Ready for progress? Opinion surveys on women's roles and opportunities in Belle Epoque France

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Date: Spring 2009
From: French Politics, Culture and Society(Vol. 27, Issue 1)
Publisher: Berghahn Books, Inc.
Document Type: Essay
Length: 10,929 words
Lexile Measure: 1450L

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This essay uses readers' opinion surveys in Femina, a unique, high-circulation fashion magazine that championed women's rights, to study the reception of feminist ideas. The readers were fashion-conscious and well-off provincial bourgeoises, a group that might have had conservative attitudes on gender roles. Yet, the many thousands of responses reveal a profound desire to expand women's identities beyond domesticity. About a third of the readers were even indignant that women lacked the freedoms of men. Most others looked forward to a future when society would offer women more opportunities to utilize their talents while reaffirming the satisfactions of familial roles. The surveys show that Frenchwomen were redefining femininity in a more individualistic direction though national emergencies as 1914 approached would make them hesitant about pressing their cause.

Keywords: women's roles, opinion surveys, Belle Epoque, women's magazines, feminism

Production versus Reception of Progressive Ideas

A recent and an important contribution to the study of French feminism of the Belle Epoque is Mary Louise Robert's Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-Siecle France. (2) It is a provocative examination of forces that were liberating women in the decade or so before World War I. Roberts claims that the principal figures associated with the path breaking daily newspaper produced completely by women, La Fronde (1897-1903)--the founder Marguerite Durand, the journalist Severine, the novelist Gyp, and the theatrical star, Sarah Bernhardt--had a profound impact on public understandings of women's proper place. The author contends that these highly visible women discarded the script for orthodox gender roles by mimicking masculine behavior. Their "tendency to play with gender by embracing both conventional and unconventional roles," the disruptive acts of the title, exposed once and for all the artificiality of gender norms. As a result, Frenchwomen learned that "conventional femininity was a choice, not a destiny." (3)

This lean synopsis hardly does justice to the richness of the presentation; but one of the evident limitations is the inability to test what Frenchwomen were actually thinking when confronted with the disruptive acts of a Durand, Bernhardt, Gyp, or Severine. To be sure, Roberts can comfortably presume that thousands, perhaps millions, were exposed to their gender-bending behavior via the increasingly intrusive press. Yet, she cannot know with certainty how the public interpreted them. This is a general problem with studies on the state of feminism in the Belle Epoque. Most research concerns the production of texts, but the conclusions focus in on the reception. It invokes the power of the media to reach the masses but cannot readily determine the impact of the ideas or images. (4) It is the purpose of this essay to make a foray into the use of opinion surveys from a high-circulation women's magazine to explore how readers were conceptualizing women's place in society. Research on such a fundamental question is surprisingly rare. (5)

An investigation of female identity is all the more desirable in that it cannot be taken as a foregone conclusion that Frenchwomen were demanding more rights and expanded roles before 1914. This is a proposition that has to be tested as far as possible. Recent scholarship tends to emphasize the progress in diffusing feminist ideas. (6) However, not many years ago, historians were preoccupied with a profound masculine backlash that seemed to pose a formidable challenge to progressive thinking on women's rights. (7) Even before that, Anne Martin-Fugier's thoroughly researched study of bourgeois women at the turn of the century presented much food for thought for historians who would blithely assume that a comer had been turned and that women had enlarged expectations by 1914. (8) Martin-Fugier produced a wealth of citations from memoirs, letters, newspapers, and advice books to sustain her argument that the imperative of women living for and through their loved ones was virtually unshakable. Feminist visions of greater freedoms and, indeed, individuality, foundered on the view that women must be the sacrificing guardians of the household. Alternative ideas produced guilt and confusion, rarely commitment. Women accepted the duty to serve others as their purpose in life, and, therefore, progress toward an emancipated view of women occurred only on the margins. It is worth noting that the Belle Epoque novelists who, today, are often considered "feminists" agreed with Martin-Fugier. When they created heroines who needed to defy convention in order to make themselves happy, the novelists drew them full of self-doubt and placed them in situations that were anything but enviable. The novelists were attempting to be realistic. (9)

This essay will explore the debate by using the opinion surveys in the major women's magazine Femina, which started to appear as a bi-monthly publication in February 1901 with immediate success. By the end of its second year, it achieved a circulation of 100,000 and reached a high of 135,000 between 1905 and 1910. (10) This was nearly three times the sales of La Fronde at its most popular. Femina also outsold by quite a bit influential newspapers like Le Temps (36,000), Figaro (46,000) and L'Eclair (93,000). (11) Femina succeeded as a commercial enterprise even though it was expensive. Whereas the Parisian daily newspapers with the largest circulation sold Sunday illustrated supplements to the masses by charging five centimes an issue, Femina cost 50 centimes per issue. A subscription was 12 francs, roughly two days pay for a female school teacher. For this high price, readers received a copiously illustrated publication that was one of the earliest photographic magazines for women. (12)

The simple question, "What sort of content did Femina have?" does not have a simple answer. It was a hybrid that used a conservative format to circulate both conventional and unconventional ideas about gender. Fundamentally, Femina offered instruction to rich women on how to live worldly, stylish, and interesting lives. The latest fashions in posh resort towns, life at the chateau, and aristocratic weddings were topics of columns. So was advice on up-to-date styles for hats, gloves, and furs. The magazine covered the comings and goings of foreign royalty and French pretenders as politically neutral "female news" while steering clear of political royalism and ignoring Catholic women by giving so little coverage to matters of faith. The abundant advertising for luxury commodities, usually from merchants in the most exclusive shopping districts of the capital, confirms the expectation that women with lots of disposable income would peruse Femina. It is not at all surprising that the catalogue of France's premier center for feminist research describes the magazine as "a deluxe journal ... devoted especially to fashion and high-society life." (13)

However, this was not all that Femina was. For reasons that will never be entirely clear, the publisher and founder, Pierre Lafitte, known as a successful publishing magnate, a sportsman, and a conservative habitue of high society, gave this society magazine a progressive dimension that can properly be described as "feminist," at least in a cultural sense. (14) Lafitte dismissed that terra itself up to 1910, because he thought (or thought that his readers thought) that it denoted a dangerous effacement of sexual difference. Instead, the publisher claimed the honor of supporting "the feminine movement," which called on women to retain their femininity while expanding their roles and opportunities beyond the home. (15) Thus, along with articles on what duchesses would be wearing for the season at Deauville, readers learned about women who excelled in endeavors commonly thought to be unnatural for a true woman. The subscribers were urged to admire their accomplished sisters and, uitimately, emulate them. (16) Eventually, in 1910, the magazine even gave up resisting the dreaded term and reported positively on "feminism." (17)

