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Poverty, Charity, and Motherhood

Poverty, Charity, and Motherhood: Maternal Societies in Nineteenth-Century France

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Poverty, Charity, and Motherhood
    Book Description:

    This far-reaching study of maternal societies in post-Revolutionary France focuses on the philanthropic work of the Society for Maternal Charity, the most prominent organization of its kind. Administered by middle-class and elite women and financed by powerful families and the government, the Society offered support to poor mothers, helping them to nurse and encouraging them not to abandon their children. In Poverty, Charity, and Motherhood, Christine Adams traces the Society's key role in shaping notions of maternity and in shifting the care of poor families from the hands of charitable volunteers with religious-tinged social visions to paid welfare workers with secular goals such as population growth and patriotism._x000B__x000B_Adams plumbs the origin and ideology of the Society and its branches, showing how elite women in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Rouen, Marseille, Dijon, and Limoges tried to influence the maternal behavior of women and families with lesser financial means and social status. A deft analysis of the philosophy and goals of the Society details the members' own notions of good mothering, family solidarity, and legitimate marriages that structured official, elite, and popular attitudes concerning gender and poverty in France. These personal attitudes, Adams argues, greatly influenced public policy and shaped the country's burgeoning social welfare system.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09001-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Maternal Societies in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 1-28)

    At the general assembly of Lyon’s Society for Maternal Charity in March 1847, Madame Delahante, présidente, celebrated the positive social influence of her charitable organization: “Some of these Ladies have also prevented several mothers from placing their children at the Foundling Hospice [Hospice des Enfants-Trouvés]; one of them gave the Maternal Charity’s aid to a wretched woman who had already left two of these children at the Enfants-Trouvés and was prepared to do the same with the third; through her advice [conseils] and through her assistance these three children escaped the unhappy fate of abandoned children and were returned to...

  5. 1. “Moses Saved from the Waters”: The Origins of the Society for Maternal Charity
    (pp. 29-57)

    When the members of the Society for Maternal Charity met in assembly on February 13, 1789, they set lofty goals for their organization, notably to “Save the life and l’état for a multitude of citizens sacrificed to extreme poverty; restore morality in indigent families; spare them from a crime; attach a prize to the observation of their duties.”¹ The society thus took on one of the most pressing problems in Ancien Régime France: the ever-growing number of foundlings, abandoned due to poverty.

    The problem of foundlings and abandoned children was an old one in France. Since the twelfth century, various...

  6. 2. “A Grand and Official Institution”: The Society for Maternal Charity under Napoleon
    (pp. 58-82)

    As the Napoleonic empire reached its apogee in 1810, Bordeaux’s maternal society issued its annual compte rendu, boasting of its successes since its founding in 1805 and noting that fewer than one-seventh of the infants cared for that year had died.

    The document went on to observe that: “This happy result, and the other advantages procured for the poor by the societies for maternal charity, could not escape the vigilant eye of the genius restorer of the Empire, who has established, on new and better foundations, European civilization. He wanted to aggrandize and generalize the salutary influences of these institutions,...

  7. 3. Modeling Maternal Behavior: Relations between the Dames Visiteuses and the Pauvres Mères Indigentes
    (pp. 83-112)

    In 1811, Madame Chastan, wife of a Parisian charbonnier (collier), gave birth to triplets. Still caring for a little girl of twenty-eight months, the mother was determined to breast-feed all three babies herself. Her patrons at the Society for Maternal Charity suggested that Madame Chastan place at least one of the three babies with a wet nurse. “‘Eh, which would I give up?’ she responded. ‘No, no, I can nurse all three of them.’”¹ With this story, the Paris society demonstrated in a compelling fashion the success of its organization and approach. Through timely assistance to a struggling mother and...

  8. 4. In the Public Interest: Charitable Associations and Public-utility Status
    (pp. 113-138)

    By the 1840s, the Society for Maternal Charity was a mature organization, boasting decades of successful outreach and consistent governmental support. All branches claimed to serve the public interest and attracted support from those most committed to the common good. The society devoted itself to goals—the preservation of children and appropriate maternal behavior—that met with the approval of state and municipal authorities. But even associations devoted to a good cause could incite consternation on the part of a French government that wanted them to serve as obedient tools to carry out its policies.

    So far this study has...

  9. 5. “Seconding the Views of the Government”: Maternal Societies and the State
    (pp. 139-170)

    When the Society for Maternal Charity issued the organization’s first bylaws in February 1789, the language reflected Enlightenment optimism, with its faith in the potential benefits of combined philanthropic and governmental action:

    The government, eager to extend the sources of public prosperity, the population, and [good] morals, has encouraged [our] work and doubled [our] strength by a considerable donation; businesses have seconded the views of the Government by enriching us; the number of subscribers has increased; and this Society, having only zeal as its guide; for hope, only the concern it should inspire; for arms against all the obstacles opposed...

  10. Epilogue: Toward a Welfare State
    (pp. 171-180)

    Over the course of its nearly one-hundred-year existence, the Society for Maternal Charity had drawn strong support from every regime. But France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, and the changes that followed, presaged significant shifts in the maternal society’s political fortunes, although the specific nature of those changes was, for a long time, unclear. The complicated political landscape in France following the fall of the Second Empire in September 1870 made it difficult to know what type of government would eventually emerge. Until the crisis of May 16, 1877, which eventually led to the resignation of the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 181-246)
  12. Index
    (pp. 247-251)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)