The Divided Path: The German Influence on Social Reform in France after 1870

By Allan Mitchell | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The Sources of Social Reform

The first centennial of the French Revolution was a splendid occasion for the entire nation and especially for Paris. As the danger and excitement of the Boulanger Affair receded, the populace could breath more easily and again exude the charm that has always captivated visitors to the capital. The great world's fair centered at the Trocadero represented, far more than its predecessor in 1878, a declaration of independence and a notification that the French had at last put military defeat behind them in order to reclaim their leading status among the powers of Europe. France stood on the threshold of the Belle Epoque, prepared to look forward once more and to savor the rewards of progress. Yet this celebratory mood was crossed, almost imperceptibly, by a dingy shadow. The social troubles of the time could be temporarily repressed but not altogether ignored. To be sure, the Parisian police were under orders to prevent begging on the exposition grounds and to sweep away vagrants from the city's center. But an inquisitive tourist might have taken a bus ride to its terminus in the Paris suburbs, visited the shabby streets of Belleville, or wandered aimlessly on the outer slopes of Montmartre. Poverty was there, even if it was not visible from the platforms of the Eiffel Tower.

Only three years earlier, in 1886, the government had consolidated a number of separate agencies into the Bureau of Public Health and Hygiene within the Ministry of the Interior. Appointed as the first chief of this new welfare administration--a crucial post that he would occupy for nearly two decades--was Henri Monod, who promptly set about to convene an international congress on

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