Lafitte's enduring reputation for social and political conservatism obviously needs revision. (18) In any case, he assembled a staff for Femina that assisted him in contributing to "the feminine movement." It included many of the leading "feminist" writers of the day, including Marcelle Tinayre, Daniel Lesueur, Gabrielle Reval, Jane Catulle-Mendes, and Marcel Prevost (a male novelist). There was, in fact, much overlap between Femina's staff and that of the foremost feminist newspaper of the time, La Fronde. (19) Femina's editorial board developed campaigns for women's rights in the pages of a magazine that otherwise covered news of interest to the fashion conscious. The magazine expressed disappointment that talented women were excluded from honors like the Prix de Rome (for musicians and painters) or admission to the Academie francaise. (20) It celebrated instances of women winning national awards, entering the liberal professions, or competing at the championship level in sports, insisting that there was nothing unwomanly about these achievers. By contrast, the magazine all but ignored the daily activities of domestic life, the normative role for women. Femina also urged changes in the Civil Code to end some of women's legal disabilities and, after equivocating, came out in favor of women's suffrage. (21) At the core of the magazine's ideology was the concept of "modern femininity." The theme was that women of the day needed to be healthier, better educated, more energetic, and more engaged in life outside the home. Rejecting the veneration of traditional womanhood, columnists argued that women, the family, and the nation would be better off in wake of the modernization. Moreover, Femina assured women that they had the right to expand their horizons. Marcel Prevost, a novelist who wrote frequently for the magazine, told readers what had been implicit in much copy: "Neither marriage nor motherhood ought to make you forget that you are an individual [une personne]." (23)

Subscribers to this widely-read magazine thus received mixed messages: Fantasize about princesses; Regard high fashion as essential to womanliness; Be more achievement oriented; Think about yourself. These messages crossed ideological lines in unusual ways for the day. The hybridity makes it hard to predict a priori the political identity of the women who subscribed to Femina and what they derived from the magazine. There was content appealing to traditionalists as well as to progressives. Fortunately, the magazine surveyed its subscribers on revealing gender issues and, indeed, received thousands of replies from a readership that seemed engaged.

The Femina surveys were innovative; the press up to then had rarely asked ordinary women their opinions on issues of substance. However promising the source, though, it would be excessive to claim that they offer an unmediated access to what the subscribers "really thought." Rather, their opinions emerged through the refracting lenses of leading questions from Femina, the interpretations that reporters gave the results, and the specific political context in which the survey appeared. Moreover, as Susan Igo has shown, opinion surveys constructed the very community whose views they were compiling. The findings then establish norms that both shaped identities and offered some possibilities for differentiation. (23) Every attempt will be made here to acknowledge the impact of these lenses and draw appropriate lessons from the survey results.

Who Were the Readers?

From all we can tell from indirect evidence, the readers of Femina were mostly economically privileged. The high subscription fee for Femina put the magazine out of the reach of those who needed to pinch pennies. Certainly, the advertisers presumed that they were reaching an audience that had the means to purchase luxury commodities. A survey asking readers to describe "the good life" found that responders held that comfort required a minimal annual income of 20,000 francs--ten times the earnings of a school teacher! (24) In the absence of subscription lists for pinning down the identity of the readers, we must rely on lists of contest winners and runners up that appeared unsystematically in the magazine. They yield a total of 292 names along with place of residence and marital status (Madame or Mademoiselle). The demographic profile that emerges would seem to have predisposed the population more toward a passive acceptance of the status quo than toward a critical stance. Four-fifths of the subscribers were "Madame" (thought their daughters may well have shared the magazine). Thus, their lives were already established by the routines related to the family. Even small steps in the direction of individuality would have required determination. For a publication that was so insistently parisienne in its contents, it is surprising that the majority of the readers resided in the provinces, and not even in the big cities there. Paris and the immediate suburbs accounted for only a quarter of the readers (71 of the 292). Since explanations for changes in women's mentalities during the Belle Epoque refer so often to the hustle and bustle of modern life, (25) it is noteworthy that only a sixth (58) resided in the largest provincial cities. Aside from a few from Belgium and Algeria, most subscriptions beyond the capital (159) were in the middle-size cities and towns of provincial France, a Laon or a Verdun rather than a Lyon. The subscribers were likely among the elite of these towns, and they kept up with Parisian fashion from a distance or through frequent shopping trips there.

This residential pattern placed Femina's readers on the margins of feminist organization. Steven Hause has shown that feminism was almost exclusively a Parisian phenomenon up to 1900 but blossomed in the provinces between the beginning of the new century and the Great War. (26) The growth was in the big provincial cities, not in the middling cities and towns where so many subscribers resided. Femina's readers, then, did not likely know groups of women publicly demanding change. To the extent that readers supported the emancipatory messages in Femina--which remains to be seen--their residential pattern would point to the beginnings of a new stage in the nationalization of feminist organization. (27)

Given that the magazine dwelled on la vie elegante, a reasonable hypothesis about the readers' political outlook would be that they favored the political conservatism and reviving royalism that characterized the urban upper bourgeoisie during the Radical Republic. Mobilized by the Dreyfus Affair, the rise of socialism, and the deep sense of national decline, social elites in France were drifting rightward as the Republic drifted leftward. The population of the beaux quartiers of Paris, which received so much coverage in the magazine, regularly sent non-republicans or nominal republicans to the Chamber of Deputies. (28) Here was the stronghold of the Action francaise as it burgeoned at the turn of the century. (29) For all this, the relevant survey returns demonstrate that the subscribers to this high-society magazine accepted (and maybe even supported) the Radical Republic. The magazine's matter-of-fact secularism and its progressive positions on women may have repelled the sort of women subscribers who made republican politicians fearful of giving females the vote.

The mainstream republican outlook of Femina readers comes through in their attitudes toward the emotional issue of divorce. (30) The presentation of two plays in 1904 about divorce, Paul and Victor Margueritte's favorably disposed Les Deux Vies and Paul Bourget's angry Un divorce, prodded Femina to query readers on their views on the fraught family issue. The magazine received 3,164 votes, with 1,557 (49.2 percent) expressing disapproval and a majority, though a bare one, favoring it (1,505) or tolerating it (102 votes were "neutral"). (31) Sample letters from opponents justified their position on the grounds of religion and fears about weakening the family and morality. The magazine cited moderate feminists and exemplary women of accomplishment, Juliette Adam and the Duchesse d'Uzes, speaking out against divorce as leading to the destruction of the family. Sample responses from readers in the majority argued that divorce actually strengthened the family and also took individual rights into account. Comparing these results with another public survey on divorce appearing in Le Matin in 1908 establishes that the division among Femina readers reflected national opinion on the issue. Le Matin was one of the major dailies, with a circulation of about 650,000. It received 6,956 replies on its survey about divorce, 55.2 percent in favor and 44.8 percent opposed. (32) Thus, even if Femina readers avidly followed the coverage of the pretenders to the French throne, their opinion on this revealing question was more or less in step with Republican France as a whole.

