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Gender and Family Life in Postwar France

Sarah Fishman


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To Andy


Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: The 1940s—​From War to Peace xi

1. Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–​1949  1

2. Forces of Change  29
3. Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s  55
4. Children and Adolescents in the 1950s  85
5. Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self  114
6. Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles  133
7. Dating and Courtship  161
8. Something Old, Something New: Marriage and Children in
the 1960s  178

Notes  199
Bibliography  239
Index 253


It is a pleasure to acknowledge again my huge debt, intellectual as well as

personal, to two people who have mentored me throughout my career, Patrice
Higonnet and Dominique Veillon, remarkable historians and human beings,
models for us all.
My friend and colleague Kathleen Kete has sharpened my thinking since
we started graduate school as we shared ideas about our work. In particular,
her work on the “self” sparked me to consider how new notions of the self in
the postwar era of affluence were central to many of the changing ideas about
relationships within the family.
Here at the University of Houston I have been fortunate to have amazing
colleagues who have not only encouraged me but also taken the time to read
and comment on drafts of various parts of my work, Robert Zaretsky, Karl
Ittmann, Hannah Decker, and Bailey Stone. Hannah may not realize it, but
her offhand comment about Freud as I struggled to understand new inter-
est in fathers after the war represented a truly clarifying moment. Thanks to
the students, graduate and undergraduate, at the University of Houston, and
especially Phuong Nguyen, Katie Streit and Dan Le Clair, for their valuable
feedback at the colloquium.
I am also extremely grateful to the University of Houston for supporting
me with several small grants that enabled me to travel to France to do archi-
val research. The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences granted me a
Faculty Development Leave, allowing me the time to write. I must also thank
my fellow travelers, present and former deans and associate deans John Antel,
Cathy Patterson, Joe Pratt, Cynthia Freeland, and Steven Craig, Anadeli
Bencomo and the entire staff of the office, Andrea Short, Anna Marchese,
Juanita Terrell, Micki Miles and, from Academic Affairs, Janie Graham,
don’t know what I’d do without you, Jyoti Cameron and Chadi Lewis, you
too! My heartfelt thanks specifically to John W. Roberts for his constant sup-
port, both personal and professional, while he served as dean of the college.

•   Acknowledgments

Rachel Chrastil kindly provided many helpful comments in particular

about the polling of young unmarried women. The work and friendship
of historians Joelle Neulander and Judy Coffin have always been an inspi-
ration. Thanks to the WWBD gang, including the late and much missed
Donna Ryan, life coach Barry Bergen, Steve Zdatny, and Kolleen Guy.
Bruno Cabanes and Guillaume Piketty, the organizers of the colloquium
Retour à l’intime in Paris, encouraged me to return to my research on POW
wives. So many of my fellow French historians have had an impact on my
work and thinking, Sandy Ott, Brett Bowles, Ken Mouré, Paula Schwartz,
Miranda Pollard, Lisa Greenwald, Shannon Fogg, Jonathyne Briggs, Steve
Harp, Manon Pignot, Ludivine Bantigny, Mary-​ Louise Roberts, Alice
Kaplan, Steve Zdatny, Richard Vinen, Richard Jobs, Rebecca Pulju, Simon
Kitson, Kristen Stromberg Childers, Alice Conklin, Brian Newsome, Nicole
Rudolph, Robert Nye, and Ed Berenson. French historians are wonderful
group; I’m so happy to be a member of this family!
In addition to published sources at the BNF, this book also rests on archi-
val sources that required special permission to consult. I  must express my
most sincere appreciation for their help and support to the archivists and staff
at the four different departmental archives, Paris, the Drôme, the Bouches-​
du-​R hône, and the Nord. Many thanks also to Marianka Louwers, Yasmina
Guerfi, Véronique Grall, and Jean-​Victor Auclair Prévost for their assistance
in tracking down and granting permission to use images.
In France, Annette Becker and Geneviève and Yves Dermenjian provided
me not only with places to stay in Lille and Marseilles but with intellectual
enlightenment and wonderful companionship. Thanks to Pascal Poulain and
Thierry Zabal for being great friends. Isabelle LeCoufle and her amazing,
loving, and boisterous family provide me with a home away from home and
an intensive “immersion totale” whenever I arrive in Paris; you have no idea
how much it means.
Anonymous reviewers’ comments proved most helpful as I  undertook
final revisions to the manuscript. This book has benefitted tremendously from
the clear and perceptive guidance of Nancy Toff at Oxford University Press.
Finally, thanks to my family for putting up with my long absences, believ-
ing me when I told them it was work. Andy, I could never have done any of
this without you, and Alex and Katy, none of this would have made any sense
without the two of you! I love you.

I N T R O D U C T I O N :   T H E 1 9 4 0 S —​F R O M W A R

In February 1941, six months after the establishment of the Vichy govern-
ment, a sixteen-​year-​old girl wrote to Marie-​Claire’s advice columnist explain-
ing that she and her friend Jeanine, also sixteen, wanted to “raise ourselves up,
by ourselves, do good things, work, earn our independence and erase from
our lives the sentimental hazards that complicate existence. Isn’t it possible
to live a fulfilled life that way, without the support of a man, and be happy?”
Marie-​Claire, while lauding the girls’ desire to do good work, insisted, “One
day, just like in all the pretty fairy tales, you will find on your path the one
person who will not be a ‘pal’ like the others. Then you will understand that
the life of a woman is incomplete so long as she does not learn to limit her
independence with the sweetness of affection. … Believe me, a woman with-
out a home, without children, has never completely fulfilled her mission.”1
Twenty-​one years later, Laura wrote to Confidences for advice, asking,
“Are all men retrograde, jealous and not with the times?” Laura’s husband
married her knowing she worked as a model, but after the honeymoon she
returned to work, and ever since “scenes have been multiplying. Is this what
marriage is all about? I am profoundly disappointed.” In response, the advice
columnist speculated that Laura’s husband “could fall into the category of
those who prefer that their wives stay at home. … That is his right. But you
also have the right not to share his somewhat selfish opinion.”2
This book examines how and why ideas about women’s and men’s lives,
gender roles for men and women, courtship, love and marriage, spousal rela-
tions, parenting, childhood, and adolescence changed in the twenty years
from France’s liberation in 1944 to the mid-​1960s.
France’s situation looked particularly dire just after World War II. Air
raids and combat left much of the country in ruins. Political divisions ran
deep. The war and immediate postwar years witnessed the apotheosis of pro-
found political divisions in France that dated back to the 1789 Revolution.

•   Introduction

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, France remained

divided into two long-​standing, broad camps. On one side stood the monar-
chist, anti-​republican right that rejected democracy and equality, feared out-
siders, resisted social change, and insisted on the need to shore up authority
and fatherhood. On the other side, a pro-​republican left favored democracy,
political equality, and individual rights. A decade after the establishment in
1870 of the Third Republic, the republican left triumphed politically over
the monarchist, authoritarian right. However, over its seventy-​year lifespan,
the Third Republic experienced periodic profound crises that threatened its
stability and at times, seemingly, its very survival. At the start of the Great
War in 1914, in a rare show of patriotic unity, both left and right had put
aside their differences to form the so-​called sacred union. But that brief
unity fell apart after the war’s end. If anything, division intensified through-
out the 1920s and 1930s as new political parties formed on the extremes,
the Communist Party on the left and several fascist parties on the right. The
increased polarization left France unstable, immobilized in the face of grow-
ing domestic and international difficulties. However, unlike its neighbors to
the east, while France cycled rapidly through governments as it struggled to
deal with the Great Depression, political unrest, and intensifying foreign cri-
ses, the Third Republic survived in France until military disaster brought it
down in 1940.
Notwithstanding France’s profound political divisions, when it came
to gender and family life, both left and right retained mostly “traditional”
views. Regardless of political orientation, and in spite of the blame each side
apportioned to the other, throughout the interwar years nearly everyone who
wrote about it in France expressed serious concerns with France’s declining
birth rate. France’s population growth rate had begun slowing early in the
nineteenth century, just as other European countries, rivals England and
Germany in particular, experienced explosive population growth. While
France’s population continued to grow, even if at a much slower rate, the rela-
tive slowdown alarmed many political leaders, who considered it a harbinger
of declining national strength. After decades of discussion and debate, in July
1939, on the verge of a second world war just twenty-​one years after the end of
the first, the Third Republic finally passed the Family Code.
To encourage French families to have more babies, the government
adopted and expanded a series of private initiatives. The 1939 Family Code
centered on a national system of family allowances, a monthly stipend set as
a percentage of each department’s average salary. It was added to the father’s
salary based on the number of dependent children in his household, starting

Introduction      •      xiii

with the second child. To fund family allowances, employers, employees, and
the government contributed to regional Family Allowance funds. Couples
had to be married, and the first child did not entitle them to a family allow-
ance. However, to encourage newlyweds to start their families quickly, cou-
ples received a one-​time “first birth” bonus if a child was born within two
years of marriage. The code also created what was originally designated the
“wife-​at-​home” stipend, renamed during the war the “single-​salary allow-
ance,” intended to supplement the income of families in which the wife did
not work outside the home.3

The French State at Vichy, the “National Revolution,”

and the French Family
Whatever the effect the Family Code might have had in increasing the size
of France’s population, the law was too late to make a difference in the loom-
ing conflagration. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, which
France and England had pledged to defend, and on September 3 France and
England declared war on Germany, the start of World War II.
The result was a military disaster for France. The overwhelming German
blitz against France started on May 10, 1940, and quickly punched through
France’s overextended defensive line at its weakest point. In response to the
German invasion, millions of civilians poured south from Belgium and the
northern regions of France, joined by civilians from the Paris region. From
late May to mid-​June, some eight million people fled the German advance,
in what the French call “the Exodus.”4 The military rout of French forces in
the Battle of France, the so-​called debacle, gave the far right its opportunity.
With the Third Republic on its knees, right-​wing leaders took advantage of
the moment not to figure out how to carry on the fight against Germany
but to reach an armistice with Germany, destroying the Third Republic and
establishing an ultraconservative government, officially named the French
State but most commonly known by the town in which the government took
residence, Vichy.5 Led by World War I hero Marshal Philippe Pétain, Vichy
adopted a foreign policy of collaboration with Germany. Vichy’s conserva-
tive leaders blamed defeat on the Republic and all the evils they associated
with it: democracy, capitalism, individualism, hedonism, feminism, broken
families, lack of religion, immigration, Jews. Vichy in its first year introduced
an ambitious domestic program, based on its ideological rejection of the
immediate past. Vichy intended its “National Revolution” to reshape French

•   Introduction

society, remold it to conform to conservative ideals of authority, obedience,

and hierarchy. They wanted a France based on an economy of small family
farms and shops, led by fathers aided by stay-​at-​home mothers caring for large
During the war, the Vichy government, echoed by the media, popular
novels, and women’s magazines, generated quite a bit of material on the crisis
of the family.6 Conservative leaders at Vichy insisted that excessive female lib-
eration and feminism had destroyed the French family, signaled by declining
family size. Thus Vichy directed particular attention to the family, working
to shore up the father’s authority, to “return the wife to the home,” to limit
divorce and thereby revive what they viewed as the threatened “traditional,”
father-​centered family that would inculcate in children Vichy’s values: work,
family, fatherland.7 They believed such cultural changes could help reverse
the pattern of smaller families and remedy the declining birth rate. To bolster
its message, however, Vichy also passed laws restricting divorce and establish-
ing extremely harsh punishment for abortion.8
Regardless of Vichy’s ideology, many segments of French society, groups
such as prisoner of war wives and juvenile delinquents failed to conform to
Vichy’s ideals. Prisoner of war wives simply could not remain at home, given
the loss of their husbands’ income and the government’s meager financial sup-
port. In spite of social rhetoric, survival required the vast majority of prison-
ers’ wives to work outside the home and take leadership within their families,
even if they viewed themselves as agents of their husbands for the duration
of the absence.9 Delinquent youth were by definition not living by Vichy’s
code of ethics. Worse still, the number of minors appearing in juvenile courts
increased rapidly during the war.10 These groups highlight the fact that Vichy
neither reflected nor determined the social realities people lived.

The Liberation, 1944
The Vichy government quickly fell as France was liberated in August 1944.
Provisional Government leaders immediately and soundly repudiated Vichy’s
ideas, programs, and legislation and worked to manage a transition back to
republican governance. The extreme, anti-​democratic right wing, badly dis-
credited by the shame of collaboration, played a severely diminished role in
immediate postwar French politics. Although the public narrowly rejected
the first proposed constitution, by the end of 1946, it approved a second con-
stitution that served as the foundation for the Fourth Republic.

Introduction      •      xv

In assessing Vichy’s long-​term impact on French society, in spite of the

post-​Liberation rhetoric of rupture, historians have uncovered deep continu-
ities in such key areas as economic development.11 Although Vichy strived
to turn back the clock and return France to a traditional economy of small
farms and businesses, the pressure of meeting German demands worked
against Vichy’s plans, instead encouraging the concentration, rationalization,
and modernization of industry. Less clear is the long-​term impact of Vichy’s
attempt to reshape family life, the breaks and continuities in ideas about gen-
der, marriage, parenting, childhood, and adolescence after the Liberation.
What happened to France’s families as they struggled to cope with the dif-
ficult transition to peace? Once the hardships eased, how did ordinary fami-
lies experience the massive economic transition, apparent by the 1950s, to an
urban, industrial, consumer economy?
Growing interest in these questions has pushed history to extend the
study of postwar France beyond politics, economics, the Cold War, decoloni-
zation, and the building of European unity. In the last three decades, a grow-
ing number of histories have focused on postwar changes in women’s lives,
youth and childhood, ideas about sex, and the new affluent society. Most his-
tories of gender in France after World War II evaluate the 1950s from a con-
temporary point of view and pay too little attention to the Vichy era. Most
people who lived in 1950s France had just passed through a decade of eco-
nomic ruin, political chaos, war, and destruction.12 Understanding the evolu-
tion of social values after 1944 requires delineating breaks and continuities
with the immediate past of war, occupation, and the ultraconservative Vichy
regime. Conservative ideas about men, women, and family life hardly disap-
peared after 1944. In fact, across France, the desire to buttress male authority
expressed itself with barely contained violence.13 No doubt the desire to con-
trol female sexuality remained powerful just after the war, with the presence
of new Allied armies representing a continuing threat to French masculin-
ity. However, the immediate postwar years also fueled a strong rejection of
Vichy’s extreme backward glance. The powerful desire to move away from
the immediate past, represented by Vichy, complicates the picture of postwar
An extremely important change for women took place immediately after
the war. After fifty years of struggle, French women finally won the right
to vote. However, suffrage’s impact on French politics and women’s lives
proved to be less revolutionary than its longtime advocates had hoped.14 In
contrast, France’s economic recovery and the resulting changes in consump-
tion profoundly changed women’s lives. The conjunction of rising affluence

•   Introduction

with France’s brutal wars of decolonization created contradictions under the

surface of postwar film, advertising, and women’s magazines’ portrayal of
women’s relationship with new signs of modern life, automobiles, and domes-
tic appliances.15 Yet many women did much more than passively consume
and uncritically absorb advertising. Women organized an important con-
sumer organization and became active agents in shaping what was produced
and how it was used. These women’s groups, beyond promoting consumer
goods, increasingly engaged in political advocacy and activism, centering on
the continuing and dire housing shortage, family policies, child care, and
Changes in schooling and greater autonomy generated widespread anxiety
about French youth, both male and female. Postwar political leaders directed
much of their attention to children and youth, pushing through educational
reforms, changes in family welfare and juvenile justice and a system to pro-
tect French youth from harmful media creations such as the American comic
strip Tarzan.17 Social concerns about adolescent and young adult males
were eclipsed by an even more intense preoccupation with adolescent and
young adult women, a category designated “les jeunes filles.” A new maga-
zine, Mademoiselle, appealed directly to les jeunes filles, marketing itself as an
alternative to women’s magazines for older, married women. New Wave films
and novels featured sexually active teenaged girls as the heroines. Although
the stories always ended in tragedy for the heroines, adults worried about the
literary and cinematic rejection of bourgeois lifestyles, values, and, in particu-
lar, ideas about sex.18
The importance of having children and a rapidly rising birthrate after the
war turned attention also to the process of childbirth. This was the era when
Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze, visiting the Soviet Union, discovered a new method
of childbirth that Lamaze translated as “labor and delivery without pain.”19
In academic circles, anthropologists and psychoanalysts took up the study
of family structures. While new and revolutionary in approach, most of the
resulting publications buttressed a “traditional” vision of heterosexual fam-
ily life.20 The question still remains however. Did the cultural and intellec-
tual production of the era portray or reflect the reality of family life, and if
so, whose reality? How did audiences and readers respond to these books,
magazines, films, debates? Did what was on the screen or in books and jour-
nals relate to ordinary people’s lives? Early cultural studies of the postwar
tended to overlook social class, both in their analyses and in their sources,
which were aimed at, and mostly portrayed, the urban middle class. Imagine
a poor or working-​class family in late 1940s and early 1950s, struggling until

Introduction      •      xvii

1949 with rationing, crammed into a tiny apartment, trying to pay the bills.
What did books like Bonjour tristesse or The Elementary Structures of Kinship
or New Wave films like Au bout du soufle or Les tricheurs have to do with
their lives?

Family and Gender after World War II: Approach

and Sources
This book explores how and why ideas about gender and family life changed
after the war.21 How did French society define the ideal family, assign gender
roles to husbands and wives, and envision growing up, being a teen, courting,
marrying, having sex, having babies, parenting children? While not overlook-
ing the era’s films and literature, this book directs less attention to intellec-
tual culture, film, and literature, high or popular. In part because authors and
filmmakers in the 1950s and early 1960s experimented stylistically, intend-
ing to shock public sensibilities, the society they portray should not be taken
as an accurate reflection of the reality. Different kinds of sources make it
possible to delve below broad political, demographic, and economic data and
uncover the realities and responses of ordinary people from a wide range of
backgrounds. While most films, magazines, and books were consumed pri-
marily by the urban middle class, the families most profoundly impacted by
these decades of rapid and profound economic and social changes were the
working-​class, rural, and lower middle-​class families.
One source of rich material appeared in the many guide books and pam-
phlets intended to instruct various groups:  teenagers, for example, about
dating; young men and women about marriage; and parents about raising
children. This inexpensive literature aimed at a broad audience explicitly
conveyed social expectations and prescribed appropriate behaviors. To suc-
ceed, this literature must have at least addressed broad social concerns and
prevalent attitudes. To be clear, prescription does not equal actual behavior,
which always falls on a continuum. But social ideas about the way families
and individuals should operate defined certain behaviors as unacceptable,
shaped social responses, and influenced how people interpreted their own
actions and situations.
Another important source for historians trying to discern social values
and gender norms is what the French call “la presse feminine,” or women’s
magazines. Notre coeur, Pour elle, Marie-​Claire, and Votre beauté, women’s
magazines dating back to the interwar years, continued to appear during the

•   Introduction

war with the Vichy regime’s approval. Those magazines all ceased publication
after the Liberation. However, the genre did not disappear. In 1945, Hélène
Gordon-​Lazareff, who spent the war years in the United States, where she
worked at Life and Harper’s Bazaar, together with her husband, the publisher
Pierre Lazareff, launched Elle, a new and highly influential women’s maga-
zine. Modeled on what they had seen in America, Elle filled its pages with
colorful photographs, focusing on romance, love and marriage, food and
fashion, and homemaking.22 Elle appealed to urban, middle-​class women
who aspired to be modern and sophisticated.
While a study of gender and family after the war can hardly leave out Elle,
a variety of less well-​known magazines were at least as widely read. Magazines
like Confidences, Antoinette, and Constellation were aimed at different, less
elite and urban, more rural or working-​class readers. To a contemporary eye,
in the late 1940s all popular women’s magazines promoted love, marriage,
and children as central to women’s lives. Yet the various magazines no longer
adhered tightly to officially endorsed positions on women and family life, as
they had under Vichy’s watchful eye.
Resuming publication two years after the Liberation in 1946, Confidences,
subtitled Histoires vraies (True stories), filled its pages almost entirely with
stories derived from emotional or relationship problems and situations its
readers submitted. While not specifically directed at women, another new key
periodical began to appear in 1948, Constellation, subtitled “a French look at
the world.” Similar in size and appearance to (and competing in France with)
Reader’s Digest, Constellation aimed its articles at a broad audience of readers
interested in learning more about a wide variety of issues like global politics,
science, the Dalai Lama, artistic movements, and “Great Literature.”23 The
year 1947 saw the appearance of a very different kind of women’s magazine,
Nous deux, which featured visual storytelling both in drawn panels and,
starting in 1950, in photographs, a form called the “photo-​novel” (roman-​
photos).24 The Italian-​born publisher of Nous deux, Cino Del Duca, was
rumored to have been pro-​Mussolini, an accusation he strenuously denied,
insisting that he had been forced out of Italy. While in worldview Nous deux
could be considered “conservative” given its relentless focus on stories of love
and romance for women, some conservative French parents viewed it as too
racy because of its cover images of couples who, while modestly attired, were
highly sexualized.25
All women’s magazines featured short stories centering on women search-
ing for love, articles and features on clothing and fashion, and advice on
homemaking and dealing with children and husbands. The 1950s and 1960s

Introduction      •      xix

were a golden age for women’s magazines, with an explosion of new periodi-
cals after the war and readership at all-​time highs.26 From today’s perspective,
women’s magazines in the 1950s and early 1960s present a very conservative
picture of women’s lives and their roles in society. Rather than looking back
from a contemporary perspective, this book instead adopts the perspective of
starting with the Vichy years and moving forward, which brings out the ways
in which postwar women’s magazines appeared startlingly new.27
Nestled within all women’s magazines, advice columns, an extremely rich
vein of material, provide some sense of the ongoing dialogues about fam-
ily and romantic relationships. People of both sexes and from varied back-
grounds wrote to French advice columnists. In fact, in 1961 one women’s
magazine made clear how extensive its relations with its readers had been.
Until then, apparently, Confidences’ advice columnists responded directly
and privately to all letter writers. Thus it dispensed advice to many more read-
ers than the few whose letters and responses appeared in the published maga-
zines. In 1961, Confidences notified readers in its pages, over several months,
that, owing to the abundance of mail it received daily, it was “no longer pos-
sible for us to respond directly to our correspondents.” From then on, the
editors would respond only in the pages of the magazine.28
However, in general, most readers’ letters to magazines did not receive
a response either privately or in print.29 Advice columnists and magazine
editors selected, cut, and edited readers’ letters, obviously hoping to appeal
broadly to their readers and thereby sell magazines. Thus these letters hardly
represented a random sampling of public opinion. The advice was prescriptive
by definition. But in surveying these columns over time, common themes
emerge that indicate which topics columnists and editors considered of wide
enough interest to merit inclusion.30
In addition to media sources, a very different kind of source provides
an unusual window onto real families from a much wider variety of back-
grounds and living standards, opening a window onto real families’ lives and
relationships. These sources provide information about real families that
made it possible to track the spread of affluence and explore its impact on
family life. Mass market magazines are not reliable when it comes to figuring
out when most families in France, and not just the upper and middle classes,
began to live in housing with electricity and indoor plumbing. Looking
below aggregate national data and statistics, juvenile court case files allow
us to see exactly when urban working-​class or rural families installed indoor
plumbing, had access to electricity, or had the income needed to purchase
and use refrigerators, washing machines, televisions, and automobiles. In

•   Introduction

addition to revealing the trickling down of consumer goods, court case files
also illuminate prevalent ideas, values, and assumptions about gender, mar-
riage, and family life.

Juvenile Justice in France

The concept of adolescence as a separate, transitional phase with attendant
personality crises developed in psychology circles at the end of the nineteenth
century.31 By the early twentieth century, legal experts, judicial and educa-
tional leaders, and even religious writers had incorporated those ideas. Based
on the idea that adolescents who acted out or broke the law were neither fully
responsible for their actions nor inevitably set in their ways, a growing circle
of reformers advocated transforming the juvenile justice system from a puni-
tive system to a therapeutic one that could rehabilitate children who broke
the law. Accepting adolescence as a period of crisis that could result in delin-
quent behavior justified the creation, in 1912, of a separate juvenile justice
system. It was reformed by the law of July 27, 1942, which was then replaced
after the war by the law of February 2, 1945. By the postwar period, juve-
nile court judges, rather than determining guilt and deciding on a sanction,
shifted to facilitating diagnoses and ordering appropriate treatment. Juvenile
court judges could then select from a range of options: returning minors to
their families or to a foster family, or sending them to group home, a private
institution for troubled youth, a therapeutic center, or an occupational train-
ing center. Only as a last resort, which was rarely invoked, judges could send
the minor either to adult prison or to a youth correctional facility, most often
an Institution Publique d’Education Surveillée (public institution for super-
vised education).
As the emphasis shifted toward rehabilitation, investigations focused less
on the delinquent act that invoked the judicial system. To determine the
deeper causes of a minor’s misbehavior and the best way to rehabilitate that
minor, judges called for full information on the child’s mental state, family
life, relationships, and behavior at school and at work. Juvenile courts thus
asked local authorities to conduct an investigation not just of the delinquency
but also of the minor and his or her family and milieu.
Over the first half of the twentieth century, the growing practice of inter-
vention and need for a thorough study of the minor’s family spurred the
development of social work. By World War II, a significant number of inves-
tigations in the Paris region were conducted by professional social workers.

Introduction      •      xxi

After the war, the use of social workers spread to most regions of France. Even
a rural area such as the Drôme employed social workers to undertake juvenile
case studies by the 1950s, although, as one of the social workers explained in
responding to a query about a delayed case study, there were only two of them
handling cases across the entire department.32
Thus juvenile court case files represent a rich source, beyond the world
of journalists and moralists, for uncovering both changing material realities
and social attitudes about family life. Because those involved in juvenile jus-
tice insisted on the critical importance of the family milieu in understanding
juvenile delinquency, ideas about how families should operate provided the
backdrop against which families of delinquent minors were assessed. Case
reports to the juvenile court included extremely detailed, comprehensive
information on the family, including when the parents married, how many
children they had, each parent’s occupation and income, where the family
lived, the size and condition of the lodging, the rent, amenities like electricity
and appliances, and so on. Case reports provide a detailed portrait of families,
many of whom were poor, urban or rural working class, or lower middle-​
class shopkeepers and employees, rarely represented in the popular cultural
sources used by other studies of French postwar society.
In addition to information about the minor’s milieu, case studies also gen-
erated a psychological profile of the minor and his/​her family. Investigators
interviewed the minor and his or her parents, neighbors, schoolteachers, and
employers. They produced extremely rich and detailed information on the
delinquent minor, the parents, siblings, and other people important to the
minor.33 The investigators in effect created a portrait of the minor at school,
at work, and at home, detailing how the family operated, examining family
relationships on multiple levels, all with an eye to explaining the troubled
minor’s behavior.
Although juvenile court case files provide useful data and rich material
on how families from a variety of backgrounds lived and interacted with
each other and in their communities, court sources must be used with cau-
tion. Court case studies provide a more intimate look at families than most
sources, but they should not be viewed as fully accurate representations of
exactly how ordinary people thought, interacted with each other, or ran their
lives. The social workers, police, and psychiatrists who conducted these inves-
tigations were higher in social status and educational background than the
vast majority of the families involved. The investigation had serious poten-
tial ramifications for the family in general and the minor in particular. The
interaction was neither neutral, fraught as it was with implications for the

•   Introduction

minor and his or her family, nor equal, being judgmental by design. How
accurately the portrait of family life contained in these documents reflected
the reality of how those investigated actually conceptualized their own lives,
not to mention how they actually lived and interacted with each other, is
nearly impossible to ascertain.
However, given that the family studies were refracted by the ideas, values,
attitudes, and training of educated, middle-​class investigators, juvenile case
reports do allow us to tease out middle-​class attitudes, values, and prejudices
as they bumped up against the realities of life for mostly poor rural, working-​
class, and immigrant families. Furthermore, voices of those being investi-
gated also break through, as families and minors pushed back against those
trying to tell them how to live. Without a doubt case studies reveal a great
deal about the way widely held middle-​class ideas about how families should
operate, reinforced by social work training, seeped out to other arenas, and,
in particular, found their way into France’s expanding welfare state. Court
records help contextualize broader abstract social ideals.
With appropriate caution therefore, this book draws extensively on juve-
nile court case reports. Using data on wartime juvenile courts as a baseline,
research for this book started with an examination of juvenile court dossiers
from 1945 to 1965.34 Dossiers from four different regions provided a broader
view that reflected some of the diversity of France. The Paris Departmental
Archives (Archives Départementales de Paris) includes court records for the
entire Paris metropolitan region. The national capital, Paris was also France’s
largest urban agglomeration, with a large and diverse population. An admin-
istrative, intellectual, and cultural center, Paris also had a large manufac-
turing base, both older trades and a growing industrial sector. Its business
headquarters along with its many small shops, restaurants, cafés, and large
department stores provided a huge number of jobs in the growing service sec-
tor. Its economic opportunities made Paris a magnet for French people who
migrated to the region from all across France and from across its colonial
areas and overseas territories and departments.
Paris was a critical region, but differed from the rest of France in signifi-
cant ways. To broaden the survey of trends and values beyond the Paris region,
research for this book included juvenile court dossiers from three additional
departments of France outside of Paris: the Nord, an industrial region bor-
dering Belgium, with Lille as its largest city; the Drôme, a rural region in
the Vosges mountains of Southeastern France; and the Bouches-​du-​R hône
on the Mediterranean coast, centered on the huge port town of Marseilles.35
Moving out of Paris provided a window onto different regions, expanding the

Introduction      •      xxiii

material to include a wider variety of social classes, immigrant and minority

groups, and, in the Drôme, rural families.
In addition to using juvenile case files to map changes in material culture
and standards of living, comparing the postwar case files with the case files
from the war years revealed some striking changes just after the war. Case
reports from the immediate postwar years began evaluating families differ-
ently, a sign of changing assumptions about marriage, family, gender, parent-
ing, childhood, and adolescence also apparent in cultural sources.
Separating court and cultural source material by decade clarifies the
timing of several critical trends. The five years from the Liberation of 1944
to the end of the decade proved to be a critical era in the transition from
war to peace. The 1950s represented the pivotal decade in France’s eco-
nomic and social transformation and gave rise to major changes in think-
ing about gender, family, and sex. The first half of the 1960s revealed how
the trends initiated in the 1950s began altering fundamental aspects of
gender relations and family life. The book stops on the eve of the events
of May 1968 in France that closed out the “postwar” chapter in France’s
history, ushering in a new era.
In the years just after the Liberation, assumptions about the proper struc-
ture of the family remained stable, “traditional,” while ideas about how vari-
ous roles should be played began to change. Conservative values and attitudes
about the proper structure of the family prevailed after the war. Most sources
expressed the expectation that husbands would be the primary breadwinners,
with wives responsible for home and children. The ideals remained powerful
even though many married women, including those with children, needed
to work outside the home or in the family farm or shop. Yet if the vision
of the ideal family structure and gender roles remained stable, within that
ideal family structure, ideas about how men and women should play their
roles were starting to change. For women, the vision of their roles within the
family remained stable, yet the years of hardship during and after the war
raised awareness and appreciation for domestic skills; the rejection of Vichy’s
rigid ideology allowed for the admission that not all women were necessarily
destined for marriage and motherhood; feminism was no longer anathema.
Women’s new social and political roles included being full citizens with the
vote. For men, their social roles remained stable, but ideas about how men
should fill their roles as husbands and fathers in the family shifted away from
Vichy’s vision of fathers as supreme rulers of their families. Fatherhood,
once viewed in static terms, as a status, increasingly came to be portrayed in
dynamic terms, as a relationship.

•   Introduction

The 1950s proved to be the pivotal decade of what the French have come to
call the Thirty Glorious Years, meaning the postwar years of rapid economic
development, rising affluence, and the baby boom.36 Under the surface of this
apparently conservative decade, profound changes were underway. French
society reached a turning point on the road to becoming a more urban, afflu-
ent consumer society. Reaching a new economic level of prosperity opened
the door to several major intellectual and cultural forces that seeped out into
broader culture, redefining how people thought about women, men, children,
family relationships, and eventually about themselves. Three authors served
as significant cultural touchpoints in the 1950s: Sigmund Freud, Simone de
Beauvoir, and, somewhat surprisingly, Alfred Kinsey. Together their writings
and ideas, as popularized in a wide variety of sources, generated a broader
social emphasis on personal satisfaction. In that decade, the habit of seeing
others, children, spouses, and the self, in psychological terms spread. That
along with the new legitimacy of individual autonomy and an acknowledge-
ment of hidden drives and sexual desires all continued the deconstruction of
older ideas about family.
Parallel to the shift that had already taken place in the late 1940s when
fatherhood shifted from status to relationship, in the 1950s thinking about
the family as a whole began to shift from a static vision centered on one par-
ticular structure (father breadwinner and wife homemaker) to a dynamic
picture of the family and each of its members. Ideal fathers were increas-
ingly portrayed as more psychologically aware, invested, involved with their
children, collaborative with their wives. In contrast to Vichy’s celebration of
motherhood as total self-​sacrifice and self-​abnegation, mothers, while still
primarily viewed as focused on their families and homes, were advised to
strive for equilibrium in their lives, to save a part of themselves. On the other
hand, in response to these changes, a new anxiety arose in the 1950s about
the so-​called modern woman ( femme moderne). Normative literature and
case files alike expressed concern about wives and mothers seen as dominat-
ing their husbands and children.
New ideas about parents’ roles naturally implied changed perceptions of
childhood and adolescence in the 1950s. Assumptions about childhood had
changed by the 1950s, particularly regarding infants. Sources disputed what
they claimed was a prevalent belief that infants were simple digestive tubes
and that very young children lacked a conscious self. Along with Freudian
ideas, a new vision of infancy and early childhood now assumed an autono-
mous self with desires and an interior life. New advice on childrearing reveals
this changing attitude with the ambiguity it entailed about discipline.

Introduction      •      xxv

As for teenagers, long before the 1950s adolescence had come to be viewed
as a separate, transitional phase of life. On that basis reformers worked to
extend the years of schooling and to reform juvenile justice systems. Separate
youth cultures had also emerged earlier in the century among privileged
young people. However, only in the 1950s did France’s rising affluence give
teens from working-​class backgrounds access to a truly popular youth cul-
ture. Teens and young adults from across the social spectrum had more
resources and leisure time, as well as greater personal freedom. They experi-
enced new ways of interacting and meeting partners. Most young people in
the 1950s expected to marry, an expectation strongly buttressed in schools,
churches, books, and magazines. Still, discussions warning teens to avoid cer-
tain behaviors, premarital sex in particular, relied on practical and not moral
or religious justifications.
The first half of the 1960s represented a post-​psychological era, with
a direct focus on the self and its actualization, and a post-​affluent period
that allowed for questioning, beyond the circles of the intellectual elites,
of consumption. How did ideas about married life change in light of these
realities? Pop culture, films, music, and books raised concerns; magazines
conducted surveys and tests to sort out the reality. Social expectations had
reversed:  Social norms were less about fitting the self into prescribed fam-
ily roles and more about self-​actualization through family life. Journalists,
authors, musicians, and filmmakers by the early 1960s exhibited a continu-
ous, persistent fascination with three groups: women, youth, and les jeunes
filles. In the early 1960s, women became the subject of attention as women
rather than as wives, mothers or daughters. Early 1960s sources described
women breaking down barriers, working outside the home, struggling with
what we have come to call the double burden at home or the glass ceiling in
the workplace. Still, women remained reluctant to express in public a desire
for self-​actualization. Youth were increasingly portrayed as being in conflict
with their elders. This generation gap, referred to in France as the “divorce of
the generations,” alarmed both sides. Young, unmarried women and teenaged
girls, les jeunes filles, represented the most alarming group of all, since they sat
at the cross point of two intersecting liberations, of women and of youth.
In France, writings about dating and courtship in the early 1960s exhib-
ited early signs of the coming upheaval. Freud, Beauvoir, and Kinsey’s destruc-
tion of the edifice of old sexual values resulted in much confusion about sex.
Although premarital sex was no longer discussed in moral/​religious terms,
heterosexual marriage remained the ultimate stated goal for most young peo-
ple, even if by the early 1960s there were some veiled references to same-​sex

•   Introduction

attraction. Young women expressed less exhilaration about these new cur-
rents than anxiety in facing contradictory, unclear expectations. In various
studies and numerous letters to advice columnists, many young, unmarried
women worried as much about refusing young men’s pressure to have sex as
they did about ceding to that pressure.
Articles and advice columns began to challenge explicitly “traditional”
ideas about marriage, parenting, adultery, and divorce in the 1960s. More
voices asserted the need for a single standard of morality. Divorce was no
longer always viewed as the worst possible option. Sexual behavior was no
longer grounded in moral/​religious ideas but judged in practical and psycho-
logical terms. Attention to psychology led people to think about themselves
and at times to worry about whether they were “normal.” New attitudes in
particular toward women’s and children’s sexuality resulted in confusion and
anxiety about virginity, frigidity, children’s masturbation, and even veiled
references to homosexuality. Still, new ideas did not erase the broad, widely
held expectations that most young people would marry, that girls should be
virgins at marriage, or that men and women played different roles in the fam-
ily. Older “traditional” expectations about gender and family life remained
in place, but they were teetering. The first half of the 1960s, the apotheosis
of trends in play since 1945, closed France’s postwar chapter. The stage was
set for the coming upheaval of May 1968, which allowed for a profound chal-
lenge, even a direct rejection by some voices, of long-​held attitudes, values,
and expectations about gender and family life.

