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Society for French Historical Studies

Getting along: Poor Women's Networks in Nineteenth-Century Paris Author(s): Leslie Page Moch and Rachel G. Fuchs Reviewed work(s): Source: French Historical Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp. 34-49 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/286950 . Accessed: 02/12/2011 03:53
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Getting Along: Poor Women's Networks in Nineteenth-Century Paris

Leslie Page Moch and Rachel G. Fuchs

By anyone's standard,Marie-Therese Dubon neededhelp. Having lost herjob, she had been unable to pay her infant daughter'swetnurse.The nurse'sneighboring countrywomenhad written that the infantwas being left to starve,so Dubon had spent her last sous fetching her daughter.Becausethe wetnursehad refusedto give up the baby'sclothesuntil the debtwas settled,Dubon returnedto Paris on a hot summer'sdayin 1907 with the infant wrapped in her woolen shawl. By the time she reached the sweltering city, Dubon concluded that her only recourse was to end herlife in the Seine river.But Marie-Therese Dubon doesnot appearon police recordsof retrievedbodies, in the registersof shelters for homelesswomen, on the lists of women arrested for turning to prostitution, or in judicial recordsof infanticide trials. Becauseher sister took her in despite the fact that Dubon's brother-in-lawviolently disliked herand she crowdedtheirone-room home-she is invisible to the public record.' The poor women of Paris are most visible to the historian when they mount onto the stage in the well-illuminated record-keepingarenas of charitableorganizations,the welfarestate,the courtroom,or the hospital. Nonetheless, it is well known that the primarysource of inLeslie Page Moch is associate professor of history at the University of Michigan-Flint. She is the author of Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe since 1650 (Bloomington, Ind., 1992) and Paths to the City: Regional Migration in Nineteenth-Century France (Beverly Hills, Calif., 1983); she is editor (with Gary Stark) of Essays on the Family and Historical Change (College Station, Tex., 1983). Rachel G. Fuchs is associate professor of history at Arizona State University. She is author of Poor and Pregnant in Paris: Strategies forSurvival in theNineteenth Century (New Brunswick, N.J., 1992) and Abandoned Children: Foundlings and Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century France (Albany, N.Y., 1984). Fuchs and Moch are also authors of "Pregnant, Single, and Far from Home: Migrant Women in Nineteenth-Century Paris," A merican Historical Review 95 (1990): 1007-31.
1 Madeleine Henrey, The Little Madeleine. The Autobiography of a Young Girl in Montmartre (London, 1951), 29-30. Dubon is a pseudonym.

French Historical Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1993) Copyright A 1993 by the Society for French Historical Studies



formation and aid is networks of kin and friendship through which rich and poor alike move, find jobs, engineer their social lives, and deal with crises.2 This article is a preliminary attempt to reconcile our institution-bound view of the poor with social theory and the realities of human connections by analyzing extant evidence of poor women's networks that brought newcomers into Paris, found them employment, shaped their social-sexual contacts, and helped them in hard times. We concentrate on the prewar years of the Third Republic, 1871-1914. As historians now focus on many questions through the lens of gender, history's traditional areas of inquiry, such as politics and the state, are being recast. A particularly vibrant subfield is the history of the welfare state and the role of women in its developments Although we applaud these developments, in this article we would like to train a spotlight not on public institutions and their administrators, but on the poor women themselves, who are threatened with banishment from the historical stage, reduced to objects of political discourse or to clients of the newly emerging welfare state. We also depart in many ways from the history of nineteenthcentury France where little has been done to follow the pioneering work of Arlette Farge on life among the poor in eighteenth-century Paris.4 The lack of work on community or networks among poor women is partly due to the nature of documentation, particularly for the Third Republic, where a variety of government enquetes inspire and guide research on women's work.5 Consequently, most research on nineMark Granovetter, Getting a Job (Cambridge, Mass., 1974). Kathryn Kish Sklar, "A Call for Comparisons," American Historical Review 95 (1990): 1109-14. A growing field investigates female welfare recipients. See Rachel G. Fuchs, Poor and Pregnant in Paris: Strategies for Survival in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick, N.J., 1992); Peter Mandler, ed., The Uses of Charity: The Poor on Relief in the Nineteenth-Century Metropolis (Philadelphia, 1990); F. K. Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford, 1980). 4 Arlette Farge, La Vie fragile: Violence, pouvoirs et solidarites a Paris au X Vllle siecle (Paris, 1986). 5 Marilyn Boxer, "Women in Industrial Homework: The Flowermakers of Paris in the Belle Epoque," French Historical Studies 12 (Spring 1982): 401-23; Lorraine Coons, Women Home Workers in the Parisian Garment Industry, 1860-1915 (New York, 1987); Michelle Perrot, Enquetes sur la condition ouvriere en France au 19e sicle: Etude, bibliographies index (Paris, 1972); Mary Lynn Stewart, Women, Work, and the French State: Labour Protection and Social Patriarchy, 1879-1919 (Montreal, 1989). Because the "strong state" of France discussed and legislated policies toward the poor, much work is couched in terms of the state. Sklar, "A Call for Comparisons," 1110; Jacques Donzelot, The Policing of Families, trans. Robert Hurley (New York, 1979); Mary Lynn Stewart, Women, Work, and the French State; on prostitution for example, see Jill Harsin, Policing Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century Paris (Princeton, 1985); Alain Corbin, Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850, trans. Alan Sheridan (Cambridge, Mass., 1990). Contemporary reformers who observed Parisian housing, work places, and families were more concerned with the family, health, and work legislation than with helping networks among the poor. See for example Jules Simon, L'Ouvriere (Paris, 1861); Frederic Le
2 3