Evidence of the average Femina reader being within the political mainstream of French republican politics also emerges from a 1902 survey which asked readers to name their "favorite figures" in public life. An impressive 18,723 readers responded. Their choice for the category of "philosopher, moralist, or scholar" would have been impossible for an observant Catholic or a nonrepublican to cast. Marcellin Berthelot, a proponent of positivism and scientific materialism, won handily with 11,231 votes. (33) An influential voice in favor of the secularization of schools, Berthelot was buried in that temple of republicanism, the Pantheon, five years after the survey. (34)

Likewise, the readers' choices for a favorite politician reinforce the impression that the readers lived comfortably with the regime chosen for them by the republican, anticlerical male majority. The most admired politician, with 8,904 votes, was Paul Deschanel, who at the time was president of the Chamber of Deputies, in which progressive republicans held the majority. Moreover, the choice of Deschanel possibly signified a women's consciousness on the part of many subscribers. As a senator in 1884, he had associated himself with Leon Richer's Ligue francaise pour le droit des femmes and continued to be one of the leading supporters of women's suffrage within parliament in the decade before 1914. (35) In second place (no specific vote was given) was the hero of the Left, Rene Waldeck-Rousseau, who had led the "government of republican defense" that liquidated the Dreyfus Affair. In third place, "far behind" Deschanel and Waldeck-Rousseau according to the reporter, Femina's readers placed Count Albert de Mun, a Catholic who had rallied to the Republic in the 1890s and was much respected for the support he gave to familial, moral, and charitable projects. Had the readers' identities been more Catholic and less republican, and had they been more awed by politicians promoting "good works," de Mun would have fared much better.

Thus, Lafitte seems to have attracted a readership that reflected his own complexity. Lafitte as well has his readers had a spiritual home in high society but were capable of transcending the closed-mindedness of this milieu. (36) Somewhat surprisingly, Femina's readers leaned at least moderately leftward in their politics. It remains to be seen it, as secular republicans, they accepted the standard republican ideology on women's exclusion from the public sphere or whether they chafed under its sway. (37)

Thinking about Womanhood

The pages of Femina frequently referred to "our readers" as a community that shared an interest in all matters that concerned women. The readers were assumed to be thoughtful and curious. This sense of community justified the editors' quest to discover what the subscribers thought about contemporary issues and to award prizes to those who expressed the dominant opinion most eloquently. Most of the surveys were inspired by new books or plays that the editors considered timely. Careful about maintaining a polite tone, the editors of the magazine may have shied away from asking the most provocative questions about the state of women in French society. Nonetheless, the questions they did ask gave readers an opportunity to reflect critically on female identity. In 1902, the magazine sponsored a contest based on the question "What ten qualities must a woman have to be perfect?" with a list of twenty-seven attributes from which to choose. The question drew 14,728 responses. (38) To win, contestants had to match exactly the most frequently selected qualities. The rules of the contest meant that entrants should have selected, not the qualities that they personally thought made a woman perfect, but rather the qualities that they guessed everyone would select. This format biased the results toward the more conventional values. However, most responders did not seem to take the contest entirely seriously; on average they cast votes for only six qualities, disqualifying them from winning. (39) Arguably, they chose the six attributes they, themselves, considered the most "perfect." The results of the inquiry must have represented a compromise between the two approaches.

Despite the built-in biases toward conventionality, readers collectively developed an ideal that borrowed as much from republican citizenship as from conventional femininity. Answers to the poll extolled the reason and restraint that guardians of the household needed to exercise. Kindness (10,983 votes) and devotion (10,491 votes) were far and away the most frequently selected qualities. Orderliness (6,499 votes), good judgment [sagesse] (6,206 votes), modesty (4,632 votes), patience (4,586 votes), economy (4,553 votes), and amiability (4,046 votes) also did well. At the same time, the collective wisdom reproved categories of female/male complementarity that were simply about pleasing men or that demeaned women by implying subordination. (40) Grace (1,755 votes), beauty (1,660 votes), and tenderness (1,096 votes) were near the bottom of the list. (41) Tellingly, self-abnegation received only 1,283 votes whereas kindness was at the top of the list because of their differing connotations. Readers also spurned the familiar myth that piety was instinctual for women. Only 2,488 of them affirmed that faith contributed decisively to womanly perfection. As much as the collective wisdom disavowed pleasing or subordinating themselves to men, it also undervalued qualities that would allow women to distinguish themselves as individuals or to shine in society. Activity (1,812 votes), energy (1,220), hard-working (1,283), and wit [esprit] (1,070 votes) were all at the bottom of the list of selected attributes. (42) Thus, even the readers of a fashion magazine gravitated toward the model of republican motherhood more than that of the salon mistress. Yet, as we shall see, other surveys would show that the subscribers had considerable respect for the accomplished woman who had an identity extending beyond domesticity.

A 1906 survey based on the question, "What is true happiness?" gave readers the opportunity to extol the idealized household but also revealed some radical dissatisfaction with the gender order. (43) The survey brought 8,878 replies, which were open-ended in format and could advance more than one cause of happiness. According to the reporter on the survey, 6,309 letters recognized a marriage based on love as the core of happiness. Madame Maurice Alaphilippe, the resident of a small town in the Creuse, explained that "for ten years my path in life has been perfumed by the companion [her husband] that I have chosen." While most of the responses made the relation between husband and wife the central issue, 3,000 letters affirmed that motherhood was the key to bliss. Only 1,200 cited the satisfactions of charitable work. Not all of Femina's readers, however, agreed that a good marriage was sufficient for happiness. There were 603 readers who responded that women must remain single to be happy, and 965 used the survey to assert that society was not currently organized for women to be happy under any circumstances. Thus, the survey effectively opened a debate on women's fulfillment through domesticity, and 17.7 percent of the readers rejected the orthodoxy that women's could find contentment only through their husbands and family. Nearly all responders--and here we find echoes of the survey on perfection--rejected the notion that women's happiness necessitated submission to a man. (44) Marriages had to be companionate to be accepted as women's proper destiny.

A survey the next year on "Would you prefer to be a man?" allowed readers to continue the debate on domesticity as the key to women's happiness. (45) The question received 7,198 replies, two-thirds (4,897) negative and a third (2,301) affirmative. The reporter on the survey expressed surprise to find so many votes in favor of remaining women since "in a thousand situations one hears women complaining of the injustices they suffer on the part of nature and society." The joys of motherhood provided the most common reason for the complacency. However, the majority preference for being a woman was not inevitably an affirmation of traditional womanhood. An important theme qualifying the negative replies was that women had more freedom now so that manhood was no longer the self-evidently desirable state. A Madame M. de Loetan of Dreux wrote: "Why desire to be a man? A woman today is so much more at liberty to emulate him morally. A woman in our era can no longer regret not being a man." (46)

Even the progress that women had recently made was not enough, however, for 2,301 readers, and their principal reasons for wanting to be a man were the freedom from restrictions and the chance to lead a more interesting life. The alienation that emerged in the previous survey reappeared still more forcefully in this one. The reporter noted that a large number of letters were bitter. A Madame Delarue of Bergerac stated, "To be a woman is to be unhappy. [She is] deprived of personal initiative, betrayed by the [Civil] Code. Philosophers belittle her intelligence. If she is ugly, she does not exist." Another responder noted plaintively that many women would prefer to be a man whereas no man would prefer to be a woman. When asked to elaborate on what their dreams and ambitions would be it they were men, 1,555 readers answered in terms of careers. The arts (884 painters, 327 writers) held the most attraction, but the masculine allure of military careers (339 naval officers, 254 army officers) also appealed. (47)

The responses to this survey indicated an acute awareness that to be a woman entailed restrictions. In many cases, the limitations were graciously accepted because family life provided compensations. In other cases, the limits were accepted because progress toward equality of the sexes was being made. A third of the responders, though, found that women did not enjoy adequate compensations and used the survey to protest women's lack of options. This portion viewed domesticity as an imposed burden, not as woman's destiny.

