Women and the Language of Statistics in Late-Nineteenth-Century France

Reading the Graphs of Madame Pégard

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Hélène Périvier OFCE, Sciences Po Paris

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Rebecca Rogers Université de Paris, Cerlis

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This article considers how women adopted a “scientific” statistical language at the end of the nineteenth century to draw attention to their role in the moral and social economy. It explores in particular the messages contained in La Statistique générale de la femme française, a series of eighteen murals that the moderate feminist Marie Pégard sent for exhibition at the Woman's Building at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The article begins by considering the place statistics held in France in the final decades of the century within the context of universal exhibitions. It then examines Pégard's choice of quantified categories of social analysis to convey a sustained argument about the comparative weight of women in a modernizing French economy. The article seeks to understand how contemporaries read and interpreted the graphs, and how this mode of rendering visible the issue of women's work played into the politics of an emerging feminist movement.

Contributor Notes

Hélène Périvier is a researcher in economics at the OFCE, Sciences Po Paris. She is the director of the Academic and Research Program on Gender Studies in Sciences Po, the PRESAGE program. She coordinated the European project EGERA, Effective Gender Equality in Research and the Academia, co-funded by the European Commission. Her research is focused on social and family policies, welfare states and gender inequalities in the labor market, with international comparisons. She coedited the special issue of the Revue de l'OFCE on “European Labour Markets in Times of Crisis: A Gender Perspective” (2014).

Rebecca Rogers is Professor in the history of education at Université de Paris, Cerlis (Centre de recherches sur les liens sociaux), CNRS. Specialist in the history of French girls’ education, she has published widely in both English and French on the subject. Her publications include From the Salon to the Schoolroom: Educating Bourgeois Girls in Nineteenth-Century France (2005), and A Frenchwoman's Imperial Story: Madame Luce in Nineteenth-Century Algeria (2013), which first led her to discover the ways women used universal exhibitions. With Myriam Boussahba-Bravard she edited a volume entitled, Women in International and Universal Exhibitions, 1876–1937 (Routledge, 2018).

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