1 M E N , W O M E N , A N D F A M I LY L I F E , 1 9 4 5 –​1 9 4 9

The February 1947 issue of Elle, dedicated to and edited by young

women (les jeunes filles), encapsulates the contradictory thinking
about gender in the years just after World War II. Three profes-
sionally oriented female interns at Elle polled 1,200 young men to
determine “how boys prefer you to be,” a typical trope, with pre-
dictable results: 50 percent of the boys preferred blonds, 50 percent
preferred girls who did not smoke, 65  percent approved of high
heels. But when asked if they preferred to marry a “young woman
who works or one who does not,” some 60 percent of the young
men polled in 1947 claimed that they preferred to marry “a young
woman who has a profession.”1
What impact did World War II have on ideas about men,
women, and family life? How did postwar expectations for men’s
and women’s personal lives and family roles operate? To what
extent did the ideologies expressed in cultural sources reflect, or
shape, the social reality? What social values penetrated the prac-
tice of the new social welfare state? Did people try to conform to
the norms? Or, as at the end of the Vichy years, did they ignore
or even mock those values? Rather than the single, monolithic,
and extremely conservative positions on women, men, and family
life typical of the war years, the collapse of Vichy and lifting of its
censorship allowed for a flowering of ideas. Immediately after the
war, books and magazines expressed views of marriage and family
life that, while firmly embedded in a conservative framework, also
included new and more progressive ideas.

French Families in the Liberation Era

Postwar sources make it abundantly clear that for most families
the cessation of hostilities represented only the first step in end-
ing the war. As for most of Europe, the transition to peace after

•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

A young woman looks out from and presses up against a glass door. She represents both
the theme of this issue as well as the group of young women invited to guest edit the
entire February 1947 issue of Elle magazine.
Elle, February 1947 /​Elle /​ Scoop

World War II was complicated by that war’s massive levels of destruction and
of military and labor mobilization, and by its unprecedented targeting of civil-
ians. France’s transition involved large-​scale processes that had a huge impact
on individual lives. Not surprisingly, case files from 1945 to 1949 highlight the

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      3

war’s continued reverberation through families’ lives across France. Husbands,

fathers, older brothers, and mothers had been killed or had disappeared into
the Resistance or into concentration or work camps in Germany. Jewish fami-
lies’ lives were shredded, their property expropriated, and family members were
deported, killed, or, for those who survived, scattered across the globe.
Examples from case files in the late 1940s include the case of a minor who
stole from a property belonging to a Jew “exterminated by the Germans.”2
Another minor’s father, originally from Poland but naturalized French, had
been shot by the Germans in 1943.3 As late as 1948 a case resulting from
the Holocaust brought one young man, S, to Marseilles. As the situation in
Germany worsened after 1933, his parents, Jewish merchants in Berlin, had
sent him to live with a sister in Sweden. After the war ended, S, sure his par-
ents were alive and living in the United States, stowed away on a boat to go
to America. Discovered in Calais, he and a group of stowaways were removed
and sent to a camp near Marseilles, where he was arrested for failure to have
proper identification. According to the report, his parents were not in the
United States but had disappeared without leaving a trace during the war,
victims of the Holocaust. The report noted that S was a hard-​working, consci-
entious, and well-​behaved teen who did not need to be detained, and within a
few weeks he was released. Where he ended up is not clear.4
By 1945, a new element of disruption appeared in the case files, the friendly
occupation by American soldiers, often referred to in France as “les GIs.”5 The
American army’s goal was to defeat Nazi Germany. Thus US policy was not
infused with the kind of ideological imperatives that led Nazi Germany to
intrude into French society, for example, to deport Jews or extract resources.
Still, the very presence of large numbers of American GIs in France, rela-
tively well-​paid young men with access to resources in short supply locally,
had destabilizing effects on French society and family life and, especially, on
young people. As recent work has uncovered, the joy of liberation quickly
gave way to frustration at American GIs, whose presence resulted often in
flourishing black markets, rising levels of violence and crime in cities and
towns with a large American presence, and even looting. Increasingly local
populations complained that the GIs were noisy, got drunk, drove their jeeps
too fast, and, worst of all, went after young French women.6
Very often in juvenile court documents, nationality and military occupa-
tion by Americans were mixed up with race. For adolescent girls, the problems
brought to the attention of the courts centered on sexual activity. For example,
in Valence, the parents of M, a fourteen-​year-​old girl, asked the courts to inter-
vene with their out-​of-​control daughter. According to her mother, she had

•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

“behavioral problems and often sought the company of Americans, in par-

ticular negroes.” The parents asked that the mayor place her in a correctional
home. In fact, the mayor added the racial element. The report assembled from
interviewing local residents, such as bar owners who saw her hanging around
the bar with American soldiers, included no mention of the American soldiers’
race. In the end the parents withdrew their request, because the father claimed
he had managed to supervise her more closely. In the Paris region, another
young woman, eighteen-​year-​old T, left home and moved into a hotel with an
American soldier in the spring of 1946. The GI had promised to marry her,
but disappeared when she returned to her parents’ home.7
Many GIs had fathers who fought in France during World War I  and
brought home idealized stories of France as a land of wine, women, and song. In
the December 10, 1945, issue of Life magazine, Joe Weston summarized a view
held by many GIs. “France was a tremendous brothel inhabited by 40,000,000
hedonists who spent their time eating, drinking [and] making love.”8 The sex-
ualized vision of French women played a role in American GI behavior and,
given the relatively conservative social values held by most of the French pub-
lic, upset the local population. The British were not the only ones to think of
American soldiers as “oversexed, overpaid, overfed and over here.”9
Given the relative wealth of the American army, American soldiers presented
many young French people, and not just teenaged girls, with temptations.10 In
1946, a young man, N, stole the tires off an American vehicle. In fact, as he admit-
ted to officials, he meant to steal the entire vehicle, at the behest, he claimed, of
three French soldiers who had offered him ten thousand francs in cash if he stole
them a car. Unable to start the car, he took the spare tire.11 That same year, an
orphaned teen, living with his older sister, ran away from home and then from
two foster homes. For the two months he was gone, he slept with his buddies on
the terrace of a cinema on the Canabière in Marseilles. During the day he hung
around a nearby American military camp, where, he reported, the Americans
gave him food.12

Feminism and Women’s Lives during and after Vichy

The ultraconservative leaders who came to power at Vichy in 1940 focused a
great deal of attention on what they perceived as a serious crisis of the family.
Interwar conservatives knew exactly who was to blame. For example, in 1936
journalist Clément Vautel insisted, “Feminism in France is an opinion or an
attitude of women lawyers, Jewesses for the most part, of women doctors,

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      5

bluestockings, female intellectuals who, in the end, are humiliated about

being women.”13 Vichy amplified conservative antagonism toward femi-
nists, pointing the finger at women’s “excessive” liberation as a major cause of
family breakdown, which in turn resulted in France’s 1940 military defeat.
According to this view, schooling, waged work, and, worst of all, feminism
had led generations of French women astray. Women’s behavior and choices
significantly weakened the French family, reduced the French birth rate, and
sapped French national strength. Or, as Georgette Varenne explained in a
1940 book intended to light the way for women under Pétain’s leadership,
La femme dans la France nouvelle, “Unfortunately, women’s exaggerated
emancipation has destroyed familial traditions.” Work outside the home, “as
expected, has led to the desertion of the home. The woman called to her office
or to the factory from morning to night finds neither charm nor interest in
her home.”14
In a less overwrought tone, Madeline Cazin’s wartime thesis on women in
the labor force also insisted that feminists “take the feminine mission lightly
and in general do not take it into account.” Feminism, Cazin concluded, had
destroyed the French family.15 Varenne poetically concurred: “Women wanted
to live their lives, follow their whims, conquer their independence, so that
they could live without limits a seemingly joyous existence. Results: house-
holds that were indifferent to start with quickly fell apart; women, having
started down the wrong pathway, only cared about satisfying their desire
to be stylish.”16 To remedy those errors, Vichy loudly trumpeted a particu-
lar vision of women as destined solely for domesticity. Its policies aimed at
removing women from the labor force, reinforcing the father’s authority, and
encouraging married couples to have at least four children.
Notwithstanding the right’s portrayal of feminists as family-​hating radi-
cals, in fact a cautious and moderate French feminism was revived in the late
nineteenth century. Fin-​de-​siècle French feminism was “familial.” Rather
than challenging the notion that all women should marry and have children,
most French feminists accepted women’s duties as home and family, arguing
that the changes they advocated, by improving the status of girls and women,
would strengthen the family and, as a result, increase the birth rate.17 Some
prominent late nineteenth-​century feminists, among them Léon Richer and
Marie Desraismes, even refrained from demanding the vote as too radical. By
the turn of the twentieth century the movement adopted suffrage as its cen-
tral plank. Yet in France the campaign for women’s suffrage was not framed
on the basis of women’s individual rights. Rather, as they did elsewhere,
turn-​of-​the century feminists in France who supported female suffrage most

•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

often argued for it on the basis of women’s special nature. They reassured all-​
male parliaments that women would bring to the political sphere a much-​
needed focus on family and children’s issues. Very few feminists challenged
the idea that men and women were fundamentally different or that marriage
and family represented women’s destiny.18 They simply wanted equity, to be
equally valued. While the suffrage movement grew in the years before World
War I, women in France, unlike those in the United States, England, and
Germany, failed to gain the vote after 1918. Interwar feminism, having lost
time and a generation of leaders, never regained its pre-​1914 energy and with
Vichy found itself demonized and fully marginalized.
What changed in social views of family and feminism after the 1944
Liberation? For the most part, the vision of the ideal family still centered
on the notion of separate spheres, with the father as breadwinner and head
and the mother at home nurturing children. For example, in a 1947 essay
on women’s contributions to French society, M. R. Bouchemousse, a jour-
nalist with an advanced degree who was involved in numerous Catholic
women’s organizations in France and internationally and was France’s first
ever female mayor, described the family as the basic cell of society, using
rhetoric very similar to that of Vichy. She insisted that the proper family
order, divinely ordained, assigned men and women their specific roles.19
Thus postwar portrayals of the ideal family very often looked static, rested
on “traditional” gender roles, emphasized domesticity for women, and reaf-
firmed traditional gender roles in the family. Pronatalist fears that France’s
population was failing to keep up in size and growth rate with that of its
more vigorous competitors remained strong, further buttressing conserva-
tive family policies.20
Nevertheless, in important areas, key changes immediately followed the
Liberation. For one thing, Vichy’s fall put an end to the extreme vitriol and
anger at feminists and “excessively liberated” women. In terms of political
rights and policies, many articles happily acknowledged that women had
won huge gains and made great progress after the war, such as the right to
equal pay for equal work.21 Postwar publications no longer decried feminism
as anathema, referring to it in positive terms. As the extreme right fell silent,
a general atmosphere of celebration surrounded what had been so contro-
versial between the wars, women voting for the first time. Armed with the
vote, voices from across the political spectrum in 1944 and 1945 insisted
that women would force the political system to address what were seen as
critical realms, the family and its struggles to raise children and cope with

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      7

French women vote at a polling station for the 1946 referendum on the constitu-
tion. French women voted for the first time only a year earlier. Their serious dress and
demeanor convey the continuing magnitude of the occasion.
Gamma Rapho K028747-​A4

Even on the far left, the Communist Party’s organization, the Union
des Femmes Françaises (Union of French Women), as it worked to mobi-
lize women voting for the first time in postwar elections, emphasized the
themes of family and childhood. Leading Communist activist Louise Weiss
complained that as she attended postwar electoral meetings, she noted that
candidates spoke to women only about “soup, baby bottles, steak, laundry
soap, the price of gas or of Metro tickets. … Sometimes they took the risk of
talking to them in slightly more elevated terms, about their role in the home,
their educational mission,” but never about politics, economics, international
relations, the constitution. “It was pitiful,” complained Weiss, with under-
standable frustration.22 But the Communist Party was hardly alone. Beyond
the far left, nearly all post-​Liberation women’s magazines, home economics
texts, and advice books on marriage and childrearing expressed a similarly
conservative ideology. Yet some texts that celebrated women’s wartime abil-
ity to manage households in the face of shortages, rationing, air raids, and
other challenges also highlighted the fact that many women had joined the
Resistance, proof that women deserved full citizenship.

•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

Thus support for women’s suffrage rested on a blend of old and new visions
of gender. Some of the voices in liberated France that expressed a powerful
rejection of Vichy’s ultraconservatism went even further, questioning the
basis of some deeply gendered assumptions about men and women. Elle’s very
first issue, in November 1945, included an article by Simone Dubreuilh on
the topic of jealousy. Concerned about the hundreds of thousands of POWs
who had recently returned to France, Dubreuilh opened with an unlikely
but allegedly true story. A POW returned home from captivity only to dis-
cover his five-​year-​old daughter sharing her bedroom with another baby who
could not have been his child. Furious, he threw the baby out the window.
But his rage about his wife’s infidelity proved to have been misplaced. His
wife was caring for a neighbor’s baby while she was at work. Beyond the clear
moral of the story warning returning prisoners of wars not to jump to con-
clusions about their wives, Dubreuilh used this parable to explore the topic
of jealousy in general. She insisted that jealousy was, in 1945, an emotion
on the decline. In part, Dubreuilh argued that the unimaginable horrors
of the war—​massive death and destruction, concentration camps, the atom
bomb—​overwhelmed petty emotions like jealousy, which paled in contrast
to such evils as Auschwitz. Dubreuilh interviewed an attorney who explained
that male jealousy derived from “an extremely strong sense of possessiveness.”
According to Dubreuilh, for men, “The woman they love becomes, because
they love her, truly their thing. But today’s woman has ceased to be under her
husband’s supervision and has acquired the social, legal, and political rights
that make her the equal of her companion.”23 Dubreuilh asserted women’s
equality in spite of the broader culture’s traditional expectation that men and
women play different roles in society.
A similar dichotomy of change and constancy emerged in the accounts
of prisoner of war wives, who expressed contradictory attitudes about the
effects of their experiences. While POW wives celebrated the fact that they
had learned to do new things and gained self-​confidence in their husbands’
absence, they and society as a whole expected to return to the way things
had been once their husbands returned. Many prisoners’ wives wrote, as they
awaited their husbands’ return, that their goal was to cede family authority to
their husbands, to stop working outside the home if possible, and to bear chil-
dren. The severe hardships of running their households alone left POW wives
dreaming of “going back” to an idealized life of taking care of the home and
children, putting aside the heavy burdens they had carried during the war.24
Such a yearning for the better times of the past was felt not just by
POW families but by many families in France, especially as the four years

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      9

following the end of World War II proved to be as difficult in material terms,

if not political ones, as the war years had been. The high hopes raised by
the Liberation generated disappointment at the continuing harsh realities.
However, to be clear, while the war’s burdens left many women and families
wanting to return to the way things were, the life most people wanted to go
back to, while surely idealized in their minds, was the life of the 1930s, not,
as Vichy advocated, to a pre-​1789 society.
Although a conservative vision of family prevailed as to the overall struc-
ture and expectations for men’s and women’s roles, for women, variations
from the norm were increasingly viewed as acceptable. Some early postwar
writers, like Dubreuilh, expressed new and surprising undercurrents that
departed in significant ways from Vichy-​era attitudes and writings about gen-
der and family life. Even conservative voices after 1944 abandoned Vichy’s
explicit, stated goal of returning all women to the home, no longer demon-
izing women who worked outside the home. Postwar authors and journalists,
both men and women argued that some women, owing to their talents and
proclivities, did not fit the mold and therefore might reasonably choose a des-
tiny other than home and family.
For example, the Union Féminine Civique et Sociale (UFCS, Women’s
Civic and Social Union), a Christian women’s social group, in the 1945 edi-
tion of its book about women serving the country, La femme au service du
pays, maintained that women fulfilled their true destiny in marriage, as wives
and mothers. But the book also insisted that women fulfilled another, criti-
cal aspect of their destiny through social and civic action. Finally, the UFCS
demanded changes: legislation to recognize women’s dignity and role in
the family; fair pay for “the female worker,” who should earn enough to live
with dignity and to save for retirement.25 Linking the promotion of women’s
domestic role with a clear acknowledgement that not every woman could
rely on a husband for support, the UFCS began its movement away from an
entirely familial vision.

Women’s Work at Home

Thus, while unarguably perpetuating ideas about women’s special nature and
the primacy of homemaking and motherhood for women, nearly all postwar
voices applauded women’s new political equality and even conceded that not
all women were destined for an exclusively domestic role. Furthermore, the
vision of what women did in the home itself diverged from that expressed

1 0   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

during the war. Vichy-​era rhetoric about women centered on the conserva-
tive desire to restore excessively liberated women to homes functioning as
traditionally as possible. Vichy, unable to do much to help most families
cope with the difficulties of daily life, idealized the hard labor, sacrifice, and
self-​abnegation of maintaining a home. In contrast, after the war, domestic
skills were highly valued; women were credited for their ability to cope with
the war’s hardships; domestic labor was acknowledged as labor that required
skill. Working inside the home after the war was also celebrated as a path to
modernism, looking forward, not back. That trend started between the wars
when organization scientists turned their attention to the home.26 Vichy
leaders had no interest in modernizing the home, instead celebrating house-
work as a traditional art handed down from mother to daughter. After the
Liberation, the interwar domestic science movement revived and expanded,
exploring how new technologies, science, and rationalism would increase effi-
ciency, saving women’s time and energy.27
Paulette Bernège, the mother of mid-​twentieth-​century domestic science
in France, published a guide for home economics students and family assis-
tants in 1947.28 Bernège, like Vichy conservatives, insisted that homemakers
were essential to France. But beyond celebrating women’s work in the home,
Bernège encouraged young women to study, analyze, and rationalize house-
keeping. Taking initiatives and experimenting would make the home a scien-
tific laboratory.29 Some scholars view this as just another way to disempower
and infantilize women, implying that they cannot run a home without the
training of an expert.30 However, Bernège’s approach was also empowering in
its own way. Bernège’s books insisted that housekeeping was a serious occu-
pation, infused it with modernity, and validated the skills. In any case, few
women would have had access to new household technologies in the years
prior to 1950. Still, the aspiration to professionalize what had been seen as
natural also seeped out to a broader validation of women as rational actors.
So, for example, in the preface to Bernège’s guide, Roger Cousinet, an educa-
tional reformer and teacher of pedagogy, addressed the issue of gender roles,
exploring feminism in a positive light. He noted that women, once confined
to the home, fought to enter men’s realms and managed to break down bar-
riers. Cousinet applauded the newly opened doors that allowed women with
the talent and inclination to enter the worlds of science, philosophy, or poli-
tics. He also celebrated feminism for insisting on the importance of the work
women did in the home.31
The harsh material conditions France faced during and well after the war
also inspired some commentators to rethink women’s abilities in ways that

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      11

In Saint-​Lô, an area 97 percent destroyed by the end of the war, a family of eight that had
lost its home during the war still lives in a makeshift temporary dwelling in 1946, two
years after the Liberation.
Gamma Rapho K038666-​A4

elevated their status. Running a home and keeping a family fed and clothed
continued to present serious challenges for many years after the war. The
hardships of the 1940s elevated the appreciation of the value of women’s
housekeeping skills, a view many articles in the postwar press expressed.
Françoise Giroud, for one, insisted on the critical importance of women’s
domestic skills. In a 1946 article, she claimed that young men were now more
eager to marry than young women. Why? Because they needed help. Giroud
explained that young unmarried men were suffering from the lack of heat,
worn clothing and the gap between their salaries and the exploding cost of
living. She attributed the increasing numbers of young men interested in
marriage not to love but to their desire for someone “to get up before [them]
in the morning to light the stove, and who will run around all morning to
obtain, with or without ration tickets, something to serve for lunch.”32
According to Giroud, women’s herculean efforts “merit no consideration,
no praise, no gratitude.” As a result more and more women preferred “a man’s
job.” If men failed to recognize the importance of housework as a métier, they
should not be surprised when they could not find the “girl of their dreams.”

1 2   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

Giroud warned men not to take for granted “the ingeniousness and energy a
woman has to deploy these days just to have clean sheets on a regular basis.”33
Giroud’s piece, notwithstanding her complaint about a lack of appreciation,
and similar articles suggest that the dire material circumstances most people
in France faced had rendered visible women’s formerly invisible work in the
home, generating a more explicit appreciation for women’s specific skills.
Unlike Vichy, which portrayed women’s housekeeping as a “natural” trait,
the experience of the war and postwar years made it abundantly clear to peo-
ple at all social levels that finding adequate food, clothing, and fuel for heat
and meeting other needs required skill, time, energy, and ingenuity. What
women who did not “work” outside the home did inside the home was work,
an effort critical to the family’s ability to survive, worthy of respect and pub-
lic support.
Thus, ideas about women’s roles in the broader society were changing,
in part in response to the political, economic, and legal changes of the era.
The persistence of old values on the surface and the continued emphasis on
women as homemakers in a family with a male breadwinner may have par-
tially masked early signs of these changes. Quietly changing attitudes about
women’s social roles were only one part of the immediate postwar era’s shifts in
thinking about gender, which after all is not just about women. Since French
society had assigned men and women specific and different economic and
emotional roles in the family, changing ideas about one role within the family
system affected the entire system. Another shift in postwar France particu-
larly addressed men’s roles in the family. Rather than focusing almost entirely
on the structure of the family and whether in a particular family the father
matched traditional expectations as the breadwinner and authority figure, by
the late 1940s, authors, experts, and social workers began describing fathers
in terms of how they functioned, delving into how the father played his role,
redefining expectations about how to be a father. Discussions about being a
husband or wife, father or mother, centered less on conforming to expecta-
tions and more on developing satisfying relationships with one’s spouse and
children. Without putting it in those terms, the focus was beginning to shift
from social expectations to personal satisfaction.
Thus attitudes toward men, and in particular toward fatherhood, also
began shifting. Whereas changing ideas about women centered on their pub-
lic identities, political citizenship, and roles at work, there was little change
in general views of men and masculinity, but a big shift was underway in the
vision of men’s roles in the family. Even as they expressed conservative ideas
about family roles, magazines, advice columns, and guidebooks began to

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      13

articulate a new view of husbands and fathers in relationship to wives, moth-

ers, and children as less authoritarian, more collaborative. In general French
society still differentiated between what was considered appropriate for men
or women, yet ideas were changing about how to play the role of husband and
father. While those changes were only embryonic, early signs of change began
appearing shortly after the war.

Men and Family Life

During the war, Vichy rhetoric celebrated fathers and fatherhood, envisioning
the role in highly traditional ways. Similar portrayals of fathers and father-
hood continued to appear after the war, but clear undercurrents of change
also appeared very quickly. Susan Gubar has argued that “Gertrude Stein’s
1937 protests against ‘too much fathering’ informed the literary responses
of many of her female contemporaries, who experienced World War II as a
resurgence of patriarchal politics.” Whether or not people’s deep beliefs had
changed, the hypermasculine, authoritarian, and even militarist rhetoric
about fathering had been discredited by its association with Vichy and ulti-
mately with Nazism.
Beyond the silencing of the war era’s extreme rhetorical presentation of
fathering, however, actual experience also encouraged at least some men to
rethink their assumptions and made them willing to be less rigid about social
roles, albeit within the broad contours of “traditional” assumptions about
gender and family life. Many former POWs, for example, having either been
unable to marry or unable to be with their wives and children for as many
as seven years, expressed strong desires to return and lead satisfying family
lives. They had truly been the “distant” authority figure. Back in France, at
least some repatriated POWs reveled in directly experiencing family life, even
in difficult circumstances. One repatriated POW, the father of a troubled
teenage daughter that social workers proposed sending to a Catholic reform
school for wayward girls, insisted that his daughter remain at home. After five
years in Germany, the social worker reported, he did not want to be “deprived
of his daughter.”34
A close look at the way many families adapted to the returning POWs
highlighted the struggles but concluded that a vast majority of the families
readjusted successfully to the homecoming. One thing eased problems, for
both POW and other families. Budgets gleaned from court case files docu-
ment the growing contribution that government Family Allowances made

1 4   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

to family budgets. By the late 1940s Family Allowances eased the financial
strain of providing for a family with children, potentially allowing a growing
number of fathers to work fewer hours and have more time at home.
After the war, fathers were still clearly portrayed as the heads of their fam-
ilies, but no longer, as during the Vichy years, as absolute or distant rulers.
The strongly conservative language that jumps out should not obscure the
small rays of change. Postwar sources both challenged the older, more rigid
version of fatherhood just after the war and struggled to redefine the father’s
role, focusing particularly on the issue of authority in the family.
During the war, juvenile court case reports reflected a general consensus,
based on numerous studies of juvenile delinquency published in the 1930s
and 1940s. Strongly influencing the work of those involved in juvenile jus-
tice in the early 1940s, nearly all of the era’s studies rested on a model of the
family as defined by its structure, meaning a “normal” family was one with
married parents, a father who provided and a mother who stayed at home
with the children. Parental roles were strictly gendered. Families who devi-
ated from that structure were labeled variously as “broken” or “disunited.”
While experts focused on mothers as key to the family’s emotional health,
they looked at fathers almost entirely for their presence or absence, paying lit-
tle attention to how they played their role. That approach to fathers reflected
the many studies in the 1930s and 1940s that seemed to prove a direct link
between absent fathers and the delinquency of minors.
Wartime case file reports on families of delinquent minors clearly reflected
the expert view. They centered primarily on how well the family fit the ideal
structure, commenting on the father primarily insofar as he was either pres-
ent or absent. During the war, given the assumed importance of the mother’s
emotional role in the family, social workers and others investigating delin-
quent minors’ families focused most of their attention on mothers, describ-
ing mothers in great detail, analyzing their relationships with the minors in
question, and commenting on the mothers’ appearance, clothing, manners,
and personality. They presented colorful thumbnail portraits, usually with
a heavily judgmental tone. For example, Mrs. G was “dressed very simply,
clothing in bad shape. Very much woman of the people, not well cared-​for,
she seems mostly to want to keep anyone from blaming anything on her
family.” Another mother was described as a “Spanish type, no makeup, no
accent. Soft-​spoken—​dresses without elegance or eccentricity, clean hands
and fingernails.”35
Compared to mothers, during the war social workers exhibited little inter-
est in the fathers as people, providing no descriptions of the fathers’ physical

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      15

appearance, no equivalent emotional profiles. Most often, if the father was

present in the home, reports echoed this stock summary of one father, a truck
driver: “Is not the object of any unfavorable remarks.”36 Social workers com-
mented on fathers only if they found signs of failure to provide, excessive
drinking, or abuse.
Immediately after the war, juvenile case reports also began changing in
ways that reflected the subtle shifts in social attitudes toward fathering dis-
cerned in the postwar normative literature. In the most striking change to
appear almost immediately after the war, case file reports began paying a
new kind of attention to fathers. Social workers began providing detailed
physical descriptions of the fathers, equivalent to those of the mothers, and
thumbnail personality sketches of both mothers and fathers. For example,
after describing one mother as “tall, stout, a Breton type, excessively neat,
simply dressed, very talkative but very sensible, tells us about her life in a
direct and clear manner,” the social worker shifted to the father, noting that
she found him working in his garden. She described his appearance: medium
height, “ruddy complexion, with a nice bearing.” In contrast to his wife, he
spoke little and seemed “embarrassed to have to give his opinion about his
son’s behavior.”37
In some cases, the social worker found it hard to maintain a neutral tone.
The social worker interviewed the stepfather of one delinquent minor. She
found no evidence that the stepfather was violent or abusive, but he clearly
rubbed her the wrong way. The parents were itinerant merchants. The social
worker indicted the mother for being “passive and indecisive,” but wrote
of the stepfather:  “His proud look, his loud voice, his ‘commercial’ smile,
his authoritarian, almost conceited bearing left us with an unpleasant
The richer, more detailed profiles of fathers’ appearance and personalities
indicate that social workers had a new kind of interest in fathers. It is not
that fathers were considered unimportant prior to 1945. In fact, experts on
juvenile crime insisted on the critical importance of father absence in caus-
ing juvenile crime.39 But the question was simply whether or not the father
was present, based on the assumption that a “normal” family required both a
mother and a father. Neither delinquency studies nor court case reports paid
much attention to the dynamics of the father’s role in these families. During
the war, fatherhood was a status. After the war, fatherhood was becoming a
The breaks and contrasts represent evidence of a society in the process of
reconceptualizing its ideas about the proper shape of the family and struggling

1 6   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

particularly to sort out proper roles for husbands and wives, mothers and
fathers. Beyond the father’s appearance and personality, court case files,
guidebooks, and advice columns after the war also expressed new ideas about
a key element of the father’s role in the family, the issue of authority. While
it continued to represent a critical aspect of men’s position in their families,
after the war, the husband or father’s authority was no longer absolute.
An example of the changing ideas about men’s roles in the family appeared
in an advice column, “Confidentially.” A  woman wrote in January 1949
complaining that her husband’s excessively authoritarian nature resulted in
unpleasant scenes at home and even when visiting her parents. He exerted his
authority over their child “in an intolerable way” and occasionally went so far,
she wrote, as to “speak to me rudely.” The columnist’s response, which was
fairly traditional, argued against divorce. Instead, assigning the wife the duty
of repairing the situation, the adviser advocated using “gentle persuasion.”
However, the columnist insisted that mothers had certain “moral rights”
over their children that husbands had to respect and that raising children
should be collaborative. “The head of the family, aware of his role, should not
behave like a dictator, but as an associate leader, together with his wife.” The
advice pushed back only gently against older gendered notions of paternal
authority, tiptoeing toward a more collaborative view of parenting as a shared

Who’s the Boss? Husbands and Authority

An even more intriguing illustration of shifting expectations for husbands
and wives emerges from contrasting the Vichy-​era and postwar editions of a
guidebook for newly married men and women, L’Intimité conjugal (Conjugal
intimacy). In 1942, during the Vichy era, René Boigelot, under the pseud-
onym Pierre Dufoyer, published an edition of the book addressed to both
husbands and wives, subtitled Le livre des époux (The married couple’s book).
In 1949, he published a revised edition, this one divided into two separate
books, Le livre du jeune mari (The young husband’s book) and Le livre de la
jeune épouse (The young wife’s book). The books were intended to serve as
practical guides to engaged couples and newlyweds. Boigelot, in the open-
ing section of both editions, promoted a Christian social philosophy on mar-
riage. According to Boigelot, Christianity, by establishing monogamy and
the indissolubility of marriage, allowed for the gift of self, the mutual “open-
ing up” of spouses.42

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      17

In both editions, Boigelot then introduced what he viewed as the essential

differences between men and women. For example, men’s synthetic intelli-
gence moved quickly to the essential, viewing the world in terms of the big
picture. Men, focused on action and creation, were colder, more stable, but
less sentimental and compassionate than women. Boigelot described women’s
intelligence as more analytical, nuanced, and focused on detail than men’s.
Women’s intelligence was suppler, but less stable. The passages on intelligence
are identical in the 1942 and 1949 editions.43
Boigelot clearly believed that each sex needed a better understanding of
the emotional makeup of the other sex. Thus both the 1942 and 1949 editions
of his guide included a section on female psychology addressed to men, and
one on male psychology for women. Here, in the chapter on female psychol-
ogy directed at young men, the 1942 and the 1949 editions diverge tellingly.
In the 1942 edition, the material on female psychology clearly instructed
young men that their future wives wanted and needed male domination.
Boigelot explained that a woman’s emotional, exuberant, sentimental psyche
was dominated not by reason, will, or sensuality but by the heart, by the need
to love and be loved. Therefore, in the 1942 edition, Boigelot concluded,
“A woman still hopes to find in her husband a protecting force, a support.”
Without knowing why, Boigelot insisted, women felt weak, in need of pro-
tection and guidance; they wanted their husbands to take charge. A woman
knew her emotions were unstable; she intuited her own fragilities, sensed
being “tossed around from here to there.” To compensate, women were drawn
toward “firmness, force, protection.” Women wanted a strong man to direct
In the 1949 edition, Boigelot had deleted this particular paragraph
about women wanting and needing male domination. Boigelot remained
clear that the husband was the head of the family, but substituted a
political metaphor for the domination passage. The husband, Boigelot
explained, managed foreign affairs, while the wife was in charge of the
interior ministry. Husband and wife worked together in the cabinet to
hammer out their “general policies.”45 Boigelot had hardly shifted to an
egalitarian notion of spousal relations. The husband was still to represent
the family to the outside world, reproducing a key aspect of the traditional
“separate spheres” division of labor. However, the Ministry of the Interior
in France differs greatly from the similarly named US Department of the
Interior, which oversees the natural environment—​forests, trees, park-
land. That job description would match quite closely the older vision of
women as housekeepers.

1 8   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

In France however, the minister of the interior oversees policing and

internal security, broadly understood. In other words, Boigelot appointed
the wife to a powerful position. Furthermore, Boigelot did not appoint the
husband prime minister, another possible metaphor. Yes, he insisted that a
woman preferred a man who was “strong, calm, decisive in business matters,
courageous in the face of difficulties, brave in thinking about the future.”
A good husband provided his wife a sense of stability, security, and happi-
ness. But in the 1949 edition, Boigelot recommended that a husband, rather
than dominating and imposing his will on his wife, let his wife make some
decisions. In matters having to do with “interior,” rather than dictating to
her, Boigelot recommended saying, “If I were you, here’s what I would do, but
it’s up to you to decide.” While hardly feminist, the 1949 edition diverged
in critical ways from its predecessor. Boigelot was gingerly working his way
toward a less patriarchal view, presenting a more nuanced portrait of both
men and women, tempering the vision of paternal authority to arrive at a
more collaborative view of marriage and parenting.46
Just as authority in the family represented a critical issue in the prescrip-
tive literature for men and women after the war, juvenile court case reports
similarly devoted quite a bit of attention to delineating in these families the
issue of authority, as exerted by both fathers and mothers. Postwar reports
often described the system as being out of balance, expressing some confusion
about family authority.
As during the war, fathers who engaged in violence or physical abuse
were clearly censured. For example, E’s father, in the case of his divorce,
at first impressed the social worker, who noted how much he loved and
wanted to reconcile with his wife. But then, he openly reported to the social
worker “a detailed account of his conjugal troubles, without omitting his
own mistakes (he told us he once ‘jabbed’ his wife with a knife about fifteen
times).” The social worker described the husband as “extremely excitable and
unstable … a truly nervous, unbalanced person.” 47 In a 1949 case from
Marseilles, P’s father, a heavy drinker, was described as having an “angry,
lunatic disposition.”48
Moderate physical correction was acceptable. However, in a new devel-
opment after the war, even without evidence of physical or emotional abuse,
investigators labeled some fathers “too strict,” a designation that did not
appear in wartime cases files. In one example of a case report censuring
a father for excessive strictness, in 1948, S ran away from his home four
times, the final time landing in Marseilles, where he turned up at the
Foreign Legion wanting to enlist. The father, a skilled worker with a stable

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      19

job, described as honest and hardworking, nevertheless raised concerns for

the social worker. A neighbor reported that “the father is severe, perhaps
too severe, whereas the mother is rather weak, with a tendency to support
her son that she adores and that she intentionally whips up.” The father
admitted that he did not get along with his son, and the running away had
probably been motivated by his son’s desire for greater independence. The
social worker noted, disapprovingly, that the father insisted his seventeen-​
year-​old son turn over his entire paycheck, leaving him with no spending
money of his own. The social worker concluded that the father “shows evi-
dence of a very marked educational rigidity (counting the minutes the boy
is supposed to take to get to work …) and a total lack of understanding as
to the juvenile crisis his son is going through.”49
This report raises several linked issues. For the first time, the report artic-
ulates an increasingly accepted notion that many young people pass through
a crisis of adolescence in the transition to adulthood. Second, when social
workers described fathers as exerting too much authority within the family,
they often described a secondary pattern, mothers who attempted to mediate
or compensate for the fathers’ excesses by being “excessively lenient,” covering
up the minor’s misdeeds, or overindulging their desires.
For example, in the case of a teenage boy who stole a motorized scooter,
the social worker described the father, a retired postal worker and war vet-
eran, as a “very good man, heartbroken” by his son’s behavior. But, she also
noted, the father vacillated between extremes: “Sometimes he hits too hard,
even though punishment is justified, but at other times he proves to be weak
and indifferent, screaming and yelling but not taking any action.” In this
family, making matters worse, the mother was “too indulgent for the baby
of the family,” covering up his bad behavior, keeping it from her husband “to
keep the peace.”50
Alternating severity and weakness was not good. Worse still was the case
of a father who was both authoritarian and emotionally detached from his
child. His daughter, who ran away from home, was arrested in 1949 for riding
the Paris Metro without a ticket. According to the social worker, the father
presented himself “very properly.” But as she spoke with him, she said, “He
left the impression of being a very egotistical man.” The parents had divorced;
the father, who had custody, remarried. The social worker concluded that the
father regarded the children from his first marriage as “a burden” and con-
tended that he was “bitter about their ingratitude.” Mr. P, the social worker
concluded, was “not very understanding” and “has certainly been very harsh
and had to admit that he easily raised his hand to hit her.”51

2 0   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

A somewhat less frequent complaint about fathers indicates that, beyond

authoritarianism, fathers could also be censured for the reverse, indiffer-
ence, being present in the family but distant and uninvolved. This represents
an even more dramatic shift from Vichy-​era expectations, when the notion
of the father as a distant authority figure, not terribly involved in the day-​
to-​day life of the family, would hardly have been considered a problem. In
these reports however, even the fathers themselves admitted that this was a
deficiency. For example, in a case from 1949 of a juvenile involved in a brawl
at a local café, the social worker visited the family and described the father
as “calm, in control of himself; his thoughts and judgment show proof of
solid common sense,” but, she noted, he “visibly lacked energy.” The father
even admitted that “he had not demanded enough of an effort from his
Another case involved a very well-​to-​do family, something extremely rare
in the juvenile court case records, the father a career military officer who had
served many years in North Africa. The case itself also stands out for the serious
charges, which far exceed those usually found in juvenile records: attempted
homicide and grand theft. The son met a girl from Paris while on summer
vacation. Together they hatched a plan to run away, deciding to commit
armed robberies to get the money they needed. In this case, the social worker
and family struggled to understand the son’s behavior, completely ignoring
the minors’ relationship itself as a factor. The father wondered if the stories of
wartime adventures his military buddies told had planted violent notions in
his son’s head, but he also confessed to “having overly neglected his children’s
education and upbringing.”53
Older ideas about breadwinner husbands as heads of the family and
mothers/​housewives as the heart had hardly disappeared. But within the
contours of the ideal family, commentators and moralists noticed changes
and even advocated new approaches to the dynamics between the spouses.
Juvenile case files just after the war reflected that shift in the notion of
fatherhood. The family, rather than a fixed structure with each person in a
particular place playing a scripted role, was being increasingly portrayed as a
dynamic system, involving a series of interlocking relationships, between the
husband and wife, the mother and the children, the father and the children,
and the children with each parent. Postwar documents indicate much con-
fusion about all these roles and functions concerning fathers and mothers.
How did the less absolute vision of the father’s authority in the family influ-
ence thinking about the mother’s role?