Another survey soon followed that directed readers to elaborate on what they would do if conventional duties did not restrict them. It asked, "What would be your preferred career?" (48) Over 8,700 subscribers submitted answers, which pointed toward an interest in serious careers for these readers of a fashion magazine. Artistic careers again had much attraction: writer topped the list (7,645 votes); painter (5,649) and actor (3,297) also did well. The most striking aspect of the responses is that readers more readily imagined traditionally male careers for themselves than female ones, with doctor (6,644 votes) and lawyer (5,999) proving more popular than dressmaker (5,875 votes), embroiderer (3,423 votes), or nurse (2,748 votes). Though there were only a few female barristers and a few hundred physicians in the real world, they apparently served as role models firing the imaginations of women who also spent time reading about fairy-tale marriages and elegant fashion. The subscribers to Femina could picture themselves being ambitious and productive in a "male" sense it society allowed it. It is worth noting that the survey did not yield any letters denouncing the very idea of women having careers.

Since, clearly, alternatives to conventional womanly roles were on the minds of the readers, it is fortunate that Femina presented the opportunity to express themselves on them. Nonetheless, the results show more confusion than consensus on what the roles should be or how desirable they were. One of the most frequent messages in Femina was the importance of involving women in sports. Women playing tennis, golf, or rowing were often on the cover, and articles in the magazine did not hesitate to highlight women who excelled in even more arduous physical activity, like discus throwing or big game hunting. The magazine invited its subscribers in 1905 to attend a debate in a Parisian lecture hall on the question, "Should the modern young woman play sports?" (49) The format of the debate was weighted in favor of an affirmative answer since sports were something that "the modern young woman" supposedly did, but the debaters did muddy the waters. (50) The prolific writer Francis de Croisset spoke against the proposition, painting a distressing portrait of the young sportswoman out of control. Tapping into negative stereotypes that were prevalent, Croisset turned sports into a metaphor for unruly independence. Physical exertion, he argued, made young women powerful and self-assured--that is dangerously masculine--and they used their independence to do what they should not do. (51) A litany of sexual anxieties followed from this: sportswomen will flirt with men; they will be attracted to men with fine physiques rather than to socially acceptable ones; they will develop the taste for freedom to such a degree that they will lose the discipline to stay faithful to their husbands; divorce will follow. Helene Lecomte du Nouy had the task of countering these accusations and she offered the positions that were so often in the pages of Femina: sports instilled moral discipline and realista in girls; they gave women the self-confidence and physical strength to face the challenges of modern life; finally, they provided innocent fun. The audience of 267 voted after the debate, and a sporting life for young women won out, but only by a narrow margin. The vote was 52.8 percent for (141) and 47.2 percent opposed (126). It must have been disappointing to Lafitte, an enthusiastic sportsman, and his staff to find that there was not more support among the readers for a viewpoint that the magazine pushed so hard. A bare majority found sportswomen an attractive feature of modern life.

The editors soon followed this debate with one on the proper upbringing for young women (the term "modern" was not specifically used this time). (52) The debate pitted a "scholarly" (savante) mode against a "bourgeois" one. This encounter was even more weighted toward a particular conclusion than the previous one. The models for the two types of upbringing came from JeanBaptiste Moliere's 1672 play, Les Femmes savantes. Armande, the prototype of the scholar, is a ridiculous figure, the pedant who has no interest in or capacity to please a man; she ends up single and unhappy. Her younger sister Henriette is the prototype of the bourgeois upbringing. She is the heroine of the play, charming and destined to live happily ever after by marrying the right man. The Henriette/Armande dichotomy was a standard frame of reference in French culture for guiding intellectually gifted girls to a proper female identity. The respected Bishop Felix Dupanloup had already drawn an invidious distinction between an intelligent woman and a scholarly one; the former used her mind to serve others whereas the later served only herself. (53) The two presenters cleverly sought to reconfigure Moliere's characters so that they would represent values that the readers respected. The writer Noziere had the difficult job of packaging Armande in a way that would render her womanly and make her intellect an asset rather than a flaw. Abandoning Moliere's intentions entirely, he did well to describe Armande as a salon mistress, a figure with an aristocratic and a glamorous pedigree. This move allowed Noziere to challenge the assertion that Armande was that "unnatural" sort of woman who lived for herself and wished to be intellectually impressive in her own right. The debater claimed, instead, that Armande, as salon mistress, used her intelligence to raise the tone of society and to facilitate men's sociability. Sensing that the best way to deprecate Henriette was to portray her as the boring housewife, Noziere asserted that Armande's scholarly interests gave her life "ardor, joy, and divine fantasy" whereas Henriette was a dull housewife, "the enemy of the fantastic and household dust." It is hard to believe that the audience found Noziere true to Moliere's Armande, but perhaps it gave him credit for making a good case for her. Noziere took a chance that Femina's readers respected women who used their minds. (54) The readers had already affirmed their personal dreams of being writers, artists, and learned professionals.

Henriette's advocate, Franc-Nohain, had an easier case to make. (55) He could rely on the womanly qualities Moliere had given his character: being cordial, blending into situations, using her intelligence to please others. Franc-Nohain's main challenge was to counter the suspicion that Henriette would be boring, insubstantial, or subservient, qualities that he presumed the audience would disown. He addressed the issues by claiming that Henriette was the prototype of "the modern woman" because she was joyful, natural, and sensible. Armande's intellectual virtuosity, on the other hand, did not make her modern so much as morbid. An Armande in 1905, Franc-Nohain charged, would be studying those dangerous authors Friedrich Nietzsche and Henrich Ibsen. For good measure, he ended by proclaiming Henriette quintessentially "French" in combining charro and intelligence.

The audience of 341 came to a surprisingly close decision given the skewed terms of the debate. The bourgeois type of upbringing won with 53.1 percent of the votes (181) to 46.9 percent (160) for the scholarly mode. There was a bit of rebellion against conventional wisdom in this poll. What is also telling about the debate is the extent to which the dichotomies modern/traditional and interesting/boring took their place beside womanly/unwomanly as meaningful. The vote implies that a consensus on what constituted true "femininity" was now a bit shaky. Moreover, recalling the previous debate, Femina's readers seemed less inherently suspicious of women who cultivated their minds than of those who cultivated their bodies.

Real-life Armandes inspired a survey in 1911. The magazine posed a dual question that went to the heart of women's right to develop their potential, even to the point of competing directly with men: "Given the state of our society, do you think that it is proper for a young woman to seek the highest university degrees? If a woman obtains the highest degrees, should she be eligible to teach in a lycee for boys?" The query was suggested by the recent case of Mademoiselle Magali Rouviere, whose brilliant university examination led to taking courses at the male Ecole normale superieure (of the rue d'Ulm) and to studying for the male agregation, both gateways to the highest realms of the teaching profession. (56) Her younger sister Jeanne had done so well on her baccalaureate that she was preparing for the admission examination at the hallowed male bastion, the Ecole polytechnique. (57) This was Femina's most provocative question yet, for it promised to address heretofore unresolved questions about whether femininity imposed any limitations at all upon female accomplishments.