teenth-century Paris tells us a great deal about some aspects of workingclass life, but very little about the "social glue" operating among women neighbors, co-workers, and kin. Our concern is the active role of poor women themselves. In thinking about ways to view poor women, we can see that within powerful structures and historical processes "there is," as Joan Scott writes, ''room for a concept of human agency," the attempt "to structure an identity, a life, a set of relationships, a society with certain limits and boundaries."6 The bedrock of human agency is contacts among people and the powerful sharing of the resources of information. Scott acutely observes that "to pursue meaning, we need to deal with the individual subj ect as well as social organization and to articulate the nature of their interrelationships, for both are crucial to understanding how gender works, how change occurs." This article is an investigation of networks that constituted the individual poor woman's most immediate society. These networks upon which poor women drew were the fundamental tools with which "an identity, a life, a set of relationships" were constructed.7 The networks of the poor urban women in Paris, such as Marie-Therese Dubon, whose story opened this article, provide the primary link between their own identity and the social identity visible on public records. Both networks and their operation are as gendered as the old school necktie, yet much less visible. Unlike the relations among the powerful, the networks among the poor cannot be gleaned from records of dowry, notarized marriage contracts, shared ministry positions, school affiliations, charity activities, or legislative concerns. Rather, the networks among the poor are truly off the record. Those of women are particularly obscure, because they are rarely manifested in the workplace and
Play, Les Ouvriers europeens, 6 vols. (Tours, 1877-1879). For the most part, studies of workingclass culture have focused on men. See Lenard Berlanstein, The Working People of Paris, 1871-1914 (Baltimore, 1984); Denis Poulot, Le Sublime, ou le travailleur comme it est en 1870 et ce qu'il peut etre (Paris, 1980, orig. pub. 1887); Jacques RanciereThe Nights of Labor: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth- Century France (Philadelphia, 1989); Ira Katznelson and Aristide Zolberg, Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (Princeton, 1986); Steven Kaplan and Cynthia Koepp, eds., Work in France: Representations, Meaning, Organization, and Practice (Ithaca, N.Y., 1986); William Sewell, Jr. Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848 (Cambridge, 1980). This is not to say that the writings of working-class men were not concerned with women and the family, for they were. See Michelle Perrot, "Eloge de la menagere dans le discours des ouvriers fransais au XIXe siecle," Romantisme 13-14 (1976): 105-21; Joan W. Scott, "Work Identities for Men and Women: The Politics of Work and Family in the Parisian Garment Trades in 1848," in Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988). 6 Joan W. Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," American Historical Review 91 (1986): 1067. 7 Ibid.



in political solidarities that put men on police records or in workers' writings. They were less likely than those of men to appear in diaries, letters, or stories because poor women were more likely to be illiterate than any other group in prewar France. Moreover, when networks could successfully help poor women (whether to move, find work, negotiate their social lives, or deal with difficulties) those women successfully stayed out of the written records and off the police, court, charity, hospital, and shelter registers of the city. For women, "how gender works, how change occurs" is intimately related to their networks of contact and aid in both their objective position and their lived experience. More often than men, women moved and found work through private contacts, because they were less likely to move and work as a team-unlike men in harvest, railroad, construction, or road work.8 Because there were so few occupations that allowed women to be self-supporting, it was in their best interests to marry, and how they fared in urban marriage markets depended a good deal on social protection and sponsorship.9 After in-depth interviews with those who moved to Paris in the 1920s, Isabelle Bertaux-Wiame observed that "while men move through the family network to find work, women move through jobs networks to find a family."10 Not only did women seek out a foyer, but they also perceived themselves in relational terms. Bertaux-Wiame concluded that "men consider the life they have lived as their own," yet "women do not insist on this. . . . Instead they will talk at length about their relationship to such or such a person. They bring into view the people around them and their relations with these people.""1Perhaps because women were less socially and economically powerful than men, their contacts with others not only inform us about their means of entering new places and new occupations, but they also inform us about an arena of particular importance to women's life experience. Networks and Urban Life Although networks elude the historian, they were evident to contemporaries and clearly were effective among the poor; the lively subcul8 Leslie Page Moch, Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe since 1650 (Bloomington, Ind.), 1992. 9 George Alter, Family and the Female Life Course: The Women of Verviers, Belgium, 1849-1880 (Madison, Wis., 1988), 131; Vivian Brodsky Elliott, "Single Women in the London Marriage Market: Age, Status, and Mobility," in Marriage and Society: Studies in the Social History of Marriage (London, 1981), 81-100. 10 Isabelle Bertaux-Wiame, "The Life History Approach to the Study of Internal Migration," Oral History 7 (1979): 28-29. 11Ibid., 29. See also Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge, Mass., 1982).



