Protestant and Jewish Philanthropies in France

The Conseil National des Femmes Françaises (1901-1939)

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Restricted access

Focusing on the history of the Conseil national des femmes françaises, composed mainly of Jewish and Protestant women, this article shows how women's philanthropies played an important role in defining the scope and the type of welfare policies concerning mothers and children in France in the first half of the twentieth century. Their version of laïcité raises also several questions: did the religious question recede behind the social question? What role did the different religious distinctions continue to play in shaping welfare measures during the Third Republic? What was their role in defining the meaning of laïcité for social policies at this time? This paper shows that the main French social policy of allocations familiales, adopted in 1932, is the product of intense tensions between Church familialism and state maternalism. Catholic familialism promoted the home as the center of women's activity, lobbied against women's professional work, and refused any intervention of the state in family affairs. State maternalism, promoted primarily by religious minorities and some nonreligious feminists, wanted state intervention in protecting mothers and children. These deeply convinced republicans sought to change family laws and improve family morals. If these Protestant and Jewish philanthropies succeeded in defining the mainstream of laïcité during the first thirty years of the Third Republic, they failed to have a bigger impact on social legislation when the big leap to a national family allowance system was established in 1932.