Unfortunately, many issues cloud a clear interpretation of the responses. On the surface, the answers comprised an overwhelming rejection of women's right to have their intelligence take them as far as they could go. Femina reported receiving 1,204 replies, 912 (75.7 percent) of which were negative. The printed sample letters were squarely opposed to women in careers for men; some, to women in careers at all if they could afford to stay home. The prize for the best letter went to a Madame Aurelia Gougeon of Langres, who argued, "The place of a woman is at home, and the role she fills there surpasses in importance and nobility any grandeur for which a man can hope." (58) The survey had the appearance of being a refutation of Femina's editorial policy, which often reported proudly on the success of women in higher education and had glamorized the liberal professions. Just prior to the survey, it had covered the achievements of the Rouviere sisters as a victory for women. However, there are good reasons not to take the reported results at their face value.

There are some suspicious features to the replies. First, the number of reported responses was far lower than for any other inquiry. Moreover, the thrust of the replies contradicted previous survey results: the 1907 one on preferred careers, for which readers had ambitiously imagined lives as physicians and lawyers more often than dressmakers and nurses; the extensive support the "bluestocking" Armande had garnered in the 1905 debate; the disaffected minority that emerged when readers were asked it they preferred to be men. This query on higher education for women, more than any of the previous ones, needs to be interpreted within a specific political context. Femina announced the inquiry at the beginning of March 1911 and reported the results in mid-June. The second Moroccan crisis, one of Germany's most sensational challenges to French international standing, occurred in between. The crisis vastly intensified the revival of nationalist feelings that had been building since the first Moroccan crisis in 1905. As Gordon Wright has written, "The nationalist revival in France of 1911-1914 pervaded almost every segment of French society--the political elite, the army, the bureaucracy, the urban bourgeoisie, and even the labor movement." (59) Indeed, it seems also to have pervaded the staff of Femina and possibly the subscribers. Could it be that the magazine, in order to show the proper patriotic attitudes, hastened to report the results the staff wanted without waiting for all the letters to arrive? Did the staff deliberately misrepresent the results? Did readers who might have approved what the Rouviere sisters were accomplishing keep silent in view of the dangers facing la patrie? One of the prize-winning letters underscored the context of social defense; it concluded: "For the good of the family and the nation, [we need] educated women, yes. But cerebral women, no!" (60) Unquestionably, Lafitte and at least part of his staff were stirred into a heightened patriotism by the second Moroccan crisis. The magazine went on to award its prizes to replies that went against the grain of the new construction of femininity that it had proposed until then. In 1913, the magazine opened a survey on how Frenchwomen might best serve the patrie. When the results were in, the reporter extolled the patriotism expressed by the more than 4,000 responders. (No exact figure was given.) The majority (again, a specific number was not given) expressed support for the extension of military service known as the "three year law," of which male voters would disapprove in the 1914 legislative election. "Hundreds" of readers proposed that women serve in the army. (The magazine overlooked the potential for masculinizing women in this case.) Most replies concluded that women could serve France best by spreading a love of la patrie. (61) All of Femina's surveys following the second Moroccan crisis reflected the ideological pressures of the nationalist revival.

Not only political context but also the form of the question made the results of the Rouviere inquiry difficult to decipher. The query put to the readers included the qualification "given the state of our society" ("dans l'etat actuel de notre societe"). This tricky phrase rendered a "yes" or "no" answer ambiguous. What about readers who thought that the Rouviere sisters were doing what intelligent women should do ideally but answered "no" because they recognized that "given the state of our society," the consequences for them would be unfortunate? In fact, in late 1910, the press had been speculating actively that a new age for female genius was about to dawn because one of France's five learned national academies would soon admita woman. Anticipation of Noble-Prize winner Marie Curie's admission to the Academie des sciences ran high. However, the spirited rejection of her candidacy barely six weeks before the survey opened might well have convinced some readers that society was far from ready to reward women of talent. (62) Still another possible rationale for a negative vote was that many Femina's readers had misgivings about secondary-school teaching, even at a lycee for women. On the staff of the magazine itself was the novelist Gabrielle Reval, who made the difficult lives of female teachers the subject of her popular novels. A graduate of the women's Ecole normale superieure (at Sevres), she valued the opportunities that education opened but frankly wondered if society was ready. Her novels depicted women teachers experiencing much pain, meeting jealousy and disapproval at every turn. Many of her readers took Reval to be warning young women against the career. (63) It is significant that in the 1907 survey on preferred careers, Femina readers were little inclined to favor teaching. Even "chamber maid" garnered more support as a desirable position (844 votes compared to 838). Thus, it is plausible to think that some negative votes recognized the Rouviere sisters' quest for distinction as an admirable aspiration, but one likely to produce undeserved pain under current conditions. As such, the votes could have been more a protest against enduring limitations on women's opportunities than an endorsement of the limitations, even during the nationalist revival.

It would have been interesting to know what the results of this survey would have been if carried out before 1910. As it is, we cannot accept the literal interpretation that three quarters of the readers simply disapproved of women who wished to develop their intellectual potential as much as men did. To the quarter of responders who voted for women's right to pursue the same degrees open to men, we have to add more readers who might have approved in the abstract but did not think society was ready and those whose favor was derailed by immediate political circumstances. Perhaps, the "true" results would not be far from the 47 percent who, resisting Moliere's immense cultural authority in 1905, affirmed that France should make a place for its Armandes.

A final opportunity before the Great War for Femina's readers to comment on new possibilities for women came with a 1912 inquiry asking, "About what do young women dream today?" (64) This time the results were much more consistent with the lessons Femina had been imparting all along on the value of "modern femininity." Indeed, there is a possibility that the supervisor of the survey, Helene Miropolosky, one of the first female lawyers and the most outspoken proponent of feminism on the staff, slanted her report at least a bit to emphasize the readers' enthusiasm for women's rights. This survey, too, was immersed in the discourse of national revival, but now the emerging solution to the nation's challenges was women's progress, not social defense. Miropolsky prefaced the question on young women's aspirations with the observation that, "Young men today think more about duty and work; they prefer action to romanticism" and asked if this was also true for women. She may well have been trying to lead her readers; in any case, she received the results that she desired.

There were more than 4,000 responses (no exact figure was given). According to Miropolsky, the answer of the "great majority" (nothing more specific noted) was "marriage with the right to develop one's personality." (65) The path breaking lawyer elaborated that "nearly all" the letters displayed "the new spirit." Infusing the letters, she claimed, was "a clear recognition of today's realities ... which create a duty for active intelligence and courage that yesterday's domestic ideals do not satisfy." Miropolsky praised the "happy compromise" that she found between "an individualism that was often too egotistical" and the unfortunate subjugation of the past. "Simone," a reporter who worked with Miropolsky on the survey, agreed that the responses showed that young women "wish to develop their personalities and be for their husband's collaborators and associates." The sample letters added nuances to these generalizations. A Marie-Therese Porquet stated that marriage was still her dream. However, unless a career was one of her options, she would not have the independence to make her choices freely. An Amelie-Auriole Leygues defined the modern young woman as "more independent, more sports-minded, more masculinized by sports, more accustomed to liberty, more individualistic" and affirmed that young women had no choice but to be that way because it was an adaptation to the times. Nonetheless, she believed that the great majority of her peers would want to marry and have families. A Marsa Bonnavey of Brussels claimed that Femina's articles on achieving women had inspired her and many other women "to move forward courageously." A little more than a year beyond the second Moroccan crisis, Femina's staff and readers seem to have recovered their confidence that women's progress was worthwhile from the point of view of the individual and not even a problem for the nation.


