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

By Allan Mitchell | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Men and Women

The Belle Epoque cannot be described as a great age of women's liberation. Male dominance of French society, securely framed by the Napoleonic Code at the beginning of the nineteenth century, remained virtually unshaken until the onset of the First World War and was relaxed but gradually thereafter. That French women did not gain the suffrage until 1944 was only the most egregious characteristic of a general circumstance that was largely taken for granted. It is remarkable, in fact, how little the inferior status of women in French society was challenged before 1914 by members of either sex. With few exceptions or qualifications, the natural order of things appeared to place men on top.1

Yet women were at the center of attention in the movement for welfare reform in France. Their role in society was incessantly a subject of discussion among those whose public task it was--as committeemen, city councillors, medical experts, or parliamentarians--to ameliorate the health and prosperity of the general population. This stated concern had little or nothing to do with feminism.2 Nor should it be automatically ascribed to a growing sense of social injustice. The most fundamental motive for bettering the lot of women did not obviously emerge from the internal functioning of French democracy. Rather, it was a tangent of the late-century demographic crisis and of an urgently felt need to salvage whatever possible of France's power and prestige as a great nation. The emotions of patriotism, and specifically of a desire to compete with Germany, provided the primary motor force of reform pertaining to women. To put the matter somewhat bluntly--but no more so than the expression of

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xv
  • Part One - Private Charity and Public Health 1
  • Chapter I - The Aegis of Liberalism 3
  • Chapter 2 - The Demographic Imperative 24
  • Chapter 3 - The German Model 44
  • Chapter 4 - The Sources of Social Reform 68
  • Part Two - The Intersections of Reform 95
  • Chapter 5 - Men and Women 97
  • Chapter 6 - Physicians and Patients 119
  • Chapter 7 - Paristans and Provincials 144
  • Chapter 8 - Managers and Workers 166
  • Part Three - National Crisis and Social Security 191
  • Chapter 9 - The Funding of Reform 193
  • Chapter 10 - The Dilemma of Mutual Societies 223
  • Chapter 11 - The Parable of Tuberculosis 252
  • Chapter 12 - The Embarrassment of Choice 276
  • Conclusion - Republic and Reich, 1870-1914 300
  • Notes 317
  • Bibliography 367
  • Index 385
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