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      21

The Authoritarian Wife?
Although Boigelot removed the paragraph about women’s need to be domi-
nated from the 1949 edition of his guidebook for newlywed couples, he
added a new topic that did not appear in the 1942 version, the “authoritarian
woman.” His guidebooks indicate a newly limited view of male authority,
but they also suggest that this change was generating anxiety about the bal-
ance of power in the family. According to the 1949 edition, some wives by
then preferred “commanding to obeying.” In some cases a woman’s desire to
command grew out of her temperament or character. But most authoritarian
women, Boigelot explained, had picked up the habit from working outside
the home in professions that gave them freedom and independence. In other
words, authoritarian women were really professional women. To counter
these tendencies, Boigelot advised husbands not to try and stamp out their
wives’ love of command but to soften it, instilling the “need to consult with,
even to submit with joy and respect to the man who dominates them.”54
Boigelot clearly had not worked this all out, no longer recommend-
ing male domination, advocating collaboration and consultation between
spouses, yet bemoaning the independent, wage-​earning woman’s author-
itarian traits and recommending that wives submit to a husband who is
assumed to dominate them. While both cultural sources and court reports
reflected newly changing ideas about fatherhood, Boigelot’s anxiety about
authoritarian wives and mothers had no echo in contemporary juvenile
court reports. Social workers rarely labeled mothers as too authoritarian,
only once in the eighty-​seven case files from 1945 to 1949. In an ironic
twist, given that observers during the war feared that POW wives would be
incapable of exerting authority over their children in the father’s absence,
the one mother described as too authoritarian had been a POW wife. Her
seventeen-​year-​old daughter kept running away from home. According to
the neighbors, “The mother pushed her daughter around too much.” The
social worker described the father as “a good man,” but in this family, she
concluded, the mother ran things.55
Also rare were mothers alleged to be abusive. There was only one highly
unusual case of a mother whose behavior clearly crossed over a line. In this case,
the mother, annoyed at her two children’s squabbling, had grabbed a rope and
threatened to hang her younger son. A neighbor found him sobbing outside the
house and took him in. The social worker was shocked when the boy told her
that he slept with a knife under his pillow to protect himself from his mother.56

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This unusual case stands out for the mother’s extreme threats, the child’s
terror, and the fact that abuse allegations rarely fell on mothers. Short of
abuse, juvenile case files hardly ever labeled mothers too authoritarian. Rather,
mothers were most often viewed as contributing to family trouble when, to
counteract excessively authoritarian fathers, they responded with excessive
lenience, excusing their child’s misbehavior, hiding it from the father, or even
directly countermanding the father’s rules. In the late 1940s, social work-
ers clearly disapproved of excessive strictness on the part of fathers, but they
insisted that too much maternal lenience, rather than improving matters,
only exacerbated an unhealthy dynamic.
Social workers, both during and after the war, were nearly certain to find
something wrong in delinquent minors’ families. But postwar investigators
had much less clarity about diagnosis than they presented in case reports
from the war years. They struggled to sort out what went wrong. Was one
parent too strict, not strict enough, or too lenient to compensate for an overly
strict co-​parent? Postwar social workers paid much closer attention to the
father’s personality, emotional relationships, and interactions with his chil-
dren. During the war, social workers often expressed critical judgments about
mothers. By the end of the 1940s, fathers began to face similar judgments.
Thus juvenile court case files second the magazines, advice columns, and
guidebooks, indicating a subtle but real shift in ideas about gender and family
life. The accepted vision of the family was slowly moving away from authori-
tarian, distant fatherhood as the ideal.

The “Broken” Family: Defining the Best Interest

of the Child
Another way of exploring the contours of the ideas about families is to con-
sider cases involving custody or termination of parental rights. In these cases,
the court files addressed different kinds of issues. In the case of divorce, the
judge had to determine which parent should be granted custody; in other
cases the courts had to determine the accuracy of allegations that a parent or
both parents were unfit or abusive. In the United States, the courts operate
according to what is most commonly referred to as the best interest of the
child, the standard the courts claim to use in making these difficult deter-
minations. The evidence shows that the French system also operated on that
basis. The real question is how the system defined and determined the child’s
best interest.

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      23

Social workers explicitly noted in their reports parents who deviated from
certain norms. Also, as in the cases involving minors alleged to have broken
the law, racial and class biases emerged strongly. But as during the war, social
workers and other investigators advocated that courts decide not on the basis
of social conventions, class bias, or even racial prejudice, but on what the sys-
tem viewed as fundamental to each child’s well-​being. Rather than income,
social status, racial “superiority,” even conventional morality, the factor that
weighed most heavily in the conclusions was where the child would be loved
and cared for. The case files show that affection for the child always trumped
other factors.
One couple married in 1937, had two children, and divorced in 1948.
The father, a skilled artisan, earned considerably more than the mother, who
worked at a local factory. The father wanted custody of his children. We
might expect a negative evaluation of a mother who worked forty-​five hours
a week at a factory. However, the social worker reported that her home was
clean and that the children, who were in good health, were “well-​raised” and
well cared for and never missed school. As for the father, the social worker
concluded after investigating that he too was honest and hardworking. The
children had lived with him for some of the time since the couple’s separation,
and he too had taken perfectly good care of them. The neighbors expressed
a higher opinion of Mr. R’s “moral value” than that of his wife, the social
worker noted, although no one suspected even for an instant that she might
set a bad example for the children. Ultimately, in spite of the mother’s work
hours, relative poverty, and slightly lower estimation among the neighbors
as to her morality, the social worker saw no reason to change the custody
arrangement and recommended leaving the children with the mother.57
The social worker also expressed some concern in this case about a sin-
gle father raising his young daughter on his own, an issue that appeared in
another case involving two young girls living with their single father. In this
case, the social worker worried about the small size of the apartment and the
fact that the beds were all practically touching. Though she expressed reserva-
tions, the social worker recommended leaving the girls with the father. In the
end, the father retained custody because the girls were clearly well cared for,
they themselves stated a preference for living with their father, and, clinching
the case, the mother failed to appear at the hearing.58
Neither relative income, nor social standing, nor greater material comfort,
nor even concerns about inappropriate sleeping arrangements dictated the rec-
ommendation. In the case of one twelve-​year-​old girl, again, stark class and cul-
tural differences between the parents did not define what the social workers

2 4   
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felt was essentially in the best interests of the child. The father, who claimed
he had only married her mother because she was pregnant, was the assistant
principal at a local school and earned a very good income. After the divorce, he
asked for custody, claiming the mother set a bad example for the girl. His ex-​
wife was a seamstress who lived on her piece-​rate pay and a small alimony. The
father claimed he would raise the girl, with his mother’s help, in a better milieu,
providing an honest life. The social worker visited the girl’s mother, describ-
ing her as heavily made-​up, dressed “flirtatiously.” The mother “does not sin by
excessive modesty in the way she dresses.” Nervous and emotional, during their
interview she burst into tears and even used “extremely colorful language.” The
neighbors seconded the social worker’s impression, describing the mother as
“vulgar, coarse, nervous, without modesty,” with regular “excesses in language
and attire.” But the mother clearly loved her daughter, who was, according to
the social worker, “properly looked-​after, well-​fed, and clothed with care.” The
girl attended school regularly; the teachers were happy with her work; she pre-
sented no discipline problems, never used “foul language, never offended in any
way” at school.59
The social worker took the father’s concerns seriously, expressing her own
reservations in her descriptions. In short, the social worker clearly found
Mr.  P more conventional, less vulgar, more likely to instill solidly middle-​
class behaviors and values, in a milieu described as more “refined.” But the
social worker considered none of these factors critical. She focused on the
central point. Living with her mother, the girl would be loved. As perfect an
education as the father might provide, moving to her father’s home would
leave the child “deprived of tenderness.” Removing her from her mother
would cause the child deep distress, resulting in a “huge emotional shock.” So
the social worker unequivocally supported the mother retaining custody.60
In a similar case, the mother, an Italian immigrant forced by her work
schedule to place her son with a nanny (nourrice), visited her child twice
a week, bringing gifts and sweets. The father, on the other hand, a retired
army officer, had only visited his son once in two years. On that occasion, the
nanny reported, the father brought the boy a box of cookies, but as he left, he
took the box, leaving only two cookies for his son. Not only did the mother
retain custody, but the judge ordered an increase in child support payments.61
As during the war, the issue of hygiene clearly mattered to those who inves-
tigated these families, who always noted the level of cleanliness. The personal
hygiene of the parents and the children, within the limits of the family’s bud-
get and living circumstances, were considered essential markers. Cleanliness,
beyond being a value in itself to middle-​class social workers, both was linked

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      25

to health and served as a measure of emotional attachment. However, one

aspect of hygiene attracted particular concern in the Drôme. Social work-
ers always wrote about beds. Beyond who slept where, how many people per
bed, proximity of children of the opposite sex to each other or to opposite-​sex
parents, social workers in the Drôme always inspected the beds, making note
of the size, mattress or sleeping materials, bed bugs or other infestations, and
sheets and blankets.
In one example, parents were under investigation, and their parental
rights were in jeopardy. The mayor of the family’s small town, tipped off
by neighbors, sent local police to investigate the family’s situation. They
reported that the six children were living in a “state of total abandon,”
with no food, “dressed in rags, bare feet, the house repulsively filthy.” The
courts, prior to terminating parental rights, sent a social worker to visit
the family. By the time she arrived, the house had been cleaned up con-
siderably. However, the social worker insisted on checking the bedrooms
upstairs, where she found that the sheets and covers were “in tatters.” The
social worker, however, reassured the very nervous mother that she was
there to help. At that point, the mother relaxed and promised to continue
to make improvements. A  few weeks later, returning to visit, the social
worker reported that the beds had new sheets and blankets. According to
the mother, her husband had stopped drinking, had a new job, and was
turning his pay over to her for home expenses. The children had started
attending school. While the social worker was there, the children returned
from school and looked clean, healthy, and properly dressed and even had
shoes.62 An instance of Foucauldian control perhaps, but also one where
it appears the police and social workers’ interventions may in fact have
empowered the mother, resulting at least temporarily in material improve-
ments for her and the children.
In another case from 1949, the social worker described the home as spare
and the children as sufficiently well dressed, but the children’s beds, she noted,
were covered with hay (paille) so old and broken down into tiny pieces that it
provided no cushioning at all. “The horse or cow bedding [was] surely softer”
and cleaner than what the children slept on. The blankets were in tatters,
dirty and torn. When questioned, Mrs. B blamed the German and American
armies for pillaging her bedding. However, by 1949, the social worker had
determined that families could no longer blame foreign armies for their hard-
ships. In the five years since the war’s end, she insisted, given their Family
Allowances and the father’s reported salary, they should surely have been able
not just to feed and clothe the children but even to reconstitute, little by little,

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a set of sheets, blankets, and mattresses for the children’s beds. “Everything
should have returned to normal.” When the social worker returned to follow
up, the old bedding was still there, but the mother proudly reported that she
had ordered all new beds, sheets, and covers on layaway.63
Social workers here clearly were imposing, with the threat of loss of
custody, a certain level of cleanliness, a middle-​class value, on poor, and
in this case rural, families. However, beyond disciplining them to instill
cleanliness, social workers also read the level of hygiene as a signal of other
qualities considered critical to parenting. Having a comfortable bed and
clean, warm blankets in a climate with cold winters was something the
social workers viewed as a matter of stewardship, of the ability to budget
and prioritize the children’s needs. Social workers expressed concern not
about messiness but about what they considered an extreme lack of cleanli-
ness that suggested the well-​being of the child might be at risk. The level
of concern, the repeated interventions in these two cases, however, were
rare. Most often, social workers noted that the dwelling was modest or even
spare, lacking in basic amenities. But if it was at a minimal level of cleanli-
ness, then they shifted their attention more directly to the emotional bonds
between the parents and the children. Cleanliness, clothing, health, the liv-
ing conditions, and attendance at school all weighed as factors. But having
loving and attached caregivers trumped all in these cases. In effect, social
workers and the courts defined and operated on the basis of the best inter-
est of the child, defined not in material terms, except for extremes, but in
emotional terms.
During the war, the juvenile courts’ investigations of the minors’ families
resulted in detailed and highly judgmental reports, but the courts, follow-
ing the social workers’ recommendations, were generally lenient and favored
leaving delinquent minors with their families if at all possible. While the ten-
dency to leave minors with families continued after the war, postwar case
files provide strong evidence of evolving ideas about family roles. During the
war, the more static, structural notion of fatherhood led observers to report
on the presence of a father, his qualities as a breadwinner, whether or not
he had any serious vices, and the like. Already during the war the mother’s
role had evolved beyond how well she fit the traditional ideal of homemaker,
an impossibility for these mostly poor, rural, or working-​class families where
many mothers had to work outside for wages. Social workers investigated and
described the relationship between the mother and the minor involved. After
the war, they increasingly included the father’s relationship and portrayed the
family as a complex system.

Men, Women, and Family Life, 1945–1949      •      27

Vichy’s ideology of family, echoed in women’s magazines, allowed for only

one model of the good family, breadwinner father, homemaker mother, lots
of children, and no room for deviations from those norms. Vichy’s family
policy represented a clear and explicit rejection of changing interwar ideas
about gender and family. Vichy exaggerated women’s “liberation” from family
expectations prior to the war, something it intended to reverse, and insisted
that feminists were anti-​ family, overlooking the highly family-​ oriented
nature of nearly all French interwar feminists. However, Vichy, despite its
propaganda barrage, did not succeed in destroying either the new ideas of the
1930s or those who advocated them. The people who held them either kept
quiet or diverted their attention to other areas—​in some cases the Resistance;
for most people the all-​consuming daily struggle to survive. In other words,
peoples’ real lives deviated quite a bit from Vichy’s ideals. While not openly
expressed in published sources, wartime juvenile court records clarified that
there was room for considering as acceptable families whose lives fell well
outside Vichy’s definition of the ideal family. But most resistance to Vichy
family ideology expressed itself in actions carried out quietly, under the radar.
In public, many of the people involved in children’s welfare echoed conserva-
tive views that gained them Vichy’s support or averted Vichy meddling.
The Liberation’s strong and very public rejection of Vichy carried within
it a rejection of its ultraconservative ideology, with its authoritarian “father-
ing.” The post-​Liberation years were not the time to celebrate authoritarian
rule in either politics or the family. If not a revolution, the social evolution
of ideas on men, women, children, and family after 1944 picked up where it
had left off.
The years from 1944 to 1949 represented a period of flux. On the sur-
face, assumptions about men, women, and family life continued to rest
on conservative values. In public rhetoric, most women’s destiny was still
marriage, children, and domestic life. But most cultural sources celebrated
women’s rise to full citizenship and acknowledged without demonizing
women who did not choose domesticity. Further, within the unchanged
structural model of the proper family, roles were being redefined. Masked
by a stable structure and conservative rhetoric, the system began shifting,
resulting in a more complicated and complex vision of the family. Those
who worked with families now were interested in the personality, the tem-
perament of both fathers and mothers and even, just a little, of children.
They began dissecting how fathers operated in the family, how they exerted
their authority. No one doubted the need for authority, but it could be
labeled arbitrary or too severe. The mother still played the primary role

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in raising children, but the relationship between the children and both
father and mother was viewed in dynamic and not static terms. In effect,
viewing the family not in terms of how well it matched the idealized struc-
ture but as a series of relationships opened the door to new expectations
of family life. From the family as the buttress of the social order, with
family members expected to conform to social expectations, the empha-
sis had begun changing, taking account of desires emerging after the war.
The family was becoming a place of emotional investment and personal
satisfaction that required each member to adjust to its needs but that also
fulfilled the emotional needs of its members. Interested in happiness and
satisfaction and weary of the hardships of the previous decades, ordinary
people across France were ready to take part in the profound economic
and cultural shifts the new decade would bring.


In 1954, ten years after it had ceased publication at the time of

the Liberation, the woman’s magazine Marie-​Claire celebrated its
rebirth. The editors described its renaissance year as “the atomic
age but also the age of abundance, of emancipation, of social prog-
ress, the age of bright homes, healthy children, of refrigerators
and pasteurized milk, of washing machines, the age of comfort,
quality, good buys.”1 The transition from war to peace in the late
1940s inspired some rethinking of attitudes toward gender and
family life. The separation so many couples experienced during the
war, through evacuations, exile, the captivity of POW husbands/​
fathers/​fiancés, forced labor in Germany, and deportation for polit-
ical or racial reasons, increased the focus for those men and women
not just on restoring their families but also on cultivating a satisfy-
ing emotional life within the family. After the war, in addition to
celebrating women’s contributions to the Resistance, many voices
across the political spectrum expressed a new appreciation both for
women’s domestic skills and for their having managed their fami-
lies through difficult times. Returning POWs expressed a desire to
be physically and emotionally present in their families. Women,
many of whom had lived for years without their husbands, yearned
for a return to a life centered on but not confined to their homes
and families.
Yet by the 1950s, popular magazines, guidebooks, advice col-
umns, and juvenile court case reports provide strong evidence of
a second break. Slowly, over the first half of the decade, the gaze
shifted from the war. Given the tendency in Western culture to
treat the start of a new decade as an important turning point, it is
not surprising that published works began looking forward.
The 1950s celebrated the “modern,” a word and concept that
encompassed France’s underlying deep changes, economic mod-
ernization, urbanization, reconstruction, and renewed economic

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growth. With the industrial and transportation infrastructures restored,

French government planners shifted the state’s attention to building housing
to mitigate continuing severe shortages. The expanded housing ensured that
the vast majority of people in France finally gained access to running water,
indoor plumbing, and electricity.2 While “modern” as an artistic or cultural
form was already dated, references to things being “modern” appeared regu-
larly in 1950s popular culture. In addition to material improvements, the
word “modern” expressed the widely shared sense of the profound cultural
shifts apparent in the 1950s.3
To be clear, many fundamental assumptions about men and women
remained in place. Women were still strongly expected to marry, have chil-
dren, and, if possible, stay at home and care for their homes and children. On
the other hand, the public and political leaders expressed a strong sense that
women’s lives were changing. Robert Prigent personifies the duality. Active
before the war in Christian social movements, such as the Jeunesse Ouvrière
Chrétienne (JOC), during the war Prigent joined de Gaulle in Algiers, where
he submitted the bill to grant women the vote. After the Liberation, as min-
ister of population and health, Prigent developed and expanded France’s
policies and programs to encourage couples to have babies. He remarked
that women’s true fulfillment lay in “accepting their feminine nature,” as
expressed in domestic life.4 But Prigent’s vision of female domesticity did not
limit women to the home. Rather, he encouraged women to contribute to
creating a better and more humane society.
To calm the concerns contemporaries expressed in the early 1950s about
the impact of the period’s rapid economic and social changes on family life,
Prigent published an essay in 1953 summarizing the historical evolution of
the French family. He reassured readers who worried that trends like prog-
ress and technology, while beneficial in many ways, threatened the stability
of the French family. Prigent argued that the two world wars, rather than
destroying the family, had instead healed it, ushering in a renaissance of the
family. Prigent held that the three most critical changes to family life over
the previous two centuries were “the liberation of the child, the liberation of
women, and a break with past.”5 Prigent’s list captured something critical to
the decade, the widespread sense of rupture and the feeling that women and
children had been liberated from older forms of subservience.
Economic growth, modernization, urbanization, and the expansion of
the welfare state all accelerated in the 1950s, completely reshaping where and
how most people lived. Alongside these profound material changes, 1950s
popular culture reflected and built on postwar changing ideas and norms

Forces of Change      •      31

about gender, family life, and childhood. Even by the late 1940s, the picture
of the ideal family had not changed, but the coloring and shading of the pic-
ture, ideas about the emotional relationships within that older family struc-
ture, had changed. Underlying the new cultural visions of the family, and
fundamental to the 1950s, were new ideas about the self. Understanding how
individuals related to their personal pasts and present desires shifted away
from measuring the self in terms of social expectations and toward a greater
focus on individual fulfillment.
Ideas about gender and family life changed in the 1950s under the crucial
impact of three key individuals and the ideas and institutions they spawned.
First, and possibly most significant to thinking about the family and the self,
Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, while hardly new, truly began in
the 1950s to infuse a psychological orientation and language into discussions
of family life, parenting, childhood, and self-​analysis. Two primary vectors
disseminated Freud’s ideas to the broader public. First, French psychoanalyst
Françoise Dolto applied Freud’s theories to children. Secondly, an institution
founded in 1929, the Ecole des Parents, which means both “school for par-
ents” and “parenting school,” promoted a psychiatric/​psychological approach
to the family through publications, conferences, teacher training, and par-
ents’ circles.
Simone de Beauvoir was another key personality deeply linked to the
rethinking of ideas about gender and the self in France. Beauvoir’s The Second
Sex, published in 1949, argued that femininity was constructed and not
innate, challenging the widely held belief that men and women were differ-
ent by nature. In addition to her feminism, Beauvoir’s existentialism, whose
vision of individuals, male and female, as free and autonomous agents who
should exercise choice, also undermined deterministic views of appropriate
gender roles. Like the concept “modern,” existentialism as an intellectual
movement may have been passing its prime, but its impact on the broader
culture continued to grow. Beauvoir’s writings, The Second Sex in particu-
lar, provoked strong counter reactions. Her views, admittedly contested by
many voices in the 1950s, did not immediately overturn longstanding views
of women, marriage, and family roles. However, echoes of a Beauvoirian
approach began to appear regularly in the popular press throughout the
1950s. By the 1950s the shock of The Second Sex had worn off and Beauvoir
had been tamed for public consumption. Beauvoir’s ideas began to appear in
a wide variety of popular magazines, including Elle.6
Finally, Alfred Kinsey’s two studies of male and female sexuality were
published in 1948 and 1953 in the United States and remarkably quickly

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translated into French (1948 and 1954). Kinsey’s studies, based on in-​depth
interviews with hundreds of men and women about their intimate lives,
upended fundamental assumptions about both male and female sexuality.
Rather than viewing heterosexual intercourse as the standard that defined
normal behavior and all else as deviation, Kinsey’s work revealed a wide vari-
ety of desires and behaviors. Kinsey’s work reigned supreme throughout the
1950s and early 1960s, until the 1966 appearance of William H. Masters and
Virginia Johnson’s Human Sexual Response.7 Not only did Kinsey’s work in
some ways confirm Freud’s theories about the centrality of the sex drive, but
the French response to Kinsey’s reports was closely linked to the reception of
Beauvoir’s Second Sex.8 In other words, growing acceptance of ideas linked
to Freud, Beauvoir, and Kinsey eroded previously unquestioned ideas about
male/​female relationships and sexuality.9
For the most part, the anxiety Freud, Beauvoir, and Kinsey provoked was
out of proportion to the realities of the era. It is not clear how many indi-
viduals, if any, changed their views, lifestyles, or the way they thought about
themselves in response to these three cultural icons. Urban middle-​class
families probably began incorporating new ways of thinking into their lives
long before rural families, and working-​class family life had long deviated
from strict middle-​class expectations. However, these names and theories
began to permeate widely read magazines and books in the 1950s, reaching
people at all levels of society, few of whom would have actually read Freud,
Beauvoir, or Kinsey’s lengthy philosophical or scholarly works. While not
all of the many essays or articles that mentioned Freud, Beauvoir, or Kinsey
promoted or supported their ideas, even the writers who contested or even
rejected them indicate how pervasive their ideas had become. Finally, even
when not directly addressing their ideas, theories, or studies, the writings
about men, women, and children in this era were steeped in the language of
Freud, Beauvoir, and Kinsey. However, before moving fully into the modern,
France still had to complete its break with the “premodern,” the years up to
and through the war.

From Post–​World War II to the Era of Decolonization

Although by the early 1950s, articles contrasting France’s situation to the
war years featured less prominently in the press and women’s magazines, the
war’s aftereffects continued to reverberate through people’s lives. One publi-
cation that clearly reveals the war’s importance to people’s personal lives, the

Forces of Change      •      33

popular women’s magazine Confidences, included a rubric called “Comment

vous-​êtes vous connus?” (How did you meet). Confidences invited readers to
send in the story of how they met the love of their lives. Many of those stories
continued to have strong links to the war, hardly surprising since many young
married couples in the early 1950s were likely to have met their spouses dur-
ing the war, sometimes, as in a story published in 1953, in dramatic fashion.
This woman’s future husband, wounded while fighting in a local resistance
group (the maquis) during the Liberation, collapsed after banging on her
front door. She took him in and nursed him back from the brink of death.
Naturally, they fell in love.10
Reports on families appearing in the courts also continued into the mid-​
1950s to include frequent references to situations arising from the war. In
the Paris region, for example, social workers noted many fathers who had
been POWs. In one particularly sad case, the POW father committed sui-
cide after his return; in another, the mother had abandoned the family while
the father was in captivity. Another mother had died in labor in 1940. Her
husband, repatriated in August 1940, contracted tuberculosis.11 One father
left to join de Gaulle’s forces.12 There were many cases of families who had been
forced to evacuate from regions that experienced heavy allied bombing.13 Not
infrequently, social workers heard allegations, in families where the father
had been absent during the war, that mothers had extramarital relationships
while their husbands were away during the war. Such allegations, impossible
to verify, often additionally asserted that the mothers had slept with German
soldiers or, after the Liberation, with American soldiers.14 One boy’s father
had joined the Organisation Todt, a large-​scale construction group that built
roads, factories, and fortifications in Nazi German using foreign workers,
POWs, and even concentration camp inmates. The father left for Germany
in 1943 and never returned; another father, a rail worker in the Resistance,
had been denounced by his wife and subsequently killed by the Milice, the
collaborationist paramilitary force; another boy’s father was shot by the
Germans in 1944.15 There were juveniles whose parents had been deported
to Dachau, or who had gone into hiding to escape deportation, or who were
concentration camp survivors. One couple met in a concentration camp and
married after the war.16 Finally, there were a few cases of parents, fathers usu-
ally, detained after the war for collaboration.17
However, references in these reports to wartime episodes that caused fam-
ily upheaval declined as the decade progressed, and very few appeared after
1955. On the other hand, a rising and very clear trend was the increasing
impact of the decolonization wars, the war in Indochina early in the decade

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•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

and, of course, the “events in Algeria” later in the decade. Case files include
frequent references to older brothers fulfilling their military service. Social
workers often noted older brothers serving in Indochina, in the colonial
infantry, in the navy, or in the Foreign Legion. In some cases older brothers
died in combat.18 One minor had a brother serving in the army and a sister
engaged to “an Indochinese.”19 Interestingly, in a few cases, one way of resolv-
ing the minor’s situation that satisfied some judges was for the delinquent
minor to agree to join the military (cases mentioned the colonial infantry,
the navy, the colonial army, and the Foreign Legion).20 Later in the decade,
Algerian connections became more prominent in the case files. In one case,
an Algerian family sent their teenaged son to live with an uncle in Paris,
“owing to the events in Algeria.”21 There are also many cases of families who
had lived in Algeria.22
Connections between families in France and the era’s wars of decoloni-
zation featured regularly in the juvenile case files. The French mainstream
media, newspapers, and journals and other media were attentive, and schol-
arly publications clearly focused on the Indochina and Algerian wars. But in
the 1950s, the theme did not often appear in women’s magazines. Another
topic about which women’s magazines mostly remained silent, racial stereo-
types, was also prominent in the era’s court case files.
Ideas about race included both longstanding popular prejudice and
scholarly writing about racial differences. Social workers and other inves-
tigators in the juvenile courts clearly absorbed both popular prejudice
and ideas derived from the era’s scholarship on race. Juvenile court cases
involved minors from a wide variety of ethnic and national backgrounds,
providing a revealing window onto the strongly racial vision of humanity
held by the adults involved in the system. One report described a boy as
“nonchalant like most Algerians.” 23 While they found that he responded
willingly to their questions, they noted his “lack of precision, due to his
North African nature rather than to any real ill will on his part.”24 The
court files in the Bouches-​du-​R hône, the Marseilles region, had the larg-
est number of people from other parts of the world, and investigators
there expressed strong racial prejudice. One eleven-​year-​old Algerian boy
was described as a “true little savage.” In another report the social worker
described the “ethnic tattoos” on a minor’s left forearm. 25 A social worker
described the minor’s lodging as a gourbi (a North African word for shack)
and said of the mother that she had never adapted to “French standards
and customs,” instead maintaining the traditions and customs of her
country. Another Algerian boy was said to be part of “a gang of Arabs.”

Forces of Change      •      35

One interesting case, a boy whose father was Muslim, was described as a
“young half-​breed Eurafrican of the Algerian type.” A  report described
another boy as a “North African type” who spent so much time with the
“little Arabs of the neighborhood” that he was the only one in his other-
wise assimilated family able to speak Arabic. 26
Uncivilized, a bit frightening, not terribly open, and uncaring (noncha-
lant) were the adjectives applied to North Africans. A different set of stereo-
types emerged in the case of a boy from Cameroon, who arrived in France in
1950 and resisted the social worker’s recommendation that he be repatriated.
The social worker described him as kind, polite, clean, and easygoing, with a
“perpetual smile.” In fact, the director of the center where he had been sent
awaiting disposition of his case noted that by dint of insisting on behaving
properly, “he has become pretentious.” The director attributed his behavior to
a “compensation complex of racial origins.” The perpetually childlike, smil-
ing African, intent on behaving correctly, could not win this battle of racial
One advice columnist, Marcelle Ségal, who during the war had experi-
enced persecution as a Jew, pushed back against racism in general. A young
woman named Manuella wrote Ségal explaining that she was adopted and
had no information about her biological parents. Apparently one of her
friends, in order, she wrote, “to turn the man I love against me,” had spread a
rumor that “I must have black blood in my veins.” Apparently her love inter-
est’s mother had been murdered by a black man, something he had never for-
given. Ségal responded first that the young man would be wrong to hold all
black people responsible for a crime committed by one in particular because,
should he adopt that kind of accounting, “blacks have a first-​rate score to set-
tle with us. He should reflect on the slave trade, lynchings.” Ségal understood
Manuella’s suffering for not knowing about her background but suggested,
at least, that she “take advantage of it to tailor yourself one that fits: Latin,
Scandinavian, or, better yet, black, depending on what the situation calls for!
Do not listen to the absurd remarks of your ‘friend.’ ”28
Lest we think the people involved in juvenile justice only harbored ste-
reotypes about non-​Europeans, case files also clarify that there were plenty of
stereotypes to go around about other Europeans—​Italians, Poles, Slavs. The
parents of one boy in the Paris region had emigrated from Russia, and while
the father was described as very Russian, the mother was praised as “evolved.”
In Marseilles, one boy’s mother was described as the “typical Slavic woman”
who had never adapted to French standards (moeurs). Companies in the Lille
region housed many Polish and Italian workers in barracks style camps. The

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investigator described one boy’s Polish mother as Slavic, to explain all the
things “Latins” found “undecipherable and unexpected” about her.29
Roma families also appeared in the files. Some parents expressed con-
cern that their daughters were spending time with Roma. One minor was
from a Roma family, a “gypsy household” described by the social workers as
dirty and neglected. However, the social worker noted that in her own way
the mother loved her children, and the child was eventually returned to the
Racism permeated the attitudes expressed both by the social workers
and other investigators and by the teachers, neighbors, and employers they
interviewed about the situation. However, as was also true during the war,
racist attitudes were not decisive, and in fact hardly played a role at all, in
determining the recommended course of action regarding the minor. As dur-
ing the war, investigators only rarely recommended removing children from
families or parents, even those judged to be “not very evolved”(peu evoluée).31
Institutionalization was recommended in only serious cases, often when one
of the parties, the minor and/​or the parents, favored it. The focus remained
on what might be termed the best interest of the child. Did the family love
and care for the child, even if the family did not meet cleanliness or cultural
standards of social workers or judges?
While much was published by academic journals and presses and in
broader circulation dailies about the topics of race, “scientific” demogra-
phy, and immigration, articles explicitly about such topics were not com-
mon in women’s magazines.32 Dominque Veillon, in Nous les enfants,
describes how in the public schools children of different ethnic back-
grounds were clearly made to feel second class.33 Given the attitudes social
workers expressed, it is not hard to imagine schoolteachers, parents, and
other French children sharing and expressing such racial prejudices openly.
Even with the revelations after the war of the horrors perpetrated in the
name of Nazi anti-​Semitism, the Gaullist myth allowed the French public
to avoid coming to terms with its own racism, which was only perpetuated,
if not deepened, by the conflicts associated with the loss of empire. The
wars of decolonization, especially the Algerian war, clearly demonstrated
the failure and inadequacy of France’s so-​called civilizing mission and of
its attempt to make Algeria an integral part of France. The decoloniza-
tion wars affected families more often than one might expect and strongly
colored French society’s attitudes toward people from those parts of the
world. However, for those involved in juvenile courts, the intense focus on
the best interest of the child, whatever the family’s ethnic or national or

Forces of Change      •      37

religious background might have been, limited the impact of racial preju-
dice on decisions regarding the minors.