The Femina surveys are valuable because they highlight the reception of Belle Epoque feminist ideas, not just their production. The surveys drew upon the voices of married, upper-class, provincial, republican women who strove to keep up with Parisian high fashion. Little about their profile characterized the subscribers a priori as inclined toward progressive change. This was a swing group--and, therefore, a good indicator group. It was comprised of the sort of women whom feminist activists wanted to reach and needed to reach in order to be influential and respected. (66) The fact that the women surveyed spent time and money on Femina is ideologically inconclusive. Much of the magazine would have pleased society ladies who did not give a thought to social or political reform. The originality of Femina's use of women who looked chic was to demonstrate their capacity to exceed conventional gender expectations and even to render those expectations outmoded. Yet, readers had the choice of taking or leaving the lesson. The surveys showed that many readers did take the lesson or were so predisposed even before opening the magazine.

Inherent in the surveys were two different patterns of reasoning: confronting everyday life as it was, on one hand, or imagining what might be, on the other hand. When asked to do the first, the readers maximized womanly dignity within a framework of republican citizenship. In the second mode, they had no trouble asserting nondomestic identities; the "eternal feminine" did not seem to limit very much the life possibilities that they imagined for themselves. The dilemma was that responders compartmentalized the two sorts of thinking, so that speculation on what might be did not directly challenge what was, as far as the majority of readers were concerned. Yet, it did for some, and if Femina's subscribers could break out of the blinders of conformity, then so could many more Frenchwomen.

The columnist "Junia" offered an assessment of readers' views on the eve of the Great War based on the many letters she received from subscribers. She claimed that they showed the subscribers to be either engaged feminists or passionately opposed. What particularly impressed the reporter was that whether the correspondents were for or against feminism, they held such firm opinions. In itself, she noted, that was unwomanly by the (imagined) standards of yesteryear. The majority of young women confidently based their ideas on "their rights" (emphasis hers) and belittled their parents' authority. Junia was intrigued that so many of the young women presumed that seeking a career was obligatory since otherwise they would be considered lazy. (67) We must not make the mistake of taking Junia's account too literally. She was obviously generalizing in such a way as to construct the "modern young woman" in light of her moderate feminism, which stood for privileging domesticity but opening opportunities for the exceptional women who could not or would not conform.

Still, there are elements of the Junia's report that ring true when juxtaposed with the responses to the surveys. Junia had not specified whether feminists or anti-feminists were in the majority. Yet, even it the reporter meant that only 30 or 40 percent of the readers were now self-consciously feminists, that would still be a truly impressive victory for feminism. Femina's readers, after all, were serious about performing femininity at least in sartorial terms. If a good portion of them now thought of themselves as "feminists," it would signify the mainstreaming of a movement that had been decidedly marginal before 1900. (68) Feminism seems to have captured an audience that, until then, had dismissed the movement as being for women who were odd. In any case, evidence for changes more subtle than an explicit acceptance of feminist goals also emerges from the surveys. The boundary between "womanly" and "unwomanly" behavior was becoming less distinct as new values became attractive. Living interesting lives seemed a worthwhile goal, taking its place along with the traditional womanly vocation of serving others. Readers' ideal marriage, whether realized or not, entailed being the "associates" of their husbands. (69) Submission was no longer an inherently womanly attribute but, instead, a degrading state. Being "modern" had much prestige, though there may not have been a consensus on what modernity required. Femina's readers were not yet unanimous in recognizing the sportswoman as the very image of modernity. On the other hand, the woman who was intellectually ambitious, the "bluestocking," inspired more admiration than expected.

As many as a third of Femina's readers had an awareness that the social order was not simply different for women bur unfair to them. This was quite a high level of alienation for a milieu that was so privileged--and sampled from subscribers to a magazine that contained much to put off serious minds. One must imagine that fundamental discontent reached a majority of women further down the social scale. (70) Feminist organizations swelled in this era, and the surveys suggest why. In fact, awareness of discrimination as a fundamental fact of a woman's life was extensive enough that feminist organizations appeared not to have captured all who were alienated. Perhaps, if the war had not broken out in 1914, medium and small provincial towns would have begun to contribute to the growth. The kinds of changes on which the majority of Femina's readers could agree did not require the collapse of patriarchy, but they did require adaptation. One can understand why Paul Deschanel was the preferred political figure for the readers. He honored the critical contributions women made to society and wished to change the laws and institutions so that women had greater voice in public life. Since there is little likelihood that these readers had abandoned essentialist thinking about gender, their motivation for obtaining the vote was to make women's special qualities more powerful in the public sphere.

The claim that Frenchwomen of the Belle Epoque had come to see traditional femininity as a choice, not a destiny, is confirmed by these surveys but requires important qualifications. The majority of Femina's readers seemed prepared to choose a quasi-traditional femininity, which allowed for a higher degree (though not necessarily a very high degree) of individuality. To this extent, the expectation that women would and must live primarily for the happiness they brought to others was weakening. It was not that women had rejected sacrifice as their principal role, but expectations for personal satisfaction were on the rise. Furthermore, there was less instinctive hostility for, and more willingness to accommodate, the exceptional women who chose independence.

Expectations that young women would simply not abide by the old rules, whether because they would not wish to or because changing times made it impossible, were strong. Junia's June 1914 reading of subscribers' correspondence paralleled the views of the pioneering female journalist Severine, who believed that she had been born too early to benefit from the liberating climate of the twentieth century's first decade but assumed the next generation would fight for its rights. (71) Severine did not anticipate how much a catastrophic war would disrupt seemingly unstoppable trends. The nationalist revival of 1911 gave warning that women's progress might not hold up well if the nation were in danger. Not that all of Femina's readers accepted the necessity of retreating into traditional femininity for the sake of the nation. Indeed, the readers before 1914 seemed just as convinced, if not more so, that modernizing womanhood was beneficial to France. Nonetheless, the destruction of normalcy by the war would be an enormous setback for women's march toward individuality. Frenchwomen of the Belle Epoque had learned to look forward, not backward, for models of behavior, and this would be hard to do after 1914.

Lenard R. Berlanstein

University of Virginia


(1.) The author would like to express his deep gratitude to Helen Chenut, Linda Clark, Venita Datta, Karen Offen, Mary Lynn Stewart, and Vanessa Schwartz for their knowledgeable advice on this essay

(2.) Mary Louise Roberts, Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-Siecle France (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002).

(3.) Ibid., 19, 104.

