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Geneva's philanthropists around 1900: a field made of distinctive but interconnected social groups

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 May 2016

Institute of Economic and Social History, University of Lausanne. College of Humanities, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne.
Institute of Economic and Social History, University of Lausanne.
Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lausanne.


This article analyses the social profile of Geneva's philanthropists around 1900. It shows that, contrary to what the literature on philanthropy argues, philanthropists belonged to varied social groups defined by diverse forms of capital (economic, social and cultural) and were involved in philanthropic activities related to their social status. Together, those philanthropists formed a social field. They were connected to each other and even needed to collaborate on specific issues. The article argues that interconnections between actors reinforced their social position. By examining this field through both quantitative and qualitative methods, the article highlights relationships and ties between actors and shows how they collaborated on the basis of commonly held principles.

Les philanthropes de genève autour de 1900: un champ fait de groupes sociaux distincts mais interconnectés

Les auteurs analysent le profil social des philanthropes actifs à Genève autour de 1900. Ils montrent que contrairement à ce que dit la littérature sur la philanthropie, les philanthropes appartenaient à des groupes sociaux distincts, définis par diverses formes de capital (économique, social et culturel) et qu'ils s'engageaient dans des activités philanthropiques qui dépendaient de leur statut social. Pris ensemble, ils formaient toutefois un champ social. Ils étaient en effet liés les uns aux autres et collaboraient même dans certains domaines. L'article montre que les interconnexions entre les acteurs renforçaient leur position sociale. En examinant ce champ à la fois par des méthodes quantitatives et qualitatives, il met au jour les relations et les liens entre les acteurs et montre de quelle manière ils collaboraient sur la base de principes communément partagés.

Genfs philanthropen um 1900: ein feld unterschiedlicher aber miteinander verknüpfter sozialer gruppen

Dieser Beitrag analysiert das soziale Profil der Philanthropen in Genf um 1900. Er zeigt, dass im Unterschied zu dem, was in der Literatur zur Philanthropie behauptet wird, Philanthropen unterschiedlichen sozialen Gruppen angehörten, die sich durch unterschiedliche Kapitalformen (ökonomische, soziale und kulturelle) definieren lassen, und in philanthropische Aktivitäten eingebunden waren, die ihrem sozialen Status entsprachen. Insgesamt betrachtet bildeten die Philanthropen ein soziales Feld. Sie waren miteinander verbunden und mussten bei spezifischen Themen sogar zusammenarbeiten. Der Beitrag vertritt die These, dass die Querverbindungen zwischen den Akteuren ihre soziale Position bekräftigte. Indem er dieses Feld mit Hilfe sowohl quantitativer als auch qualitativer Methoden untersucht, beleuchtet der Beitrag Beziehungen und Verbindungen zwischen den Akteuren und zeigt, wie sie auf der Basis gemeinsamer Prinzipien zusammenarbeiteten.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 Paul Marin, Coup d’œil sur les œuvres de l'initiative privée à Genève (Paris, 1893), 273.

2 Lawrence J. Friedman and Mark D. McGarvie eds., Charity, philanthopy and civility in American history (Cambridge, 2003); Thomas Adam, Buying respectability. Philanthropy and urban society in transnational perspective, 1840s to 1930s (Bloomington, 2009); Christian Topalov ed., Laboratoires du nouveau siècle: la nébuleuse réformatrice et ses réseaux en France, 1880–1914 (Paris, 1999); Peter Mandler ed., The use of charity. The poor relief in the nineteenth-century metropolis (Philadelphia, 1990).

3 Francie Ostrower, Why the wealthy give. The culture of elite philanthropy (Princeton, 1995), 6.

4 Adam, Buying respectability.

5 Adam, Buying respectability, 113–14. For Geneva, see David, Thomas and Schaufelbuehl, Janick Marina, ‘Swiss conservatives and the struggle for the abolition of slavery at the end of the nineteeth century’, Itinerario 34, 2 (2010), 87103CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Authors have underlined this process for other groups of actors like women, see Kathleen D. McCarthy, ‘Women and political culture’, in Friedman and McGarvie, Charity, philanthropy and civility in American history, 179–97. But generally, even if these women were deprived of political power they remained part of the elite.

7 Olivier Zunz, Philanthropy in America: a history (Princeton, 2012), 9. On mass philanthropy, see also examples given by Ian Tyrell, Reforming the world. The creation of America's moral empire (Princeton and Oxford, 2010), 99.

