Restoring the Notion of Family in France: Pronatalist and Pro-Family Propaganda in Schools and Army Barracks (1920-1940)

Article excerpt

Concern for demographic issues is a well-established French trait. Witness, for example, the interest of today's French public in annual changes in fertility and mortality levels, which is unique in Europe. This awareness is linked not only to the demographic history of France, characterized by the early onset of the demographic transition, but also to the ideological influence of the pronatalist and pro-family movement which was very active in the interwar period. In this article, Virginie DE LUCA examines the approach and content of pronatalist and pro-family propaganda between 1920 and 1940 in France. Its methods and goals fall into two categories. On the one hand, the aim is to create a climate favourable to the family and high fertility among school students by introducing elements pertaining to family values in all the disciplines taught. On the other hand, a more technical approach, focusing more on geography and history, aims to present descriptive tools of the population and the nation, such as the age distribution, to students. This first introduction to demography was thus designed to give moral and statistical content to the question.

Article 142 of the law of 29 July 1939, known as the Family Code (Code de la famille), requires that population issues be taught in schools. It states that "the teaching of demographic issues in their statistical aspects and their relation to questions of morals and family is obligatory for all teachers and all students at every level of education and in all public and private educational establishments". This text was promulgated by the Haut comité de la population (Senior committee for population) created in 1939, which had only a transitory existence before it was abolished by the Vichy government. But the wheels had been set in motion. From 1941 on, under the aegis of the secretary of state for family and health, pamphlets and manuals were produced in growing numbers. However, although the Family Code has been the subject of recent studies (Chauvière, 1992; Chauvière and Bussat, 2000; Rosental, 2003), they only mention the establishment of "the teaching of population problems" and do not discuss its origins. The present article aims to trace the genesis of the introduction of population questions in schools and to understand why this teaching was given a statistical and moral content.

Archives and printed sources provide information on the movements which initiated the organization of this teaching, and reveal the monopoly of one association, the Alliance nationale pour l'accroissement de la population française (National alliance for the growth of the French population), with respect to propaganda activities aimed at promoting "pronatalist and pro-family" teaching. Analysis of the establishment and development of this approach shows that it introduced not only population issues but also methods and tools for demographic analysis into French schools. Its advocates thus helped to initiate "literacy in demography" to quote Léon Gani (1993). It was through this militant strategy that demography was brought into schools and army barracks, and was more widely disseminated to a public of non-specialists. As a result, by the late 1940s, a survey showed that a majority of respondents were able to give an opinion on the French population and mention some of its demographic characteristics (Bresard, 1948; Cibois, 1982). However, close examination of the pronatalists' project shows that their objective was to inculcate behaviour and to educate individuals rather than to introduce them to demography and population issues. The definition of Paul Haury, one of the main advocates of the pronatalist cause, bears witness to this "pronatalist and pro-family" teaching:

"Its aim is to prepare for an upturn in the birth rate by strengthening the family feeling in young minds; its method consists in invoking demographic facts and their importance on the one hand, and in developing moral and sociological concepts on the other hand, while illuminating their vital role in the development of societies [. …


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