(4.) Good examples are Diana Holmes and Carrie Tarr, "New Republic, New Women? Feminism and Modernity in the Belle Epoque" and Maire Cross, "1890-1914: A Belle Epoque for Feminism?" both in A "Belle Epoque"? Women in French Society and Culture 1890-1914, ed. Diana Holmes and Carrie Tarr (Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2006), 11-22, 23-36.

(5.) The usual journalistic practice was to solicit celebrities' opinions. However, there was the spectacular poll conducted by Le Journal in April 1914, which asked women if they desired the vote, and half a million replied. See Steven C. Hause with Anne R. Kenney, Women's Suffrage and Social Politics in the French Third Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 180.

(6.) In addition to the essays cited in note 3, see Susan K. Foley, Women in France since 1789 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 153-84; Rachel G. Fuchs and Victoria E. Thompson, Women in Nineteenth-Century Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 67-176; Karen Offen, European Feminisms 1700-1950" A Political History (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2000), 183-228; James McMillan, France and Women, 1789-1914, 2nd ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 139-216; and Florence Rochefort, "The French Feminist Movement and Republicanism, 1868-1914," in Women's Emancipation Movements in the Nineteenth Century: A European Perspective, ed. Sylvia Paletschek and Bianka Pietrow-Ennker (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 77-101.

(7.) Edward Berenson, The Trial of Madame Caillaux (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Robert Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Karen Offen, "Depopulation, Nationalism, and Feminism in Fin-de-Siecle France," American Historical Review 89 (June 1984): 648-74.

(8.) Arme Martin-Fugier, La Bourgeoise: Femme au temps de Paul Bourget (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1983).

(9.) Jennifer Waelti-Walters, Feminist Novelists of the Belle Epoque (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990); Diana Holmes, "Daniel Lesueur and the Feminist Romance," in A "Belle Epoque"? ed. Holmes and Tarr, 197-211.

(10.) Femina, 15 December 1904, ix; 15 November 1905, cover.

(11.) Circulation figures are drawn from Hause, Women's Suffrage, 153. It is necessary to keep in mind that the figures compare daily newspapers with the bi-monthly Femina.

(12.) The publisher claimed that each issue cost at least 45,000 francs to produce. The much less expensive and plebian Le Petit echo de la mode, selling about 300,000 copies, was the women's magazine with the largest circulation of the day. In contrast to Femina, it was addressed to practical, provincial housewives. See Evelyne Sullerot, La Presse feminine (Paris: A. Colin, 1963), 32-34.

(13.) Annie Dizier-Metz, La Bibliotheque Marguerite Durand: Histoire d'une femme, memoire des femmes (Paris: La Bibliotheque, 1992), 49.

(14.) The sole study of Lafitte's life and work is Juliette Dugal, "Pierre Lafitte, 'le Cesar du papier couche,'" Le Rocambole 10 (Spring 2000): 13-38.

(15.) Femina, 1 April 1901, 98-99. An editorial statement in this early issue denounced "a ridiculous feminism that would masculinize Frenchwomen" but argued that "conditions today call for women to become stronger, more open intellectually, and more robust." It asked its readers to "have the courage to admit the need to change." See also 15 April 1901, 120-21; 15 December 1904, 470; 1 December 1907, cover (which states over the masthead that Femina was an organ of "the feminine movement"). (16.) In order to honor women's achievements in the arts, Lafitte created in 1904 les Prix Femina, annual 1,000 franc awards in several artistic categories. These prizes are not to be confused with the literary Prix Femina, awarded by an all-female committee, which also began in 1904 and still exists today. The latter was the creation of a rival magazine, La Vie heureuse.

(17.) Femina, 1 February 1910, 70; 15 April 1910, 200; 15 January 1914, 50. By 1912, the magazine had two columnists who wrote regularly in support of feminism, Helene Miropolsky and "Junia."

(18.) Even Juliette Dugal, the scholar who has studied Lafitte most seriously, seems ignorant of the fact that he supported women's advancement. Apparently, she never read Femina. I discuss in greater depth the feminist content of Femina and its place in Lafitte's career in "Selling 'Modern Femininity': Femina, a Forgotten Feminist Publishing Success in Belle Epoque France," French Historical Studies 30 (Fall 2007): 623-49.

(19.) In addition to the female novelists named above, Severine and Mary Leopold-Lacour wrote for both publications.

(20.) Femina, 15 October 1902, 316-17; 15 April 1902, 115-16; 15 December 1904, 470.

(21.) Ibid., 15 April 1905, 181-82; 1 February 1910, 70; 1 November 1909, 546; 15 April 1910, 200-201.

(22.) Ibid., 15 January 1908, 44-45.

(23.) Susan E. Igo, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 284-86.

(24.) Femina, 1 Match 1904, xxii.

(25.) See, for example, Holmes and Tarr, "New Republic, New Women?"

(26.) Hause, Women's Suffrage, chapters 2-3; Steven Hause, "The Failure of Feminism in Provincial France," Proceedings of the Western Society for French History 8 (1980): 423-35.

(27.) On the nationalization of feminism, see Offen, European Feminism, Chapter 8.

(28.) Robert Elliot Kaplan, Forgotten Crisis: The Fin-de-Siecle Crisis of Democracy in France (Oxford, UK and Washington, D.C.: Berg Publishers, 1995); Paul M. Cohen, Piety and Politics: Catholic Revival and the Generation of 1905-1914 (New York: Taylor & Francis, 1987).

(29.) Eugen Weber, L'Action Francaise: Royalism and Reaction in Twentieth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962), Chapter 1.

(30.) On the politics of divorce, see Berenson, Madame Caillaux, Chapter 4; Francis Roncin, Les Divorciaires: Affrontements Politiques et Conceptions du Mariage dans la France du XIXe siecle (Paris: Aubier, 1992).

(31.) Femina, 15 October 1904, ix.

(32.) Jean Elizabeth Pederson, Legislating the French Family: Feminism, Theater, and Republican Politics, 1870-1920 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 83, 86.

(33.) To measure the size of the endorsements, consider that the most favored painter, Carolus Duran, received 7,829 votes. The most favored actor, Benoit Coquelin, 9,632 votes. The most votes in any category, 13,228, went to Jules Massenet.

(34.) M.J. Nye, "Marcellin Berthelot," in The Historical Dictionary of the Third French Republic, ed. Patrick Hutton, 2 vols. (New York: Greenwood, 1986), I, 96-98; Albert Ranc, La Pensee de Marcellin Berthelot (Paris: Bordas, 1948).

(35.) Laurence Klejman and Florence Rochefort, L'Egalite en marche: Le feminisme sous la Troisieme Republique (Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 1989), 68; Hause, Women's Suffrage, 147, 156; Henry Coston, ed., Dictionnaire de la politique francaise, 5 vols. (Paris: la Librairie francaise, 1967), I, 363.

(36.) Of course, it is a simplification to treat "high society" as a monolith. There were a few "feminists" and quite a few women whose lives were at least partially centered on worldly interests and accomplishments. In most instances, the later group wished to have interesting lives but did not concern themselves with liberating the women below them on the social hierarchy. On this milieu, see Martin-Fugier, Les Salons de la IIIe Republique: Art, litterature, politique (Paris: Perrin, 2003).