The Modern Family in an Era of Rising Affluence

Many twenty-​first-​century scholars, looking back at the 1950s, have rightly
described ideas about the family in France during the 1950s as ultra-​traditional.34
From our contemporary vantage point many cultural, social, and political
forces acted to limit change, such as conservative population and family poli-
cies, as well as the era’s severe economic pressures and the continued, if dwin-
dling, power of the Catholic Church.35 Some 90 percent of the French public
continued to identify as Catholic. But church attendance was beginning its
slow and steady decline. Furthermore, editorials and other writings from the
1950s bubbled with a clear sense of newness that differed from the tone of
the immediate post Liberation period. Publications through the late 1940s
continued to look back and responded to the war’s disruptions. By the 1950s,
France was putting the pieces back together. Beyond rebuilding, France had
begun to move ahead. Magazines, advice columns, advertising, and popular
literature expressed the idea of rupture, of modernity.
Affluence and consumerism were clearly on the rise after World War II.36
Promoted by the popular press, women’s magazines, architects, urbanists,
economists, and even feminists, consumerism and the related goods were
powerfully present in the culture long before most people in France had
the resources to gain access to them. As early as 1952, an article by Daisy
de Gourcuff reported the results of a survey by Elle on domestic arts, cel-
ebrating new domestic appliances as no longer limited to “little practical con-
traptions” (des petits trucs pratiques) for making mayonnaise and impressing
friends but objects whose goal was to make life more comfortable. In 1952,
Gourcuff admitted that such goods still represented an unaffordable luxury
for most families.37 She pointed out that only four lodgings per one thou-
sand (0.4 percent) were “provided with all conveniences,” by which she meant
indoor plumbing, gas, and electricity. But, Gourcuff insisted, even if they did
not yet have the infrastructure in place, most families wanted the new domes-
tic appliances. When asked what they most wanted, 40  percent of women
questioned selected a “kitchen unit,” 75 percent listed a shower, and, topping
the list, fully 100 percent of the respondents wanted a washing machine.38
Many families may have wanted washing machines and cook stoves, but
how many of them could afford such expensive items? Court case reports

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make abundantly clear the huge role played in family finances during the
baby boom years by France’s financial incentives for having children. Starting
in the interwar years, the French government had gradually adopted poli-
cies aimed at encouraging couples to have more children, pronatalist policies
aimed at encouraging births, and familialist ones encouraging marriage and
incentivizing mothers to stay at home. These efforts culminated in the Family
Code, adopted in July 1939. Vichy intensified the policies, propaganda, and
restrictions on divorce and increased and imposed harsh penalties for abor-
tion. After the Liberation, Vichy’s most extreme elements were rescinded, but
most family policies were rescued and relinked to their Republican origins.
After 1945, family policies and benefits constituted the foundation of
France’s growing welfare state. The importance of these policies in rising lev-
els of affluence across income groups cannot be overstated, although demog-
raphers have not agreed on whether pronatalist polices alone led to the baby
boom (which after all happened in all Western nations after the Second
World War). Maternity benefits, birth bonuses, and Family Allowances
infused resources into families with two or more children, making a signifi-
cant impact on family income. Juvenile court reports included, in nearly every
case, information about family income and expenses. In most cases salaries
and Family Allowances were listed separately, although in some cases only a
total was listed without separating out Family Allowances. Still, case reports
proved highly instructive about income and the general standard of living,
particularly for poor and working-​class families with children. Information
from case reports in the greater Paris area revealed that in the 1950s for very
large families, meaning seven or more children, Family Allowance sums
exceeded earned income. In several cases, the allowances were double, and in
one case nearly triple, the father’s salary. With fewer children, allowances did
not exceed earned income, but they contributed significantly to the family’s
overall revenues.39
Whether or not Family Allowances caused France’s baby boom, they
clearly played a major role in redistributing wealth from childless families
to families with children and raised the standard of living for families at the
low end of the social scale. Improved living standards eventually gave families
from a much wider range of social backgrounds access to consumer goods,
something Christine Rochefort’s novel Les Petits enfants du siècle expressed
ironically. One character, Paulette Mauvin, whose large family already owned
a car, a mixer, and a new carpet, tapped on her pregnant belly and proclaimed,
“And my Frigidaire is here!”40 Clearly given the real expenses involved in rais-
ing children, Rochefort’s portrayal exaggerated the reality. The additional

Forces of Change      •      39

revenues were substantial but early on were more likely to improve basic liv-
ing standards. Still, Rochefort was on to something. Subsidizing income,
beyond ensuring minimum basic needs, also left families with more discre-
tionary income to spend on consumer durables.
However, desire for new household appliances and the income to pur-
chase them would not have been enough without the massive construction
of low-​income housing, which resulted in the nearly universal spread of
amenities like electricity and indoor plumbing. Thus housing represented
an additional critical factor in the 1950s. After focusing strictly on rebuild-
ing France’s transportation and industrial infrastructure in the late 1940s,
in 1952 the government finally turned its attention to the massive housing
shortage, already a problem before the war, multiplied by the war’s massive
destruction of housing stock. Under the 1952 plan to address the substan-
tial continuing shortage of housing, the government began building a huge
number of moderate-​rent public housing units (habitations à loyer moderé,
or HLMs), three hundred thousand housing units a year by the end of the
1950s.41 The new housing was required to provide a basic level of what the
French call “comfort,” meaning indoor plumbing, electricity, and heating.
Increasingly, comfort was conceptualized as a basic right. Slowly over the
decade, the growing availability of low-​cost public housing with modern
amenities significantly raised the standard of living in France in the 1950s.42
Juvenile case reports’ descriptions of housing began to reflect this massive
building program. B’s family lived in the region near Lille, in an apartment
that was “part of a group of so-​called ‘Modest Rent Housing,’ ” built in 1955.
According to the report, each building had two two-​story lodgings back to
back, with independent entrances. “The exterior appearance is stylish and
pleasant. A  small garden with flowers” separated the house from the road.
Nearby was a wooded area of several hectares. Inside, the lodging had five
rooms, a kitchen, a combined living-​dining area, and three bedrooms for the
family of four.43 The description contrasts sharply with the continued crowd-
ing in the late 1940s of large families into tiny and decrepit living spaces,
barracks, and, buildings damaged during the war. By the 1950s, new housing
in the Nord had grown to the point that most case reports simply referred to
a particular model number to convey floor plan and number of rooms; an F3,
for example, indicated an F floor plan with three rooms.
Eventually, much of the rapidly built public housing of the 1950s and
early 1960s deteriorated, given the incentives to build large structures
with small units using cheap materials on inexpensive land far from tran-
sit, schools, or shops. In fact, urban sociologist Paul-​Henry Chombart de

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Lauwe had sounded the alarm already by the mid-​1950s, decrying the stark,
unwelcoming apartment blocks, the designers’ goal of reshaping popu-
lar habits rather than taking such things as the desire for eat-​in kitchens
into account, and the complete lack of input from those for whom the new
housing was built.44 Nevertheless, in the 1950s for many families previously
squatting in bombed-​out buildings, crammed into shacks or barracks or tiny
apartments in dilapidated old buildings with no amenities, the new housing
represented a huge improvement in comfort and space, ensuring a minimal
level of amenities.45
In another sign that rising affluence had finally begun to trickle down
by the mid-​1950s, some working-​class families, particularly outside of Paris,
were even able to purchase an automobile. One social worker noted that the
B family, Polish immigrants living in an HLM in the Nord, had purchased
an “automobile car, front wheel drive, two horsepower.” The P family in the
Marseilles area was described as having raised itself to the middle class by dint
of the father’s “assiduous and courageous work effort.” That, combined with the
“mother’s housekeeping abilities,” resulted in the family living “very comfort-
ably.” By 1958, not only did they have all domestic conveniences including a
television, but in the true signal of its having arrived, the family had recently
purchased a car (a Dauphine).46 Few references to families owning automobiles
appeared in Paris-​area case files, which is hardly surprising given the availability
of public transit and the expense and difficulty of having a car in such a densely
populated city. In any case, families possessing cars were noteworthy in the
1950s. Indeed, only 21 percent of all French households owned an automobile
in 1953.47
By the late 1950s, women’s magazines trumpeted France’s improved
material circumstances. To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, a Marie-​
Claire retrospective contrasted 1957 to 1937. Marcelle Auclair argued
that what had changed most dramatically for women was not how they
dressed, but their kitchens. In 1937, most families did not have double
sinks, hot running water, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, coffee grind-
ers, electric mixers, or washing machines. Kitchens in 1937 were dark,
drab, and poorly ventilated. Auclair concluded, “Praise the Lord, bless
the thousands of engineers and workers” who created all this. Life was
easier and simpler now, and this, she insisted, “is progress.”48 This issue
of Marie-​Claire also included an article looking ahead to the kitchen of
2000, envisioning buttons a person could push to order groceries, robots
to prepare the meals, and a final button to push that would be labeled sim-
ply “Madame is served.”49

Forces of Change      •      41

This 1957 advertisement shows a refrigerator with a radio in the door, next to a woman
dancing with joy. The text boasts that the appliance is “something even Americans do
not have.”
Radio-​Frigo, Philips Corporation /​Photograph by Harald Haefker Ad Collection

Also in 1957, an advertisement appeared in Marie-​Claire for a product

called a Radiofrigo. The ad bragged that even America did not yet have
the miracle of Philips’s latest wonder, a refrigerator with a built-​in radio.50
By 1959, L’Ecole et la famille¸ a monthly review addressed to professionals

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in home economics, remarked in an editorial that a student hiking in the

mountains had been shocked to come upon a home without electricity. The
editorialist imagined the student writing to friend: “You’ll never believe what
I saw in the mountains yesterday. No, not a volcano … a home without elec-
tricity! I stood there dumbfounded.” The student simply could not imagine
that in 1959 France, “a country so rich in electricity,” people in some corners
still lived without electricity.”51
Also dumbfounded was the American visitor used to paying with his
American dollars while in France. Jean Vernueil, in “La France aussi riche que
les Français,” (“A France as rich as the French”), bragged that an American
in Paris had been shocked when a hotel porter refused to take his American
dollars, recommending that he visit a nearby bank to change his money. For
the first time in twenty years, Vernueil pointed out, the dollar was worth less
on the black market than on the official exchange. He took this to signal the
revolution underway. “France, not the United States, could become the rich-
est country in the world!”52
Thus the 1950s, the pivotal decade in France’s Thirty Glorious Years, wit-
nessed rising affluence and the slow and steady extension of basic amenities
like running water, gas, and electric power to most corners of France. Utilities
made possible a host of appliances, from the practical (cook stoves, ovens,
washing machines) to the entertaining (radios and, by the end of the decade,
televisions). In 1948, Hélène Gordon-​Lazareff wrote about her return visit
to New York, where she had lived and worked during the war, reporting not
only her surprise at the number of women wearing French designer Christian
Dior’s New Look dresses but also her amazement about “the most fascinat-
ing, and the newest, pastime:  the television.” Already there were over one
million television “fanatics” and 122,000 television sets in American homes
and cafés, even though a television cost about 50,000 francs.53 Two years
later the newest thing had begun to arrive in France. By 1950, there were
37,000 television sets in France, a number that jumped by 1959 to 1,368,145.
That figure still only represented about 13 percent of all French households,
although many families had access to television broadcasts either via family
or friends or at local cafés where they could go and watch soccer matches or
the Tour de France.54

Psycho-​Babble, Feminism, and Sex

The sense of modernity and newness was clearly linked in part to higher
incomes, wider access to appliances, and increased leisure time. Popular

Forces of Change      •      43

novels, guidebooks, advice columns, women’s magazines, Constellation,

radio broadcasts, and films explored how modernity was reshaping peo-
ple’s emotional lives as well. Freud, Beauvoir, and Kinsey had become
deeply embedded in 1950s popular culture in ways that made their ideas
accessible to more and more people. These schools of thought thus began
to influence ideas about family, marriage, and childrearing, and eventually
they began to change how people thought about themselves. Their writ-
ings, popularized broadly, pushed against blind conformity to rigid social
expectations and norms, exploding the foundations those expectations
rested on while valorizing the individual as a repository of deep needs and
desires who should be free to make choices rather than being constrained
by unscientific notions about things like gender. The reshaping of identity
and new vision of the self began as early as the 1950s to profoundly alter
expectations about love, sex and marriage, parenting, and children and
To start with Freud, while he was not the first, he was the most influ-
ential thinker at the turn of the twentieth century to explore realms of the
mind below the conscious level. He posited that elements residing in what
he termed our unconscious (often referred to in English as the “subcon-
scious”), resulting from interactions and experiences dating back to birth as
well as innate human drives, powerfully shaped our conscious mental state,
our behavior, and our relationships with others. Freud advanced the idea
that every person has certain innate drives. The most controversial drive,
the one most often associated with Freud, the libido, represented the human
sexual drive. Rejecting the Christian moral view linking it to original sin,
Freud considered the libido a fundamental, innate drive all humans shared.
Freud also theorized a universal series of stages from infancy and childhood
through adolescence, shaped by early childhood experiences, drives, and the
demands of civilization. For example, children pass through an oral phase
linked to nursing and an anal phase linked to toilet training.
Finally, Freud wrote about a series of “complexes”—​the Oedipus complex,
for example—​that developed in relation to the primary caregivers. Problems
at any of these phases could cause emotional development to stall. To explain
the interactions between the unconscious and conscious mind, Freud devel-
oped a model of the human mind as divided into three levels, the “id,” from
the Latin word for “it,” was where the primitive, pre-​civilized, animal urges
and drives for pleasure or violence resided. The ego, or “I,” was the conscious
level, the person we think of as ourselves, which responds both to outsiders
like parents and teachers and to the id’s drives. Finally, the superego represents

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an accretion of ideas, drives, and inhibitions shaped by parental and social

training that delineate between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. The
superego acts on both the id and the ego and can induce a sense of guilt.
Freud’s theories were a part of his system for treating people who mani-
fested mental illnesses or disorders. The process of psychoanalysis assisted
patients in bringing certain subconscious elements to the surface, revisiting
and interpreting early childhood experiences through a lengthy process of
regular sessions with a trained psychoanalyst. By the time he died in 1939,
Freud had become an international figure. However, different countries
responded differently to Freud. France, home to the renowned Jean-​Martin
Charcot, with whom Freud himself trained, remained resistant to Freud’s
ideas in the early years of the twentieth century.55 With the Great War as
a turning point, Freudian psychoanalysis finally developed an institutional
following in certain circles in France. Paris became a center of psychoana-
lytical thought, with Freud himself approving the creation in 1926 of the
Psychoanalytical Society of Paris.
The French Freudians, a group notorious for a series of schisms starting in
the 1950s, eventually fell under the sway of Jacques Lacan.56 Psychoanalysis
had become widely accepted in various elite circles by the 1950s, even if
Freud’s methods never dominated the treatment of mental disorders in
France.57 Freudian therapeutic methods, which required extensive, long-​
term, and expensive treatment, remained limited to urban, elite circles.
Still, regardless of the limits of Freudian psychoanalytical practice, a wide
and growing number of popular sources disseminated a generally Freudian
approach to the child and to the self to a broad audience.
In France, two key people, both trained in Freudian methods, extended
Freudian approaches to children and family life. Rather than considering
childhood as a phase of life that adults recall through the process of analysis,
they published studies that applied Freud’s ideas to understanding and treat-
ing children while they were children. Between the wars, Sophie Morgenstern,
a Polish-​Jewish immigrant to France, worked with Georges Heuyer, one of
the world’s leading pediatric neuropsychiatrists.58 Morgenstern pioneered
the analysis of children’s drawings as a diagnostic and therapeutic method,
publishing an article in 1927 and a book on the topic in 1932.59 Tragically,
Morgenstern committed suicide on June 16, 1940, as the German army
entered Paris.
While at Dr.  Heuyer’s clinic, Morgenstern encountered an incoming
young clinician, Françoise Marette, who had undergone psychoanalysis her-
self after completing a diploma in nursing. In 1939, Marette, better known by

Forces of Change      •      45

her married name Dolto (in 1942 she married Boris Dolto, a rheumatologist
and founder of the French School of Orthopedics and Massage), completed
and published her doctoral thesis under the title Psychanalyse et pédiatrie
(Psychoanalysis and pediatrics) with a revised edition published in 1961.60
Dolto ran a free children’s psychiatric clinic at a Paris hospital from 1940 to
1978.61 Although Freudian treatment methods were rarely used for children
in France, Edith Kurzweil, in her study The Freudians, found that psycho-
analysis had “permeated every aspect of modern culture.”62 Regardless of the
internecine struggles inside Freudian circles and the limited practice of psy-
choanalysis, Freud’s grand vision of the human mind spread far beyond those
boundaries. In France, the broader public gained ever greater familiarity with
Freud’s theories, through several key vectors.
In 1950, Françoise Dolto published an inexpensive book aimed at a broad
audience, Problèmes de petit enfance (Problems of early childhood). The book
was part of a series of books aimed at the general public sponsored by a key
institution, the Ecole des Parents. This organization, founded in 1929 by
educator Marguerite Lebrun-​Vérine, worked to promote activities destined
to “spread improved knowledge about the child and about the family and its
educational realities among parents and educators.”63 The Ecole des Parents,
part of an impulse to provide “popular education,” worked to teach parents
and educators “the main principles of emotional development.”64
By the 1950s, the Ecole des Parents had become a formidable institution,
contributing to public discussion, strongly colored by Freudian ideas, of the
family, parenting, and child development. In addition to a scholarly periodi-
cal, L’Ecole des parents et des éducateurs, and a quarterly magazine, Le groupe
familiale, both of which published research papers in psychology and sociol-
ogy linked to conferences and courses offered at the Paris Medical School,
the organization also sponsored a series of books on the family and by the
late 1950s issued a series of illustrated pamphlets. In 1961, the British physi-
cian Arthur Dalzell-​Ward described a typical pamphlet, “L’Enfant nerveux”
(The nervous child), as having ten pages of text aimed at an “intelligent and
educated reader.” According to Dalzell-​Wald, the pamphlet provided a “lucid
diagnostic account of the highly-​strung child, including a classification of the
principal causes and suggested remedies.” Dalzell-​Ward explained that the
pamphlet was most likely intended as a complement to group discussions. He
described the Ecole des Parents as “a channel of communication between the
University, official agencies and the public,” one that made extensive use of
mass media in ways that influenced French public opinion about “the prob-
lems of emotional maturity.”65 In many cities across France, the Ecole des

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Parents hosted what they called “parent circles” where parents and experts
could meet and discuss issues and concerns. The Ecole des Parents served as a
key vector in disseminating a psychological approach to parenting and child-
hood development. It also inculcated a new way of thinking about being a
Eventually, in the 1970s, leading Freudian Françoise Dolto herself became
a well-​known media personality. From 1976 to 1987 Dolto answered letters
as the resident psychoanalyst on a France-​Inter radio broadcast, When the
Baby Arrives. Whether or not people were reading Freud, Morgenstern, and
Dolto or taking part in parents’ circles, generally Freudian concepts and an
orientation infused with psychological language penetrated not just high lit-
erature, medical and psychiatric circles, film, theater, and fine art but also
popular sources, child-​rearing books, popular magazines, and most espe-
cially the social welfare approach of the newly expanding French welfare
state. Social workers investigating minors for the courts did not undertake
Freudian psychoanalysis of their subjects. They did on occasion recommend
sending a particularly troubled minor for serious psychological treatment to
a medical-​pedagogical institute, or IMP. More notably, Freudian terms and
psychological concepts were liberally sprinkled both throughout popular lit-
erature and case reports, something not apparent in the 1940s.
For example, in his Guide du chef de famille (Guide for the head of the
family), published in 1950, Jean-​A lexis Néret wrote about the family as an
educational milieu. Néret explained to his readers that a child has an alterna-
tive, inner life, “of conflicting desires and capricious movements.” A child’s
internal state was, to Néret, “living anarchy.” Parents needed to help their
children learn to organize their internal lives and to control their impulses.
To truly understand and raise a child, Néret concluded, “Knowledge of his
psychology is necessary.”66
Such ideas appeared also by the 1950s in social workers’ case reports.
Many social workers were likely to have been exposed to such ideas in the
texts they used, such as Jean-​Félix Nouvel’s Psychologie pratique à l’usage
des élèves assistantes sociales (Practical psychology for social work students),
published in 1946. Such texts, which advocated a shift in orientation from
a medical to a more psychiatric orientation, would have been adopted in the
relatively new schools created to train social workers.67 Groups of activists and
social reformers had begun opening such schools starting in 1909 and con-
tinuing through the interwar period. Social work’s legitimacy was elevated
by the creation in 1938 of a new state-​certified diploma (Diplôme d’Etat)
in social work.68 While the social work curriculum in the first year shared

Forces of Change      •      47

coursework with nursing, already the field of social work had begun shifting
from a medical-​social to a psychosocial orientation, a trend in full bloom by
the 1950s. Nouvel’s text strongly supported that trend. He included a general
discussion of psychology and an overview of Freud’s theories and methods of
investigating the child’s “deep inner life.” The text is infused with Freudian
concepts, “the self” and the constitution of personality, with sections on the
inferiority complex and on “self-​mastery.”69
By the 1950s, psychological language also regularly appeared in the juve-
nile case files. In Paris, S, a teenaged boy accused of stealing a candy machine
and its contents (1958), was described as having a weak personality and an
infantile attachment to his mother “in a narcissistic mode.” 70

There was Feminism in the 1950s? Really?

In a second novelty of the 1950s, linked to Beauvoir, feminism appeared
with ever increasing frequency in writings about gender and family life in
the 1950s. In fact, many contemporaries viewed women’s lives in the 1950s
as the triumph of feminism.71 The sense that something new and different
for women had taken hold inspired Prigent in 1953 to list the liberation of
women as one of the three most critical changes in family life in the previous
two hundred years. Quite a few articles and guidebooks examined the rela-
tive power relationship between husbands and wives. Néret’s 1950 guide to
family life, for example, claimed that the wife’s duty of obedience to her hus-
band under article 231 of the Civil Code “has been deleted from the laws.” 72
Thus the husband’s right to authority had become “completely relative.” The
father’s authority had to be exercised in the interest of the household and chil-
dren. And, he noted, the wife “cooperates with him in the moral and mate-
rial leadership of the family.” 73 Shortly after the war, for example, Boigelot
revised his book for future husbands, adding a section that addressed the
issue of “authoritarian women.” This idea appeared with increasing frequency
in the 1950s.
Fears about emancipated women were hardly new. In fact, from the fin de
siècle on, the term “new woman” summarized what some heralded and oth-
ers feared, the liberated women. In the 1920s, the new woman reappeared,
young, single, independent. In France, these young women were called
“garçonnes.” 74 In the 1950s, however, contemporaries no longer praised or
condemned the “new woman.” Instead, they directed their attention to the
“modern woman.” Hubert’s article about the French population, published

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in 1950, warned about “the modern woman” who “in general refuses to have
more than one or two children.” Huber’s fear was clearly misplaced in 1950,
in the middle of a massive baby boom, a period when many French families
were having more than one or two children. Still, interestingly, rather than
pointing the finger at selfish women, Hubert attributed the modern woman’s
desire to limit children to fears brought about by the increasing divorce rates.
He explained that many wives worried about having more than one or two
children when they “do not feel sure that they can always count, throughout
their lives, on a husband’s support to raise their children.” 75

The Modern Woman of the 1950s

In a 1951 issue of Elle, Pierre Lazareff, the founder of France-​Soir and hus-
band of Elle’s editorial director, Hélène Gordon-​Lazareff, wrote about the
history of women in journalism. He lamented the fact that women held only
731 of the 6,614 press-​credential cards and sketched a brief history of notable
female journalists, including Madame de Sevigné in the seventeenth century,
Marguerite Durand in the nineteenth century, and his contemporary Andrée
Viollis. Lazareff, himself married to a leading journalist, warned husbands
reading this article that journalism was “the last career they should let their
wives take up. A journalist has to live for his paper from sunrise to sunset, and
since a wife should also live for her husband from sunrise to sunset, and there
are only twenty-​four hours in a day, things don’t always work out so well.”
Moving beyond his tongue-​in-​cheek tone, Lazareff concluded, “If someone
asks me honestly which journalist of either sex I most admire, I always say
it’s my wife, and I promise you it’s not solely in the interest of domestic har-
mony.” He encouraged interested young women to pursue journalism careers
and suggested how they might get into the field.76
Most people still viewed only certain professions as appropriate for
women, but there was a strong awareness in France that many married women
worked outside the home. Illustrating the recognition of that reality, every
issue of Constellation included ads for schools that trained young women
for long lists of potentially exciting careers open to them. The new economy
also opened up new avenues for working-​class women (computer keypunch
operators, telephone operators). In addition to a heightened awareness of
women’s work outside the home, women’s sexuality also became a question
openly debated in the 1950s. In 1951, Marcelle Ségal, the advice columnist
for Elle, wrote a long response to a series of questions she had received from

Forces of Change      •      49

her readers about the “burning question” of “women’s sexual liberty.” Under
the subtitle “My Life is My Own,” Ségal argued that sexual mores were slowly
evolving, like a glacier that could neither be sped up nor stopped.77
Writers in the 1950s, in the popular press and women’s magazines,
acknowledged feminism, discussed the possibilities for women’s professional
ambitions, and inaugurated discussions about the question of women’s sexual
freedom. The expression of professional ambition and insistence on sexual
freedom not only reflected a feminist orientation. They also rested on an
existential vision of personal development that asserted choice over tradition,
something that undergirded Beauvoir’s feminism.
Together with Albert Camus and her partner, Jean-​Paul Sartre, Simone
de Beauvoir emerged as leading figure of French existentialism, a philoso-
phy focusing on the absurd condition of human existence. While it differed
greatly from Freudian theories, which posited irrational drives at the sub-
conscious level as shaping thought and behavior, existentialism, which rested
instead on a supremely rational mind, proved equally disruptive of the exist-
ing mental universe. The rational, existential mind, aware of its own absur-
dity, struggled to make sense, create purpose, choose actions.
Existentialism rejected religious answers to the fundamental questions
about the meaning of life. Having rejected the notion of an all-​powerful God
who created the world and imbued it with meaning, existentialists strug-
gled with a fundamental question; if there was no God, then what was the
meaning of life? In fact, existentialists provided no answer to this question,
insisting on the absence of meaning, the absurdity of human existence. If a
person could no longer rely on the teachings of a particular faith to imbue life
with meaning and dictate behavior, then existence becomes an end in itself.
Rather than giving in to despair, however, existentialists like Beauvoir and
Sartre argued that as humans with rational brains, individuals had a choice.
If God did not exist and religion could not answer the big questions, existen-
tialists insisted that each person determine what had meaning and then act
in accordance with those values. Conscious choice replaced blind adherence
to religious commandments.
Simone de Beauvoir not only developed existentialism; she turned her
existentialist eye to the analysis of women’s lives. In The Second Sex Beauvoir
posed a question—​“What is a woman?”—​then challenged the very question
she asked. To Beauvoir, that so many posed a question about women that
was unthinkable to ask about men indicated that man represented the “abso-
lute” human type and woman represented the “other.” Women, always mea-
sured against men, were thereby imprisoned by their biological peculiarities.

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“Humanity is male and men define woman not in herself but as relative to
him.” To contest that vision, Beauvoir explained in one of her most famous
statements, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” 78 In other
words, her existentialism illuminated the variety of constraints on women’s
lives, an entire set of religious, social, and cultural norms that dictated how
women should live their lives. Beauvoir rejected those constraints, in both
her personal life and her philosophy, insisting that not only men but women
too must free themselves from convention and make conscious choices about
their lives.
In 1955, Françoise Giroud, one of the founders of Elle, used the maga-
zine to explore feminism and existentialism. In “Femmes d’aujourd’hui”
(The women of today), Giroud used Beauvoir’s Second Sex as an analyti-
cal tool, lamenting the fact that women as objects were defined by their
husbands and not in their own terms.79 However, Giroud saw a revolu-
tion underway, not just among the few vocal feminists loudly demand-
ing equal rights but among the masses of women who were simply taking
them. Giroud outlined three categories of contemporary women: The first
was women happy to be objects, whose goal was to marry and whose only
desire was to please their husbands and raise children. The second and larg-
est group of women lived between two worlds, wanting both independence
and protection, total freedom and total security. They wanted children but
not to be tied down by them, to have a profession that did not demand
too much time. For such women Giroud had little patience. Giroud cel-
ebrated the third group, the one in ten women who understood that the
only true freedom is “that of choosing one’s life.” She did not limit free-
dom only to women who worked outside the home. Giroud insisted women
could marry, stay at home and raise children, and be truly “free (liberated)
women who know it” if they chose that role and decided that the home is
where they could best use their talents. Giroud concluded, “It would be fair
to say that they live like men.”80
The 1950s were hardly a progressive era in France. Overemphasizing
feminism and overlooking the strongly conservative aspects of the era would
distort the reality. By the end of the 1950s these authors were, so to speak,
rearranging the furniture, maybe undertaking some minor remodeling,
with no intention of building a new kind of a house. In a poll by a major
French polling organization conducted in 1957, 69  percent of the respon-
dents answered that for a woman the best option was to “devote herself to
her home.” However, nearly one in four, 24 percent, responded that a wom-
an’s best choice was to “have an activity outside the home.”81 Only in the late

Forces of Change      •      51

1960s did the rearranging and remodeling shift to starting to build a differ-
ent structure.
Thus postwar books, magazines, and even opinion polls exhibited a clear
undercurrent of openness to feminism and to new possibilities for women. In
contrast to Elle, aimed at a fairly urban, sophisticated audience interested in
international issues, Nous Deux appealed to a different, less elite readership,
low-​level office workers, sales clerks, and women who lived in rural and small-​
town France. Yet even Nous deux expressed a sense of profound changes in
women’s lives. In an article titled “Que nous réserve 1951?” (What 1951 has
in store for us), Nous deux interviewed a clairvoyant, Blanche Orion, so cel-
ebrated for her gift that “le tout Paris”—​people such celebrated author and
Goncourt prize winner Georges Duhamel and film star Jean Cocteau—​
consulted her for predictions. Blanche Orion, after mentioning global ten-
sions, new architectural trends, and intensive reconstruction in France,
insisted, “In general, and here in France in particular, the future belongs to
women.” Orion pointed out that women played increasingly important roles
in every domain, gaining ever more seats in the Assembly, where they would
have a moderating influence.82
Blanche Orion had met with women in North and South America and
affirmed without hesitation that “the French woman, in every social class,
is an exceptional being.” Why so exceptional? The French woman, Orion
averred, “will know at the same time how to preserve her role as spouse
and mother and to take up her role in the organization of society.” Women
would save France from the many dangers threatening the country. “No,
she will not overtake the men. … Here in France, she will not become
man’s rival. She is neither superior nor inferior; she is different. And in
many cases, she will complement him.” Given the serious problems France
faced, Orion reminded readers that at other key points in French history
women like Saint Geneviève and Joan of Arc had saved France. Thanks
to the women of today, Orion was sure that France would again recover
its equilibrium. A tall order here, Orion combined older notions of male-​
female complementarity with a tiny hint of something new, seats in the
National Assembly, where women would help France deal with the serious
problems it faced. 83
In the popular media, the modern woman of the 1950s represented only
one strand that stood apart from a generally conservative vision of woman-
hood. Contemporaries were sure more women were modern and liberated,
but they expressed anxiety about what that might mean for France. While
some feminists still paid homage to the notion that most women’s primary

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goal should be marriage and children, there was recognition of women who
played political and economic roles. Some feminist voices began contesting
the accepted ideas about female domesticity, insisting on the notion of choice
in ways linked to a Beauvoirian, existentialist paradigm.
In a sign that ideas about the “modern woman” had begun to seep into
broader circles, we see them reflected, perhaps only as shadows, in the case
files, as various investigators, including social workers, who were themselves
professional women, evaluated the mothers and adolescent girls they came
across. For example, the family of C was from a higher social class than most
families represented in juvenile court files. The social worker described the
mother as a “young, modern woman: simply dressed (not wearing a hat) with
a determined air.” Her professional life resulted in a neglected interior; the
children’s clothing was dirty and torn. Still the social workers did not infer a
lack of maternal love or caring. They recommended, and the judge agreed, to
leave the minor with his family.84
Along with the modern woman, existentialism also made a few appear-
ances in case files. For example, one seventeen-​year-​old boy, C, accused of
theft, reportedly spent time hanging around in the Latin Quarter. The
social worker noted, “He acts like the classic example of the decadent exis-
tentialist.” C described his theft, in existentialist fashion, as a “gratuitous
act” he had committed in his “struggle against ennui.”85 Though it appeared
two years after this case, in the new wave film Les tricheurs (The cheaters),
a main character, Alain, describes his theft of a record in just those terms,
as a gratuitous act.

Kinsey’s Report
More than the “modern woman” and even feminism, the most unsettling
challenge to traditional notions about men, women, and sex came from
across the Atlantic. Alfred Kinsey, trained as a biologist, had long rejected
biological classifications that posited ideal types of each species. His scientific
work emphasized variety, rather than assuming a norm and evaluating devia-
tions from that ideal. Where taxonomists provided ideal, platonic descrip-
tions, Kinsey found infinite variety, initially in the population of gall wasps.
Kinsey elaborated the full range of possibilities, constructing typologies.
While on the outside Kinsey’s life looked entirely conventional, his sexual
drives and the guilt they generated drove Kinsey to turn his attention to
human sexuality. Already an iconoclast in his scientific field, Kinsey turned

Forces of Change      •      53

his expertise and scientific approach to human sexuality, determined to use

the scientific method to knock down the edifice of sexual repression.86 Where
the Freudians posited irrational drives and the existentialists celebrated ratio-
nal thought, Kinsey applied rational thought and methodologies to studying
irrational urges and sexual desires and behaviors. As with wasps, Kinsey was
not interested in platonic ideals.
Broadly speaking, attitudes toward sex and sexuality in the 1940s and
1950s rested on several strongly held assumptions:  only heterosexual rela-
tions were normal; sexual intercourse was appropriate only between a man
and a woman who were married to each other; normal sexual intercourse
took place only in the missionary position. Kinsey did not want to study sup-
posedly “normal” sex but to discover the reality of actual sexual attraction
and behavior. To uncover that hidden, intimate reality, Kinsey conducted a
series of interviews with men and then women about their intimate sexual
lives. In the realm of human sex, Kinsey uncovered a wide variety of behav-
iors, attractions, and positions.87
Although the research subjects for his reports on male and female sexu-
ality were all American, French audiences understood the implications of
his work as it crossed the Atlantic. By uncovering high rates of what Kinsey
described as “sexual behavior which is outside the socially accepted pattern,”
including pre-​and extramarital sex, homosexuality, and even rare instances
of admitted bestiality, the Kinsey reports made clear the huge gap between
norms and behavior.88 Freud theorized sex as a fundamental human drive;
Kinsey went out and found it. Although both of Kinsey’s books were trans-
lated quickly, most ordinary French people would not have read his studies.
However, many people read or heard summaries of Kinsey’s studies via news-
papers, radio, or popular magazines.
In 1952, Clement Mareuil, in “Les tournants dangereux des fian-
çailles: Jusqu’où peut aller une jeune fille” (Engagement’s dangerous turn-
ing points:  how far can a young woman go), discussed the dilemma his
twenty-​year-​old niece faced. Her fiancé pressed her to “be his wife” even
though he wanted to postpone their wedding until after he had completed
his studies. Mareuil asked, given the high incidence of premarital sex cited
both in “Kinsey’s famous report” and a similar European study, whether
the old imperative of chastity still held. Mareuil described the women of
the day as more independent, more likely to earn their own living, having
more liberty. Still, based on a study of young men that revealed their con-
tinued preference for marrying virgins, Mareuil concluded that chastity
remained the best option for young women. Countering a young man’s

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egoism with “modesty and chastity” was the best way to get him to think
of marriage. 89 The following year, Constellation published an interview
with Eve Brown about her refusing a request by Kinsey’s team to take part
in his study, another example of the extent to which Kinsey’s reports had
entered the general discussion about sex and sexuality in France in the

Don’t Look Back
The war profoundly affected the lives of nearly every person in France, but
the 1950s were the pivotal decade in France’s evolution. French observers
of the contemporary scene shifted, looking forward, not back, no longer
worrying about the struggle to rebuild after three devastating decades, but
expressing pride in how far France had come, how modern it had become.
Changing material circumstances, French family policies and allowances,
the start of massive new housing projects, all these factors raised the stan-
dard of living across social classes. Alongside those material changes, the
popularization of Freud encouraged a psychological orientation and habit
of looking inward. Beauvoir’s feminism and existentialism challenged
deeply held norms about gender, women’s nature, and male-​female rela-
tions. Adding to the brew, Kinsey’s work destroyed assumptions about pri-
vate sexual behavior. In the 1950s, these changing assumptions impacted
attitudes toward courtship and marriage, family life and spousal relations,
parenting and child development.


In 1959, a young woman of twenty-​four wrote in Confidences about

her decision to return to her job after her baby was born. She and
her husband had been married two years, and they had even man-
aged to find “our very own little apartment,” which she considered
“almost a miracle.” Her husband worked for an airline company;
she was a secretary. While she was pregnant they had both assumed
she would stay at home after the baby arrived. Still, they struggled
to make ends meet, trying to pay for improvements like install-
ing a gas heater, a stove, and a shower, not to mention rent, food,
clothing, occasional evenings out, taxes, and summer vacations at
the shore—​“indispensable,” she insisted. “Now you understand
why I prefer to work. We live more widely . . . we can make future
plans.” At times she harbored a desire for a calmer life, for more
time with her daughter, but she confessed, “Working makes me
feel like I’m contributing to our household, which gives me a little
sense of pride.”1
In the 1950s then, changes in attitudes toward marriage, child-
hood, and parenting gathered speed, under the influence of Freud,
Beauvoir, and Kinsey. However, the Kinsey reports themselves
serve as a warning to those seeking to understand both social atti-
tudes and how real people lived their lives. Social expectations
define behaviors, determine social approval, and delineate the
boundaries of acceptable behavior. They shape legal and commu-
nal responses to actions. But they do not necessarily tell us what
ordinary people really thought, how people really lived, or what
they did in their bedrooms. As Kinsey hoped to show through his
studies, human behavior is almost infinitely varied.
Advice columnist Marcelle Ségal—​who had warned that, even
at a glacial pace, social mores were inexorably changing—​had not
foreseen how quickly those glaciers would melt.2 How did the more
psychological approach, the sense of a break that came with the new

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decade, the perception of greater freedom for women and children, reshape
views of gender for husbands and wives, mothers and fathers in the 1950s?

