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Poverty, Charity, and Motherhood

Maternal Societies in Nineteenth-Century France


Publication Year: 2010

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._x000B__x000B_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 women's 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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

first came across the Society for Maternal Charity when I was working on my dissertation, the story of a family in eighteenth-century Bordeaux. Fascinated by the documents, I vowed to come back to them. I got my first chance in 1995 when, thanks to a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I was able...

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Introduction: Maternal Societies in the Nineteenth Century

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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...

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1. "Moses Saved from the Waters": The Origins of the Society for Maternal Charity

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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...

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2. "A Grand and Official Institution": The Society for Maternal Charity under Napoleon

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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...

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3. Modeling Maternal Behavior: Relations between the Dames Visiteuses and the Pauvres Meres Indigentes

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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...

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4. In the Public Interest: Charitable Associations and Public-utility Status

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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...

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5. "Seconding the Views of the Government": Maternal Societies and the State

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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...

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Epilogue: Toward a Welfare State

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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


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pp. 181-246


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pp. 247

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035470

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010