8 Adam, Buying respectability; Friedman and McGarvie, Charity, philanthopy and civility in American history.

9 Meinolf Nitsch, Private Wohltätigkeitsvereine im Kaiserreich: die praktische Umsetzung der bürgerlichen Sozialreform in Berlin (Berlin, 1999); Andreas Ludwig, Der Fall Charlottenburg. Soziale Stiftungen im städtischen Kontext (1800–1950) (Cologne, 2005).

10 Michael Werner, Stiftungsstadt und Bürgertum. Hamburgs Stiftungskultur von Kaiserreich bis den Nationalsozialismus (Munich, 2011).

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13 Recently, David Huyssens argues in his book that philanthropy is a very interesting case to observe class relations. David Huyssens, Progressive inequality. Rich and poor in New York, 1890–1920 (Cambridge, MA, 2014).

14 Pierre Bourdieu, Sociology in question (London, 1994).

15 On network analysis, see Robert A. Hanneman and Mark Riddle, Introduction to social network methods (Riverside, 2005). On the use of quantitative approaches in studies focused on the history of philanthropy, see Adam, Thomas and Lingelbach, Gabriele, ‘The place of foundations and endowments in German history: a historical–statistical approach’, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 44, 2 (2015), 223–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Mohr, John W. and Duquenne, Vincent, ‘The duality of culture and practices: poverty relief in New York City, 1888–1917’, Theory and Society 26 (1997), 305–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rosenthal, Naomi, McDonald, David, Ethier, Michele, Fingrutd, Meryl and Karant, Roberta, ‘Structural tensions in the nineteenth century women's movement’, Mobilization: an International Journal 2, 1 (1997), 2146Google Scholar, here 25.

16 Lawrence J. Friedman, ‘Philanthropy in America: historicism and its discontents’, in Friedman and McGarvie, Charity, philanthopy and civility in American history, 1–21, here 2.

17 Frank Lombard, Annuaire philanthropique genevois (Geneva, 1903), we will analyse this source in detail below.

18 Klaus Weber, ‘“Wohlfahrt”, “Philanthropie” und “Caritas”: Deutschland, Frankreich und Großbritannien im begriffsgeschichtlichen Vergleich’, in Rainer Liedtke and Klaus Weber eds., Religion und Philanthropie in den europäischen Zivilgesellschaften. Entwicklungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Paderborn, 2009), 19–37.

19 For considerations about definition of philanthropy related to the sources, see Baciocchi, Stéphane, David, Thomas, Katz, Lucia, Lhuissier, Anne, Matter, Sonja and Topalov, Christian, ‘Les mondes de la charité se décrivent eux-mêmes. Une étude des répertoires charitables au XIXe et début du XXe siècle’, Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine 61, 3 (2014), 2866CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 28–9.

20 The term ‘fraction’, as employed here and throughout this paper, corresponds to the French ‘fraction’ as it is often used by Bourdieu. In general, the English versions of Bourdieu's work also translate it in this way. For Bourdieu, classes or class fractions share a certain number of characteristics in the social space. This does not necessarily mean that they constitute ‘real groups’ (self-aware, organised, with a spokesperson, etc.). The probability of these fractions to become organised and constitute themselves as groups depends on their homogeneity and their proximity in the social space; Bourdieu, Pierre, ‘Espace social et genèse des “classes”’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 52–53 (1984), 314CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In analogy, we speak of fractions of philanthropists which are more or less homogeneous and more or less self-conscious. We do not always have enough empirical material to be able to discuss the self-awareness or the homogeneity of these groups. Hence, it makes no sense to count the exact number of members of these fractions.

21 Price deflated with the Consumer Index of 1904 (own calculation based on Statistiques historiques de la Suisse, online:, table H.17.); Bureau central de bienfaisance, 39e Rapport année 1905 (Geneva, 1905), 54 and 61.

22 Jean-François Pitteloud, ‘La belle époque de la philanthropie genevoise’, in Roger Durand ed., De l'Utopie à la réalité (Geneva, 1988), 309–25; David and Schaufelbuehl, ‘Swiss conservatives’.

23 For Boston and New York, see Adam, Buying respectability, 89

24 Irène Herrmann, Genève entre République et Canton: les vicissitudes d'une intégration nationale (1814–1846) (Geneva and Quebec, 2003), 25–72.

25 Jean-François Pitteloud, “Bons” livres et “mauvais” lecteurs: politique de promotion de la lecture populaire à Genève au XIXe siècle (Geneva, 1997), 50.