tures and occupational solidarities among migrants in the growing city were evidence of vital relations.'2 When historians think of networks, they think of the close net of ties formed by kin, compatriots, neighbors, and fellow workers-ties which often overlapped with one another to form dense subcultures, like that of the famous masons from the Creuse, who lived and worked together in Paris. We should also consider, however, what sociologist Mark Granovetter labeled "weak ties," the links that bridged outside one's quotidien network of contacts, connecting with other groups. "Weak ties" with the distant relative, vaguely known compatriot, or friendly face on the block, for example, enabled nineteenth-century people to find new jobs or find help in hard times. The "strength of weak ties" was that very effective aid could be offered not only by close kin and friends, but also by distant acquaintances or distant kin who might be better placed to help with a job.'3 It is important to note, then, that networks of contact could be quite fluid; the person with crucial information in a particular situation may not have been called upon again. As Europeans moved around seeking aid for employment and social problems in the changing economies and society of the nineteenth century, they moved in networks of kin and neighbors and reached out for aid through more distant, mobile, and ephemeral contacts. We will briefly analyze extant evidence of poor women's networks of contact as they moved to Paris, found and maintained employment, managed their social lives, and resolved crises. We focus our inquiry on transitions and problems, rather than on the more amorphous neighborhood life (vie du quartier) or moral economy. We look to the mechanics of contact and aid, distinguishing the arenas in which weak ties best served poor women. We scrutinize the kinds of connections that helped women, including those with men and middle-class peoplekin, compatriots, neighbors, and friends-distinguishing the workings of kin networks from those of female peers or middle-class women. Our evidence comes from the autobiographies of working-class women, a fresh reading of studies of women in nineteenth-century Paris, and court records of abortion and infanticide trials. Although staying out of institutional records indicates successful social support and
12 Louis Chevalier, La Formation de la population parisienne au XIXe siece (Paris, 1950) is the classic study of this topic. 13 Mark S. Granovetter, "The Strength of Weak Ties," American Journal of Sociology 78 (May 1973): 1360-80. For historical examples outside France see David Cressy, "Kinship and Kin Interaction in Early Modern England," Past and Present 113 (1986): 38-69; Maurizio Gribaudi, Les Itineraires ouvriers: Espaces et groupes sociaux dTurin au debut du XXe siice (Paris, 1987), 113-22.



protection, those records are nonetheless useful; a careful analysis of women's stories and of witnesses' testimonies can reveal their networks before they appeared in court, hospital, or public shelter. We consider networks within the spatial, occupational, and social considerations that structured opportunities for contact and information exchange in Paris. The most female spaces in the city, outside of their homes (which were very cramped) were the landings and courtyards of those apartments built before the Haussmannization of Paristhe locus of both privies or toilets and wells or spigots well into the Third Republic. The women of the popular classes considered the street, market, and shop their domain, where they bought and sold wares and passed on information and gossip. The prototypical female space was perhaps the wash house, first the sixty-some wash-boats (bateaux-lavoirs) that dotted the Seine in the 1880s, then the dry-land wash houses (lavoirs) that offered a place to talk, to protect and instruct each other."4 Some occupations offered many more occasions than others for making contacts and discussing problems and solutions. The homeworker in the garment trades (as well as those in flowermaking), who belonged to one of the largest occupational groups among Parisian workers, and lived on the top floor of an apartment building, had relatively few occasions for contacts with those outside her family during her very long workday. On the other hand, she had the physical liberty to seek out a contact. 15 The most frequent daily contacts of the largest occupational group, domestic servants, aside from those with fellow servants, were contacts with their middle-class employer. By contrast, seamstresses who sewed together in sweatshops and fashion houses (maisons de couture) had abundant occasions to talk, except when they were ordered to be silent or the noise of sewing machines interfered.16
14 This analysis of female spaces in Paris is from Michelle Perrot, "Femmes et espace parisien au XIX siecle. Breves remarques sur une etude en course," presented at the Colloquium on Women, Work, and City Environment, Fondation internationale des sciences humaines, Paris, October 1979, pp. 2-9. For the cramped dwellings of Paris, see La Play's descriptions in the Paris monographs of Les Ouvriers europeens. We have also gathered further evidence from the Calepins des Cadastres (records of each building in Paris, their apartments and commercial enterprises, their owners and renters for Paris from 1852 to 1900) in the Archives de Paris (hereafterAP) Dl. P4. These documents, even though there are enormous holes in this collection, are invaluable for details on dwellings. For vivid descriptions of women in the market see Emile Zola, Le Ventre de Paris (Paris, 1979, first published in 1872-73). 15 For an analysis of the workday, see Coons, Women Home Workers in the Parisian Garment Industry; for an intimate observation of the home sewer's contacts, see Henrey, The Little Madeleine, 1-63. See also Boxer, "Women in Industrial Homework." 16 This was sometimes the case; see Jeanne Bouvier, Mes memoires: Une Syndicaliste feministe, 1876-1935 (Paris, 1983), 88.



