested and incarcerated in the town jail, then transferred to Poitiers before being summoned, once again, by the Justice of the Peace in their native town. Because Louise and Thérèse were absent upon the arrival of the priest, they were promptly freed when Rose declared herself to be the only one guilty. The verdict was pronounced on the 20th day of Fructidor in Year IV (August 31). As a result of a skilful defense (did not the accused have 24 hours to denounce the priest while he was only apprehended five hours after his arrival?), Rose Chatillon was acquitted two months after her arrest (meanwhile the priest escaped the prison of Châtellerault and his escape was later put into song). The inventory of the sisters’ boutiques, undertaken on the 4th day of Thermidor (July 22), because of the judicial pursuits to which they had exposed themselves, mentions all sorts of textiles (cotton, druggets, cheap woolen fabrics), haberdashery (knitting wool, stripes), groceries (brown sugar), hair powder, lamp wicks, etc.

The entrepreneurial taste, solidarity (at least infra-familial solidarity), religious constancy, ingeniousness and courage of these three women are certainly not exceptional. These female workers, who were also clergy sympathisers, were matched by many other fellow-women across French towns and cities, whose names still remain to be discovered. By recording economic problems and politico-religious stakes, the judicial archives of this period reveal the importance of women’s initiatives in all areas of social activity.

(translated by Martine Sauret)


  • Archives départementales de la Vienne : L suppl. 197 : Justice de paix du canton de Châtellerault (inventaire et procès).
  • Archives départementales de la Vienne : L 317 : Statistiques agricoles, commerciales et industrielles (prix du savon)

Selected bibliography

Escanecrabe, Christiane, «Une pétition présentée par des Châtelleraudaises au sujet d’un savon qu’elles fabriquent pendant la Révolution», Revue d’histoire du pays châtelleraudais, 4, 2e semestre 2002, p.168-179. 
  • Escanecrabe, Christiane, «Recel et évasion: les soeurs Chatillon et le chanoine Chambelan», Revue d’histoire du pays châtelleraudais, 7, 1er semestre 2004, p.55-79.
  • Juratic, Sabine et Nicole Pellegrin, «Femmes, villes et travail en France dans la deuxième moitié du XVIIIe siècle», Histoire, économie et société, 3e trimestre 1994, p.477-500.
  • Roux, Marquis de, Histoire religieuse de la Révolution à Poitiers et dans la Vienne, Lyon, Lardanchet, 1952.


«Trois citoyennes dont la vie fut toujours irréprochable paraissent en ce moment devant vous couvertes à la vérité de l’ignominie du crime, mais fortes du témoignage de leur conscience et pleines de cette sécurité qu’inspire la certitude de l’innocence.» (Mémoire de leur avocat [1796], tel que cité par Christiane Escanecrabe, «Recel et évasion...», voir supra, Choix bibliographique, p.78)

Thérèse Chatillon
Birth date 1741
Death 1822
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