26 Paul Bairoch, Jean-Paul Bovee and Jean Batou, Annuaire statistique rétrospectif de Genève (Geneva, 1986), 16.

27 This word refers to Swiss people living outside their canton of origin.

28 Until 1977, a Confederate could only enjoy relief from his municipality of origin. Thus, if he needed relief, he could be expelled from his place of residence and sent to his place of origin, even if he never lived there.

29 Regula Argast, ‘Entre tradition et innovation: le droit de cité suisse dans le nouvel État fédéral, 1848–1898’, in Brigitte Studer, Gérald Arlettaz and Regula Argast eds., Le droit d'être suisse. Acquisition, perte et retrait de la nationalité de 1848 à nos jours (Lausanne, 2013), 45–76, here 60. According to the federal law of 1875, the municipality of origin had to provide for its own citizens, but it did not mean that indigent citizens had to be repatriated in order to receive relief.

30 Reto Schumacher, Structures et comportements en transition: la reproduction démographique à Genève au 19e siècle (Bern, 2010), 231.

31 Michel Oris, Gilbert Ritschard and Olivier Perroux, ‘Le pluralisme religieux croissant à Genève dans la première moitié du XIXe siècle. Une exploration des dynamiques sous-jacentes’, in Frédéric Amsler and Sarah Scholl eds., L'apprentissage du pluralisme religieux. Le cas genevois au XIXe siècle (Geneva, 2013), 41–61, here 42.

32 Yannick Gille, Genève comme carrefour migratoire au tournant du XXe siècle: une analyse des registres des permis de séjour et d'établissement suisses et étrangers (1891–1892) (unpublished Masters thesis, University of Geneva, 2009), 50–8.

33 David and Schaufelbuehl, ‘Swiss conservatives’, 92–3.

34 Letter from Louis Ador, 27 March 1868, cited by Marc Vuilleumier, ‘Quelques documents concernant l'attitude des milieux conservateurs genevois à l'égard de la Première Internationale’, Mélanges d'histoire économique et sociale: en hommage au professeur Antony Babel (Geneva, 1963), 231–50, here 232.

35 Ibid.

36 Alexis Lombard, ‘Rapport sur l'Œuvre de l'Assistance par le Travail de Genève’, IIe Congrès international d'assistance et IIe Congrès international de la protection de l'enfance (Geneva, 1896), 1–16, here 2.

37 See Beatrice Schumacher ed., Un devoir librement consenti. L'idée et l'action philanthropique en Suisse de 1800 à nos jours (Zurich, 2010).

38 Among different charity directories, philanthropists of London could rely on the Charities register and digest, first published in 1882.

39 The New York charities directory was first published by the Charity Organisation Society in 1883. This source was used by John W. Mohr to build the sample that he analysed in this article: Mohr, John W., ‘Soldiers, mothers, tramps and others: discourse roles in the 1907 New York charity directory’, Poetics 22, 4 (1994), 327–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 See: Manuel des institutions et œuvres de charité de Paris, first published in 1842, and Paris charitable et prévoyant, first published in 1897.

41 Baciocchi, David, Katz, Lhuissier, Matter and Topalov, ‘Les mondes de la charité’, 56–7.

42 ‘Frank Lombard’, Journal de Genève, 16 February 1925.

43 Lombard, Annuaire philanthropique genevois, VII.

44 Annuaire philanthropique genevois, publié sous les auspices de la Société genevoise d'utilité publique (Geneva, 1875), 3–4.

45 Lombard, Annuaire philanthropique genevois, VI.

46 In order to compare Geneva's case with those in London, New York and Paris, we established a common methodology for counting the number of charities identified by each charity directory. We numbered every charity even if it was related to another. If we consider every charity, we come to a total of 706 and if we consider only the main charities (without their affiliated charities) we come to a total of 584. Lombard did not assign a number to the religious commissions and societies quoted in the last section of the directory; this is why he assigned numbers up to 514 to the charities. Furthermore, in the introduction he speaks about 516 charities gathered in his book. Lombard, Annuaire philanthropique, VI.

47 Archives d’État de Genève (hereafter AEG), Recensement L, 1882–1902, 1–47. Bibliothèque de Genève (hereafter BGE), ‘Biographie genevoise’ et ‘Recueil Lefort’; Le Temps [Le Journal de Genève] archives historiques, available at: Indicateur des adresses Genève-Ville et communes: annuaire industriel & commercial (Geneva, 1900–1903).