Similarly, the saleswomen who worked for such department stores as the Louvre and Bon-Marche lived under the same roof and ate lunch together, as well as worked together; like servants they worked long hours and were closely supervised, but they had more opportunities for contacts with peers.'7 Laundresses, whose long-lived corporate structure reflected their strong collective organization, had the most occasions for information exchange because they hired on by the day in a public market and worked in groups.18 Spatial and occupational considerations gave privileged positions to some women, who, by the nature of their job or location, could easily act as nodes, or bridging people, among networks of contact. They would come to the fore in addition to, or even in lieu of, kin and workmates. The first among these was the concierge, who was placed to greet and observe residents and visitors in her building; she was in a position to possess a wealth of information.'9 The second was the midwife, whose vocation brought her into contact with women in their moments of greatest vulnerability and who had access to information and expertise about both abortion and aid to poor mothers.20The third was the laundress; she garnered power by virtue of the fact that her workplace gave her access to local information and her work gave her access to intimate linens such as soiled sheets. Migration, Employment, and Social Life The networks of contact that brought migrants into nineteenth-century Paris are reflected in groups of compatriots that lodged and worked together in the city. Most women who made the journey knew-and were often related to-a compatriot already in residence.21 Many authors of
17 Theresa McBride, "A Woman's World: Department Stores and the Evolution of Women's Employment, 1870-1920," French Historical Studies 10(1978), 671-72,677. For a vivid fictionalized account of the networks of support and of strife among the department store employees see Emile Zola, Au bonheur des dames (Paris, 1980). 18 Perrot, "Femmes et espace parisien au XIXe sicle," 8-9; Scott, "Statistical Representations of Work," 356; Simon, L'Ouvrihre, 22-27. 19For the narrative of one concierge's life, see Bonnie Smith, Confessions of a Concierge: Madame Lucie's History of Twentieth-Century France (New Haven, Conn., 1985). The police dossiers on the women accused of giving or having abortions contain numerous pieces of testimony from concierges. See AP, D2, U8, Dossiers Cour d'assises. 20 For this reason, the midwife became an increasingly embattled and regulated figure, a suspect abortionist. See Angus McLaren, "Abortion in France: Women and the Regulation of Family Size, 1800-1914," French Historical Studies 10 (1978): 461-85; idem, Sexuality and the Social Order: The Debate over the Fertility of Women and Workers in France, 1 770-1920 (New York, 1983), chap. 9; Fuchs, Poor and Pregnant, chaps. 1 and 8. 21 See Rachel G. Fuchs and Leslie Page Moch, "Pregnant, Single and Far from Home: Migrant Women in Nineteenth-Century Paris," American Historical Review 95 (1990): 1007-31. Networks among migrants is a primary theme of Leslie Page Moch, Moving Europeans.



autobiographies like Juliette Sauget, who came to Paris because her married sister was there, chose Paris as a destination because they had kin there.22Women who told their stories during criminal investigations, like Adele Benoit, whose brother was a servant, and Madeleine Dounon, whose cousin was a concierge, braved the city at ages eighteen and nineteen because these relatives could greet and sponsor them in the