The 1944 Liberation, with its rejection of Vichy’s hyperconservative notions
about gender and family, together with the eventual return of POWs, deport-
ees, and laborers held by Germany, opened up new possibilities. By the late
1940s contemporaries had begun to reconceptualize marriage and spousal
relations. The overall vision of a “normal” family, the structural definition
of spousal roles, did not change. The father, the primary breadwinner, served
as the head of the household; the mother, preferably not working for wages,
cared for the home and the children. However, within that structure, by the
late 1940s articles, editorials, advice columns, and even social workers’ reports
pointed to a changing vision not of roles per se but of how those roles should
be played. The father had been viewed as a distant authority figure, fatherhood
as a position—​head of the household. After the war, fathers were portrayed as
more engaged in the daily emotional lives of their families and in particular
of their children. Fatherhood was becoming a relationship. Heightened appre-
ciation of domestic skills and of women’s ability to manage in and outside the
home, the recognition that many women had successfully run their families
while their husbands were absent or had joined the Resistance, led to a broader
acknowledgment of women’s abilities and possibilities.
This evolution continued in the 1950s. While husbands and wives, still
viewed as different by nature, fulfilled different roles in the family, in the
1950s observers and advisers began describing marriage in more egalitarian
terms. Françoise, a single-​named weekly columnist for Nous deux whose fea-
tures appeared on page one, addressed the topic of “harmony in marriage.”
She explained that good spousal relations required mutual understanding.
Each person has “his nature and his propensities that determine his manner
of living.” When living alone, “one has complete free will over one’s actions
and decisions, choosing how to live. But as soon as one is part of a com-
munity,” even a community of two, “one must take into consideration” the
opinions and tastes of the others. In particular, Françoise explained, “mar-
riage between two strong personalities … requires great flexibility and much
diplomacy.” Françoise accepted, in a nod to the 1950s concept of the “modern
woman,” that both spouses might have strong personalities. Without mutual
consideration, Françoise concluded, “a true union will never happen.”3

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      57

As the prisoners of war returned in 1945, mutual consideration really

meant the wife giving in to keep the peace.4 Did Françoise believe the same
thing a decade later? She accepted wives’ frequent complaints that husbands
could be selfish, but insisted that men were not entirely responsible for all
marital problems. Both sides, she insisted, must “accept making some sacri-
fices.” In earlier decades, a sentence like that would introduce the notion of
the wife’s mission to preserve her family, making her the primary bearer of
the duty to sacrifice for the good of the marriage. However, Françoise took
a slightly different approach, illustrating her point with the example of a
husband who loved sports married to a wife who did not. Every Sunday, he
left home to watch a soccer match. Vexed, the wife refused to go with him.
Françoise proposed a solution. “Why not alternate sports matches with excur-
sions and movie nights?” With a flourish, she admonished both her male and
her female readers:  “Women should stop always wanting to be right; men
should be more flexible and less stubborn. Taking the first step does not in
any way indicate a lack of self-​esteem.”5 The vision had changed, albeit per-
haps just a bit. Wives still had to give a little, do things they might not like,
but so did husbands.
One point was clear: marriage was still assumed to be the goal for nearly
all women. Auclair went so far as to say, in response to a reader’s questioning
if she ever thought or wrote about “women alone” ( femmes seules)—​single,
widowed or divorced—​that “the happiest of us would prefer a big crude hus-
band and a house full of unruly children to the small, quiet, orderly life that
horrifyingly resembles nothing so much as death.” Anything would be pref-
erable to such a “state of unfinished womanhood.” Beyond living a sad and
lonely life, a woman who waited too long for the perfect man could become “a
frigid woman, in short, physiologically and morally abnormal.” The concepts
of normality and concern about frigidity, just beginning to appear in the
1950s, were new ways of expressing an old idea, that women needed sex with
a man for their physical and mental well-​being and to become fully realized
women. Thus Auclair merged the older normative idea with the newer medi-
cal, psychological vision of the 1950s. Notwithstanding the new language,
Auclair, who in some editorials challenged accepted wisdom, could not have
been more conventional in this one.6 In an ultimate irony, in her personal life,
it was her husband’s threat of violence in front of mutual friends, a threat she
fully recognized was an empty one made to assert his masculinity, that finally
prompted Auclair to leave him in 1939.7
Some ideas about men, women, and family life remained embedded
in a traditional vision in the 1950s, while others began slowly changing.

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However, one key factor played an important role in shaping the conver-
sation in postwar France: the continuing strength of the political left. The
Communist Party, socialist party (SFIO), and labor movement remained vis-
ible and active. The vitality of France’s labor movement and left wing in gen-
eral allowed for perspectives linked in the United States with the red menace
and thus mostly silenced through the 1950s in America.8 In France during
the 1950s, voices on the left of the political spectrum emphatically raised and
challenged key specific aspects of women’s secondary status. In 1952, the larg-
est national labor movement, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT),
began publishing La revue des travailleuses. In 1955 the CGT launched a
newer, updated version, Antoinette.
While simpler and less glossy than Elle or Marie-​Claire, with only
black-​a nd-​white cover photos, for example, Antoinette used a similar for-
mat, aiming to attract its female readers with short stories, articles about
romance, recipes, sewing patterns, crossword puzzles, and cartoons and
games for children. However, in addition to the absence of paid advertis-
ing from its pages, Antoinette was also willing to criticize openly, directly,
and in very blunt language issues of sexual discrimination and inequality.
In its inaugural issue, Robert Sautereau, in “Quatre millions de femmes
veulent chanter cette vie là” (Four million women feel like screaming
about their lives), described how millions of women suffered from the
speed-​up of work rhythms, longer work days, and low salaries. Sautereau
quoted a recent report of the Institut National des Statistiques, which
found in 1954 that 55 percent of female workers earned less than twenty
thousand francs a month. Antoinette exposed and denounced real prob-
lems that working women faced. Its goal:  “May Antoinette help you to
overcome them with success.”9
Thus Antoinette pressed to improve conditions on the job and for true wage
equity for working women. In that same issue, Daniel Deschamps decried
the hardships of telephone operators at a phone center in Carcassonne, chas-
ing after the lights on a switchboard for hours on end, racing to meet the
phone company’s productivity requirements. The article included a table
headed “Equal work, unequal salary.” According to a 1955 report comparing
male and female salaries in clothing and hat making, while women’s salaries
ranged from 116.60 francs an hour at the low skill level to a high of 169.50,
men’s salaries ranged from 125.10 to 212.60 francs an hour. Antoinette
pointed out that women earned less at every level, in spite of the long struggle
at certain companies for equal wages and the July 1946 law mandating equal
pay for equal work. While directly challenging such gender discrimination,

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      59

Antoinette also included in the same issue an article on fashion, encouraging

its readers to be the “Woman of 1956.”10
At times Antoinette even voiced unconventional views on marriage.
Rather than debating whether women should choose divorce, for example,
Antoinette simply provided detailed legal advice for women considering a
divorce, starting with the allowable grounds for divorce, how to find a law-
yer, and how much a divorce would cost.11 In a 1959 issue, Madeleine Colin
accused the Common Market of trying to reduce women’s wages by sing-
ing the siren song of “returning women to the home” (la femme au foyer).
She noted the high percentage of married women who worked for wages in
France and provided a chart demonstrating that while French women on
average earned 92 percent of the average man’s salary, in Italy that figure was
81 percent, and in Germany women only earned 63 percent of men’s wages.
Unable to resist the stereotypes, the image showed a big, fat German woman
with long blond braids, wearing a dirndl and vest, strangling the symbol of
France, a rooster.12
Thus French women had a loud and brash advocate raising issues of gender
inequality, particularly in the workplace. Other voices also directly, if a bit
less pugnaciously, advocated women’s equality. Once women finally gained
the right to vote, rather than attempting to revive a mass feminist movement
akin to the suffrage era, French feminists in the 1950s turned their attention
to practical issues, advocating for access to birth control for example. They
succeeded in bringing about change, even if it happened more quietly and
behind the scenes.13

The Double Standard—​Adultery

Even in the wider popular press, some voices argued for modification of ideas
about spousal relations. Little highlights the relative power relations between
the sexes more than the double standard toward adultery in marriage, which
expresses deeply held ideas about gender and sexuality. Here the contrast
with the war years is stark. In the early 1940s, a clear and forceful party
line allowed little tolerance of dissent. During the Vichy years, women were
instructed in no uncertain terms that they should not end a marriage over a
husband’s adultery. Married men who strayed had merely given in to a natu-
ral appetite. The offense was not serious, because men can have sex without
emotional commitment. While wives were expected to indulge men’s philan-
dering, a wife’s adultery was intolerable, and women who wrote confessing

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to having strayed were soundly censured, although they were usually advised
to stop cheating and not tell their husbands so as not to destroy their mar-
riages. Wives who wrote in the 1940s for advice about how to respond to
their husbands’ adultery were repeatedly advised to consider how they might
have contributed to their husband’s wandering rather than breaking up their
marriages. In stark contrast, married women who confessed an extramarital
attraction and asked what to do were told in a clear and judgmental tone that
a wife’s adultery was an offense of an entirely different order of magnitude.
Women could not separate sex from emotional commitment. Thus even an
unfaithful thought on the wife’s part posed a serious threat to a marriage.14
With the massive return in 1945 of the prisoners of war and others who
had been away from home—​forced laborers, deportees, resisters who had left
France, and soldiers who fought in the final battles of the war—​anxieties
about family reunion muffled discussion of infidelity in cultural sources just
after the war. By the early 1950s, however, the topic had clearly been reopened
for discussion. The double standard that excused male adultery remained pow-
erful in the 1950s. To a woman who insisted she loved her husband and had
done all she could to “protect [her] home” (garder mon foyer) but who had
had enough of her husband’s flying from one woman to another and wanted
to divorce, “Confidentiellement” responded, “If you have nothing else to fault
your husband for but his infidelity, try to bring him back to his better senti-
ments, by being very patient.” The columnist insisted that her husband loved
her and sooner or later would return to her once and for all. In the meantime,
she was instructed not to “shower him with criticism; smile and be pleasant.”
She should explain how much his behavior hurts her and their child, a child
who needed her to “preserve a normal home.” However, the columnist also
provided practical advice in case that did not work. Since the writer asked
who would get custody of the child should she initiate a divorce, the columnist
reassured her that she would get custody and child support, but no alimony for
herself, while her husband would have visitation and vacations.15
Writing for Elle, Marcelle Ségal clearly instructed women not to let indis-
cretions destroy a marriage. In her personal life, she married, lost a child, and
eventually divorced in 1928. Although she calls the breakdown of her own
marriage a serious and merited error, Ségal never explained the circumstances
of her divorce in her published writings.16 However, in her role at Elle, she was
clear. Wives should forgive husbands who strayed. One woman wrote to Ségal
that she and her husband used to laugh together about her female friend’s
warnings about him until the truth came crashing down on her. Why did he
do it, she asked, “he who was so dear to me? Now I am all alone.” She had lost

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      61

the person who had been her best friend, her husband. Ségal insisted that he
was still her best friend, pointing out that even our best friends are fallible.
“A marriage doesn’t collapse as soon as one spouse commits a serious mistake.”
Ségal warned the writer not to add her own mistakes to his, either by divorcing
him or by rendering “the air unbreathable.” Only at that point would she truly
be all alone. “You are not yet alone. Your marriage is holding. Your children
are happy. … There’s only one thing you must do: forgive him.”17
However, a few articles in women’s magazines began in the 1950s to chal-
lenge older attitudes toward adultery and the double standard. A few authors
strongly questioned the assumptions underlying the double standard:  men
had strong sex drives and weak wills to resist; men could indulge in sexual
intercourse without emotional attachment, and therefore married men
should be forgiven sexual indiscretions that did not threaten their emotional
attachment to their wives and families. In its reinaugural issue, Marie-​Claire
interviewed André Maurois, an author, member of the French Academy, and
former member of the Resistance. Because he knew “so well the heart of a
woman,” the interview questioned Maurois about adultery. Asked if fidelity
in marriage should be considered an ideal, a virtue, or a necessity, Maurois
at first described it as an ideal. He cited George Bernard Shaw’s aphorism
that fidelity is no more natural to a man than a cage is to a tiger. Desire was
a natural instinct, like hunger and thirst, whereas permanent love for one
person, Maurois explained, was not an instinct. Thus fidelity represented one
of the paradoxes of an ideal marriage, a promise difficult to keep. So far, so
much like the standard view. But Maurois then took an unexpected turn.
Everything truly beautiful, he pointed out, is difficult. Faithfulness signifies
courage, a renunciation of possible pleasures that is well worth the sacrifice.
“In the end, a long, faithful, and happy marriage is one of the most beauti-
ful things a man and a woman can succeed in creating.” Spouses who never
deceived, cheated on, or abandoned each other lived the “marvelous adven-
ture” of a relationship that allowed them each to remove their emotional
armor, to breathe freely, to open their hearts without fear.18
Maurois’s poetic vision of marital fidelity for both spouses was given a
harder edge a few years later. In response to a reader who asked, “Is an adul-
terous wife guiltier than an adulterous husband?” Marcelle Auclair, in a 1957
issue of Marie-​Claire, delivered a blistering rebuke of attitudes about male
sexuality and self-​control underlying the double standard. Auclair echoed
the earlier view that men who cheated had been waylaid by circumstance
and given in to temporary temptation without placing much meaning on
sexual encounters that they forgot about the next moment.19 In her memoirs

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she used the same idea to explain her early indulgence toward her husband,
Jean Prévost, who not only had many extramarital affairs but also confessed
them to her.20 However, by the 1950s Auclair no longer advocated dismiss-
ing such behavior, insisting that a husband’s adultery had serious conse-
quences, setting a bad example for his wife, who might also cheat, or causing
her to become bitter, mistrustful, and cold. She scolded men for excusing
themselves with such ridiculous nonsense as the assertion that men are
polygamous by nature and cannot control their sexual urges. Such excuses,
Auclair argued, demonstrated weakness, not strength. Auclair labeled hus-
bands unable to control their appetites “little old men.” She concluded that
in a world where responsibilities were shared, “men have no more right than
women to give in blindly to their instincts.”21
Years later Auclair and her daughter, the film actress Françoise Prévost, pub-
lished a joint memoir that included an open discussion of Jean Prévost (their
ex-​husband and father, respectively) and his womanizing. Marcelle attributed
Jean’s unquenchable desire for sexual conquest to an “inferiority complex”
resulting from his own mother’s incessant criticism of him. But she also won-
dered if she should have responded more strongly to his confessions from the
start, let him know how much his infidelity hurt her. Instead, she took a lover
of her own, and on the eve of the war, infuriated by his public, if empty, threat
of punishment at a dinner that included his mistress, she divorced him.22
In the 1950s, however, the double standard still held sway. Fundamental
assumptions about men, women, and marriage still included the idea that
most women fulfilled their destiny through marriage and raising children,
that wives should remain faithful but forgive husbands who strayed rather
than divorcing. Yet Auclair and Maurois began to contest the gendered
assumptions about human nature on which the double standard rested.
Furthermore, within the widely accepted vision of family life, ideas about
how to play the roles of husband and wife began shifting. Rather than focus-
ing on a particular family structure—​father as head, breadwinner, source of
authority, mother at home raising children—​the postwar ideal viewed the
family as a system and portrayed the relationship between spouses as more
companionate, equal if not the same.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

After marriage, having children constituted the second aspect of what had
long been considered women’s destiny. A  variety of institutional, cultural,

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      63

and political forces, from the Catholic Church to the government, contin-
ued to emphasize the idea that children represented the primary purpose of
sex and marriage. Demographic anxieties had dominated French policy since
the early twentieth century, and promoting a high birth rate continued to be
an important government priority, one that had not changed in spite of the
changes in government from the Third Republic to Vichy to the Provisional,
Fourth, and Fifth Republics. Laws prohibiting abortion and contraception
remained in place after the war, and prosecution for abortion continued
after the Liberation. In fact, the number of cases submitted to Correctional
Tribunals for abortion, averaging about two hundred a year through the
1930s, jumped during Vichy to a high of 1,995 cases in 1943, then declined
slightly just after the Liberation, to 1,861 cases in 1945, then for several years
climbed even higher than during the Vichy years with a peak of 2,232 cases
in 1946, before declining again in 1947.23
These numbers signify the continued prosecution of abortion after Vichy
with the total number of women convicted of abortion peaking in 1946. Yet
the number of convicted women sentenced to penalties actually declined
slightly just after the war and remained steady through 1947 before drop-
ping precipitously in 1948. In contrast, the number of convicted women
given suspended sentences increased dramatically, from only 170 suspended
sentences in 1943 to more than two thousand suspended sentences in 1946,
accounting almost entirely for the increased overall numbers. Judges had
been reauthorized to suspend sentences for women convicted of abortion
only after June 1945. In other words, comparing sentences carried out to
sentences suspended indicates some measure of increased judicial leniency
in 1946 and 1947.24
Still, few voices questioned the widely accepted idea that having children
represented a central aspect of women’s lives or the assumption that most
women should marry and have children. However, increasingly women and
men began openly expressing a desire to control when they would have chil-
dren and how many, the timing and the number of pregnancies. Feminists
in the 1950s focused particular attention on contraception, access to which
was not legalized until the 1967 Neuwirth Law. Gynecologist Marie-​Andrée
Lagroua-​Weill-​Hallé, advocate for access to contraception, was impressed
by the family planning movement in the United States. In 1956, to circum-
vent legal restrictions on public access to contraceptives, she and sociologist
Evelyne Sullerot created France’s first family planning group as a private club,
named, to disarm opposition, La maternité heureuse (Happy maternity). In
an interesting irony, while France restricted access to contraception until

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1967, it allowed pharmacies to sell condoms over the counter. However, con-
doms, closely linked to venereal diseases and prostitution, were so disrepu-
table that the burgeoning discussions in the 1950s about contraception never
mentioned the possibility of using condoms to prevent pregnancy. No adver-
tisements for condoms appeared in popular 1950s magazines, even those that
published articles about sex.25
Nevertheless, one method bypassed public squeamishness, religious
objections, and legal restrictions—​the so-​called rhythm method, or sexual
abstinence at times of high fertility in a woman’s cycle. In the 1950s, informa-
tion about the female fertility cycle was not widely known in France. The ear-
liest articles on the topic appeared in a popular magazine that, interestingly,
was not specifically directed at women, Constellation. By 1952, according to
a Dr. Povil writing in Constellation, the theory that a woman’s fertility var-
ied over the course of her menstrual cycle had gained nearly universal accep-
tance. Opening the article by focusing on a married woman devastated by
her inability to get pregnant, Povil framed the article as providing informa-
tion to couples hoping to conceive. Prudent gynecologists following the most
modern medical theories instructed women hoping to get pregnant that they
were most likely to succeed during a period of five or six days in the middle of
their menstrual cycle. But Povil also gently noted this information could also
“allow couples to avoid pregnancy.” He explained that some couples had good
reasons to decide against having a child, from “serious threats to the health or
even the life of the mother to a hereditary, incurable defect that would com-
promise the child’s development or health.” In such cases, a couple “would be
able to avoid the danger by simply practicing this natural method that does
not in any way infringe upon religious scruples.”26
In a sure sign of popular demand for the ability to time pregnancies, a little
less than a year after the article appeared, in July 1953, Constellation printed
the first advertisement for a product linked to that information. Interestingly,
the advertisement’s headline again emphasized using the information to con-
ceive a child: “A Woman Is Fertile Only on Certain Days of the Month …
Which Ones?” Couples wanting to conceive a child could purchase an Ogino
Conception Calendar (calendrier conceptionnel Ogino), named for Kayusaku
Ogino, the Japanese doctor who, together with Dr.  Hermann Knauss of
Austria, “discovered” the link between women’s fertility and the menstrual
cycle. The Ogino Calendar would help couples determine a women’s fertile
days. By 1959 advertisements for both the Ogino Calendar and for another
similar product, the Forecaster, had shifted, emphasizing instead that the
products could assist couples in timing sex to avoid pregnancy. The ads for

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      65

the Ogino Calendar in the late 1950s suggested that contraception was good
for marriage, since many wives, fearing pregnancy, avoided sex. Over time,
that impulse could result in female frigidity and male frustration, potentially
causing the marriage to fall apart. Dr. John Smulders from the Netherlands
used Ogino and Knauss’s information to devise a plan to avoid pregnancy
that resulted in Drs. Ogino, Knauss, and Smulders’s creation of another prod-
uct, a moveable grid (grille mobile) that women could use to figure out their
fertile dates, giving them the peace of mind they needed for “total abandon.”
The Constellation ad included an order form.27 Discussion of contraception
in popular magazines remained limited in the 1950s but exploded as a topic
in the early 1960s.
The ongoing baby boom indicates that most couples did not intend to
avoid having children entirely. Restrictions on information and products
related to contraception, as well as on abortion, had been in place since the
1920s, yet demographic data proves that even with those restrictions, many
couples had clearly managed to find ways to limit family size. In other words,
the baby boom was a matter of choice, not a result of restrictions on contra-
ception. The baby boom also created an opportunity. With many young cou-
ples expecting a child, often living in cities away from parents or other elders
who could guide them, in the early 1950s there was little general information
for non-​medical specialists on pregnancy and childrearing. The Bibliothèque
nationale catalog listed one guidebook, Le guide de la jeune-​mère, in its ninth
edition in 1951. Coauthored by Dr. Pierre Lereboullet, Germaine Dreyfus-​
Sée, Nelly de Lamaze, and Mademoiselle Deros, this practical guide included
only a brief section on pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Otherwise the guide
covered childrearing from infancy on, with succinct information on child
development, hygiene, feeding, medical requirements, and administra-
tive formalities to get Family Allowances. Written for mothers, the guide
addressed fathers-​to-​be only about the 1946 law granting them a three-​day
paternity leave (congé de paternité) in the first two weeks after birth. The post-
war government, while it objected to the ideological orientation of the Vichy
regime, shared the desire to encourage couples to have babies, a long-​standing
goal linked to fears of depopulation that dated back to the late nineteenth
century. Mandating a paternity leave in 1946, even a brief one, showed the
postwar government’s recognition of and support for the father’s role.
A decade later, a momentous book appeared for expectant parents:  in
1956 Laurence Pernoud published France’s first comprehensive work on
pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing, J’attends un enfant (I’m expecting
a baby).28 An experienced journalist, Pernoud moved to the United States in

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the early 1950s to work for the United Press. While there she met Georges
Pernoud, editor in chief of Paris Match.29 They married, and Laurence, preg-
nant with her first child in 1952, searched in vain for a book in French to
guide her through pregnancy and early childhood.30 Though she never men-
tioned Dr.  Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, first published in the
United States in 1946 but not translated into French until 1960, Pernoud
noted that she knew of several books available to American expectant moth-
ers.31 Unlike Dr. Spock, she had no medical training. Undaunted, Pernoud
decided to write such a book herself, completing it while expecting her sec-
ond child in 1956.32
In its preface, Georges Duhamel, a prize-​winning author, member of the
French Academy, and also a medical doctor, applauded the book. Duhamel
described Pernoud’s J’attends un enfant as “an adventure tale that is at the
same time a learned and straightforward work.” Beyond providing basic
medical information, Pernoud’s book represented an approach, a total vision
of the experience for both mothers and fathers. When the book appeared,
Marie-​Claire, which sponsored and heavily promoted the book, announced
it with great excitement. “Future Moms, Here Is Your Guide and Your
Friend.” This book would answer all questions about medicine, travel, labor
and delivery, predicting the baby’s sex, social life, and exercise. Marie-​Claire
described Pernoud as a “high moral and scientific authority” and printed an
order form readers could use to purchase a copy of the book.33
Pernoud’s book provided an extremely complete, accessible overview,
starting with how to get pregnant, pregnancy testing, and what to do while
pregnant. Pernoud insisted that “pregnancy is not an illness.” Assuming that
an expectant mother was married, Pernoud advocated sharing her joy about
the pregnancy with her husband, not pushing him aside. Pernoud included a
chapter on health issues including the usual maladies (nausea, constipation,
headaches, backaches, varicose veins), as well as more serious potential health
threats like toxemia, tuberculosis, diabetes, and heart problems. She included
information on spontaneous abortions and false labor. She even explained
for women whose pregnancy endangered their health how to obtain permis-
sion for a therapeutic abortion. Otherwise, of course, abortion was strictly
prohibited, and Pernoud in an earlier chapter had advised pregnant women
not ready for a baby to consider helping people wanting to adopt a child.34
Pernoud discussed the safety of various medications, proper diet, the
need to limit alcohol, appropriate weight gain, and daily life. She addressed
women in the labor force, reassuring women that most of them should feel
no need to quit their jobs and informing them that French law gave them a

The dreamy face of an expectant mother graces the cover of Laurence Pernoud’s book
J’attends un enfant (I’m expecting a baby). The book, continuously updated, remains in
print. Since Pernoud’s death in 2009, her former collaborator Agnès Griot and a team of
experts have continued updating the book, releasing a new edition annually.
© Editions HORAY 1956 /​Photograph by Marylene R. Chan

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six-​week paid maternity leave before the estimated due date and eight weeks
after the baby’s birth. She covered travel, sports, exercise, sleep, hygiene, and
smoking—​recommending that pregnant women who smoked restrict them-
selves to ten cigarettes a day.35 Pernoud also advised pregnant women: “Your
duty—​Keep up your appearance.”36
Pernoud explained fetal development with glossy illustrations month by
month. She prepared women for what they would experience in labor and
delivery and instructed them on now to prepare physically and psychologi-
cally with physical, mental, and breathing exercises. She reassured women
about labor pain, including information on both anesthesia and “delivery
without pain” (l’accouchement sans douleur) which she described as “one of
the novelties of the postwar years.”37 By the 1950s, this method, which in the
United States is now usually referred to as the “Lamaze method,” had arrived
with great fanfare in France.
Pernoud explained that the method grew out of Russian physiologist
Ivan Pavlov’s work in the 1890s on the conditioning of reflexes. In the late
1940s, the Russian obstetrician Ilya Velvovskii, following the lead of his
mentor, Konstantin Platanov, developed the notion that Pavlovian condi-
tioning might be adapted to prepare women for labor. Through preparation,
women could recondition their expectations, starting with never using the
word “pain” in conjunction with the word labor. Rather, women who linked
positive associations with childbirth and labor, who mastered certain physi-
cal and breathing exercises, could both manage their contractions and relax
in between contractions. Partly owing to the lack of personnel in the Soviet
Union, Velvovskii mobilized husbands, previously banished to the waiting
room, as coaches. In 1951, the French physician Fernand Lamaze traveled to
Leningrad to study with Velvovskii. When he returned in 1952, Lamaze and
his associate Dr. Pierre Vellay introduced the method at a Paris hospital, Les
Bluets. (The rest, as they say, is history.) According to Pernoud, by the mid-​
1950s “delivery without pain” was available in many maternity wards. She
recommended that expectant mothers ask their doctors about it.38
In the United States, the 1950s were the heyday of medicated delivery.
The eventual arrival of natural childbirth and Lamaze in the 1970s and 1980s
was presented as an alternative to using medication to manage the pain of
childbirth. However, for many women in France in the 1950s, the alterna-
tive to delivery without pain would simply have been delivery with pain,
since analgesics or anesthesia often were not available.39 In 1955, even before
Pernoud’s book appeared, Elle had published an article on “delivery with-
out pain.” Rose Vincent wrote about a baby named Catherine born “without

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      69

pain” thanks to natural childbirth. Vincent reported that everyone had

heard about this revolutionary new method based on the idea that physical
and psychological preparation could “lead women to give birth without being
put under and without suffering.”40 Vincent followed Catherine’s expectant
mother through the process of preparing for her birth, detailing the biweekly
classes couples took where they learned about pregnancy, fetal development,
and labor and delivery. Using stick figures to illustrate her text, Vincent
described the “prenatal gymnastics,” stretching and breathing exercises that
prepared women for childbirth. Vincent’s article recommended purchasing a
recording by Professor Lamaze explaining this process.41
In addition to disseminating information about this new method in her
book, Pernoud addressed parents anxious about whether their babies would
be “normal,” emphasizing that many problems could be prevented through
proper nutrition. As to whether the baby would be a boy or girl or which
parent the child would resemble, Pernoud provided a short lesson in Mendel
and genetics. She took a pro-​breastfeeding position, and included informa-
tion about what we would call postpartum depression.42
In keeping with a title like “I’m expecting a baby,” the book primarily
addressed expectant mothers. However, confirming the new vision of father-
hood and the sense that men wanted greater involvement in their families,
Pernoud explicitly addressed fathers-​to-​be, including a chapter with help-
ful advice just for them. Pernoud recommended that expectant fathers not
tease their wives about their “cravings.” She told fathers that, after the baby
arrives, “the midnight bottle is yours.”43 Beyond occasionally relieving their
wives with a midnight bottle, Pernoud, in a section with the heading “How
you will raise your child,” instructed fathers about the first year of life,
which she described as “an essential period.” An infant was not, as many
fathers pretended, just a digestive tube. If a father wanted a real relationship
with his child, Pernoud insisted, he had to start building the relationship in
the first year.44
Rather than simply offer advice about raising children at various ages,
Pernoud took the opportunity in writing this book to place that advice in
its historical context. More than a decade before historian Philippe Ariès
published Centuries of Childhood, Pernoud included an overview of the his-
tory of ideas about childrearing. According to her, prior to 1900 almost all
parents simply did what their parents had done, imposing strict discipline
on children. People viewed newborns as little more than digestive tubes
with no true consciousness, needing only to be fed and kept clean. But all
that changed after the Great War. Pernoud described the changes evident

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in childrearing since 1918 as revolutionary. People began to understand that

education started when the baby was still in the crib. In the 1930s the view
was that to instill proper discipline in the child, he or she should be fed on a
strict schedule and never comforted when crying. Then, Pernoud explained,
the “Freud revolution” arrived, revealing the new world of the unconscious,
where desires and fears resided. Freud’s theories located most adult psycho-
logical problems in early childhood, infancy, and even as early as the shock of
birth. Pernoud linked Freudian ideas to a new phase in childrearing, one that
threw out rigid principles. Rather than insisting that the child yield to the
parent’s authority, parents began to yield to the needs of the child.45
Pernoud found much to praise in Freud, particularly the awareness of
newborns as sentient and capable of experiencing emotions from day one.
But she blamed Freud for inspiring a new style of parenting as extreme as the
earlier rigid style. Parents, obsessed about not creating “complexes” in their
children, now satisfied every whim, feeding on demand, allowing children
to break their toys, never saying no. It is hardly clear that such practices were
truly widespread in 1950s France. However, Pernoud, concerned, recom-
mended tempering Freud with the relatively new and rich science of educa-
tion. Childhood had become the subject of serious research by pediatricians
and educators, psychologists and sociologists, particularly, Pernoud noted, in
the United States, where in the previous twenty-​five years some 7,500 works
on childhood had appeared.46
Pernoud advocated synthesizing authoritarian and libertarian childrear-
ing styles, reaching a happy medium, which she proudly claimed was how
most French families had come to operate by the mid-​1950s, when she was
writing. French parents had rediscovered the good, common sense of their
own grandmothers; mothers were encouraged to follow their instincts. While
not abandoning psychoanalytical ideas entirely, Pernoud noted approvingly,
“Freud has ceased being a tyrant.”47
Other observers also perceived a decline in paternal and parental author-
ity in the French family. As in the United States, in 1968 a number of con-
temporaries linked the youth rebellions to declining parental authority,
widely attributed to the influence of Dr.  Benjamin Spock and his child-​
centered views.48 Such an approach to childhood was already circulating in
France in the 1950s. More important than Dr. Spock, in France a number of
French voices, Sophie Morgenstern, Françoise Dolto, and especially Laurence
Pernoud contributed greatly to this evolution. The fact that so many of these
were women’s voices points again to the quiet authority as experts that
women were beginning to gain, although it was truly striking how often

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      71

they published under a first initial, masking their gender. In any case, in the
1950s Freud’s theories were being popularized, if not necessarily internal-
ized by most families. Pernoud, with her extremely helpful, accessible text
represented a key voice expressing a new vision of parenting, authority, and
discipline. By celebrating the good sense of French parents, who had found a
“true” happy medium, incorporating and adapting but not ceding to Freud,
Pernoud appealed to a broad readership. Her hugely popular book remains in
print, updated since her death by her collaborator Agnès Grison.
While the actual incorporation of the new parenting style may not have
truly spread widely until the 1960s, the ideas gained sway immediately after
the Liberation in the practice of social work. In the 1950s, instructive, schol-
arly, and popular literature and case files all reveal a turning point in the adop-
tion of these new approaches to parenting, a struggle to make sense of how
families should operate. In the late 1940s, confused attention centered on
fathers, particularly over the issue of paternal authority. By the 1950s father-
hood was still problematic, but new anxieties developed about both fathers
and mothers, a new twist on the issue of family authority.