48 Michael Useem, The inner circle. Large corporations and the rise of business political activity in the U.S and U.K. (New York and Oxford, 1984), 62–3. On interlocking directorates, see Mizruchi, Mark S., ‘What do interlocks do? An analysis, critique, and assessment of research on interlocking directorates’, Annual Review of Sociology 22 (1996), 271–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Bourdieu, Sociology in Question. For a more recent discussion, see also Savage, Mike and Silva, Elizabeth B., ‘Field analysis in cultural sociology’, Cultural Sociology 7 (2013), 111–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Prost, Antoine and Rosenzveig, Christian, ‘La chambre des députés (1881–1885). Analyse factorielle des scrutins’, Revue française de science politique 21, 1 (1971), 550CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Antoine Prost, Les anciens combattants et la société française: 1914–1939 (Paris, 1977), 141–57. For recent developments of multiple correspondence analysis in general, see Brigitte Le Roux and Henry Rouanet, Multiple correspondence analysis (London, 2010). For a discussion of the use of the method in (French) history, see the special issue of Histoire et mesure 3–4 (1997), 34Google Scholar.

51 Gerteis, Joseph, ‘Political alignment and the American middle class, 1974–1994’, Sociological Forum 13, 4 (1998), 639–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar. More recently, two other historians have published an analysis on Italian entrepreneurs between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries using multiple correspondence analysis: Toninelli, Angelo and Vasta, Michelangelo, ‘Opening the black box of entrepreneurship: the Italian case in a historical perspective’, Business History 56, 2 (2014), 161–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

52 Le Roux and Rouanet, Multiple correspondance analysis.

53 Steffen Albrecht, ‘Netzwerke als Kapital. Zur unterschätzten Bedeutung des sozialen Kapitals für die gesellschaftliche Reproduktion’, in Jörg Ebrecht and Frank Hildebrandt eds., Bourdieus Theorie der Praxis. Erklärungskraft – Anwendungen – Perspektiven (Wiesbaden, 2002), 199–224; de Nooy, Wouter, ‘Fields and networks: correspondance analysis and social network analysis in the framework of field theory’, Poetics 31 (2003), 305–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bühlmann, Felix, David, Thomas and Mach, André, ‘The Swiss business elite (1980–2000): how the changing composition of the elite explains the decline of the Swiss company network’, Economy and Society 41, 2 (2012), 199226CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 For a network analysis of Geneva's philanthropists, see Stéphanie Ginalski and Alix Heiniger, ‘Les réseaux de la réforme sociale à Genève autour de 1900’, Histoire et mesure (2016, forthcoming).

55 Betweenness (or betweenness centrality) is one of the important measures of centrality in social network theory. It is defined as the number of shortest paths from all vertices to all others that pass through that node. A node with high betweenness centrality has a large influence on the transfer of items through the network.

56 We used Geneva's census of 1902, obituaries published by the Journal de Genève and the BGE, ‘Biographie genevoise’.

57 Here we relied again on the census of 1902 and information provided by the philanthropic directory.

58 In a ‘specific multiple correspondence analysis’ such as we have carried out for this paper, there can be two types of variables: active variables (or categories) and passive variables (or categories). Only active variables contribute to the construction of the space and should be used when interpreting the graph. A variable can be treated as passive for several reasons: because it is infrequent (<5 per cent), because it is an unspecified residual category (‘other’, for example) or because it is considered to be redundant compared with other categories. The latter is the case for ‘countryside residence’, which is redundant compared with other residential variables – but nevertheless interesting. This means it is only projected into the space and does not contribute to the construction of the two axes and the distribution of categories and individuals. The variable should not be taken into account when interpreting the axes and the different fractions. However, because it is a telling variable, its inclusion in the graphs gives us an illustrative indication as to where this category would be situated.

59 These indicators were inspired by a study made by Charles Booth at the end of the nineteenth century who aimed at analysing the social situation of London's population. See Charles Booth, Life and labour of the people of London, 9 volumes (London, 1892–1897).