(37.) Judith Stone, "The Republican Brotherhood: Gender and Ideology," in Gender and the Politics of Social Reform in France, 1870-1914, ed. Elinor Accampo, Rachel G. Fuchs, and Mary Lynn Stewart (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 28-58; Charles Sowerwine, "The Sexual Contract of the Third Republic," French History and Civilization. Papers from the George Rude Seminar 1 (2005): 247-55.

(38.) Femina, 15 June 1902, 192-93.

(39.) The 14,726 entrants made a total of 86,351 selections.

(40.) Primary school textbooks preached gentility, modesty, self sacrifice, and submission as the key values for girls. See Linda Clark, Schooling the Daughters of Marianne: Textbooks and the Socialization of Girls in Modern French Primary Schools (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984), 57. The readers of Femina apparently approached the values they had been taught as children critically and selectively.

(41.) The advertisements in Femina tell a different story. Ads for corsets, hair pieces, and beauty creams were abundant, suggesting that the readers were all too aware of the obligation to make themselves attractive. Their vote against beauty was a rebellion of sorts.

(42.) Though "esprit" was at the bottom of the list, "intelligence" fared better with 3,881 votes.

(43.) Femina, 15 January 1906, 47-48.

(44.) Martin-Fugier, La Bourgeoise, 139-44. The author argues that the notion of women's love as an act of submission to her man still had great currency.

(45.) Femina, 15 January 1907, 30.

(46.) Ibid.

(47.) Ibid.

(48.) Ibid., 15 February 1907, 75. The readers had apparently taken the liberty of naming multiple careers since the total of votes was much larger than the number of voters.

(49.) Ibid., 1 February 1905, 113.

(50.) The 1900 Olympiad had women competing in sailing, ballooning, tennis, golf, and croquet. Although the International Olympic Committee had opposed women's participation, the committee that organized the simultaneous Universal Exposition in Paris planned the events for sportswomen. See Edeltarud Odenkirchen, "Die Teilnahme von Frauen an den Olympischen Spielen 1900 in Paris," Stadion 21-22 (1995-1996): 147-70.

(51.) For an excellent review of public attitudes toward sports for women, see Mary Lynn Stewart, For Health and Beauty: Physical Culture for Frenchwomen, 1880s-1930s (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). On the anxieties raised by women riding bicycles and automobiles, see Christopher Thompson, "Un troisieme sexe? Les bourgeoises et la bicyclette dans la France fin de siecle," Le Mouvementsocial 192 (July-September 2000): 9-40 and Alexandre Buisseret, "Les femmes et l'automobile a la Belle Epoque," Le Mouvement social 192 (July-September 2000): 41-64. Lafitte had Femina cover women aviators and he even offered an annual prize to the woman who flew the greatest distance each year.

(52.) Femina, 15 June 1905, vii.

(53.) Martin-Fugier, La Bourgeoise, 260.

(54.) During his mid-nineteenth-century trip to Egypt, Gustave Flaubert had written in a letter to his friend Louis Bouilhet, "The word almek means 'learned woman,' 'bluestocking' or 'whore'--which proves, Monsieur, that in all countries women of letters ...!!!" See Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert in Egypt, trans, and ed. Francis Steeg-muller (London: Bodley Head, 1972), 128.

(55.) Marcel Prevost evoked the Armande/Henriette dichotomy in the talk on modern femininity that he published in Femina. When he told women that they had a right to develop their individuality, he also warned that husbands were likely to be displeased. He advised wives to deploy Henriette's charms in their own cause and warned against emulating Armande (Femina, 1 January 1910, 45).

(56.) For background on the secondary education offered to women, see Karen Offen, "The Second Sex and the Baccalaureat in Republican France, 1880-1924," French Historical Studies 13 (Fall 1983): 252-86 and Rebecca Rogers, From Salon to Schoolroom: Educating Bourgeois Girls in Nineteenth-Century France (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).

(57.) Femina, 1 March 1911, 108.

(58.) Ibid., 15 June 1911, 336 and continued in 1 July 1911, 365.

(59.) Gordon Wright, France in Modern Times, 3rd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1981), 273. On the nationalist revival, see Eugen Weber, The Nationalist Revival in France, 1905-1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959) and Gilbert Ziebura, Die Deutsche Frage in der Offentlichen Meinung Frankreichs von 1911-1914 (Berlin-Dahlem: Colloquium Verlag, 1955).

(60.) Femina, 15 June 1911, 336.

(61.) Ibid., 15 September 1913: 495-96.

(62.) Christian Gury, Les Acaderniciennes (Paris: Kime, 1996), 95-107. I am grateful to Helen Chenut, who is working on these events in a wider framework, for providing me with copies of the press reports. The scandal over Curie's love affair with Paul Langevin, which prohibited another effort to nominate her for the Academie des sciences following her second Nobel Prize, did not occur until November 1911, months after the survey was concluded.

(63.) Waelti-Walters, Feminist Novelists, Chapter 6; Gretchen Van Slyke, "Monsters, New Women, and Lady Professors: A Centenary Look Back at Gabrielle Reval," Nineteenth-Century French Studies 30 (Spring-Summer 2002): 347-62; Juliette Rogers, "Educating the Heroine: Turn-of-the-Century Feminism and French Women's Education Novels," Women Studies 23, 4 (1994): 321-34.

(64.) Femina, 15 November 1912, 647.

(65.) Miropolsky, herself, married and continued practicing law. Femina published a photograph of her and her new husband in court robes. The legend explained that they would be "collaborators." See Femina, 1 August 1913, inside cover.

(66.) Marguerite Durand stated that her "constant preoccupation was and will be to interest in feminism those [women] who are knowledgeable, who reason, for whom material interest is not the only guide, who are capable of sowing the good word in the milieus in which it ought to germinate." Cited in Jean Rabat, Marguerite Durand (1864-1936): "La Fronde" feministe ou "Le Temps" en jupons (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1996), 50.

(67.) Femina, 1 June 1914, 334.

(68.) Hause, Women's Suffrage, Chapters 1-2.

(69.) The progress of love matches over arranged marriages is difficult to document. James McMillan (France and Women, 155-56) believes that the marriage based on financial calculations held on very well. However, he admits that there was an "eroticization of marriage" that gave couples a new sort of unity. Anne-Marie Sohn argues in Du premier baiser a l'alcove: La sexualite des Francais au quotidien, 1850-1950 (Paris: Aubier, 1996), 307-310, that love matches and eroticization went hand and hand.

(70.) According to Florence Rochefort, the women most receptive to feminism were primary school teachers, white-collar workers, and those with small private incomes. See "French Feminist Movement," 96.

(71.) Evelyne Le Garrec, Severine: Une rebelle, 1855-1929 (Paris: Le Seuil, 1982), 104-105.

LENARD R. BERLANSTEIN, the author of Daughters of Eve: A Cultural History of French Theater Women from the Old Regime to the Fin-de-Siecle (2001), is Commonwealth Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is currently working on the history of libertinism in France since the seventeenth century as well as the high-circulation feminist magazine of the Belle Epoque, Femina.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A202253140