Pernoud’s book and the introduction of “delivery without pain,” which
assigned fathers a role during childbirth, both confirm that the new way of
thinking about fatherhood built on what began to appear immediately after
the war in magazines, advice columns, interviews with returning POWs,
and even court case reports. Though Pernoud’s title addresses a pregnant
woman reader, in fact, a man actually beat Pernoud to that title. In 1952,
Jean Monteaux published an article under that title in Elle—​subtitled
“A Father’s Diary”—​not about being a father per se but about his emotional
life during his wife’s pregnancy. Monteaux described his joy at discovering
that his wife was expecting, information he shared with friends and col-
leagues. He explained how he took care of the required paperwork, searched
for a larger apartment, and purchased the necessary supplies, leading to the
baby’s birth, “an end and a beginning … a story that … with all our strength,
Marceline and I will strive to make marvelous.”49 With fatherhood no longer
a status and fathers no longer distant authority figures, even expectant fathers
experienced a relationship with their children-​to-​be. The big change in the
late 1940s was a new expectation that fathers would no longer be the distant
authority and provider but would be involved emotionally on a daily basis in

7 2   
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family life and with their children. In the 1950s, sources continued to flesh
out how these new kinds of fathers would operate in their families.
In the 1950 book Guide du chef de famille (Guide for the head of the
family), Néret, who included practical information for the family provider
regarding labor law, unemployment, and social security, focused primarily
on fathering and in particular on the issue of authority.50 Although Néret
described the father as the head of the family, he recommended that fathers
and mothers exercise their authority together in the best interest of the fam-
ily.51 A father’s authority was essential, Néret wrote, a sacred gift. But to exer-
cise their authority properly, fathers had to know their children. According
to Néret, “The father of the family must be

Open, stripped of prejudices, not blinded by love; thinking not of him-

self but of his child.
Just, love and firmness are indispensable.
Patient, never screaming, never losing his temper.
Understanding, aware of the psyche of the rebellious child, able to put
himself in his child’s shoes, using positive statements: “Do this” and
“Do that” rather than always telling the child what he must not do.
Confident in the child above all.52

Néret’s description highlights how the vision of paternal authority had

shifted away from father as a distant figure whose firmness, enforced by the
occasional salutary spank, bolstered mothers, assumed to be too loving and car-
ing to discipline children. The list highlights the father’s open-​minded attitude
centered not on himself but on the child, while being firm, a more traditional
attribute of paternal authority, fell to second place on the list. Furthermore,
qualities three and four on the list, patience and understanding, had previ-
ously been viewed as female attributes. And for Néret, paternal understanding
required psychological knowledge, an ability to see things from the child’s per-
spective. Thus Néret directed fathers to understand each child as an individual,
rather than imposing uniform, rigid rules to keep children in line.53
Several years later, in 1953, Maurice Debesse, professor of pedagogy at
Strasbourg, explored in depth how paternity and paternal feelings influ-
enced male psychology.54 According to Debesse paternal feelings had long
been somewhat “unrecognized” (méconnu). Because they did not originate
in the primitive force of instinct, paternal feelings, Debesse argued, had
been eclipsed by maternal feelings, receiving only polite, cursory attention.
Debesse worried that he might face ridicule for deciding to “sing its praises.”55

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      73

A  father, sitting on the floor, assembles a train set with his young sons in the 1950s.
Rather than a distant authority figure, this dad is involved in his children’s lives.
Gamma Rapho RH017499 /​Photograph by J.-​P. Charbonnier

However, Debesse traced back to ancient societies the father’s vital role
and noted that contemporary civilizations still retained the father’s tradi-
tional primacy—​a position that was indicated, he pointed out, by the jour-
nal’s placement of his article just before an essay on maternal love! Debesse
outlined how maternal love was rooted in the immediate and the organic,
while paternal sentiment represented “that which is social in the family.”
Paternal emotions were acquired rather than innate, and varied by time

7 4   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

and place. Debesse, however, challenged such received wisdom, pointing

to the joy with which married men responded to the news that their wives
were pregnant, a clear sign of a man’s pride at having created life. Debesse
described witnessing many fathers’ empathy with their pregnant wives, citing
the example of the father who, after his wife’s long labor, threw himself on a
chair, moaning, “I’m exhausted!”56
Along with ego, pride, and empathy, Debesse wrote that new fathers expe-
rienced an increased sense of responsibility; they felt a duty to protect their
child. Paternity represented a kind of immortality for men. Love and affec-
tion were part of the experience for men, even though, not having carried the
child, their love might never be as powerful as maternal love. Debesse noted
that if the mother was deceased, had abandoned the family, was lacking in
maternal love or even filled with hatred for her child, fathers could develop a
passion for the child that was more maternal than paternal.57
Debesse toyed with the idea that even with a loving mother present in the
family there might be something maternal in paternal love. Even the most
virile man at times could feel a “surge of maternal tenderness,” a sentiment he
labeled “paternal androgyny.” Rather than raise an alarm, Debesse praised,
even encouraged, what he called this “feminoid element.” In other words,
with paternity a man became less egotistical, directed more toward protec-
tion of and devotion to his family.58
However, deeper than any feminoid element, Debesse emphasized that
underlying all the joys of paternity for men was the “desire and feeling of
power.” He lamented that power and paternalism had become pejorative
terms. Power exercised without affection could become tyranny, but Debesse
feared the other extreme. If the “feeling of power is effaced,” the family could
end up with a weak “doting dad.” That threat also existed for fathers who
were unemployed and who took over the housework. Such a turn, Debesse
worried, produced “curious inversions” in occupational choices and affective
attitudes, a not so veiled reference to homosexuality.59
In another interesting passage Debesse linked fathering to the develop-
ment of the male self. Insisting that paternal sentiment was fundamental to
male human nature, which it helped to define, he described fatherhood as
a natural phase in “man’s self-​affirmation.” It made a man more masculine,
increased his self-​confidence, and made him aware of his force and value.
Interestingly, guidebooks and texts aimed at girls and women had long
insisted that motherhood was critical to the full development of the woman’s
personality, essential to her very being. Here Debesse extended that argu-
ment to men.60

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      75

Debesse traced paternal attitudes from children’s infancy through child-

hood and into adolescence, when father-​son conflicts often erupted. In a
revival of the oedipal complex of early childhood, he explained that the ado-
lescent male’s desire for independence expressed itself often in defiance of the
father, representative of the family authority, resulting in hostility. Debesse
provided a list of paternal styles or attitudes that were harmful to adolescent
personality development. Being an “indifferent father” could result in disequi-
librium in the family, but so could being a “burdensome father,” or a father
who wanted to be involved but did not know his place, contradicting the
mother and preventing calm. The worst style, however, which Debesse desig-
nated “an authoritarian, dominating attitude,” was “the most dangerous and
the most frequent of the personality types to try and avoid.” Authoritarian
fathering poisoned the family atmosphere, with a dictatorial father using
and even abusing force to “to make his family obey.” Notwithstanding his
condemnation of excessively controlling fathers, Debesse also warned against
the other extreme, trying to be the “buddy father.” Fathers should be neither
tyrants nor buddies, but just be fathers “period” (tout court), loving their chil-
dren not as possessions to dispose of or as buddies but as children.61
Debesse’s view of mothers and fathers seconded the widely and long-​held
vision of complementary roles. Fathers would be more occupied with their
sons than with their daughters, with schoolwork rather than lifestyle. Dads
provided the family with equilibrium and reason; mothers were more intui-
tive and passionate. Dads instilled masculinity in their sons and encouraged
their daughters to blossom.62 Echoing a widely held view, Debesse insisted
that both parents were necessary for the proper development of the children.
However, in a new twist, he also insisted that adults, men and women alike,
needed parenthood for the full development of their personalities.
Debesse had hardly overturned the standard vision of fatherhood, but he
imbued it with emotional content and leavened his appeals to tradition and
natural order with more modern, Freud-​inflected psychological explanations.
Motherhood had long been considered fundamental to the development of
the female person. Debesse here posited that, beyond the status it conferred,
being a father was equally fundamental to men’s personal development, rede-
fining the male self.
The anxiety that resulted from parenting in this “post-​Freudian” era often
focused on the supposed failure of new, self-​aware, complex-​avoiding parents
to exert adequate authority and to discipline their children. The same year
that Debesse published his article, 1953, a woman also wrote about the issue
of paternal authority in a guidebook titled Comment élever nos enfants de 3

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à 14 ans (How to raise our children ages three to fourteen). In her chapter
on the child at home and at school, Suzanne Herbinière-​Lébert, a general
inspector of nursery schools (écoles maternelles) lamented, as she claimed
others did, that too many parents “adopt a new attitude that sometimes
pushes the limits of totally abandoning all their authority.” The result, she
warned: “The Child-​K ing has arisen, tyrannizing his entourage.” Herbinière-​
Lébert exhorted her male readers, “You, fathers, do not flee before your
responsibilities. Exercise your authority, but do not abuse it. Be fair and firm,
but understanding.” Fathers should bring home their paychecks rather than
spending all the money on personal pleasures. They should be helpful and
tender with their wives, lightening their burdens. “Do not make her life more
complicated with your demands. Interest yourself in your child’s progress,
play games with him. … Supervise his schoolwork closely.”63 Again, the
author recommended the happy middle ( just milieu). Like Goldilocks’s pre-
ferred bed, fathering should be not too firm but not too soft.
A new vision of fatherhood had already begun to appear in case files just
after the war, one that chipped away at the long-​entrenched status of French
fathers. The power of fathers as heads of their families had not only been
a traditional expectation; in France fathers were legally endowed with great
powers of control over their wives and children. A father could invoke “pater-
nal correction” for a minor child, ordering the courts to imprison his child
without having to give a cause. A key reform in October 1935 removed from
paternal correction the power to send minor children to prison. From then
on paternal correction led to an investigation of the child and family, with or
without the temporary placement of the minor in a center for further test-
ing, counseling, schooling, occupational therapy, or an apprenticeship. Thus
the 1935 change reflected both a legal reality—​courts no longer imprisoned
minors—​and changing attitudes about the father’s role in the family. During
the war, the Vichy regime intended to reverse course and reinforce paternal
authority over the family, an attitude widely rejected after the war along with
the rest of Vichy’s social agenda. Court cases reflected the resulting confu-
sion. By the second half of the 1940s, social workers and others investigating
the families of minors in the courts struggled with the issue of authority in
general and paternal authority in particular. In the 1950s, social workers con-
tinued to diagnose family problems with reference to the father’s role.
Case reports noted and censured fathers who were clearly violent and
abusive. D’s father had abused his mother from the start of their marriage.
He left his wife to move in with another woman, but refused to divorce her,
instead returning every other week, “solely to exert his tyranny and utter his

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      77

threats.”64 In Marseilles, B’s father filed a request for paternal correction,

alleging that his daughter, during a “discussion” he was having with his wife,
threatened them with a bottle, locked herself in a bedroom, took a revolver
from the closet, climbed out the window, and ran away. However, accord-
ing to B, she was unable to sit by while her father abused her mother and
yelled, “Stop hitting mom!” Her father then grabbed her, and she, in self-​
defense, grabbed a bottle. When her father left the room, B, fearing for her
life, climbed out the bedroom window and took refuge with her neighbors.
The Observation Center report seconded B’s version, describing the father
as excessively severe, “violent and brutal, he beats his wife and children at
the least annoyance.”65 In this case, although the father filed the request for
paternal correction, the system recognized the family violence motivating his
daughter’s behavior and mobilized to protect her.
Revealing the penetration of a more psychological approach, in the case of
M, a thirteen-​year-​old accused of theft whose mother had abandoned the fam-
ily during the war while her father was a POW, the social worker wrote that
the father “lacks any psychological understanding of his daughter. Violent
and maladroit in his reproaches, he antagonizes her and thus cuts off any
affectionate gestures.”66 In cases involving abusive parents—​most often the
father—​social workers usually advocated removing the minor and finding
a center or home where the minor could get treatment along with schooling
and often job training. There is no evidence of anyone ever advocating action
against an abusive husband or father, nor was there any evidence of anyone
doing anything to protect wives who were victims of domestic violence. The
minors in these cases were sometimes returned to their families, usually at
the request of both parties.
Thus social workers clearly censured physical abuse as an excessive attempt
to exert authority. The reports faulted physical violence in particular, and
excessive authority in general, as a way of controlling children, but fathers
could also be censured for having insufficient authority. In B’s family, a social
worker noted, “The lack of paternal authority has harmed the child’s devel-
opment, the mother being too weak and lacking good educational instincts.”
While the report seems to suggest that it would have been best had the
mother made up for the lack of paternal authority, most case reports deemed
the pattern of a weak father resulting in the mother exercising authority
equally inappropriate. C was a thirteen-​year-​old bicycle thief from a well-​to-​
do family. The father, taken prisoner in 1940, had been absent for his son’s
first five years. After his return to France, the father had become withdrawn,
according to the social worker, leaving the mother to take over the family. The

7 8   
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father, a military officer, had a formal attitude, “both distinguished and self-​
effacing,” leaving the impression of a man “without much energy.” The report
concluded that the father, a good man, “allows himself to be entirely domi-
nated by his wife.” The report described the mother as a “modern woman,”
nervous, quick-​tempered, intelligent, and cold, with “a somewhat harsh
expression.” She expressed no tenderness for her child, informing the social
worker that she “could not put up with him.” Other reports also expressed
concern about mothers deemed to be “modern” women with correspondingly
domineering and distant tendencies.67
Another case report labeled one father a “weak man.” Although he yelled
at his children from time to time, mostly he “lets them do whatever they
want. The mother runs the entire household with authority.” In a seeming
contradiction, the mother both neglected and was too harsh with her chil-
dren. Either way, the social worker diagnosed the mother’s authority as more
disruptive than beneficial.68
Already by the late 1940s social workers had expressed concern about the
balance of authority in the families they investigated. In families with fathers
who were too authoritarian or even violent, mothers compensated with
excessive leniency. In these reports from the 1950s, social workers and other
observers were more likely to highlight the reverse, distant, or lenient fathers
ceding to authoritarian mothers. Concern about the phenomenon of moth-
ers serving as authority figures in these families rested on broader anxieties
aroused by “new” social attitudes that had created the “modern woman,” the
primary authority figure in her family and very often a woman who worked
outside the home.
This concern presents a fascinating contrast with the concerns expressed
during the war and occupation. Many people worried in particular about
mothers raising their children alone. Women with children, whether single
mothers, divorcees, widows, or during the war POW wives, were considered
to be at risk of losing control over their children. Experts assumed that moth-
ers were incapable of exerting authority over their children, that only fathers
had the ability to discipline children. Thus many observers during the war
linked the absence of hundreds of thousands of POW fathers to the rapid
increase in rates of juvenile delinquency after 1940, a link data from wartime
case files dispells.69
Interestingly, the postwar sources suggest that the father’s return, not his
absence, created family disturbances resulting in court cases. Most POW
children during the war were too young to have reached the age at which
delinquency manifested itself. That happened only after the war. In any case,

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      79

most people who wrote about delinquency and absent fathers during the war
simply assumed there was a link. Mothers, and women in general, were con-
sidered too yielding, too empathetic to provide the firm but strict discipline,
the occasional physical correction children needed to stay in line. In fact,
research revealed that the upsurge in juvenile crime during the war resulted,
as for adults, from the situation created by the occupation’s shortages of basic
goods, government rationing, and the existence of black markets.70
In the 1950s however, concerns that mothers could not exert sufficient
authority had been replaced by a new anxiety about women’s recently mani-
fested “authoritarian” tendencies. This anxiety corresponded to a vision of
the modern woman and mothering that emerged in the 1950s.

In the few years just after the war, what jumped out in the court case files
was social workers’ new, deeper interest in fathers. By the 1950s, a changing
vision of motherhood emerged. Those who wrote about mothers in the 1950s
no longer emphasized what had been central to Vichy, mothering as self-​
sacrifice, even self-​abnegation in some of the more extreme visions. Freud,
Beauvoir, feminism—​less militant than its late-​1960s version—​and existen-
tialism, with its emphasis on free will and choice, all played a role in shifting
ideas about mothers and motherhood. Being a mother requires some measure
of giving up of self to care for a child or children. However, in the 1950s,
mothers were encouraged not to give themselves entirely away, but to preserve
themselves, to balance their children’s needs with their own.
A good example of that point of view appeared in same issue of Ecole des
parents that included Debesse’s essay on paternal sentiment. In “L’Amour
maternel dans la psychologie féminine” (Maternal love in female psychology),
Marie-​Hélène Revault d’Allones, a pediatric psychiatrist and psychoanalyst,
advocated an idea very different from the Vichy era’s conservative vision of
ideal motherhood as one of supreme self-​sacrifice. The key to the happiness of
mothers, children, and indeed entire families, Revault insisted, was equilib-
rium. First and foremost, mothers had to ensure their own personal, conjugal,
social, and general equilibrium. Both mother and family suffered when moth-
ers neglected themselves for their families.71 Revault defined maternal love
as a physiological phenomenon, citing a common reference, young girls’ doll
play, as a manifestation of girls’ natural urge for maternity. But then Revault
moved quickly away from older essentialist views of woman’s maternal

8 0   
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instincts into the realm of Freud. Revault explained that as they grew up,
girls had to overcome rejecting their sex, their “pain about not being a boy.”
However, rather than attributing that “unhappiness” to Freudian penis envy,
Revault suggested that girls rejected their own sex out of fear of maternity.
Mothers could reassure their daughters by being “confident, happy, and reas-
suring … when it comes to sexual information.” If so, girls would come to
accept maternity as a natural function and would joyfully accept their “desire
to procreate.” Revault acknowledged that girls experienced a sex drive, one
that swiveled between the desire to have relations with men and the desire
to have babies. To fully blossom and reach true maturity, girls had to balance
their desire for sexual relations with their desire for children.72
In her discussion of mothering, Revault referred to the era’s “battle of the
sexes.” Struggling against the social inferiority of their sex led some women to
become demanding and exert power over their children. Revault noted that
women with intellectual ambitions threw themselves into their careers and
begrudged raising children. “The job of being a mother is sometimes resented
as inferior … as a kind of sacrifice.” However, Revault, herself a professional,
described the choice of either motherhood or deriving intellectual satisfac-
tion from a job as a false dichotomy. Most women who worked for wages did
so out of economic necessity, holding jobs that were “exhausting and lack-
ing in interest.” Thus Revault discouraged work outside the home because it
“separates the woman from the home.” Worse, many working mothers sent
young children to live with a caretaker at precisely the worst time, develop-
mentally, for separation from their parents. “The children are cast out in
point of fact during their younger years.” 73 But Revault acknowledged the
hardships facing even mothers who could afford to stay at home, given the
“drama of insufficient lodgings.” Stay-​at-​home mothers had to throw them-
selves into housekeeping at a huge cost to their own equilibrium. To avoid
excessive stress Revault urged stay-​at-​home mothers to rely on external sup-
port, for example, letting their children eat lunch at the school cafeteria or
bypassing the frequent struggles over homework by having their children join
a local parent-​run “homework group.” 74
Revault explored the situation of girls who married to escape overbear-
ing parents. These girls often adopted a rather “virile attitude” toward their
husbands and children. “She cannot leave the position of head of the family
to her husband and cannot tolerate the liberties granted to the children, seek-
ing to limit them.” The result was conjugal problems that created stress, with
some mothers reproaching the fathers for being “abstentionists” and oth-
ers labeling their husbands too severe. Revault suggested conjugal problems

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      81

could result from a lack of sexual satisfaction in the marriage.75 Revault’s line
of reasoning, from girls seeking to escape overly controlling parents to their
sexual dissatisfaction in marriage, is difficult to follow. But her article pro-
vides just one example of the extent to which frank discussions of sexuality as
an aspect of marital and family life suddenly began to appear in the literature
in the 1950s.
Revault’s examples of bad mothering included favoring one child over
another, forcing a child to take up activities that the mother rather than the
child enjoyed, neglecting normally developing children to focus attention on
one child with what we would now call “special needs,” refusing to accept a
child’s progressive detachment from her, and infantilizing the children. The
good mother, on the other hand, accepted each child as an individual, “as he
is.” In a somewhat surprising twist, given that her article is filled with pre-
scriptions about mothering, Revault critiqued one last kind of mother, the
“clinical type.” This was the mother overwhelmed by all the new informa-
tion about childhood, obsessed with preventing her child from ever experi-
encing frustration. Dr. Revault, like many other voices in the 1950s, blamed
Freud’s theories for the idea that parents had to avoid frustrating their chil-
dren to prevent their developing complexes. Children needed to experience
frustration to develop properly.76 Revault concluded by stressing again that
maintaining their equilibrium was essential to good mothering. Pediatrician
Edmond Lesné, in his 1953 Comment élever nos enfants (How to raise our
children), agreed. “Preserve your equilibrium, control your nerves.” 77
Prescriptive literature on parenting naturally outlined ideas about appro-
priate and inappropriate behavior. Other kinds of popular literature also pro-
vide a window on to parenting practices and how they were viewed. Marcelle
Ségal, for example, responded to one unhappy fifteen-​year-​old girl who wrote
complaining that her mother treated her “like a little girl.” She continued,
“She still makes me wear dresses above the knees. Yesterday I got a spanking
in front of one of my girlfriends and her mom. I may not always be good,
but even so …” Ségal replied that fifteen-​year-​olds should dress like other
fifteen-​year-​olds, their skirts neither shorter nor longer. On the question of
spanking, she noted, “That’s pretty far from our way of thinking. Maybe you
could ask your mom to come in someday and have a friendly discussion with
me?” 78 It is interesting that at least three women’s magazines in the late 1940s
and 1950s, Elle, Marie-​Claire, and Confidences, all invited readers to consult,
in person, with therapeutic services they apparently offered in their offices.79
Court case files provide further evidence of concerns about mothering.
Mothers who worked outside the home aroused anxiety, although in and of

8 2   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

itself the fact that a mother worked outside the home did not result in remov-
ing a child from the family.80 The mother of C, a teenaged boy accused of steal-
ing a Vespa, ran her own shop. Despite multiple attempts to set up a meeting,
the mother had refused to come to the social worker’s office, agreeing only to
meet at her shop. When the social worker arrived and started the interview,
she was dismayed not only because a sales clerk stood nearby, within earshot,
but also a client arrived for an appointment that had clearly been scheduled
for a time shortly after the social worker’s interview began. The mother, who
worked long hours, was indifferent and indulgent, the social worker con-
cluded. Shocked at this seeming indifference, the social worker reported that
the mother discounted the significance of her son’s theft. Instead, the mother
explained, to give her son a sense of the value of property, she had purchased
him his own Vespa.81
As always, court reports censured mothers who neglected their families
or were weak, apathetic, distant, or had “no backbone.”82 One apathetic
mother had requested paternal correction for her daughter, about to give birth
to a baby out of wedlock. The social worker described the mother as “very slov-
enly … vulgar.” When asked about her daughter’s conduct, the mother spoke
of it “so offhandedly that it is painful to think it involves her own daughter.”
The mother refused all responsibility for the daughter’s conduct, portraying
herself as the victim, unable to prevent her daughter from going out at night
in spite of beating her with a stick. Another boy’s mother got a higher evalu-
ation, as a “fine woman” (brave femme), but “the task is beyond her.” Finally,
K’s mother was “weak” (molle) and “without spirit,” and had no authority
over her children.83
However, surpassing by far concerns about neglectful, weak, or indiffer-
ent mothers in the 1950s, the greatest anxiety centered on the domineering
mother.84 In a 1957 issue, Marie-​Claire issued a warning:  “Hello Doctor?
Danger for Boys: The Domineering Mother.”85 Boys with domineering moth-
ers could lose their dynamism, their élan vital. They would end up becom-
ing “weak husbands”—​a clear hint, if not explicit, that they might become
homosexuals. Case reports from the 1950s regularly expressed concern about
dominant mothers. C’s mom was described as nervous and voluble. She spoke
so rapidly they could hardly follow her; she sobbed, was “unable to control
herself.” The smell of her breath made them doubt her sobriety. As for her
husband, the child’s step-​father, “He’s a small, calm, unassuming man—​
rather weak, who seems to be entirely dominated by his wife.”86
In Marseilles, T’s mother requested paternal correction for her daugh-
ter, who had become pregnant after running off with a much older man.

Marriage and Parenting in the 1950s      •      83

Although the social worker wrote that Mrs. T and her husband lived in a “nor-
mal working-​class household,” still she noted, “Mrs. T seems to rule as the
boss at home.” In another case, R had run away from home and was accused of
theft. The report described the household in positive terms, as “a hard-​working
and unified marriage.” However, that was only owing to “the fact that author-
ity is not shared. … It’s Mrs. R who reigns as mistress of the home. … Her
husband, in contrast, is lacking in personality. He is a submissive man …
who turns all the responsibility over to his wife.” He spoke honestly about
his “family difficulties,” which caused him to suffer but against which he had
been unable to react. The father was “absolutely isolated” from the rest of the
family, preparing his own meals, sleeping in his own room. “Nobody speaks
to him unless it’s to pick a fight. Furthermore, the older son, urged on by his
mother, sometimes hits him violently.” The social worker concluded that the
authoritarian mother had turned their children against their father.87
We cannot and should not infer from this evidence that wives and
mothers were more likely to be the dominant figures in their families in
the 1950s. What we can say is that observers, scholars, journalists, and
social workers, had become sensitive to that issue by the 1950s. They wor-
ried less about mothers unable to exert authority and more about moth-
ers exerting too much authority and thereby, as they saw it, emasculating
their husbands, and possibly even their sons. This concern links to the
broader social discussions underway by the 1950s about the modern
woman, about parenting, about new ways of defining family roles. Issues
of parental authority and discipline were being explored and questioned.
Furthermore, when looking back, contemporary scholars often view the
1950s as an ultraconservative era for women, yet contemporaries expressed
a strong sense of moving forward, that deep changes were underway arous-
ing quite a bit of anxiety. Women were liberating themselves, from social
restrictions on their choices and behavior, from authoritarian husbands.
Young women were interested in more than marriage and motherhood,
drawn to having an independent career. In the court case files, nearly all
the families had mothers who earned wages, both during and after the
war, if only because nearly all the families whose children appeared in the
court system came from the low end of the income scale and likely needed
the mother’s contribution to the family wage economy. But the issue of the
mother working for wages had rarely been commented on in court case
reports generated during or even just after the war. 88
Broadly accepted was the notion that fathers and mothers played comple-
mentary roles in the family. In the traditional view espoused by Vichy and by

8 4   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

all published sources during the war, the father was the breadwinner, head,
and authority figure, the mother the homemaker and child raiser, loving,
self-​sacrificing, and submissive to her husband. By the 1950s, fathers were
still supposed to be in charge, but not too much; mothers were still supposed
to be primarily in charge of raising the children, but fathers should also get
involved. Mothers should devote themselves to their husbands, homes, and
children but take care of themselves and maintain their own equilibrium,
not sacrifice themselves. However, they should not dominate the family. If
it seems confusing to us, imagine how it felt to contemporaries. Whether
most families attempted to follow these ideas or whether these ideas reflected
changes in how real families were operating, clearly the rigid edifice of fam-
ily roles was showing cracks. In addition to shifting ideas about fathers and
mothers, ideas about the third element in many families, children, were also
undergoing significant changes.

4 C H I L D R E N A N D A D O L E S C E N T S I N 
THE 1950 S

Hélène Brulé, in a 1956 book titled Parents modernes pour enfants

modernes (Modern parents for modern children), informed par-
ents that their “unknown” newborn baby was in fact already a per-
son, “a being in transformation,” in need of a “well-​ordered life,”
devoid of conflict and filled with tenderness. “You must make sure
the child lives in an atmosphere surrounded by affection.” Brulé
described maternal tenderness as a “growth vitamin” for the child,
who needed to express himself and his emotions while discover-
ing the world through observation and play. To facilitate the young
child’s attempts at self-​expression, Brulé warned, “do not multiply
prohibitions, do not constantly repeat: ‘Shut up, you’re irritating
me …’ ‘Settle down …’ ‘Don’t touch that, you’re going to mess up
your clothes.’ ”1
People who wrote about raising children approached the prob-
lem from two sides. In the 1950s ideas about fathers and moth-
ers began to shift, calling into question how much authority they
should exert in relation to each other and to any children they
might have. However, public discussions also looked at the other
side of the relationship, the children themselves. Contemporaries
who wrote about children and adolescents in the 1950s reflected
the decade’s new ideas about children, what they needed, how to
handle common and uncommon issues, how they progressed from
infancy through childhood and adolescence.
Already by the early twentieth century, experts, educators, psy-
chologists, and psychiatrists firmly differentiated between child-
hood and adolescence. Everyone who wrote in the 1950s accepted
the notion of adolescence as a distinct developmental phase.
However, well into the twentieth century, the vast majority of ado-
lescents had neither leisure, as most of them left school at age thir-
teen and began working for wages, nor money to spend, since most

8 6   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

teens turned their meager pay over to their families. Up through World War II,
only middle-​and upper-​class teens had the time and resources to take part in
youth culture. But evidence from the 1950s finally revealed a democratiza-
tion of adolescence. In France, the experience of adolescence that many of
us associate today with that phase of life only truly became accessible to the
majority of teenagers after 1950, with rising affluence and the extension of
schooling to older ages.
Having assimilated the expert view of adolescence, the 1950s’ discussion
about childrearing began to express a new vision of younger children. Even a
young child had a self that struggled for autonomy.

In 1953, summarizing the three biggest changes to family life in contempo-
rary France, Robert Prigent listed the liberation of the child first. From the
traditional, pre-​Enlightenment view of the child as sinful and in need of strict
discipline, to the child as a blank slate, to Rousseau’s child as an untarnished
innocent corrupted by society, childhood has long been a contested domain.2
For non-​elite families across preindustrial Europe, children presented a set
of very practical issues. Most families could not afford or had no access to
formal education. Furthermore, families needed children’s contribution to
the family economy as soon as they were able.
Even after the institution of compulsory primary education in France in
the 1880s, survival dictated treatment of children that today’s society might
consider uncaring at best. Emilie Carles, born in 1900 to a poor rural family
in the Alps, described how her father managed to return the mule they used
to haul hay from their land to the family stable up in a mountain above her
village: “When I was five, my father tied me onto a mule and I set off all by
myself like a big girl.” He tied her on so that she would not fall off if she fell
asleep on the two-​hour nighttime journey up the remote mountain pathway.
An older sister awaited her at the top to remove her and put her to bed.3
Sociologist Françoise Cribier’s team interviewed a woman who reported
that when she was a baby, her widowed father, mobilized in 1914, simply
left his five children, ages fourteen and under, to fend for themselves.4 It was
acceptable to send children as young as seven (more commonly at about age
twelve) to live and apprentice in another household. Some historians took
these practices and others, like giving a dead child’s name to a newly arrived
sibling, to indicate that parents did not particularly love their children until the

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      87

modern era.5 Yet the practical considerations impinging on the family’s sur-
vival, which weighed heavily on the treatment of children, did not necessarily
indicate an absence of love.
The decision to marry and choice of marriage partners also represented
a serious matter for the family and, indeed, for the entire community.
Interactions between young people of the opposite sex were strictly super-
vised. An out-​of-​wedlock pregnancy or a poor choice of marriage partner
could imperil the household’s survival, creating a burden for the entire com-
munity. Thus while most young people outside of middle-​or upper-​class cir-
cles had some choice over marriage partner, their parents and other members
of the community held great sway.
Both social views and practical considerations of childhood and adoles-
cence changed over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Because
France shifted very slowly away from a predominantly rural, small-​town
economy, only after World War II would massive economic changes move
most French families off the farm and out of isolated, small towns. France
underwent a rapid increase in industrial production, with its GNP surpass-
ing that of Britain by the 1960s.6 As a result, the agricultural proportion of
France’s population dropped from about 40 percent in 1940 to 27 percent in
1950, falling to just under 10 percent by 1975.7
In the 1950s, alongside increasing modernization, urbanization, and
affluence, a more individualized vision of the child emerged. As Suzanne
Herbinière-​Lebert explained, “The child is a distinctive being” with a per-
sonality “no less rich than our own.”8 However, unlike the early nineteenth-​
century romantic vision of the child as an innocent angel, the last remnant
of heaven, by the mid-​twentieth century Freudian theories had created a very
different view of the child, a psychological being with emotional needs and
drives, including a sex drive, in an intense and dynamic relationship with
mother and father that profoundly shaped the emerging self. Many 1950s
books and articles about childhood expressed this new autonomous vision
of the child resting on psychological, Freud-​influenced assumptions. Hélène
Brulé’s books included chapters on child and adolescent psychology.9 Jean-​
Alexis Néret’s Guide du chef de famille (Guide for the head of the family)
insisted that good fathers needed to learn about child psychology.10 Laurence
Pernoud’s book for expectant mothers, echoing other works, also expressed
the growing awareness that even infants were conscious individuals with
both physical and emotional needs, the frustration of which, according to a
popularized and easily lambasted version of Freud, could result in adult psy-
chological distress, or a complex.11

8 8   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

For the practice of raising children, the expanding influence of the post-​
Freudian vision of childhood raised questions about how to apply those
theories to the concrete challenges parents faced every day. Practical advice
for parents highlights how the new 1950s vision of the child reshaped rec-
ommendations about childrearing. While Emilie Carles does not describe
meal times in her pre-​1914 childhood, we can easily imagine that families
with little food and hardly any discretionary income would not countenance
a child refusing to eat whatever was served. By the 1950s, however, journalist
Rose Vincent wrote about the problem of family meals, posing a question dif-
ficult to imagine in earlier times. How should parents deal with a child who
refused to eat a particular food?
For trouble-​free meals, Vincent recommended, rather than forcing chil-
dren to eat what they had been served, avoiding resistance and revolt by using
diplomacy. She suggested preventing conflicts at the dinner table by starting
with small helpings of foods and allowing for second helpings, rather than
serving even a modest adult-​sized portion that could seem “crushing” to a
child. Vary the menus, she advocated, and “space out new foods,” rather than
introducing new foods too often. If a child hated something and spit it out,
rather than forcing it on the child, let it go and try the same food again several
days later. Fundamentally, Vincent advised parents to let children eat accord-
ing to their tastes and appetites, even to “respect bizarre tastes.” What was
the harm in letting a child put sugar on her endives? Clarifying that meals
were about more than food, Vincent concluded that parents should “respect
his liberty” rather than forcing a child to eat. In contrast to the prevalent
idea that parents should require children to eat whatever they were served
and to clean their plates, Vincent’s advice here rested on the notion of the
child as an autonomous individual with tastes, preferences, and her or his
own individual appetite. Vincent was advocating a new approach in line with
that vision, although it is impossible to know how many French families in
the 1950s adopted her advice.12
The issue of meals represented just one of many potential arenas of strug-
gle between parents and children. Approaches to the broader problems of
how to correct misbehavior and get children to behave had also changed.
By the 1950s, most works about appropriate disciplinary methods agreed
with Hélène Brulé, who opposed harsh sanctions like spanking, depriva-
tion of food, or making children kneel in the corner to discipline them.
Brulé favored individualized discipline rather than a single method. She
believed that parents should vary their disciplinary style to correspond to
each specific child’s needs; they should be stricter with an unstable child,

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      89

looser with a timid one. They also needed to adjust methods as the child
got older, allowing the child to gain autonomy little by little. If a sanction
was needed, Brulé insisted that it should never be administered in anger
and that parents needed to present a united front.13 Pediatrician Edmond
Lesné advocated using rewards rather than punishment as much as pos-
sible. Punishment, when needed, should be proportional to the offense.
In general, less was more.14 He insisted that sanctions should never be
inflicted in anger or in public, and that parents use reparation rather than
physical correction whenever possible.
As the idea of the child as an autonomous individual to be respected
gained ground, it inevitably produced a counter reaction, the fear that par-
ents had given up on trying to exert authority, creating spoiled children who
dominated their families. Thus, parents, instructed to respect each child as an
individual, were also admonished not to abdicate their authority. Although
parents should not behave like dictators, parents who ceded all authority over
the child, Herbinière-​Lebert warned, were at risk of creating a “child-​king”
who would unleash a reign of caprice rather than a reign of terror.15
Small wonder that social workers’ reports at times expressed confusion
about the exercise of parental authority. They reflected the broader social
ambivalence of celebrating the child’s autonomy while fearing the spoiled
and headstrong child. Social workers and popular culture alike also joined
forces in advocating psychological treatment for certain kinds of children.
Néret, for example, pressed parents of what he labeled “deficient children,”
meaning disabled or mentally challenged children, to consult a specialized
“psychotherapy center.”16 Lesné described “the child who arouses concern”—​
not a child who had the occasional tantrum but a child who regularly lied,
had “perverted habits, frequent fits of rage,” who skipped school, mistreated
animals, or regularly stole. Lesné counseled parents of such children not to
despair, to consult their doctors, who could recommend a neuro-​pediatric
More popular sources suggest that access to some sort of psychological
counseling was spreading beyond specialized, hospital-​related pediatric neu-
ropsychiatric centers. In Marie-​Claire, Marianne Monestier responded to a
woman worried about her fourteen-​year-​old daughter. The mother described
her daughter as not particularly intelligent, withdrawn, and a poor student,
and she inquired about Marie-​Claire’s “Psycho-​technical service.” Monestier
reassured the writer, “Our psychotechnician is at your service.” Marie-​Claire’s
clinic was available for its readers and for their children. Monestier explained
that the child would be asked, for example, to draw something, allowing the

9 0   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

psychotechnician to analyze the drawing and handwriting (Morgenstern’s

system in practice!).18
Thus the young child had become an autonomous individual with needs
and, at times, with problems needing professional treatment. Parents in the
1950s were told that they needed to understand child psychology to do their
job properly. Many voices worried that all this attention to the child and his/​
her needs could result in that most frightening apparition, the “child-​king.”
Unfortunately, it is not possible to know with any accuracy just how many
parents actually attempted to follow this advice.19
Parenting practices were most likely to have begun changing in the 1950s
in urban, middle-​class families rather than among isolated rural families,
poor families, or families from ultraconservative Catholic circles (as opposed
to more left-​leaning social Catholic circles such as the Jeunesses ouvrières
chrétiennes [Young Christian Workers, JOC]). While France had long been
predominantly rural and Catholic up through World War II, the 1950s were
a decade of rapid change, as France’s population left farms and small towns
for cities in massive numbers. Thus, although the number of families who
attempted to follow new childrearing advice may have been limited in the
1950s, the proportion shifted over time with France’s changing demographics.

