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Contested Paternity

Constructing Families in Modern France

Rachel G. Fuchs

Publication Year: 2008

This groundbreaking study examines complex notions of paternity and fatherhood in modern France through the lens of contested paternity. Drawing from archival judicial records on paternity suits, paternity denials, deprivation of paternity, and adoption, from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth, Rachel G. Fuchs reveals how paternity was defined and how it functioned in the culture and experiences of individual men and women. She addresses the competing definitions of paternity and of families, how public policy toward paternity and the family shifted, and what individuals did to facilitate their personal and familial ideals and goals. Issues of paternity and the family have broad implications for an understanding of how private acts were governed by laws of the state. Focusing on paternity as a category of family history, Contested Paternity emphasizes the importance of fatherhood, the family, and the law within the greater context of changing attitudes toward parental responsibility.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

My work on this book began a long time ago, and one of the pleasures at the end is the opportunity to thank those who gave unstintingly of their time and energy to provide encouragement and assistance along the way. I am profoundly grateful to so many...

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pp. 1-15

“Why are you writing a book on paternity?” some friends have asked— often adding, somewhat suspiciously: “But I thought you worked on women’s history?” This book owes its conception to an earlier one I wrote on the poor and pregnant of Paris...

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1 Families and the Social Order from the Old Regime to the Civil Code

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pp. 16-58

Families are adaptable forms of private and public relationships. As men and women fashion their families, private passions frequently conflict with an ideal family form. From the eighteenth century through the formulation of the Civil Code in 1804, the legally married family remained the political and social ideal, the bastion of social order. As authorities sought to...

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2 Seduction and Courtroom Encounters in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 59-108

Women went to court to try to collect child support for their children and reparations for themselves from men who had seduced and abandoned them, despite the Civil Code’s prohibition of paternity searches and the toweringemotional and financial hardships they faced along the way. Women were not all passive victims who lived unhappily within the laws that attempted...

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3 Find the Fathers, Save the Children, 1870–1912

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pp. 109-159

Demonstrating the power of the judiciary and of women, significant court rulings during the nineteenth century set the stage for enacting a law in 1912 to permit recherche de paternit

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4 Courts Attribute Paternity, 1912–1940

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pp. 160-199

Jeanne Capbourg gave birth in Paris on 12 December 1908 to a daughter, Andrée Marie. Two weeks short of her child’s fifth birthday, on 27 November 1913, she went to court to obtain 70 francs a month in child support from the putative father, Guislains, and reparations of 2,000 francs for his breaking a marriage promise....

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5 Families Dismantled and Reconstituted, 1880–1940

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pp. 200-239

When women went to court to obtain child support or judicially declared paternity for their children, reconstituting a family with the father was not their stated goal, and the men brought to court did not seek to form a family with the mother and child. Judges, therefore, did not reconstitute families when ascribing...

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6 Paternity and the Family, 1940 to the Present

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pp. 240-277

Women who filed paternity suits represented themselves as good mothers, even outside of legal marriage, regardless of the nature of the sexual relationships that had led to their pregnancy. Most men fashioned themselves as good fathers, but primarily within a conjugal family where they were material providers..

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pp. 278-287

The concept of paternity varies by time, place, and culture, and it remains problematic, complex, and personal in the Western world. Since the eighteenth century, sometimes gradually and sometimes in giant leaps and bounds, the legal, social, and cultural acceptance of a variety of family arrangements has successfully...


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pp. 289-324

Works Cited

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pp. 325-343


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pp. 345-353

E-ISBN-13: 9780801898167
E-ISBN-10: 0801898161
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801898334
Print-ISBN-10: 0801898331

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 14 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2008