- La ville charitable: Les œuvres sociales catholiques en France et en Allemagne au XIXe siècle by Catherine Maurer
This work begins, after a helpful introduction, with a discussion of nineteen books of the period c. 1890–1905, which describe the charitable organizations (œuvres) of Catholics at work in eight French cities and eight German cities. The latter category includes Strasbourg, German in that period but with a past (and future) in France. Maurer is professor at the University of Strasbourg; she brings a wealth of knowledge and scholarship to her chosen topic. Her approach is indeed comparative, noting the similarities and differences of the institutions in France and Germany, but with an emphasis on urban history and on the public-private relationships of the Catholic organizations active in those cities (lined up for the reader in two tables and maps, pp. 71–79). An overall finding is that, in this as in other respects, the avowedly anti-modern Catholic laity, sisters, and clergy in both countries adopted modern approaches in the practice and development of Catholic care for the poor.
A first instance of this is the publication of the books (listed pp. 11–12) that form the central “corpus” and starting point of her research. Why did such publications appear around the same time (the 1890s)? They reflected the use of serious investigation by enquêtes after the manner of Frédéric Le Play. Despite the hesitance of, say, the St. Vincent de Paul visitors to the poor to boast of the aid they rendered, such compilations publicized the proliferation of Catholic charities in order, first, to court public support and draw more volunteers from the better-off [End Page 163] classes. They also systematized what services were available in the city treated, so as to serve as handbooks for charitable activists and organizations—all “modern” traits, provoked in part by the liberalism of the time; for example, by an anticlerical ascendancy (especially in France) and Protestant anti-Catholicism (more so in Germany). Still, it may be noted parenthetically that Leopold von Ranke called on the recently established congregation of the Sisters of St. Elisabeth in Berlin to look after his sick wife in 1861 (p. 243). Presumably Protestants had not yet organized a comparable service there.
The books in the “corpus” also yield data on the historical origins, context, and development of these charities, which Maurer elaborates in her text with a plethora of recent scholarly studies. From the “small sample” (p. 178) of sixteen cities, a picture nevertheless emerges of newly conceived responses to the needs of children in an industrializing and urbanizing society (the latter more pronounced and rapid in Germany than in France in this period). She focuses on similar targeted moves to improve the situation of poor women and youth, especially girls, and to be appropriately up-to-date in the care of the sick, not without conflicts internal and external.
Careful thought seems to have gone into the organization and apparatus of this work, but the abundant bibliography (pp. 328–87) is distributed under many topical headings, which does not make it easy to find the complete data of a work cited in the footnotes. For anyone desirous of well-founded information on the subject, however, the search is well worth it.