Yet for women who wanted to leave their home area and who had no relative in the city, a more tenuous tie in Paris provided adequate sponsorship. For example, Breton Yvonne Yven, who was rejected by her stepmother and subsequently found only degrading jobs, responded to the opportunity for a service job in Paris in 1882 that came through a chance acquaintance-a woman she met at a market in Brest and who would become a good friend during their twenty-five years of working together in Paris.24 Likewise, a woman from central France reported to Isabelle Bertaux-Wiame that once she decided to leave home, she "decided to come to Paris to look up an old childhood friend, whose parents had a hotel. I sent on word to her and without even waiting for a reply, I set out."25What was essential, Bertaux-Wiame found in her interviews, was "not where they were going, but what they were leaving, what they found hard to stand: farm life, village life, and sometimes their family too."26As a consequence, it was not the strength of the tie that was the issue for migrant women, but rather that there was some acquaintance that could be claimed in the city. Although close kin were often involved in migration networks, distant kin and friends would do in a pinch. Women in Paris could find employment through impersonal and formal channels during the Third Republic. Employment agencies geared particularly to domestic servants dotted the city, and in many locations notices of available work were posted, like those for seamstresses, on the walls of the church of Saint-Eustache behind Les Halles.27 Nonetheless, newcomers to the city knew that they were better
22 Jeanne Bouvier, Mes memoires, 65; Marthe-Juliette Mouillion, "Un Exemple de migration rurale de la Somme dans la capitale: Domestique de la Belle Epoque a Paris (1904-1912)," Etudes de la region parisienne 44 (1970): 4. 23 AP, Dossiers Cour d'assises D2 U8 (108) 8 December 1880 and (35) 26 January 1875. In these and all subsequent cases, the people's names have been changed to protect their identities. 24 Paul Chabot, Jean et Yvonne, domestiques en 1900: Souvenirs recueillis par Michel Chabot (Paris, 1977), 154-61. 25 Bertaux-Wiame, "The Life History Approach to the Study of Internal Migration," 31. 26 Ibid., 28. For the social and economic situation that made Bretonnes eager to leave home, see Caroline Ford, "Religion and the Politics of Cultural Change in Provincial France: The Resistance of 1902 in Lower Brittany," Journal of Modern History 62 (1990): 1-32. 27 For work notices, see Jeanne Bouvier, Mes mnmoires, 85-86.



served by finding work through a personal contact, who, theoretically, had their best interests at heart. Women trying to break into the needle trades, for example, could get the best jobs through an acquaintance. As a consequence, initial service jobs for new arrivals-like Adele Benoit and Madeleine Dounon-were found by the relatives who greeted them; kin sponsorship procured them the job.28Jeanne Bouvier's Parisian cousins (her father's niece, her husband, and their daughter) not only advised Bouvier to leave domestic service, but the woman found Jeanne a job with her in the workshop producing ready-made clothing.29 Lucky women, such as Yvonne Yven, came to Paris with a job, and Yven's employers later found a job for her younger sister, who came to Paris some years later. Sympathetic sponsors who were not kin could and did aid young women. Among these was the kindly wine-seller (marchande de vin) who responded to the plan to go into Paris on the part of a very young and miserable Jeanne Bouvier:" . . . my poor child, you don't know what Paris is." She then found Jeanne a job in her suburban neighborhood.30 Parisian women's occupations-particularly the most numerous, those in domestic service and home sewing-meant that women were hired as individuals, if not for their skills, then on the word of a relative or friend who stood up for them. Once women had an initial job, autobiographical evidence suggests that they moved from one position to another on their own, having become familiar with the means to find work. For example, both Juliette Sauget and Jeanne Bouvier moved through domestic and needlework jobs, respectively, on their own.31 When women first arrived and mostly found work as domestics, finding a good job, like that of Yvonne Yven, would save their urban life from the misery that plagued Jeanne Bouvier as a result of her first, terrible domestic placements. At this juncture, credible sponsorship could bring on good fortune. When women who stayed on in the city left domestic service for the needle trades, as they often did, it was very difficult to find work that paid at all well. Jeanne Bouvier's (and many others') testimonies of poverty and despair that led to starvation, suicide, and prostitution attest to the paucity of well-paying jobs for women. Here again, sponsorship from a kindly relative or a friendly neighbor could save a woman from the lowest-paying jobs or prostitution. Women who were born in Paris doubtless had a corner on the best28 29 30 31

AP Dossiers Cour d'assises, D2 U8 (108) 8 December 1880, and (35) 26 January 1875. Bouvier, Mes memoires, 81. Ibid., 67-69. Mouillion, "Domestique de la Belle Epoque a Paris,"4-5; Bouvier, Mes mimoires, 83,85,87.