Adolescence and Affluence in the 1950s

“Distressed Mom” wrote to Confidences in 1951. Her sixteen-​year-​old daugh-
ter was behaving strangely, avoiding eye contact, eluding questions. What
was going on?20 By the twentieth century most experts accepted the notion
of adolescence as a difficult transitional phase between childhood and adult-
hood. In the 1950s that idea appeared more and more regularly in the wom-
en’s press. Ségal, in her 1951 response to a teen boy who described himself as
going through “a terrible crisis” and worried that she wouldn’t understand
him, reassured him that she too had once been fifteen; “Figuring out life can
be painful sometimes.”21
Although the notion of adolescence as a difficult period of transition that
could result in a crisis was not new to the 1950s, certain critical economic
and social factors changed at that time in ways that had a huge impact on
France’s youth. First and foremost, the 1950s represented the pivotal decade
in France’s transformation to an affluent society. The slow and steady con-
struction of a modern infrastructure brought amenities like running water,
gas, and electric power to most corners of France. As elsewhere across the

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      91

West, France after 1945 experienced both rapid modernization and a baby
boom. Françoise Giroud pointed out in La nouvelle vague that by the end
of the 1950s France had some eight million people between the ages of eigh-
teen and thirty. Giroud did not point out that the largest age group of baby
boomers had not yet reached the age of eighteen, meaning that there were
even more people between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. The postwar
baby boom’s growing cohort of adolescents had become large enough to be
noticeable as they came of age in the 1950s. Raising the school-​leaving age
reduced the number of teens in the full-​time labor force. These factors, com-
bined with rising affluence, resulted in an exploding youth culture and coun-
terculture, different from previous eras not only in its particulars (hairstyles,
clothing, music) but also in its reach.
A separate youth culture was hardly new. In France, clear youth counter-
cultures began appearing in the interwar period, the jazz age of the 1920s
and 1930s. During the first two years of the German occupation of World
War II, the swing kids, or zazous, constituted an urban youth countercul-
ture that rejected the hypermoralization of the Vichy regime. Those youth
cultures were visible enough to alarm many contemporary adults. However,
to be clear, they involved primarily urban middle-​class youth. Hardly any
rural or working-​class teens had the leisure time or the monetary resources to
take part in that counterculture. There are no signs of the 1940s swing youth
counterculture in the juvenile case files for the years 1940 to 1944.22 By the
1950s, however, not only did literature, film, women’s magazines, and other
elements of popular culture express the era’s youth culture; juvenile case files
also exhibited clear signs of rising affluence and its impact on young people
across the social spectrum.
A very small number of the minors who appeared in juvenile court came
from middle-​or even upper-​class families; the vast majority of the minors
who appeared in juvenile courts came from families at the low end of the
income scale. Thus the case files provide hard evidence about the trickling
down of affluence in France. First, juvenile delinquents gave witness to
France’s rising affluence and the spread of consumer goods through the items
they stole. During the war, the most frequently stolen items were cash, food,
bicycles, and items shoplifted from department stores.23 By the 1950s, kids
were still taking cash, shoplifting, and stealing the occasional bicycle, but
boys also began to steal all manner of small electronics, such as radios and
electric shavers. The paradigmatic young male thief of the 1940s stole bicy-
cles. In 1950s Paris, the earlier era’s bicycle thieves gave way to boys who stole
motorized scooters, Vespas and Lambrettas. Auto theft remained rare. Only

9 2   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

in 1956 does a case file mention auto theft, by an adolescent who claimed he
worked with a youth gang that stole cars.24
We can also track rising affluence through the case reports’ detailed infor-
mation, not just on the minor and his or her parents but also on their physi-
cal surroundings, neighborhood, and housing. Case reports provided specific
information on the condition of the dwelling, its size, the number of rooms,
and cleanliness. In the 1950s social workers still noted if the dwelling had
running water, gas, and electricity. Such amenities spread first to urban areas,
taking longer to arrive in rural departments. In the Drôme, a rural region in
the central southwest, one family living outside a small village had neither
water nor electricity in 1950. Even a family living in a small town had no run-
ning water and had to share outdoor toilets.25
In cities like Paris, Lille, and Marseilles, more families had more ameni-
ties by the early 1950s. In 1954, a working-​class family living in a modest
building in the Paris suburbs had a kitchen with “conveniences,” meaning a
sink with running water. That same year, the M family lived well outside the
city in a wooden barracks they had moved in to as squatters, eventually com-
pensating the city for the dwelling. However, the social worker noted with
some surprise what looked like a new gas stove and a washing machine. In
1955, the D family lived in the Paris suburbs in a small and not terribly well-​
furnished house. But the social worker noticed a recently purchased television
conspicuously placed in the center of the main room, a bit out of place with
the otherwise modest surroundings. The H family, living in the Nineteenth
Arrondissement in what was described as a “public low-​rent working-​class
building,” had water and toilets but rudimentary furnishings. The interior
was a mess, the social worker wrote; “However, we did notice a magnificent
television set.” Clearly social workers felt it was worth noting the dedication
of family resources to such an item, particularly when the rest of the meager
surroundings attested to their general poverty.26
The items stolen and the amenities in the delinquents’ homes point to the
slow trickling down of affluence, of material comfort, the rising living stan-
dards of working-​class, rural, and even poor families by the end of the 1950s
that together with a broad-​based adolescent youth culture emerge clearly in
court case files. Investigators had long asked minors how they spent their time
outside of school or work, reporting what they found under the rubric of “lei-
sure activities” (loisirs). During the war, many of the adolescents mentioned
reading crime fiction and detective magazines for the boys, romance novels
for the girls. Some also mentioned hanging out at cafés, and a few went to the
movies. By the 1950s, different kinds of activities began appearing. Nearly all

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      93

minors reported attending movies regularly. One teen’s legal trouble resulted
directly from his attending a movie. P, seventeen, was watching a movie at
the Cinéma Exelmans in Paris with a group of friends when another specta-
tor berated him for making too much noise. After a heated “discussion,” P
admitted, he punched the plaintiff in the face, but he claimed he had been
fending off the plaintiff, who had lunged at one of P’s younger friends after
insulting him as a “little flee-​ridden twit.”27
Increasingly, young men reported taking part in the newly organized
youth sports groups and clubs, programs that offered soccer, basketball, or
biking. P, the moviegoer, also reported that he had joined a sports club. V told
the investigator that he loved sports and played on two basketball teams, one
sponsored by his workplace and another by his municipality. He also biked,
swam, played Ping-​Pong, and went to the movies on Saturdays. G had joined
a local soccer club, in addition to going twice a week to the cinema, where he
preferred “fight movies.” In addition to sports, several teenaged boys men-
tioned playing café-​style games such as foosball.28
Girls rarely mentioned sports or cafés, although they did go to the movies.
In a letter intended to be funny, three girls wrote to Marcelle Ségal of Elle,
reporting that they had been fine until they had seen a beautiful poster of
Marlon Brando. Since then, “The second we see him on a poster or on screen,
we fall on the ground and roll around screaming hideously. We just cannot go
on like this. Could you recommend a Brandotherapy?” Ségal recommended
curing Marlon with Marlon, taking four a day for the first week, two in the
morning, two in the evening, then the following week alternating Brando
with Gregory Peck. “If you manage to keep it up for three weeks, no need to
write me. I’ll read about it in the papers.”29

Les Bals, Le Flirt: Courtship and Dating

Most strikingly in the 1950s, young people of both sexes mentioned regu-
larly, in Paris and in the other departments, going to what they called “balls”
or street dances (“bals,” “bals dançants,” or “les dancings”). Unlike its English
counterpart, the word “ball” did not imply a lavish and formal gathering of
the Cinderella variety. Rather, “les bals” were informal dances, held in public
venues, in local cafés or on the street, sometimes with a live musician playing
the accordion, sometimes with recorded music on a jukebox or radio. Though
they were not new to the 1950s, the case files indicate strongly that “balls”
became extremely widespread and popular among young people in the 1950s,

9 4   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

reflecting the increased leisure time, money, and autonomy of youth, particu-
larly of girls.30 One fifteen-​year-​old girl, in 1952, after being scolded by her
parents and sent her to her room, climbed out her bedroom window “to go
to the dance.”31 A seventeen-​year-​old boy joined up with his friends at the
Capoulade café (on the Boulevard Saint-​Michel), then left with two friends
to go to the “rue de la Hachette dance.”32 In Marseilles, B, a seventeen-​
year-​old boy, reported that he loved going to the movies and “also dances”
at the Alhambra and Colisée and hanging out at milk bars, which were
public establishments geared to teenagers that only served nonalcoholic
drinks. A  seventeen-​year-​old girl in the Lille area admitted she went to
dances often and got home late, although she denied her parents’ accusa-
tion that she had spent the night away from home.33 Although teenagers
usually assembled with others of the same sex, groups of both sexes min-
gled at the dances, allowing young people to spend time together socially
out of parental control.34 A few case files mentioned gangs; however, most
reports described the young people at these dances as social groups.35
These case records along with film, popular magazines, and ques-
tions asked of advice columnists suggest that young people increasingly

Couples dancing at a “bal,” or open-​air dance, in Sainte-​Maries-​de-​la-​Mer, on the

Mediterranean coast. The bal was an extremely popular element of youth culture in the
1950s. Note the “Algérie Française” banner in the background, the flag of a right-​wing
movement intent on preventing Algerian independence.
Gamma Rapho RH073679

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      95

escaped parental control, associating in more independent, age-​but not

sex-​segregated circles. In 1951, Confidences published an interview with a
well-​k nown Comédie Française actor, André Luguet, who served in the
army during the war. Asked “Should a young girl be allowed to go out
alone with a boy?” Luguet replied, “For my part, I  don’t see any draw-
backs, in this day and age, in letting a young women go out alone with
a young man,” so long as the girl’s parents knew and approved the young
man. However, he added, “Before giving a young girl this kind of free-
dom, she must be informed and made well aware of her responsibilities.”
If they had properly inculcated “self-​respect,” parents should be confident
that their daughter would “know how to protect herself.” Still, for girls
under twenty Luguet recommended only daytime dating. He approved of
dancing but pointed out, “There are dances and then there are dances.” If
his daughter were still young, he would recommend “sunlit terraces” and
not “smoke-​fi lled basements.” Luguet even thought it would be accept-
able for a “young girl to have a boy over when she is alone at home.” Why,
he wondered, would seeing the young man in the family home be worse
than seeing him in darkened movie theatres or the “deafening jungles of
Luguet, an actor who had spent time in Hollywood, may have had more
liberal views on girls and dating than most French adults in 1951. However,
this interview appeared in Confidences, which was less urban and sophisti-
cated and more conservative than Elle. The very questions considered worth
asking in 1951 signaled the changes underway. These topics had become the
subject of discussion, rather than of automatic disapproval.
Old standards and expectations remained powerful, including the expec-
tation that boys should take the initiative and that girls should “save them-
selves” for marriage. However, a topic addressed with some regularity in the
1950s sources centered on the verb flirter (to flirt). Adopted from the English
word flirt, which itself might have originated from an older French verb, fleu-
reter (telling pretty, florid stories), the verb flirter, used often in accounts by or
about teenaged girls, implied that girls might initiate encounters. Flirt could
also be a noun, either the person with whom flirting happened or the activ-
ity. In this case however, unlike the English version of the verb, flirter went
beyond words, attitudes, and behaviors that indicated attraction or were
designed to attract another person. In French, flirting implied some kind of
direct physical contact, although in spite of its sexual undertones, it did not
imply sexual intercourse. Rather, it meant what that generation of Americans
called “necking” or “petting.”37

9 6   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

The term began to appear in court documents in 1955. One pregnant

teen’s mother reported that her daughter had started with “harmless flirting”
before ending up in a relationship with a married man.38 A second teenaged
girl had run away from home with her boyfriend. The mother had considered
it “just a simple flirt” at the start.39 Finally, in one case the social worker noted
that one teenaged boy “from the sexual point of view had had a flirt for a year
and a half with a ‘nice girl.’ ” However, the social worker noted her concerns
about a “strong, latent homosexual tendency.”40 All three cases involved sex
or sexuality, but the flirt was viewed as a normal, relatively harmless, even
promising aspect of dating among teens.
The term appeared earlier in the popular press. For example, in 1951 a
young woman wrote Marcelle Ségal, “I’ve had four flirts.” She complained,
however, “Three of them only wanted one thing, that we give ourselves to each
other,” meaning the men wanted sex. The flirt itself did not imply sex, but was
clearly a step in that direction, which this young woman resisted. Her fourth
and continuing flirt, considerably older and still living with his mother, was
not terribly wealthy. Her mother discouraged her interest in this man. She
asked Ségal, “Is money the only thing that counts?” Ségal replied that every-
thing counts, money, character, age, lifestyle, and of course love, which Ségal
described as “primordial.” True love, Ségal insisted, knows no obstacles. The
fact that you “balk when you encounter obstacles” suggests that this is not
true love. So, asked Ségal, why marry at seventeen? While Ségal assumed the
young woman would not “give herself” to the man without marrying him,
still she encouraged the seventeen-​year-​old not to rush into marriage, advice
that would have been heretical in the Vichy years.41
Notably, too, Ségal hardly commented on the young woman’s flirting,
much less condemned it. Contrast that with a Marie-​Claire article from 1940,
describing a “little teenaged girl” of fifteen having tea with an eighteen-​year-​
old boy. As the author watched the young couple, she wondered, “A flirt? So
young? She was very pretty, but even more, she was stylish, the perfect copy
of a young American movie starlet.” Later the author found and quizzed the
young man, who, embarrassed, admitted, “I was having tea with a little pest.”
He described her as “stylish, a liar, provocative, naughty,” amusing to be with
but, he said, “It’s never girls like her that we think about marrying.”42 Note
the harsh and extremely judgmental tone of the remarks about this fifteen-​
year-​old girl whose flirting did not go anywhere near sex. She was a “pest.”
Further, the young man totally failed to draw the writer’s condemnation.
While the messages in the 1950s expressed similar warnings to young women
about behaving appropriately, the voices were notably more practical and less

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      97

moralizing, dismissive, and judgmental. Underlying the concern about flirt-

ing, discussions of which increased even more by the 1960s, were changing
attitudes about how, where, and under how much supervision young women
and men might find suitable partners.

Sexual Harassment and Abuse

Two letters in Confidences 1951 raised additional issues facing young women
of the era. In an incident we would now label sexual harassment on the job,
Annie B, age twenty, wrote that her boss, always polite, had recently con-
fessed that he loved her. She “pushed him away and asked to go back to the
pleasant and professional relationship” they had had prior to his declaration.
She knew it had upset him, because from that time on, he had “had it in”
for her. She asked, “What should I do?” The responder suggested going to
the firm’s director and requesting a reassignment of offices, invoking personal
reasons rather than revealing her supervisor’s behavior to his boss. If that were
not possible, Annie B was encouraged to look for another job and to resign
as soon as she found one. Even though this response avoided recommending
action that would confront the harasser, which would probably have been
useless in 1951, at least it validated the boss’s treatment of the young woman
as inappropriate. Confidences encouraged Annie B to act on her own behalf
to avoid the harasser.43
The second letter in that issue suggested an even more troubling situation.
This young woman had been dating a man for two years, they had talked
about marriage, but she hesitated, describing her boyfriend as “jealous, vio-
lent, sometimes even brutal.” If she danced with another friend or arrived late,
“instantly he makes a scene.” Could she build a happy future with this man?
While the adviser’s somewhat troubling response circled around answering
that question in the negative, the adviser held out hope that the young man
might be amended, via the old trope of a good woman’s love. “Your friend
could become a possible husband only if he changes under your influence.”
The writer was advised to explain to her boyfriend when he was in a good
mood, frankly, that he was making life unpleasant. Since they were not even
engaged, “he is abusing rights he does not yet have.” She was to be clear that
if he did not want to lose her, he would have to change. However, the adviser
warned that even if the young man promised to change after their discussion,
“the important thing is to know whether or not he’ll keep his promise after-
ward.” If he “resists” (se cabre), then she should break it off. In any case, rather

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than rushing into anything, she was advised to take the time to be sure her
boyfriend really could and would change his ways.44
The response rested clearly on an old idea, the “Beauty and the Beast” notion
that a woman could use her feminine influence to tame a man. Even more
troubling was the implication that his behavior was out of line only because
they were neither engaged nor married. The response did not condone physi-
cal abuse. Still, advising the young woman to try and change her boyfriend
rather than to break off the relationship showed a complete lack of awareness
of patterns of abusive and controlling behavior that a single discussion was not
likely to change. However, to expect an awareness of such patterns of abusive
behavior would be to apply current-​day understandings to the past.

Class and Youth Culture

By the 1950s, even working-​class teenagers increasingly socialized in groups,
went to movies or dances. Evidence abounds in 1950s juvenile case files that,
unlike earlier generations of working-​class adolescents, working-​class teens
had the means, the leisure, and the autonomy to take part in their era’s youth
culture. They adopted their own style of dress and hair. Reflecting the wider
reach of youth culture and the adult curiosity and concern it aroused, juve-
nile case reports sometimes described hair styles particular to young people.
About D, the social worker wrote in 1956 that his “long hair down his neck
makes him look coarse.” A seventeen-​year-​old girl, C, was described in 1954
as wearing tight-​fitting clothing with dyed-​blond hair “in a very modern
style.” Furthermore, she apparently combed her blond hair endlessly during
her meeting with the social worker.45 Teens listened to their own popular
music, went to dances and movies on their own, and followed their own
celebrities, as the popular press reported. A February 1957 issue of Marie-​
Claire reported that Gilbert Bécaud, a popular singer and actor, received 120
letters a day from his female fans.46

Sex and Sexuality

Many of the juvenile court case reports included the final element that sets
the 1950s apart from the 1940s, sex, or, to be more precise, sexuality. To
be clear, in the case files from the war and immediate postwar years, there
was plenty of sex going on. Many of the minors’ parents were unmarried or
separated from a first spouse or cohabited with a partner. There were teen

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      99

pregnancies and cases of parents concerned about their teenaged daughters’

sexual activity. Not surprisingly, parents were less attentive to that behavior
in teenaged boys. There were, during and after the war and into the 1950s,
only a very tiny number of cases of minors accused of things like indecency
or sexual assault, some cases involved teenaged victims.
However, in a consistent way in the 1950s, social workers and other inves-
tigators proved attentive to sexuality, meaning not sexual activity per se but
sexual wants and desires. Sex was seen as a motivating force in behaviors
beyond sex itself and as a defining feature of personality. Clearly, Freudian
assumptions about the sexual motivations of many nonsexual human behav-
iors, together with the Kinsey reports’ elaboration of the wide variety of
sexual behaviors and desires, over the 1950s were assimilated into a general
way of trying to understand people. By 1959, in the Nord Department, the
questionnaires that investigators filled out to complete their case studies of
minors in the courts, along with the older categories of age, schooling, paren-
tal occupation and income, parental morality, the child’s circle of friends, and
leisure activities, included a new category: sexuality.47
Though sexuality appeared as a case report category in the Nord
Department only in 1959, earlier in the decade more explicit attention to
teen premarital sex, from a practical rather than a moral perspective, began
appearing. In 1955, Marcelle Ségal responded to a sixteen-​year-​old girl who
wrote about her dilemma. “Before leaving for his regiment, he wanted me to
give myself to him.” “Marinette” was torn between her fear of parental anger
if she went along and they found out on the one hand and her fear that her
boyfriend might run off with someone else who would have sex with him if
she refused on the other. Ségal was very clear. Yes, she agreed, the issue was
a serious one, and she pointed out that Marinette had not even considered
who would end up raising the baby. It would not be fair, Ségal insisted, to
dump a baby on her parents. If she were not ready and able to raise a child,
she must not have one. Ségal parried the notion that Marinette might not get
pregnant. “That’s where it always begins for young ladies of sixteen.” Elle’s
social services “know a little something about this. So Marinette, the answer
is no!” Ségal’s message was clear, no sex, but her reasoning was entirely practi-
cal rather than moral. It is not clear if Ségal would have responded differently
had contraceptives been legal and available. Still, Ségal did not construct her
response around the view that premarital sex was sinful or immoral.48
Marcelle Auclair, the Marie-​Claire advice writer, dedicated a long essay
in 1957 to the issue of sexuality. She had been inspired, she claimed, by the
number of questions she had received from her female readers. The theme was

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“Why Are Women Less Free than Men?” One grandmother’s letter clearly
irritated Auclair. Granny was alarmed that at eighteen her grandson was still
a virgin, and even more upset that her daughter, the boy’s mother, seemed
unconcerned about her son’s virginity. Granny had even spoken with a doc-
tor, asking him to “lecture” her daughter to find the right woman and fix
this state of affairs. Auclair used this supposedly real grandmother to expose
how the double standard resulted in mixed-​up thinking about teen sexuality.
Auclair noted that should this very same grandmother find her own grand-
daughter “in a similar display with a male friend, she’d be indignant and
treat the girl like she was a hooker.” Now, however, granny seemed to want a
hooker to help her grandson “become a man.” Auclair accused many women
of suffering from their own incoherence. Rather than indulging their sons’
sexual appetites, “mothers should, while accepting the reality of sexuality,”
teach their sons that “sexual needs are controllable and must be controlled,”
until such time as they were ready to establish a happy household.49
Auclair argued that sexual liberty could become “a form of slavery.” She
recounted the story of an older male friend who on his deathbed confessed
that he had ruined his life “by letting myself be driven by sex.” Auclair was
convinced that sex similarly drove many men’s lives, even blaming many of
the world’s problems on the fact that too many (assumed male) politicians
were too much led by their sex drives, rendering them unable to use their
brains (similar to an argument about the uterus made in the nineteenth cen-
tury about women). Men and women alike, she insisted, must refuse a sexual
liberty that had become a form of slavery. Auclair admitted that she might
not win over many men, but she insisted on telling them to control their
sexuality. They were capable of doing so, she insisted, and if they refused,
she warned, they would have “absolutely no reason to require their wives and
daughters to control their sexuality.”50
Auclair did not deny sexual desire for either young men or young women.
Rather, as she had done in her criticism of prevalent views of male infidelity,
Auclair insisted on a single standard, one based on the general expectations
for young women, not those for young men. Both sexes needed to exercise
self-​control, to avoid sex before or outside of marriage. On the other hand,
Auclair also advocated “sex education” without “absurd taboos.” She wanted
both sexes to be prepared for the future, which she assumed would inevita-
bly involve heterosexual love, marriage, and family. Such education should
avoid inculcating sexual precocity in boys, so that they would not see multiple
adventures as a proof of virility. For girls, she wrote, “They should be suffi-
ciently instructed to be able to choose a husband with full knowledge of the

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      101

facts.” Sex should not be taboo, and adults should talk freely about sex with
them, not lecture to them. Sex was a natural appetite but, like all appetites,
needed to be controlled.51
Under the rubric “Equality in Principle, Inequality in Reality,” Auclair
included a letter from a “lucid young woman” who complained that people
had promoted female chastity as “a capital asset capable of being delivered
one day to a future husband.” “A woman’s purity” was viewed as the surest
“trump card of a happy marriage.” The letter writer complained, “The wife
is supposed to respond with unfailing serenity to her husband’s many esca-
pades.” The young woman argued that it went without saying, “if we accept
the equality of the sexes, [that] this concept seems anachronistic.” However,
the writer concluded that because in any adventure “the young woman risks
infinitely more than the man, equality in principle still results in an unequal
reality, owing to the uncontestable physiological differences.”52

Sex and the Single Girl

Posing an even stronger challenge to the double standard and prevailing
sexual mores regarding young women, Miss JB, a young philosophy profes-
sor, wrote Auclair about her interactions with young high school students.
Her two years teaching philosophy, she reported, “have exposed me to receiv-
ing from time to time the personal secrets of young girls tormented by the
problem of love.” Her students expressed much more passivity and resig-
nation than serenity about these matters. “And that leads me to ask you a
question: Do you believe that marriage is always the only solution? Do you
consider it possible that not all women feel a calling for marriage (without
mentioning women forced to give up on the idea)? Don’t all of those women
have the right to a sexual life?”53
Such a question, challenging the notions both that marriage was the inevi-
table and only correct choice for all women and that it was the only legitimate
location for satisfying female sexuality, would never have been published dur-
ing the Vichy years. Another letter also questioned why single women should
be deprived of expressing themselves sexually. The writer claimed to be thirty,
single, and serious, but reported, “I don’t have a completely normal life.” The
writer, having implied that chastity was abnormal, went on:  “A married
woman has a physiologically normal life. So why would we be surprised that
a single woman might have the same aspirations?”54 All three letters asserted
that women who decided not to marry should have the right to active sex

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lives. The first letter hinted that that such satisfaction might be outside het-
erosexuality. Auclair did not respond directly to those specific queries in her
essay. Nor did she or Marie-​Claire follow up in subsequent issues.
By the end of the decade, an article in Constellation tackled the topic of
adolescent girls and sexuality. Journalist Guy Robin, in “Our Girls’ Difficult
Age,” claimed that matters were even more advanced in England, where
more than half of all teenaged girls lived in a state of crisis with their parents
because they “insist on bringing their boyfriends into the home.” (He used
the English word “boyfriend.”) Robin reported that the Ecole des parents had
scheduled in response a forum with parents and adolescents to discuss “how
they conceive of matters relating to sexual education.” The young women in
attendance, Robin noted, expressed the “profound upheaval in adolescents’
souls. We are witnessing,” he asserted, “a total reversal of mores and accepted
ideas.” In 1959, Robin concluded, improbably, it was the “young woman who
dissipates herself with multiple adventures, and the young man who is often
incapable of initiating a first experience.”
Nearly a decade before the so-​called sexual revolution Robin insisted that
“natural modesty” no longer immunized girls against premarital sex. He
cited Kinsey’s report, but disputed Kinsey’s conclusion that young girls had
only one-​fi fth the sexual activity of young boys of the same age. Although
he provided no evidence, Robin disagreed, insisting that in this era of “the
nymphette,” girls were leading “a boy’s life.” Robin attributed all of this to
France’s rapid economic and social changes combined with early puberty,
which lowered the age of adolescent girls’ rebellion against their parents from
seventeen or eighteen before the war down to thirteen or fourteen.55
Although Robin’s completely unsupported assertions might have led
him to moralize about teenaged girls, instead the situation inspired him to
propose solutions that avoided any mention of religion or moral instruction.
Rather, Robin focused on education and career training. He recommended
taking girls’ schooling and preparation for careers far more seriously. Robin
lamented the fact that too many girls limited their ambitions to becoming
secretaries, leaving them bored and uninspired at school. Boys on the other
hand were absorbed by preparing for exciting future careers. Girls, often told
they were just biding their time in school until they married, needed more
exciting options to absorb their energy and distract them from sex. While
Robin viewed premarital sex negatively, he listed causes and suggested solu-
tions that were practical rather than moral.56 Robin was clear:  premature
sexual activity was bad for girls, harmful to their affective ability. It could
be traumatic and devalorizing, leaving many girls with a sense of guilt. Once

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      103

again, Robin argued from a psychological and not a moral point of view.
Though Vichy-​era advisers would have recommended a heavy dose of mar-
riage and motherhood, Robin’s solution was to absorb girls in thinking about
and preparing for rewarding careers that engaged their energies. Most impor-
tantly, he called on parents to discuss all of these matters directly and openly
with their children.
Robin and other authors, including Pernoud, indicate a growing sense,
not entirely positive and somewhat confused, that young women were gain-
ing autonomy. Popular magazines, novels, and films of the era only amplified
expert and adult anxieties about contemporary young women. For example,
the 1954 novel Bonjour tristesse, written by then seventeen-​year-​old Françoise
Sagan, tells the story of Cécile, a hedonistic, pleasure-​seeking seventeen-​year-​
old whose widowed, libertine father, living with one young mistress after
another, leaves her free to pursue her own pleasures. Over one summer vaca-
tion spent at a villa on the Mediterranean, Cécile pursues a physical relation-
ship with Cyril, a young man she does not love. Her father invites Anne, an
attractive, accomplished woman who had been her mother’s friend, to visit
them. When Cécile discovers that her father has fallen in love with and pro-
posed to Anne, she worries that Anne will impose her conventional values
on them. Thus Cécile cynically manipulates her father; her father’s young,
discarded lover, Elsa; and her own lover, Cyril, using Elsa and Cyril to trick
her father into cheating on Anne. Upon discovering his infidelity, Anne
leaves abruptly, driving off in her car. Father and daughter regret their actions
and resolve to repair the situation when, horrified, they learn that Anne has
been killed in a car accident. After briefly mourning Anne’s loss, Cécile and
her father return to their carefree, libertine lifestyle. Only Cécile’s closing
invocation of the title of Paul Elouard’s poem, “Bonjour, tristesse!” hints at
Cécile’s lingering sense of regret and emptiness.57
While not sexually explicit by today’s standards, the story, written by a
teenaged girl, shocked contemporary readers with its teenaged heroine who
expressed her sexuality without guilt or even a nod to Catholic morality,
even though she had spent her childhood at a Catholic boarding school.
Contemporary reviewers expressed surprise that an adolescent had written
the novel. Yet many elements of the story reflect common adolescent emo-
tional stances, including, for example, the self-​centered world view of a young
girl desperate to protect her exclusive emotional bond with her father.58 Its
explosive popularity—​it sold nearly a million copies in its first year—​indi-
cates the extent to which Bonjour tristesse tapped into contemporary fears
about youth in general and young women in particular.59 However, the story’s

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tragic denouement undercut its seemingly rebellious message, proving the

dangers of unbound female sexuality.60
Similarities abound between Sagan’s novel and another pop cultural icon
of the 1950s, Marcel Carné’s film Les tricheurs (The cheaters), released in
1958. Centered on existential, libertine Parisian youth, Les tricheurs, the top-​
grossing film of 1958–​1959 in spite of restrictions imposed in several places,
won the year’s Grand Prix du Cinéma français.61 Ticket sales, driven in part
by an alarmist marketing campaign, also reflected widespread public unease
about teen sexuality.”62
In this case the story takes the male point of view, opening with the main
character, Bob, refusing to celebrate passing his exams with his upper-​crust
classmates in favor of reminiscing alone, sadly, about events of the previous
year. Bob flashes back to his first encounter with Alain, a dropout from an
elite post-​secondary school whom he spotted brazenly shoplifting a record.
Alain initiates Bob into a life of teen debauchery, dancing, drinking, and
meaningless sexual hookups. Bob and one young woman from their circle,
Mic, begin to fall in love but, wanting to be true to their peers’ existential,
unconventional rejection of true love as an outdated bourgeois convention,
insist on denying that love. Mic sleeps with Alain, as she explains, to express
her equal right to have meaningless sex. Finally, at a party, playing a version of
truth or dare, Bob, following Mic’s lead, insists that he has no real feelings for
her. Like Anne in Bonjour tristesse, an upset Mic drives off in her sports car.
Jolted by her departure into recognizing his true feelings, Bob chases after
Mic in his car as the film, to a pounding jazz drum solo accompanying a high-​
speed car chase, ends in Mic’s fatal collision with an oncoming truck.
Both Bonjour tristesse and Les tricheurs expressed the fears and anxiet-
ies of the 1950s, a time when the hardships of a decade of war and recon-
struction had finally ended. Relief about the new era of material comfort
gave way quickly to anxieties centered on young people, no longer forced
to struggle for survival. Adults worried about this new generation that
seemed interested in nothing more than hedonistic pleasures, uncon-
cerned about their futures in general or marriage and family life in partic-
ular. Both stories suggested that the era’s teens, at least upper-​middle-​class
teens, focused entirely on their personal pleasure, had completely escaped
older gender and social norms about love, sex, and marriage, a message also
sent loud and clear by Brigitte Bardot’s character in Roger Vadim’s film Et
Dieu créa la femme (And God Created Woman), Bardot’s first star turn.
In both Bonjour tristesse and Les tricheurs, misunderstood central female
characters who want old-​fashioned loving relationships are killed (or

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      105

perhaps kill themselves) by the ultimate symbol of modern life, affluence

and mobility, the automobile. 63 While they do not explicitly condemn
the hedonistic, sexually liberated lifestyles of the young protagonists, the
tragic endings expressed the fears of contemporary adults.
Yet such popular cultural portrayals of adolescents, whose brazen rejec-
tion of conventional sexual moral values was intended to shock viewers,
should not be taken as accurate portrayals of young people’s lives.64 Nor did
these films necessarily reflect the vast majority of contemporary young peo-
ple’s values. Teens surveyed about Les tricheurs in the late 1950s firmly denied
that the film presented a realistic portrayal of themselves and their culture.65
Nevertheless, these stories, with their frank and open acknowledgment of
female sexuality as a natural force, do more than express adult anxieties. The
young women themselves in these stories insisted on their right to sexual free-
dom and pleasure. Books and films openly expressing young women’s sexual-
ity, even with tragic outcomes, still represented a significant change from the
late 1940s to the 1950s. Court files also provide evidence of a new awareness
about sex that no longer rested on religious morality.

Sex in Juvenile Case Files

Although novels and films indicated a notably increased awareness of youth
sexuality, the real extent of premarital sexual activity among adolescents in
1950s France remains unknown and unknowable. Juvenile case files rep-
resent a skewed sample that cannot be used to gauge the frequency of sex
among teens. Of necessity they involved young people who had allegedly
broken the law or run away from home. In some cases, a child’s behavior—​a
teenager who ran away, routinely skipped school, or snuck out at night, for
example—​prompted parents to invoke the juvenile courts. Thus the preva-
lence of sexual activity recorded in juvenile case files cannot be taken to
reflect a broader social trend. However, the cases themselves are instructive of
changing broader ideas about sex and sexuality and echo changes in popular
publications and films.
While having sex was not by itself illegal, some parents dealing with a
troubled child requested paternal correction. While available for both sexes,
paternal correction was most often invoked for girls. The behaviors that
prompted parents to request state intervention frequently involved what was
considered sexual misconduct, sneaking out of the house at night, sleeping
with young men, even running away with boyfriends.66

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In Truffaut’s quasi-​autobiographical 1959 film Les quatre cent coups (The

400 Blows), the young hero Antoine Doinel lands in an observation cen-
ter after tensions erupted with his stepfather. Juvenile courts could order a
minor, under various laws, to stay in an observation center, a diagnostic and
not, in theory, a punitive measure. The placement was meant to allow various
experts to undertake a close observation of the minor prior to the court’s final
determination. The film, however, portrays the observation center as brutal
and punitive, prompting Doinel to escape.67 Regardless of the accuracy of
its portrayal of an observation center, the film deviates from reality in that
Doinel’s sexual behavior was not the issue that motivated the paternal correc-
tion that landed him in the Center. Most cases of paternal correction in the
1950s involved teenaged girls’ sexuality.
Juvenile court statistics should not be taken to indicate the frequency of
sexual activity among the full population of adolescents in France. However,
court records from the 1950s sharply reflected the broader economic and cul-
tural changes underway. Signaling the easing of the severe economic changes
that provoked the rapid increase in juvenile crime statistics during the war,
the kinds of cases that dominated juvenile courts changed dramatically by
the 1950s. During World War II, property crimes and theft dominated the
juvenile court dockets. In the years 1940 to 1944, some 75 percent of juvenile
delinquents appearing in the courts were charged with theft.68 By the 1950s,
that had changed. Approximately 30–​40 percent of cases involved theft, but
more than 50 percent involved running away (vagabondage) or paternal cor-
rection for behaviors that in the US system are termed “status offenses,” con-
duct that would not be a crime for an adult.69
However, while paternal correction surely reinforced fathers’ patriarchal
control, case files often detail extremely complicated situations that turn out
not to be what they seemed to be at first glance. The case of M at first looks
like middle-​class parents attempting to impose class and gender standards
on their daughter, who fell in love with a boy of much lower social standing
than her family. M had completed a commercial baccalaureate degree (Bac
Commerciale), whereas the boy’s mother was a street merchant (marchande
de quatre saisons). M’s father sent the judge a letter requesting that she be
placed in a correctional institution until her majority because she had already
run away from home to be with her boyfriend several times. At one point
the police had to help locate her. Her parents discovered that M’s boyfriend
had been discharged from the army for medical reasons; they clearly feared
tuberculosis. M and her parents both claimed that they had been the victims
of the other’s violence. M’s father claimed she broke a cup over her mother’s

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      107

head; M claimed her father had hit her in public when he found her with her
The judge placed M temporarily at a girl’s institution, Chevilly, for obser-
vation and testing, while the social worker investigated the situation. During
an interview with a social worker at Chevilly, M began to express a desire to
break off relations with her boyfriend. At first she referred to her parents’
concern about his illness and her desire not to remain at Chevilly. However,
shortly after her interview M sent a letter directly to the judge “in which she
accused her boyfriend of having hit her on multiple occasions.” Her parents
had noticed the bruises, and another witness had seen him slap her for speak-
ing with another young man. M explained that her boyfriend had “hit me
many times, his violence was motivated by unprovoked jealousy.” As her atti-
tude changed, the parents withdrew the request for paternal correction, and
she was released. Here what first appeared to be heavy-​handed parents con-
trolling their daughter out of class prejudice in fact may have provided her
with the separation and time she needed to recognize and admit to herself the
boyfriend’s abusive behavior. It would be impossible to ascertain, however,
since we cannot know the full truth. She may have returned to the boyfriend
after all this.70
These cases represent the extreme situations, an exaggeration of the nor-
mal stresses of family life with an adolescent. Still, case reports and cultural
sources suggest changes by the 1950s in how young men and women inter-
acted, in how much freedom and autonomy they were allowed, and in who
had the final say over the choice of a spouse. Broader French culture no lon-
ger considered the total supervision earlier generations insisted on, especially
for girls, as necessary or even appropriate. While there was little recourse for
the victims, physical abuse was not condoned. Parents still felt the need to
have some say over their children’s choices when it came to boyfriends and
marriage partners. If they felt themselves losing control, parents could ask
a juvenile judge to intervene. However, the intervention was not just a sim-
ple matter of enforcing parental control. Rather, the juvenile justice system
conducted a rigorous investigation and intervened with all parties to try and
resolve matters in the minor’s best interest, not necessarily in the way the par-
ents wanted. Such intervention could, but did not always, result in a tempo-
rary placement in an institutional setting, apprenticeship, boardinghouse for
young workers, or foster family. Because it unleashed an intrusive response
that put the entire family under a microscope, parents did not lightly decide
to request court intervention, most often doing so when facing extreme
behaviors that could put the minor him-​or herself at risk.

