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Women in Social Catholicism in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-century France

  • James F. McMillan (a1)


This lecture should also have a sub-title, perhaps something like ‘a study in ambiguity’, because I want to use it as a particular example of the great paradox which seems to lie at the core of the relationship between women and the Church. On the one hand, as is well known, most varieties of Christianity have been marked by a more or less powerful misogynist strain which, understandably, has been the focus for feminist denunciations of the Church as one of the principal enemies of women’s rights. On the other hand, as ecclesiastical historians perhaps know better than others, Christianity cannot be viewed crudely as a force invariably responsible for women’s oppression, since from its beginnings it has proved itself specially attractive to women, allowing them to find inner peace and deep fulfilment through Church-related activities. I hope to show tliat the history of women’s involvement in the social Catholic movement in France in the period before the First World War is a perfect illustration of the paradoxical situation in which, within the framework of a potentially restrictive Christian discourse, women have been able to make a distinctive contribution both to their religion and to society in general.



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1 Ruether, R. R., ed., Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (London, 1974 ).

2 The best survey is now Cholvy, G. and Hilaire, Y.-M., Histoire religieuse de la France contemporaine, 2, 1880-1930 (Toulouse, 1986 ).

3 Gibson, R., A Social History of French Catholicism 1789-1914 (London, 1989 ).

4 Lagree, M., ‘Exilés dans leur patrie (1880–1920)’, in Lebrun, F., ed., Histoire des catholiques en France du xve siècle à nos jours (Toulouse, 1980), p. 382 .

5 Duroselle, J. B., Les Débuts du catholicisme social en France (1822-1871) (Paris, 1951 ). Also Vidler, A., A Century of Social Catholicism 1820-1920 (London, 1964 ).

6 Mayeur, Cf. J.-M., ‘Catholicisme intransigeant, Catholicisme social, Démocratie chrétienne’, Annales ESC, mars-avril 1972, pp. 48399 . Poulat, E., Église contre Bourgeoisie (Paris, 1977 ).

7 Brooke, M. Z., Le Play: Engineer and Social Scientist (London, 1970 ).

8 On de Mun, see Levillain, P., Albert de Mun: Catholicisme français et catholicisme romain du Syllabus au Ralliement (Rome, 1983 ), supplemented by Molette, C., Albert de Mun (Paris, 1970 ) and Martin, B., Count Albert de Mun, Paladin of the Third Republic (Chapel Hill, 1978 ).

9 Talmy, R., René de la Tour du Pin (Paris, 1964 ) and Guitton, G., Léon Harmel 18291915, 2 vols (Paris, 1927 ).

10 Montuclard, M., Conscience religieuse el démocratie: la Deuxième Démocratie Chrétienne en France 1891-1902 (Paris, 1965 ).

11 Droulers, P., Politique sociale et christianisme. Le père Desbuquois et l’Action populaire (1903-1918) (Paris, 1969 ).

12 Caron, J., Le Sillon et la Démocratie chrétienne 1894-1910 (Paris, 1967 ); Barthélemy-Madaule, M., Marc Sangnier 1873-1950 (Paris, 1973 ).

13 Actes des Semaines Sociales (from 1904).

14 The exception is Rollet, H., L’Action sociale des Catholiques en France, 2 vols (Paris, 1951-8 ). See also Rollet, H., Sur le chantier social. L’Action sociale des catholiques en France (1870-1940) (Lyons, 1955 ). Zamanski, J., Nous, catholiques sociaux. Histoire et histoires (Paris, 1947 ), also pays tribute to women militants.

15 Launay, M., ‘La crise du “Sillon” dans l’été 1905’, RH, 245 (1971), pp. 393426 .

16 Cholvy, and Hilaire, , Histoire religieuse, p. 67 .

17 Rollet, , L’Action sociale, 2, pp. 346 . See also Hause, S. and Kenney, A., ‘The development of the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Movement in France 1896-1922’, Catholic Historical Review, 68 (1981), pp. 1130 .

18 Acker, P., Oeuvres sociales de femmes (Paris, 1908 ). Rollet, , L’Action sociale, 2, pp. 11618 .

19 Rollet, , L’Action sociale, 2, pp. 11825 .

20 McMillan, J. F., ‘Women, religion and politics: the case of the Ligue Patriotique des Françaises’, in Roosen, W., ed., Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History, 15 (Flagstaff, Arizona, 1988), pp. 35564 .

21 Rollet, , L’Action sociale, 2, pp. 12730 .

22 Rollet, , L’Action sociale, 2, pp. 153 f.

23 Ibid., pp. 131-52.

24 Ibid., pp. 229ff. Also Pawlowski, A., Les Syndicats féminins el les syndicats mixtes en France (Paris, 1912 ); Clamorgan, P., Le Travail de la femme et la bienfaisance privée à Paris (Law thesis, Paris, 1908 ); Guerry, E., Les Syndicats libres féminins de l’Isère (Grenoble, 1921 ).

25 Perroy, M., Une ouvrière apôtre sociale, Maria Bardot (Paris, 1931 ).

26 Rollet, H., Andrée Butillard el le féminisme chrétien (Paris, 1960 ).

27 Perroy, M., Madeleine Carsignol: la première élève de l’École normale sociale (Paris, 1927 ).

28 Gibson, R., Social History, pp. 21617 .

29 Rerum, Leo XIII, novarum, 15 March 1891 . Text in Fremantle, A., ed., The Social Teachings of the Church (London, 1963 ).

30 Actes des Semaines Sociales.

31 Rollet, H., L’Action sociale, 1, pp. 196 ff.

32 Semaines Sociales de France: La femme dans la société(Nancy, 1927), p. 55.

33 Rollet, H., Andrée Butillard, pp. 11415 .

34 Offen, Cf. K., ‘Depopulation, Nationalism and Feminism in Fin-de-siècle France’, AHR, 89 (1984), pp. 64876 .

35 Rollet, H., Sur le chantier social, cap. 9 .

36 McMillan, J. F., ‘Women, religion and polities.

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Studies in Church History
  • ISSN: 0424-2084
  • EISSN: 2059-0644
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