paying trades in the city, such as skilled work in flowermaking or the most skilled seamstress work. Native-born Parisians had access to apprenticeships with a flowermaker or specialized seamstress at an age when migrant women had not yet left home. Just as important, their parents and kin had knowledge of the city's trades and could help place or train them.32 During the prewar years, many daughters of the city's tradesmen and artisans aspired to white-collar work and found employment in department stores.33 Much social life-including finding marriage partners-for women in Paris took place through family. For those without relations in the city, many social contacts were made and enjoyed within their apartment building. The top floors, the sixie'mes, where small rooms were rented by workers or inhabited by servants, although notoriously unhealthy, uncomfortable, and sexually dangerous, were also an important arena for working people's sociability. The gatherings in servants' rooms between 10 P.M. and midnight, where gossip was exchanged, although viewed as immoral and disruptive by employers, probably had an innocent element to them and were doubtless informative. It may have been in such a setting that Yvonne Yven discussed an introduction to her future husband with the valet of her house who had a friend working in another household with the coachman who was to become her husband.34The lively social life under the eaves is attested to by the repairman who reported that an entire street of Montparnasse had a single top floor that functioned as a street suspended in mid-air-because residents had removed the stones of the joint walls between the buildings.35 Although Jules Simon mournfully intoned, "God preserve the girl" who lives among servants on the sixth floor, a wide range of societies flourished under the rooftops of Paris. Jeanne Bouvier's experience as a young woman worker in a sixth-floor rented room reflects a quite different experience from that mourned by Jules Simon; hers was one of solidarity, friendship, and mutual support.36 For several years during the 1880s, the workers who rented rooms on the sixth floor in her building lived in harmony as a community; they found a way to cook (for they had no fireplaces) over a little charcoal burner in the hallway to
32 For the work aspirations of young Parisian women, seeJohn Schaffer, "Family, Class, and Young Women: Occupational Expectations in Nineteenth-Century Paris," in Family and Sexuality in French History, ed. Robert Wheaton and Tamara K. Hareven (Philadelphia, 1980), 179-200. 33 McBride, "A Woman's World," 669-71. 3 Chabot, Jean et Yvonne, domestiques en 1900, 154-61. 35 Pierre Guiral and Guy Thuillier, La Vie quotidienne des domestiques en France au XIXe sicle (Paris, 1978), 40-41. 36 Simon, L'Ouvriere, 225. For a hierarchy of sixth-floor residents and a community of both solidarity and quarrelsome competition, see Emile Zola, Pot Bouille (Paris, 1982).



avoid asphyxiation, sewed for each other, and cared for each other when they were ill. They rarely had the time or could afford to go out, but when they did, they would all go together to the neighborhood fair. This was not a community of women, but rather a mixed gender community.37 The harmony and domesticity of this community was very different from the charged atmosphere of the public dances of prewar Paris, one of the few public places for men and women to meet. These offer perhaps the greatest contrast with the sponsored and contained social relations of the French village, for men and women utterly without previous social ties would meet, court, and conceive children from these occasions. Juliette Sauget met the father of her child-an electrical engineer from Uruguay-at the Elysee-Montmartre public dance in 1908; at about the same time, talented hatmaker and single mother Marie-Therese Dubon met her future husband, the chief butler for a wealthy family, at the Magic City dance hall.38 But public dances were risky and had provided the occasion at which Dubon became a single mother in the first place. Working-class autobiographies and studies of marriage partners suggest, however, that Parisian women more often found their husbands through mutual friends; family, and neighborhood interchanges than at public dances. Domestics often enough married shopkeepers to suggest that their errands introduced them to neighborhood tradesmen. Many like the thousands of Auvergnat women in Paris, doubtless met husbands from home through contacts among compatriots in Paris. The mother and father of Madeleine Gals met when he visited an old army friend whom he encountered by coincidence when he first arrived in Paris from the Midi, and who had found him a job. His wife was a home-sewer, and when Emile Gals arrived at their apartment, he was introduced to the beautiful young seamstress to whom his friend's wife subcontracted work.39Networks of support, particularly parental presence, were among the chief factors helping women in the urban marriage market. Women who bore children out of wedlock lacked such support; they were older, had lower social origins, and were more likely to have

Bouvier, Mes memoires, 84-85. Mouillon, "Domestiquede laBelleEpoque aParis," 6; Henrey, TheLittleMadeleine, 39-42. 39 Henrey, The Little Madeleine, recounts her parents meeting, 12-18; for marriage patterns in other cities, see Theresa McBride, The Domestic Revolution: The Modernization of Household Service in England and France, 1820-1920 (New York, 1976), chap. 5; William H. Sewell, Jr., Structure and Mobility: The Men and Women of Marseille, 1820-1870 (Cambridge, 1985), chap. 8.
37 38



been orphaned than those who married. As George Alter found for Verviers, Belgium, each of these factors "made it more difficult to find a partner, more difficult to refuse his sexual advances without jeopardizing the relationship, and more difficult to apply social pressure to bring him to marriage."40In Paris, single migrant women-especially those in recently formed migrant groups that had relatively few male compatriots-were disproportionately likely to bear a child out of wedlock.4' We are in the arena of trouble. Many women who desperately did not want a child sought a way "to bring on their periods."42 The search for abortifacients from a druggist or for an abortionist probably operated through discreet physicians for bourgeois women, but the poor, like the Chicago women studied by Nancy Howell Lee, looked to people of their own gender and social standing for information. 43Sensitive reading of abortion and infanticide trial testimony allows us to eavesdrop on a host of confidential conversations. In the 1870s Marie Ditte, a cook, asked the concierge in her building where to get something to bring on her periods. Then, after she was fired from her job and moved to a miserable furnished room (garni), she turned to a compatriot from her home area who now lived nearby and who had been instrumental in getting Ditte her new job. Finally she secured the name of an unlicensed midwife from a pregnant woman whom she had met on the stairs of her building.44 Englantine Pelitte met another servant from her street; she confided that she had not had her periods for three months and received the name of a seamstress on the same street who would help. Another seamstress, Celine Gerbaud, confided to her cook friend that she was pregnant and was sent to a neighborhood midwife.45 Madeleine Pelletier, witness to women's solidarity in the face of unwanted pregnancies, observed in 1913 that women "do not make a mystery of these [abortive] practices. On the landings of the working-class tenements, at the bakers, the butchers, the grocers, the housewives advise neighbors."46 Bearing and raising children called for the help of family and more distant contacts. Families sometimes supported poor women who bore children on their own, as did the Moran family who raised their daugh40 Alter, Family and the Female Life Course, 131.

