Women in Need
Inside the Family
Making Ends Meet
Charity was not imposed on the community of France.
However, after the revolution, the government had roughly one half to
one third more applicants applying for welfare as before. The Directory
of France established Le Bureau de Bienfaisance (later named Le
Bureau de Charite). It acted as a representative for the poor. This
new public assistance weaned away from the Catholic Church
and became a more divergent department of the administration. On the Avenue
Victoria (near the Hotel-de-Ville and the hospital l'Hotel-Dieu) stood
the central office of Public Assistance where mothers waited in line for
|The Process: For many
women, the process alone to receive welfare from the government was
a struggle and often too time consuming. During the time a mother
made the initial request, she had to have the child's birth certificate
as well as a certificate of indigence [extreme poverty in which the
basic necessities of life are lacking]. A mother obtained both at
the mayor's office through a process that was often slow (the start
of many painstaking events). Mothers were expected to make oral and
written requests which were followed by a series of interrogations
lead by officials.
The Facts and Interrogation:
A single mother requesting welfare had to ask for a pardon for her:
|"fault which I committed involuntarily...grace for the
infant and herself from God, the police,..." and the major;in
that order. (Fuchs)
The interrogation was made after a mothers plead through oral and
written statements were given. Every aspect of their lives were
inspected by government officials. Who her family was, her morality,
her need, her living arrangements, and place of employment were
all questioned when authorities asked anyone who knew the woman.
|What Really Went Down: This
process seemed endless, more time spent on trying to receive welfare
than many women had. The longer they were standing in front of Public
Assistance office the longer their children were starving. Authorities
claimed they treated requests within the 24-48 hours, however memoirs
and accounts recall a much different story.
|The Stuggle: Government officials abused
mothers through the program they enacted; and mothers abused the government
officials through the same way. The struggle for officials was between
how they figured out who really needed assistance versus who "claimed"
they needed assistance. The struggle for the mothers was often pride
of admitting to their need and time consumption or how to prove they
indeed needed to be helped. This struggle is what caused the chaotic
program to be revised over and over again.
|A female social worker for the 19th
As part of Public Assistance, Dame Visiteuses were
enforced to "check up" on mothers who were currently receiving
welfare at the time. They acted much like the social workers of
|"Dame visiteuses had to serve two masters:
the inspectors and the general council of the department of
the Seine. Many may have been more sympathetic to the mothers
than the inspectors liked. . . .[they] did not notify them [the
inspectors] when the mother was cohabiting and did not always
suggest termination of aid when appropriate, that they acted
more like charity women rather than state employees "
These Dames visiteuses were hired (starting in 1877) as another
inspector for the government to make sure aid was secured and used
in the proper way. Many authority figures argued that since mothers
were basically being paid to nurse their children like wetnurses
they too had to be inspected.
[Click picture to see enlargement and discussion!]
|Dame visiteuses visited the house hold of someone receiving
welfare once a month. They decided whether or not the mother was deserving
of the welfare she was receiving. With the controversy the male inspectors
created they seemed to just be at best female "friendly intruders
into the working-class women's homes and lives".