Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

A Piece of Pie

Eponine Home

The Hospice
The Care
The Wetnurse
The Government

Charity Home
The Church
Frederic Ozanam
Government Aid
Women in Need

Women and Poverty
Living Conditions
Inside the Family
Making Ends   Meet



When it comes to money, everyone wants a piece of the pie! Charity and welfare fall under a heading of need. Post-Revolution in Paris, in the mid 19th century, the urban poor of Paris longed for clothes on their back, food in their bowls, and some change in their pockets. The idea of "charity" developed through many stages often being opposed by some, it was nonetheless was able to provide for a number of people. However the process to receive charity or welfare was a struggle that many unfortunately endured.
During 19th century France, poverty made up a large portion of the population. Eponine and the Thenardiers "just got by". Had she had the opportunities to receive welfare she might have been able to live more comfortably. Victor Hugo presents Eponine as a sympathetic character, he illustrates the poor through a spectrum of personalities. Although stereotypically the poor were thought of as criminals, Hugo paints Eponine as a good person who was born into an unfortunate social class. Welfare was scarce and still under construction. Up until this point, most Catholic churches were the only form of charity provided for the poverty stricken.

"Eponine" From Victor Hugo's Les Miserables
Public assistance began after the revolution, slowly getting on its feet it provided welfare to mothers in need. However the process to receive the welfare was a hill that still needed to be overcome. Many families were in need of food, clothing, and shelter. Women, especially mothers were in dyer need of assistance. Many were pregnant, single, or already had so many children they were forced to abandon their children or forced to witness their exploitation. A woman's role as a single mother or single lady was one of many hardships.

[Click picture to view enlarged and discussion]

If a women decided to file for financial aid (and she was a mother or single) her life was interrogated on all levels. Regulating welfare to women was a job no one wanted. Through the struggle of the poor in France there existed women who were activists fighting for the welfare of their fellow citizens. Women worked together and lead protests; objecting loudly against unemployment, high rents, and starvation wages. Economic inequality and poverty were the social issues that arose among the urban poor. They argued that private philanthropists were not longer sufficing their needs, they needed the intervention of the state.

"Scenes of Paris - A meeting of the women's club in the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois" by Frederic Lix (1871) [picture left]

An ironic stereotype of the poor emerged from this time period. The ides that even though the government attempted to aid mothers, the bureaucracy of the welfare system kept many from receiving their good intentions. Social stereotypes of the poor in 19th century France included the poor woman's struggle. Many women did indeed struggle, but within the women struggling lived activists among them, acting in their interests. Another stereotype was made by officials within the government. Because of the Bourgeoisie's complaining and constant disgust towards the poor, government officials attempted a welfare system. A system only to be improved upon because of its meager beginnings. France undeniably held stereotypes of the poor, but it was the poor themselves who broke down those barricades held up against them.
This page was created and maintained by Lynn Walsh