Fuchs and Moch, "Pregnant Single, and Far from Home." McLaren, "The Sexual Politics of Reproduction." 43 Nancy Howell Lee, The Search for an A bortionist (Chicago, 1969), chaps. 5, 8. 44 AP Dossiers Cour d'assises D2 U8 (23) Dossier 10 December 1873. 4 AP Dossiers Cour d'assises, D2 U8 (47) Dossier 10 May 1876, (51) Dossier 19 August 1876. 46 Madeleine Pelletier, Le Droit d'avortement (Paris, 1913), cited by McLaren, Sexuality and the Social Order, 145.




ter's infant with their own seven children, while Suzanne Moran, age sixteen, continued to live and work at home as an embroiderer.7 Other women left home to avoid the wrath of their father.48Probably MarieTherese Dubon is more typical-she left her home in Sion when it became apparent that she would bear a child out of wedlock and moved in with her sister and brother-in-law in Paris. Her presence was a trial for the little family whose home was one small room in Montmarte, but her sister could not turn out Marie-Therese while she was pregnant. A year later, when Marie-Therese was unemployed and starving, with a sick infant, her sister took her in again.49 For poor women, the midwife who delivered their child was a source of information about welfare and charity. Midwives were at the center of a web of networks that could help both pregnant and postpartum women. They directed poor women to charity and welfare services, informed needy post-partum women about available aid and even told them how to apply. Midwives were the link not only between the destitute mother and Public Assistance (l'Assistance publique), but also between bourgeois women and their objects of charity. It was they who usually told philanthropic women about needy pregnant and post-partum women. For example, they notified members of the League of Mothers of Families (Ligue fran~aise des meres de famille), and of the Society of Maternal Aid (Societe de l'aide maternelle) when they knew particularly worthy poor mothers.50 Charitable bourgeois women then helped poor women immediately after childbirth and during the first few weeks of infant care. They visited the homes of poor new mothers, brought the ingredients for the requisite pot-au-feu and prepared it. They also notified other charities or social agencies who could attend to other needs. Bourgeois women frequently contributed clothing and food to the poorer women.5'

47 AP Dossiers Cour d'assises, D2 U8 (114), Dossier 23 March 1881. For other examples of maternal support, see (108) Dossier 8 December 1880, (122) Dossier 12 December 1881, (175) Dossier 29 January 1885. 48 See AP Dossiers Cour d'assises D2 U8 (88) Dossier 4 August 1879. 49 Henrey, The Little Madeleine, 2-5, 29-30. 50 Bibliotheque Marguerite Durand (hereafter BMD), DOS 362 LIG; Ligue fran4aise des meres de famille, Bulletin 1 (Paris, 1903): 15, 29. 51 Bourgeois women, as members of several charities, formed their networks at the societies' meetings; thus bourgeois women's networks came to intersect with those of poor women. The authors are pursuing further research in this area. Press clippings and brochures of the Soci&tede l'aide maternelle and other charitable organizations run by bourgeois women are found in Archives de l'Assistance publique, Fosseyeux 686 and at the BMD, DOS 362 MAT. See also numerous articles by Marie B&quetde Vienne and Jeanne Leroy (two prominent philanthropic women) in La Revue philanthropique, 1897-1912, for example, Jeanne Leroy, "Lettre ouverte a Mesurer, Directeur de l'Assistance publique de Paris," La Revue philanthropique 11 (1902): 641-48.