60 AEG, Recensement L, 1882–1902, 1–47.

61 See also note 20.

62 Caisse Mutuelle pour l'Épargne, Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières (Geneva, 1904).

63 Guillaume Fatio, Les caisses d'épargne de la Suisse. Histoire d'un siècle – 1795 à 1895 (Bern, 1896).

64 Topalov, Laboratoires du nouveau siècle, 461–67.

65 Marco Marcacci, ‘L'égalité des Genevois devant l'assistance: la création de l'Hospice général (1847–1869)’, in Bernard Lescaze ed., Sauver l'âme, nourrir le corps. De l'hôpital général à l'hospice général de Genève 1535–1985 (Geneva, 1985), 359–81.

66 Jean de Senarclens, ‘Henry Boveyron’, Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse, (updated 9 September 2013).

67 Flavio Baumann, ‘La pauvreté apprivoisée ou l'assistance comme gestion de la détresse: étude sur une société de bienfaisance genevoise à la fin du XIXe siècle: le Bureau Central de Bienfaisance 1867–1900’ (unpublished Masters thesis, University of Geneva, 1983), 38–9.

68 ‘Albert Wyler’, Journal de Genève, 20 October 1925.

69 Emmanuel Kuhne, Les étrangers dans le canton de Genève (Geneva, 1898). About French philanthropists in Geneva, see Gadient, Irma, ‘Fürsorge(-kriterien) für Französinnen und Franzosen. Französische philanthropische Vereine in Genf und lokale wohltätige Institutionen um 1900’, Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften 26, 3 (2015), 1536Google Scholar; Alix Heiniger and Thomas David, ‘Mobility and social control: French immigration in Geneva during the Belle Époque’, European History Yearbook (2015), 131–52.

70 Muheim, David, ‘Mutualisme et assurance maladie en Suisse (1893–1912). Une adaptation ambiguë’, Traverse 2 (2000), 7993Google Scholar.

71 Lengwiler, Martin, ‘Insurance and civil society: elements of an ambivalent relationship’, Contemporary European History 15, 3 (2006), 379416CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here 401.

72 Muheim, ‘Mutualisme et assurance’, 83–4.

73 Ibid., 86.

74 Heiner Ritzmann-Blickenstorfer, Statistique historique de la Suisse (Zurich, 1996), 447.

75 Both rents are available in the census. It shows that Gabolde paid a rent of 700 francs while Mazuy paid 1,100.

76 Adam, Buying respectability, 127–8.

77 Beatrix Mesmer, Ausgeklammert, eingeklammert. Frauen und Frauenorganisationen in der Schweiz des 19. Jahrhunderts (Basel and Frankfurt, 1988), 58–60. On models of the division of work between women and men among charities, see Battagliola, Françoise, ‘Philanthropes et féministes dans le monde réformateur (1890–1910)’, Travail, genre et société 22, 2 (2009), 135–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 Sonja Matter, Der Armut auf den Leib rücken: die Professionalisierung der Sozialen Arbeit in der Schweiz (1900–1960) (Zurich, 2011), 49–55; Joëlle Droux, ‘L'attraction céleste. La construction de la profession d'infirmière en Suisse Romande (XIXe–XXe siècles)’ (unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of Geneva, 2000).

79 Joëlle Droux, ‘La formation des infirmières en Suisse (XIXe–XXe siècles): une affaire d'élites ou une carrière comme les autres?’, in Gérard Bodé and Philippe Marchand eds., Formation professionnelle et apprentissage XVIIIe–XXe siècles (Villeneuve d'Ascq, Paris, 2003), 439–54.

80 AEG, Archives Union des Femmes, AP 271.4, Procès verbaux manuscrits des séances de l'Union des femmes (1891–1899), session of the 17 September 1891.

81 Martine Chaponnière, ‘Pauline Chaponnière [-Chaix]’, Dictionnaire historique de la Suisse, (updated 26 November 2003).

82 AEG, Archives Union des Femmes, AP 271.4, Procès verbaux manuscrits des séances de l'Union des femmes (1891–1899), session of the 23 August 1898.

83 Regula Ludi, ‘Camille Vidart’, Dictionnaire historique de la Suisse, (updated 9 July 2013).

84 Lombard, Annuaire philanthropique, 7.

85 BGE, Bureau central de bienfaisance, 37e Rapport 1903 (Geneva, 1904), 10.

86 Battagliola, ‘Philanthropes et féministes’, 142.

87 Lombard, Annuaire philanthropique, 40.

88 Adam, Buying respectability, 142.

89 ‘Emilie Josseaume’, Journal de Genève, 8 February 1944.

90 ‘Boîtes de secours pour Œuvres philanthropiques et religieuses’, La semaine religieuse, 31 January 1903.