Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

"Poor and Pregnant in Paris"

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Pride can often lead a person to misery. Some poor women in 19th century Paris didn't want to admit they needed help and were too poor to support their children, they were therefore forced to abandon them. On the other side of the spectrum, some mothers "claimed" they would abandon their children if help wasn't provided. These claims made securing aid difficult (see Government). Charity was denied to mothers who weren't needy enough or to mothers who were so poor that no form of aid would have made a difference. Where were these desperate mothers and women left to do?

 

 

[click laundress to see whole picture enlarged and discussion!!!]

"Laveuse au Quai d'Anjou" (Laundress on the Quai d'Anjou) c. 1860 by Honore Daumier

 

 

Survival Stories: Mothers Who Had No Place to Turn

(The following memoirs are retold, the original memoirs can be found through the following source: Rachel Fuchs )

Forty-nine days later: Just after giving birth at Clinique Tarnier a single mother with child in arms left the hospital without any financial resources. Making her way to Public Assistance she made a request for financial aid; she was refused three days later. She attempted a few more times nursing her child, each time being denied. After five weeks had past she was forced to become a streetwalker for she couldn't afford rent or food. She somehow found her way to Jeanne Leroy, Leroy helped the single mother get admitted into a shelter run by charitable people. Leroy aided the mother and instructed her how to go about receiving financial aid from Public Assistance. The mother tried once more, and finally forty-nine days after leaving the hospital she received 20 francs. Leroy wrote a letter to the director of Public Assistance filing a complaint about this young mother. The director simply replied: "our resources are a mere drop of water in an ocean of misery that assails us". He went on to say that there are occasionally state employees who are negligent, but not all cases are as such. However, if this is one claim that fell through, just imagine the many others that have escaped.
The Suffocation: In the later part of the 19th century a 26 year-old domestic servant gave birth to a child. She applied for aid to keep her from abandoning her child and was kept waiting for several days for the investigation and formalities to be processed. While waiting, she had no resources to live on, no place to live and no money for food. In sheer desperation, clutching her baby in her arms, she jumped into the Seine River where two bargemen saved this meager family. After later receiving some charity she suffocated her infant.