Although servants were routinely fired when they became pregnant, in some cases, sympathetic employers helped their pregnant servants, if only temporarily, by bringing the woman to a doctor, taking her to a hospital or employing her after she delivered and put her baby out to nurse.52The power of the purse and knowledge that some employers had could help the pregnant servant enormously. For example, Juliette Sauget's employer at the time of her pregnancy in 1909, the wife of a physician in the Opera neighborhood, lightened her work load and hired an additional maid. The doctor saw that she delivered at the public hospital, and his son, a hospital physician there, did all that he could to support her at the time of the birth. After Sauget had a long convalescence and worked as a wetnurse, the family hired her on again, advised her on the legal status of her daughter, and eventually helped her leave domestic service for a more independent and stable occupation.53 Aid for new mothers was more likely to come from the neighborhood, some of which is evident from the bureaucratic record. In order to receive charity or welfare, a certificate of morality from the mayor's office was required, signed by two witnesses who would attest to the mother's habits. Neighborhood shopkeepers and people who rented rooms in the same building often testified for such women.54 Of all the women in the neighborhood, concierges and laundresses were second only to midwives in their importance. Concierges responded to queries from welfare officials and the police. Laundresses gave depositions in cases of suspected infanticide and abortion as to the amount of blood they found on the sheets and when a woman had not brought sheets tainted with blood for several months, thereby indicating a pregnancy. Like the concierge, the power of the laundress lay in her ability to keep secrets or to spread harmful gossip.55 Finally, at the turn of the century, with the growth of public welfare for infants-such as free well-baby clinics (consultation des nourrissons), municipal creches, and free milk dispensaries (gouttes de lait)-the waiting rooms of these institutions began to replace the lavoirs, courtyards, and water spigots as centers of social life and information sharing.56

52 AP Dossiers Cour d'assises D2 U8 (83) Dossier 22 April 1879, (192) 17 October 1885; Guiral and Thuillier, La Vie quotidienne des domestiques en France, 10--LI. 53 Mouillon, "Domestique de la Belle Epoque a Paris," 6-7. 54 AP, Vbis 613l, Certificates of morality, November 1846. 55 For the laundresses' power in abortion and infanticide trials, seeAP Dossiers Cour d'assises, D2 U8 (37) Dossier 13 April 1875, (75) Dossier 7 August 1878. 56 Although the authors are doing more research in this area, these conclusions are borne out by the work of Catherine Rollet-Echalier, La Politique a 1'egard de la petite enfance sous la ilMe Republique (Paris, 1990), 355.



Conclusion When we learn to use our peripheral vision and our night vision, we see that the action in poor women's lives is off the brightly lit stage of the institutional record. Here we have read extant studies, court cases, and autobiographies for evidence of poor women's networks as they operated in times of- transition and trouble: moving, job-getting, meeting men, and pregnancy. Nonetheless, even this preliminary investigation confirms that it is possible to do research on women's networks that will enrich our understanding of both gender and social organization. Although we are far from a nuanced understanding of the fabric of street and neighborhood life, we can draw some conclusions about poor women's networks of contact and aid from the situations we have investigated. First and most obviously, kin were absolutely central to women who had relatives in the city; they were among the few resources of the poor and were called upon in the most desperate situations. Kin networks were among the few that included men. As Ellen Ross observes for the city of London, "ties of friendship and mutual aid among nonkin seldom crossed gender boundaries."'57 On the other hand, female friends provided aid whenever possible and in some situations were more helpful than kin; it was almost invariably female friends who were consulted about terminating a pregnancy.58 However, poor women did not procure information, aid, and support from poor women alone; contacts with middle-class employers and neighbors-as well as with charitable bourgeoises who had the power of the purse and valuable information-played a role at crucial moments. Finally, the operative networks of contact and aid were not necessarily intimate or immutable, rather "weak ties" with distant cousins or an acquaintance on the street could, and did, introduce poor women to new adjoining networks-ones that could offer life in a new city, a different kind of occupation, or a sympathetic abortionist. "It was the very shifting nature of these contacts which ensured their effectiveness," concludes Isabelle Bertaux-Wiame; "there was a constant adaption to the needs of a particular situation.' 59 These observations alert us to the fact that gaining information and aid from the people who were around her, for the long or short term, was a fundamental strategy for the poor woman in fin-de-siecle Paris. Networks among poor women were resilient resources in a world
57 Ellen Ross, "Survival Networks: Women's Neighbourhood Sharing in London before World War I," History Workshop 15 (1983): 5. 58 See also Lee, The Search for an Abortionist, 143-44. 59 Bertaux-Wiame, "The Life History Approach to the Study of Internal Migration," 28.



that offered no protection from either poverty or pregnancy. Indeed, the essential strategy of the urban female subculture was a sharing of information that enabled poor women to live by their collective wits, because they knew that alone they could not resolve the difficulties of work and family life. Behind this knowledge lay their fundamental sympathy and solidarity with one another.60
60 The reverse is also true, but is beyond the scope of this article: because women had so much power over each other, they used that power to punish each other as well-for stealing a lover, committing infanticide, aborting a fetus, or failing to participate in a neighborly exchange of goods and services. Punishment could take the form of reporting bloody sheets to police inquiring about abortion, reporting an abortionist who violated neighborhood norms by charging high fees, or refusing to subcontract work to a poor and dependent young seamstress. See AP Dossiers Cour d'assises D2 U8 (37) Dossier 13 April 1875, (75) Dossier 7 August 1878; Henrey, TheLittle Madeleine, 17-21.