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So what can we learn about teenagers and sex from case files? For one
thing, sexual activity did not necessarily invoke a harsh response from the
juvenile justice system. M, a sixteen-​year-​old girl who had moved with her
family from Spain, plotted with her fiancé to ambush a male neighbor she
accused of attempting to rape her. The social worker described M as “more
experienced than other young women of her age,” having already had a false
labor. The social worker rejected sending M to a Bon Pasteur Christian home
for wayward girls. Because M had neither been violent nor stolen anything,
the social worker worried that at a Bon Pasteur she would find herself sur-
rounded by minors “more perverted than she is.” Instead, the social worker
recommended letting her marry her fiancé, jailed after the assault, as soon as
he was released.71
Another case contains interesting revelations about teen life and how the
system responded. C, a fifteen-​year-​old girl arrested for public indecency,
admitted that she and her twenty-​three-​year-​old boyfriend had been having
sex “every other day” for nearly nine months, in a vacant lot near the Porte
des Lilas. That it took nine months before anyone noticed or reported them
suggests some tolerance for such behavior. The mother thought the couple
had been going to the movies and noted that the boy promised to marry
C. Notwithstanding months of regular extramarital sexual encounters, the
police bulletin described C as having a “pretty good character.” She had made
the mistake of “living out of wedlock with her future husband,” something
the police attributed to the “weakness of youth.” Eventually C married her
Another fifteen-​year-​old girl climbed out her window and spent two
nights away from home. B first denied, then after a medical exam admitted
to having sex with a nineteen-​year-​old man. She claimed to have been a virgin
before her encounter but was curious about sex. The report described B as
precocious, “attracted to male company (by atavism do doubt),” surrounded
by bad influences at work and in her social circles. She was placed provision-
ally at a state-​run girls’ institution, did well there, and left after a short stay.73
In the case of P, seventeen in 1955, the mother requested paternal cor-
rection when she found out P was pregnant. At age twelve, P had lost both
her father and her sister. According to the mother, P fell in with some neigh-
borhood nogoodniks who encouraged her to stay out too late and took her
along to the fort at Nogent, “to flirt and make out with soldiers.” Eventually
P got involved with an older man who revealed that he was married with
children only after she informed him of her pregnancy. The social worker
was not impressed by P’s mother, finding a distressing “attitude of casualness”

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      109

(désinvolture), neglect, egoism, and possibly alcoholism. Even her older

brother, totally lacking in understanding, expressed no affection for P.  The
social worker blamed the complete absence of family affection for P’s attempt
to seek “outside of home the affection she does not get from her own family.” 74
The social worker approached the case from a psychological, not moral, per-
spective, expressing sympathy for the young women, condemning not P but
her family for failing to provide love and affection.
Even some cases not initially linked to sexual activity could end up uncov-
ering it. In 1954 in the Nord, B, a seventeen-​year-​old girl, came to the court’s
attention because she had stolen a bicycle. The parents reported that she often
went out alone at night. B denied having spent “the night away from home at
a dance,” but admitted to lying to her parents when she returned at 5:00 a.m.
She told her parents that the police had picked her up and kept her all night
because she did not have proper identification. One of the most intriguing
aspects of this case appears tucked in the psychiatrist’s report. The doctor
reported that B admitted that she loved the company of boys and that she
retorted somewhat belligerently when questioned about her sexual activities,
“Everyone else is doing it.” 75 Was everyone else doing it? Unfortunately, there
is no way to verify her statement, but her assertion, even if typical of adoles-
cent pushback, is significant.
A final example highlights the tendency to bring up matters pertaining
to sex. G, a fifteen-​year-​old boy, had run away from home. Although the case
report noted that G lived in a stable household and worked as a laborer at a
saw mill, he had long posed disciplinary problems at home and at school, had
occasionally been violent, and was linked to several thefts. In the course of
the investigation, W’s mother reported that her son showed “great interest in
sexual matters”; she had caught him with pornography.76
Girls sneaking out to have sexual encounters with boyfriends behind their
parents’ backs and boys hiding porn do not necessarily suggest serious men-
tal disorders. However, some cases hinted at potentially deeper disturbances.
Interestingly, in one such case, the system did not respond with much alarm.
V, a seventeen-​year-​old boy, was accused by female neighbor of twice mastur-
bating at the window in plain view as she walked by. V denied masturbating
but did admit, “It has happened that, two or three times, I have exhibited
myself in front of the window.” The social worker described his family as
“normally constituted,” meaning married parents, a well-​maintained home.
The parents, who expressed regret about the incident, showed no signs of
marital conflict. They provided their children with a good education. The
“family unit” (bloc familial) was tight. Noting how tall the boy was and that

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he had shown no previous signs of sexual problems, the social worker attrib-
uted his actions to a combination of puberty with particularly rapid growth.
The court let it go.77
Investigators directed more explicit attention in these reports to the
issue of homosexuality, but exclusively about adolescent boys. In one case,
the mother of D, a seventeen-​year-​old boy, had requested paternal correction
when her son responded to a reprimand by threatening her with a chair. At
that point his stepfather intervened, and D punched him in the face. A year
earlier he had hit his mother above the eye with a fork. The mother, widowed
when he was three, had then married a widower, a former POW whose first
wife died while he was in captivity, leaving his young son in the hands of
caretakers. When he returned to France in 1942 and married D’s mother, he
regained custody of his son (D’s younger stepbrother), then temporarily lost
custody owing to reported abuse. The social worker described D’s stepbrother
as the family’s “scapegoat,” attributing D’s violence to anger at his mother’s
mistreatment of his stepbrother.
However, the social worker took the report in an entirely new direction
based on interviewing D’s employer. His boss described D’s difficult char-
acter. He needed to feel dominated in order to behave. With an exasperat-
ing “ironic” smile, D was “mild-​mannered” and even a bit “effeminate.”
According to several observers, D had changed when he began drinking alco-
hol earlier that year. “He has adopted an effeminate appearance, has his hair
dyed and permed, uses face cream.” Convinced of his beauty, “he dreamed of
becoming a movie star. Although they have no proof, his parents are sure that
he spends time with homosexuals.” The social worker agreed that the boy
had “a somewhat effeminate appearance.” He was also “very ironic” (irony
was clearly coded as gay). Nothing good seemed likely to result from this
investigation. No one in the immediate family seemed much attached to the
boy, and relations with his mother and stepfather were tense. However, an
uncle stepped in to save the day. Having already taken in one of D’s sisters,
he offered to take D, and the parents agreed. D declared that he was tired
of being beaten and mistreated by his mother, whom he called a cruel step-
mother, most likely (since she was his biological mother) in reference to her
treatment of his stepbrother. D happily went to live with his uncle.78
Again moving from an incident involving a minor’s theft to an explora-
tion of the minor’s sexuality, B, a thirteen-​year-​old boy, was accused of steal-
ing money from a church office while the priest was celebrating mass. In this
case, the father was the dominant influence, and the mother, a homemaker,
described the family as “very united.” However, the report noted, while the

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      111

boy was aware of sex, “he seemed indifferent to the opposite sex.” In games,
he preferred the masculine sex. “His sexual knowledge seems to be null.”
However, the report found “no signs of inversion [homosexuality] as far as
onanism [masturbation] is concerned.” 79
A fascinating case, starting with a theft, opens a window onto Paris’
gay subculture. It all began when C, a seventeen-​year-​old boy, stole a Vespa
scooter. Raised in a well-​do-​do family, the boy had struggled academically,
leaving him unable to continue his studies. Instead, he undertook an appren-
ticeship to become an electrician, an occupation too working-​class for his
tastes. After failing his professional exam (CAP), unmotivated and adrift,
C tried, according to the report, to “move into student circles,” hanging out
in the Latin Quarter, taking part in dance contests, trying to learn the saxo-
phone, taking on a “slightly extravagant style.” The social worker described
meeting C for the first time. “When we first saw him, he was wearing a black
sweater and ridiculously tight blue jeans. A somewhat curious haircut could
not have allowed him to pass unnoticed.” Along with his “disillusioned and
nonchalant” attitude, C too had an “ironic smile” and an “unanimated face,
sensuous and soft lips, short hair pushed over on one side.” He proclaimed
that he was ugly, and the report noted he “often stares at himself” in mirrors.
The social worker blamed the father’s absence from the family for depriv-
ing him of equilibrium, affection, and a satisfying masculine identification.
Although he reported having had a year-​long “flirt” with a “nice girl,” the
social worker concluded, “From the sexual point of view … we wonder if
there are not strong latent homosexual tendencies in him.” The giveaway was
that the social worker described him at another meeting as having cloth-
ing and hair “in Saint-​Germain-​des-​Près fashion.” That part of Paris was a
well-​known 1950s gay male hangout.80 The psychiatrist reported he showed
“much aggression against woman as a sexual object … an attitude we often
see among homosexuals.” Although the psychiatrist recommended psycho-
therapy, the judge decided just to release C with a severe warning from the
bench about the theft.81
In 1958, the case of a runaway teen quickly focused on his sexuality when
the sixteen-​year-​old M accused his stepfather of sexual abuse. M was given a
medical exam “to explore his sexual formation,” because he apparently had
enlarged breasts. The examining doctor reported that M had “sexual ambiva-
lence.” Ultimately he was placed in a medico-​pedagogical institute (Institut
Medico-​Pedagogique) for medical treatment and occupational therapy. His
behavior was blamed on his broken family. He was shunted around from place
to place, and his biological father took no interest in him, but he had never

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been fully integrated into his mother and stepfather’s family. The reports
were not terribly concerned about M’s allegations of his stepfather’s sexual
abuse, which he eventually retracted, or even about the supposed homosexual
tendencies they uncovered. What the court focused on was the need to find a
place for him and remove him from the unhappy family setting.82
Thus the fact that the possibility of homosexuality was noted represents
a big change from the 1940s. Social workers and other investigators recorded
their suspicions or the hints of others they questioned. In some cases the
reports attempted to explain what was clearly viewed as an aberration by
referring to family pathology (overbearing mother, lack of appropriate male
authority figure) or to medical, hormonal issues. If there were additional
indications of psychological problems, the reports sometimes recommended
psychological or medical treatment. But fundamentally the courts directed
much more attention to protecting the minor’s overall interests, showing
little inclination to intervene on the issue of sexual orientation. By the 1950s,
beyond the issue of homosexuality, the open speculation about sexuality in
general represented a huge shift from wartime case files.
In the 1940s, courts investigated the personal and family situation of a
minor accused of stealing a bicycle to determine whether that minor could
remain at home or should be removed. Did the parents provide sufficient
moral and material support? Was there evidence of alcohol abuse or violence?
Were the surroundings healthy? What did the minor do in his or her spare
time? Social workers and investigators did try to determine if the minor had
engaged in sex, but did not delve into sexuality. Furthermore, the descrip-
tions of hair and clothing styles (beyond basic cleanliness and decency), sen-
suous lips, ironic smiles, and tight jeans were also new to the 1950s. If the
adolescent surface hid a deep well of roiling emotions, starting in the 1950s,
investigators poked and prodded to get at all of that.
Popular magazines, books, films, and court documents alike suggest that
adolescents of both sexes had gained more personal freedom. Social workers
and psychiatrists, primed by Freud and Kinsey to think about sexuality as
a driving force in behaviors, began to include information about sexuality
even in cases that did not originate in anything related to sex. The public’s
sense of teenaged girls’ growing freedom led some alarmists to portray them
as out-​of-​control nymphettes. Conservative fears led many observers to over-
state the reality. However, even alarmed voices, rather than wanting to turn
back the clock, advocated giving girls more direction, more inspiring goals.
Thus, by 1959, nearly a decade before the sexual revolution, contemporaries
were sure they were in the midst of one. While most writings expressed a

Children and Adolescents in the 1950s      •      113

strong desire to contain and limit certain ideas and behaviors, central to all
these discussions was a frank admission of sexuality, adolescent and adult,
male and female, hetero-​and homosexual, and a clear shift away from fram-
ing the issue of adolescent sex in moral terms. Neither did writers discuss the
issues exclusively in the context of the assumed, idealized future marriage.
The arguments in favor of preventing adolescent girls from having sex were
entirely practical and psychological.
The language and ideas about marriage, gender, and family life rapidly
changed over the 1950s. That does not mean families changed how they actu-
ally operated. Rather, a new way of thinking about all of these issues had devel-
oped. The moral and religious language that inflected earlier discussions had
been replaced by psychological, Freudian notions. The focus on the self and
the satisfaction of its needs, for children, adolescents both male and female,
and young men and women, permeated popular magazines, novels, and films,
along with the practice of medicine, psychology, and social work. Journalists,
doctors, social workers, and others converged to express the strong sense that
women’s lives were changing. There was a frank acknowledgment of female
sexuality even as containment continued to be the goal. A new, expanding
youth culture and sociability and new mixed-​sex activities like dancing with-
out adult supervision, along with adult attention to adolescent sexuality, all
planted the seeds of the sexual revolution and then cultivated them. It may
have taken another decade for them to bloom, but the forces had been set
in motion throughout the 1950s. Looking backwards at the 1950s makes
it hard to recognize how new and unsettling this must have been to people
who lived their lives forward in time. Changes in social expectations about
men, women, and family life in the 1950s were hardly revolutionary. French
society remained predominantly conservative, patriarchal, family-​and small-​
town-​oriented. Chastity was still expected of most women, but no longer for
all. Feminism, Freud, existentialism, and Kinsey were all in the air. These
notions were spreading through more popular magazines and even appeared
in court case reports. Adolescents struggled to make sense of the mixed mes-
sages they were receiving. Social workers intervened and looked closely at real
families as they dealt with problems. The stage was set. On to the 1960s!

5 F A M I LY, S E X , M A R R I A G E , A N D

Back in 1951, Elle advice columnist Marcelle Ségal had compared

the inevitable changing of social norms to the movement of a gla-
cier, slow but unstoppable.1 Nearly a decade later, suggesting that
the pace of change had indeed been glacial, Confidences, in its guide
for married couples searching for happiness, advised couples how to
make 1960 the year of “perfect harmony.” Directed not just at wives
but also at husbands and children, the guide recommended trying
to reduce the daily irritations that “undermine happiness, little by
little.” Wives were warned, for example, not to ask their husbands
for cash first thing in the morning. Instead, a good wife would wait
until her husband had at least finished his breakfast. Husbands
were advised not to respond to their wives’ requests for money with
complaints or even insults. A good husband would understand that
his wife needed money to manage the house and prepare the fam-
ily’s meals.2 Confidences’ advice was embedded in a vision of mar-
riage and spousal relations that could have appeared in any women’s
magazine at nearly any point in the previous three decades.
Five years later, however, in Elle, Ségal no longer considered
her 1951 glacier metaphor apt. In May 1965, a young unmarried
woman signing off as “Jeune Fille” wrote Ségal that she was “fright-
ened by today’s world.” Too many people “have no idea what a nor-
mal household is.” Couples divorced, separated, or did not even
bother to marry; young people no longer considered marriage to be
sacred. Ségal reassured Jeune Fille that she would eventually find a
boy who shared her serious views of marriage, someone with whom
she would build a solid family. But Ségal explained, “Our time rep-
resents a great turning point, bubbling like a witch’s cauldron. All
of us are just poor fetuses dancing in the broth.”3
Clearly things had not undergone a full revolution in the five
years between Confidences’ perfect harmony in 1960 and Ségal’s

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      115

bubbling cauldron of 1965. These two visions appeared, for one thing, in
two very different kinds of magazines, even if both fell under the category
of women’s magazines. They were aimed at different audiences and appealed
to different readers. These two visions also serve as a warning. Social views
about marriage, gender roles, dating, and childrearing are never mono-
lithic. Instead, ideas about private and intimate life not only change within
individual people and groups; they change over time, vary between groups,
at times are contradictory, and always are complex, shaped by class, gender,
geography, religion, ethnicity, and political orientation. Much of what we
associate with the 1960s was already evident, well beyond embryonic, in
the 1950s. A variety of 1950s authors and journalists were working out the
implications of Freudian theories of the self, developing a psychological ori-
entation toward child development, personal development, and husband-​
wife and parent-​child relations. By 1960, in a decade with the Gaullist
Fifth Republic firmly established and the Algerian war drawing to a pain-
ful close, Freud, Beauvoir, and Kinsey were no longer new. Social attitudes
in the early 1960s built on the foundation set out in their works, amplified
by women’s magazines, childrearing guidebooks, and advice columns. Thus
in the early 1960s the Freudian reshaping of assumptions about human
nature, Kinsey’s revelations about male and female sexual desire and behav-
ior, and the rebalancing of social imperatives in favor of greater Beauvoirian
individual choice and autonomy continued to play out, eventually spurring
fundamental challenges to existing notions about men, women, children,
and family life.
By the 1960s, France had entered a “post-​psychology” era. Voices
from across the spectrum in French society now fully accepted Freudian-​
inflected psychological concepts. The underlying assumptions, no longer
needing justification or even much explanation, were incorporated into
a common language shared across political, social, and religious lines.
Catholic writings were as likely to use psychological and Freudian terms
as those by medical and psychiatric experts. Furthermore, the Freudian
notion of the unconscious, the idea that humans are governed by various
drives, complexes, and mechanisms, had been fully integrated into the era’s
vision of the self and, for a growing number of people, into their personal
understanding of themselves.
While the striking change just after the war centered on thinking
about the father and his role in the family, by the 1960s those who wrote
about marriage or advised married couples most often focused on changes
in women’s lives and roles. In particular, the acknowledgement of a female

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sex drive, together with the “shocking” revelations in Kinsey’s studies, par-
ticularly about female sexuality, created the cauldron Ségal describes of
roiling ideas and conflicting expectations that were particularly vexing for
adolescent girls and women, both unmarried and married. For all groups,
but especially for children, married and single women, sex and sexuality
took center stage.
Secondly, rising affluence, slowly trickling down through the social strata
and out from urban to rural France, entered a new phase in the 1960s. The
government played an essential role in spreading affluence in France. In
the broadest ways, after the war, France’s state-​sponsored economic plans
helped companies rebuild and developed France’s industrial and transporta-
tion infrastructure. The government invested directly or encouraged private
investment in key economic sectors and by the mid-​1950s began the mas-
sive building of housing. Beyond that, policies designed and implemented to
reverse declining birth rates—​family allowances, single salary allowances,
birth bonuses, pre-​and post-​natal care—​infused poor and working-​class
families with cash and access to credit. In effect, the government redistrib-
uted a share of France’s rising affluence and gave those families the ability
to purchase new consumer goods. After 1945, family policies and benefits
constituted the foundation of France’s growing welfare state.
The importance of state policies in increasing family resources across
income groups cannot be overstated. Furthermore, France’s baby boom,
which started in 1942, reversed a century of declining fertility rates. By
the mid-​1950s, the reality of a growing population of children had become
apparent not just to demographers but across France. By the early 1960s,
while it was exactly what nearly all political, cultural, and religious lead-
ers had dreamed of and worked for over decades, the baby boom both
eliminated fears of French depopulation and created a new set of problems
that should perhaps have been foreseen. Pride in a booming population
morphed by the early 1960s into growing concerns about the resulting
infrastructural strains. For one thing, schools struggled to manage with
packed classrooms. The baby boom also fed a veritable obsession with
youth, evident by the early 1960s.4 In particular, teen girls and young
unmarried women, les jeunes filles in French parlance, became the objects
of signficant attention.
France by the 1960s had attained a level of affluence that allowed most
of its citizens to participate in consumerism. At that point, the implications
of consumption for personal fulfillment, for family and marital relations,
and for young people’s lives became a topic of discussion and debate not just

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      117

among cultural and intellectual elites but at the popular level as well. One
way the state increased access across social classes to leisure and household
goods in part was by facilitating loans and encouraging rising levels of con-
sumer debt. While these policies spurred consumption, they also created seri-
ous problems for some working-​class families.
By the 1960s, the number of cultural touchpoints had diversified and
multiplied, making it more difficult to identify any as central, although
every woman’s magazine regularly featured Brigitte Bardot. More seri-
ously, the ongoing conflict in Algeria, which came painfully to an end
in 1962, represented a key issue. As France ended its role as an imperial
power, attitudes toward race, if anything, hardened. In the Paris area juve-
nile court case files, no longer were people identified as “North Africans.”
Rather, the term “Arabs” was used to stigmatize Algerians or other North
Africans of non-​European ancestry. Many people who had gained citizen-
ship rights after World War II to enter and leave France lost those citi-
zenship rights under the 1962 Evian accords. They became, legally and
culturally, the alien “other.” While cases in the Marseilles area included
many Algerian families, with some references to fathers or uncles who
had been arrested or forced to leave the city owing to their links to the
Algerian independence movement (FLN), there were no cases involving
juveniles or families of Algerian/​North African ancestry in the Paris
sample of early 1960s juvenile case files. However, what did appear very
regularly in the Paris files were derogatory references to people of North
African ancestry. Parents expressed concern about their daughters said
to be associating with, or even sleeping with, “Arabs.” Similarly, reports
described troubled teenaged boys as spending time with gangs of young
“Arabs.” Given how carefully investigators tracked down most informa-
tion, the use of this nonspecific descriptor, something they heard in inter-
views with the local neighbors and teachers, signaled an even more intense
kind of racial thinking that categorized young people of North African
ancestry as dangerous and corrupting.5
An additional factor also played a role in changing attitudes. Throughout
the 1960s, France experienced a precipitous drop in Catholic practice. The
vast majority of the French public, 90  percent, continued to identify as
Catholic. The church still provided schooling to large numbers of children.
But as the church itself went through major changes during the Second
Vatican Council (1962–​1965), the number of people regularly attending
Catholic services declined steadily. By the end of the 1960s, only 15 percent
of adults reported that they took weekly communion.6

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The Self in a Post-​Psychological, Affluent France

In 1960, Confidences published an article asking readers, “Are You a Good
Psychologist?” According to the article, many people who considered them-
selves good psychologists in fact often made mistakes when interpreting other
people’s actions. So, in a genre that exploded in the 1960s, the article included
a “test.” Readers would answer questions and score themselves accordingly.
In this version, they could rate their own psychological acuity by answering
such questions as “Do you believe that there exist ethnic or national groups
naturally inclined to laziness or genius, ingeniousness or hostility?” or “Do
you share the opinion that a child is indifferent to his first experiences, which
therefore have little possibility of influencing his future personality?” “No”
was the correct answer to all the questions. Thus readers who agreed with
some or all of the questions were deemed poor judges of other people; what
they thought of as an acute understanding of psychology in fact consisted of
false concepts, prejudice, and poor observation. The article masked its clear
moral and civic lessons by appealing to its readers’ conceit that they were up
on the latest psychological theories.7
In 1961, Françoise Dolto, one of France’s leading psychoanalysts, known
for applying Freud’s theories to children’s lives, published an updated edi-
tion of Psychanalyse et pédiatrie (Psychoanalysis and pediatrics), which had
originally appeared twenty years earlier. Alongside Dolto a new generation
of experts provided general readers with practical advice on childrearing,
not strictly Freudian but infused with broadly psychological understand-
ings of childhood. René Monge’s guide to raising children ages two to seven
explained that experts now understood how critical those years were. Most
failures and handicaps in older children resulted from what happened to a
child in those critical five years, which could “ruin a child’s entire life and
that of his family circle.” While issuing that draconian warning, Monge
also exhorted parents not to overestimate the risk of inflicting complexes
on their children. 8 For those who had not avoided the risk, a book about
children in the next age group, ages six to sixteen, addressed parents of chil-
dren with “personality problems” (troubles de caractère). The guide recom-
mended that parents whose children were excessively emotional, unstable,
bipolar, or handicapped contact the nearest Psycho-​Pedagogical Center
which offered free consultations to parents of children with emotional
Popular magazines also emphasized child psychology. Constellation pub-
lished “A Test Game for Ages 7 to 14:  Discover your Child’s Personality.”

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      119

Parents could select images that indicated their child’s preferred toys and
games or whether they preferred dogs or cats, for example, and from that
they would be directed to the appropriate personality profile. The same issue
included an article on the psychology of toys.10
Psychology was not just for children. In an article describing the stresses
and strains of the new high tech job of punch card operator, mostly filled by
women, Andrée Cazaubon, writing for the labor movement Confédération
Générale du Travail’s magazine, Antoinette, interviewed psychiatrist Jean
Begoin. He noted that one in three punch card operators suffered seri-
ous depression resulting from the stress of hours of rapid-​paced, repetitive
motion.11 Marcelle Auclair, whose work as an advice columnist involved
helping others deal with their problems, wrote about her life as a professional
journalist and mother. She noted wistfully that one of her sons pointed to her
professional life as contributing to his adult psychological problems.12
Court case reports also included much more extensive psychological
information by the 1960s. Continuing a 1950s development, Freudian terms
appeared with increasing frequency. For example, one report attributed a
thirteen-​year-​old girl’s misbehavior to her need for oral pleasure. Her strong
superego prevented her from being spontaneous in her interpersonal inter-
actions. Another report described a fourteen-​year-​old as having an inferior-
ity complex; yet another teen was described as an “obsessive type, self-​doubt,
strong impulsivity.”13
During World War II, psychological examination and testing was already
administered to minors in the Paris region deemed to need it. However,
doctors reported test results in very brief summaries, with test scores sup-
plemented by a few brief sentences indicating the findings. Social workers’
reports provided much richer profiles of the minors’ personalities.14 In case
files from the 1960s, however, the doctors’ reports included much more
extensive explanations of the test results, descriptions of the personalities
that integrated the test results into a full portrait of the minor’s personality.
R, a seventeen-​year-​old boy living with his mother, for example, was given
an entire battery of tests. What emerged was his mother’s lack of authority
over R, her only child, and his own lack of a paternal image and ambivalence
toward his mother. His personality was “fairly subtle” with a tendency to
anxiety, which he sought to alleviate with “unstable responses.” Still, he had
“good affective resources.”15A sixteen-​year-​old girl’s neuropsychiatric report
noted her poor internal life, her passivity, and her essential need to maintain
her situation of affective childhood in its aspect of dependency and servility,
with an image of father-​generated inhibition.16

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The integration of psychological and psychiatric concepts with Freudian

notions about the impact of the child’s primary relationship with maternal/​
paternal figures as they shaped personality and at times resulted in various
personality disorders represented the culmination of trends that dated back
much earlier. These reports served to determine how best to handle a case,
whether a minor could be left at home, with or without some form of outside
supervision, or placed in a foster family or a group home, psychiatric institu-
tion, or apprenticeship center. With the system aimed at rehabilitation rather
than punishment, experts insisted that diagnosing the difficulty and deter-
mining proper treatment required the information provided by psychiatric
and psychological testing.
By the early 1960s, French popular culture had profoundly assimilated a
broadly Freudian vision of the self. Popular culture, guidebooks, social work-
ers, and women’s magazines all expressed, without explanation or justifica-
tion, basic Freudian concepts and terms, a deeply psychological orientation,
and a conviction about the importance of psychology, psychiatry, and at
times even of psychoanalysis.17

This Appliance Will Change Our Lives

The 1950s represented the pivotal decade in France’s transformation to an
affluent society, witnessing a rapid and striking improvement in French
standards of living. The rebuilt infrastructure, improved housing, and
extension of running water, gas, and electricity made possible the use of
new consumer and domestic appliances on a mass scale.18 Still, for most
working-​class families, purchasing consumer durables required more cash
or access to credit than they had. Here again, the French government
played a key role. In particular, family benefits infused significant addi-
tional income into families with at least two dependent children. These
grants were based entirely on the number of children they had, with no
means testing required. The sum, set as a percentage of each department’s
average salary, increased dramatically for each additional child after two.
Juvenile case files make clear just how significant the additional revenues
could be for many working-​class families. Family allowance funds alone
enabled many families to purchase household equipment. However, beyond
infusing income, the government also set up additional programs for fami-
lies eligible for family allowances, essentially any family with two or more
minor children living at home. For example, those families could also be

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      121

eligible for a housing allowance to assist large families with limited means
to move to more spacious lodgings.19
Still, for some families even the additional allowances were not sufficient
to allow purchases of expensive household appliances. Mrs. Régine V wrote
to Confidences in 1962. With a family of five, she dreamed of “purchasing a
refrigerator, an appliance that would transform our lives.” But on their tight
budget, the cost “frightens me a bit.” She asked if any organization would
lend money to a “modest household for its domestic amenities?” Confidences
pointed out that most Family Allowance funds, which operated regionally,
had a “loan service for domestic amenities,” meant to assist families of mod-
est means who received family allowances by offering no-​interest loans to
purchase “primary need” domestic appliances, particularly appliances whose
use would save families enough money to offset the cost. Family Allowance
funds loaned up to 80 percent of the cost, with a ceiling of 800–​1000 francs,
giving families one to two years to pay off the loan, with repayments limited
to 10–​15  percent of the family allowances they received. Debts were usu-
ally canceled in the case of the death or permanent disability of the head
of household. 20 A  public/​private effort, the Cetelem, a consortium of pri-
vate banks and appliance manufacturers, working with the government’s
National Credit Bureau, also provided loans specifically to purchase domes-
tic appliances. The government worked to overcome the stigma of consumer
credit, regulating the system to encourage people at all social levels to pur-
chase new goods.21

The Limits of Affluence; Continuing Housing Shortages

In spite of the government’s efforts, court records make clear that even in the
early 1960s many poor families continued to struggle with inadequate hous-
ing. In the Bouches du Rhône, the G family, including parents, a minor child,
an adult child with spouse, and their four children, a total of seven people,
lived in a two-​room apartment in “run-​down housing.” The minor shared a
“corner sofa” with her oldest niece.22 Also in Bouches-​du-​R hône, a mother
and her seven children lived in a three-​room apartment in one of the last
“emergency housing” lodgings.23
Similar squeezing was still evident in the Paris case files. Most extreme
was the P family, which in 1962 was living in a small house the husband had
built himself. The two parents and their twelve children, along with their
oldest daughter’s boyfriend and son, seventeen people in total, crammed

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themselves into a three-​room house with a kitchen. By 1965, the social worker
had managed to find them a six-​room apartment.24 In the case of the L family,
two of the minor children were living with the mother; four other children
had been placed by Public Assistance in foster homes. The mother wanted
all her children to live with her but could only manage that “if they provided
her with decent enough housing.” She and her two children were living in a
single room, sharing one bed. They had nearly been evicted two years earlier
for nonpayment of rent, but the Seine prefecture’s housing service had main-
tained her in the room while she awaited new lodging. But with no rent paid,
the landlord had cut off her electricity and locked her out of the bathroom
on their floor, so she and the children had to climb two floors for access to
toilets. The social worker inquired about getting her moved up on the wait list
of the Service des mal logés (Service for the poorly housed) so she could get
her children back, but was told by the head of that service, given the number
of worthy cases they were handling, they could not give her “preferable treat-
ment.” She would have to wait and would not be likely to get a new apartment
for several more years.25 The P family of six lived in an apartment with “one
tiny bedroom, a minuscule kitchen.” The social worker wrote, “One wonders
how six people can keep going in such a limited space.”26
By contrast, in the Nord Department, a region of heavy industry with a
tradition of company housing, much of which had been damaged during the
war, case files attest to a successful shift. In the late 1940s and early 1950s,
many workers and their families lived in the temporary barracks quickly put
up after the war to fill the void caused by the war’s destruction. By the 1960s,
reports noted that many families had moved from barracks into permanent
company housing, recently built apartments with amenities such as electric-
ity, gas, and indoor plumbing.27
Thus pockets of overcrowding still existed in big cities, in part owing to the
pressure the baby boom’s larger families placed on housing stock. Still, a basic
level of comfort and amenities had reached the vast majority of the popula-
tion by the 1960s. Even overcrowded families had more amenities than their
1940s counterparts. In Marseilles, the G family—​the father unemployed
after an injury; the mother, who cleaned houses; and three children—​all lived
in a one-​room apartment. However, the report noted that the “very insuf-
ficient” apartment nevertheless had a television, a refrigerator, and a wash-
ing machine.28 Women’s magazines, consumer groups, and the government
worked to overcome the ordinary French family’s legendary aversion to debt
(owed to institutions) to promote consumption. Working-​class families had
long improvised informal systems of credit, not counted in official statistics,

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      123

such as borrowing from neighbors, running tabs with local merchants, and
squatting in apartments. To persuade families that appliances were in fact
worth the expense, articles explained that the family would recover the cost
of an appliance such as a washing machine within a few years by calculating
the cost saved, for example, on a diaper-​cleaning service.29 Loans were even
available to families with low incomes.
But even low-​or no-​interest loans on favorable terms still represented
debts, formal loans owed to institutions that sometimes caused serious
problems. The B family, “crushed by the weight of its debts,” had stopped
paying rent. The father worked only eighteen days a month, the strict mini-
mum number of days needed to have Family Allowances added to the sal-
ary. Among their debts, they owed two hundred francs for a new television.30
The J family stopped paying its 210 francs per month rent on its low-​income
public housing apartment and also owed monthly payments of 210 francs for
a TV and furniture, on top of 250 francs owed to local merchants. Yet the
father’s total salary was only 750 francs a month, supplemented by an adult
daughter’s salary of 320 francs a month and by 380 francs in monthly fam-
ily allowances.31 Even private companies loaned money to their workers to
pay for housing and amenities. Renault loaned M, an employee, a mortgage
to purchase an apartment for his family. They also had a TV and washing
machine, and had purchased their son a motor scooter to use for his job as
delivery boy for a local market.32
Infusing significant sums of money in the form of consumer credit into
family budgets gave the French government new powers to oversee and
control families. The government could withhold, or threaten to withhold,
family allowances not only when children were abused or neglected but in
the case of families deemed not to be spending their allowances wisely. The
cases in the Paris files make clear that the government often intervened with
families that failed to pay their debts or rent, when notified, for example,
by the apartment management or the electric company. In these situations,
the courts, per the law of August 22, 1946, could order the supervision of
Family Allowances.33 Family Allowances normally added to a parent’s sal-
ary would instead be put into escrow; a supervisor assigned to oversee the
family budget reviewed income, expenses, and debts and imposed a spend-
ing and repayment plan. After using Family Allowance funds to pay down
debts according to the plan, the remaining funds would be doled out to
the parents. Supervisors maintained and sent the courts extremely detailed
monthly reports of income, expenses, and debt payments. Judges determined
a time limit for the period of supervision, with the expectation that once that

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time had ended, supervision would be lifted and the newly debt-​free fam-
ily would again receive family allowances directly. Even though the assigned
supervisors assisted families in paying down debts, kept angry creditors at
bay, and even prevented eviction in some cases, still the case reports make it
abundantly clear that most “supervised” families strongly resented what they
viewed as an intrusion.
In the case of the Bs, a family with five children in the Paris region, the
disabled stepfather was unable to provide for the family, and the mother’s
work as a housekeeper did not bring in enough to stop the debts from piling
up. Their monetary woes led to violent scenes between the two; the stepfather
also reportedly drank too much. The children were well-​cared-​for, but the
mother was constantly borrowing money from neighbors and not repaying it.
Still, when questioned, the wife blamed the imposition of family allowance
supervision on “village gossip” and said the debts could easily be explained by
the fact that they had recently moved to a new apartment that they borrowed
money to furnish. The social worker’s report described some of the purchases
for their new public housing HLM apartment, including 1,480 francs for
double draperies, 350 francs for lace curtains, and 500 francs for children’s
clothing and a TV. The social worker described accumulating debt as “a
lifelong habit for them.” But supervision proved difficult since the parents
resented it and closed ranks, making it impossible to penetrate and evaluate
their family budget. The judge eventually lifted supervision.34
In another case the supervision functioned exactly as it was meant to,
enabling the family to retire its debts, pay its back rent, and reestablish a
reasonable budget. The appointed supervisor happily recommended ending
the supervision.35 More common, however, was the response of Mr. F, whose
family had been placed under supervision. The father, a plumber, had eight
children. He owed 7,300 francs to the electric company and 5,000 francs for
a stove, together with other debts amounting to a total of 23,000 francs. The
appointed supervisor opened accounts with local merchants and paid them
directly for provisions, as well as paying the electric and gas bills directly and
paying for the children’s school lunches. But the father “refused to under-
stand that we were only intervening in his household to help him and provide
a service; he considered this measure an imposed evil he had to put up with
for two years.” Finding it impossible to establish the necessary confidence,
the supervisor reported to the judge that there was no point in continuing
Another father wrote directly to the judge, protesting “with energy
against the supervision to which we have been subjected for several years.” He

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      125

admitted that the family had accumulated large debts and owed back rent on
their HLM apartment, but pointed out that his was hardly the only family in
that situation. Both his older sons, who had at various points in the past been
in trouble, were fine now, one in the army, the other married. The younger
children, all in school, did not hang out in cafés; as final proof that he did
not deserve supervision, he noted that he was not even keeping a mistress.
“So what gives?” he asked. Like the family above, this father blamed his bad
rap on “gossip by the concierge and neighbors.” Once again, the judge lifted
supervision.37 The state intervened, but families putting up a strong enough
level of resistance could escape their appointed supervisors, if not their credi-
tors and landlords.
The French government’s policies played a huge role in sharing
France’s affluence with working-​class families, while also giving the gov-
ernment a lever to exert influence. An interesting aspect of the courts’
intervention in families in the 1960s also resulted from rising household
income and the changing expectations it generated for children’s lives.
Increasingly, officials involved with poor and working-​class families liv-
ing in the Paris region insisted that they send their children to what the
French call “colonies de vacances.” Similar to American summer sleep-​
away camps, colonies de vacances in France began to appear early in the
twentieth century. In contrast to the current situation in the United
States, summer camps in France were usually organized and sponsored
by various groups and political parties, especially the Communist Party,
and religious movements, particularly Christian social movements.38 By
the post–​World War II era, large employers also ran summer camps for
employees’ children or provided funds that employees could use to send
their children to camp.
With the goal of removing urban children from crowded, hot city streets
during summer vacation, when many children would have been unsuper-
vised, those who advocated for summer camps also insisted that spending
time in a rural area built children’s character. Beyond that, social workers
strongly expressed the opinion by the 1960s that all children should have the
right to get away and have a summer vacation experience. The Communist
Party’s youth magazine, Notre jeunesse, called vacations “a privilege we want
to make into a right.” This 1964 article insisted that one in two French peo-
ple still could not take vacations, something that hit young people who were
no longer in school and already working full time particularly hard. Notre
jeunesse demanded additional vacation time for workers under twenty-​one,
as well as reduced train fares, scholarships, and low-​cost “vacation centers”

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for working-​class youth.39 In spite of those complaints, a 1965 Elle feature

pointed out that the number of French people who took summer vacations
had increased nearly sevenfold in three years, from 2.2  million in 1961 to
14.5 million in 1964.40
Particularly in the Paris region, juvenile case files reveal clearly that
while many family situations were extremely complicated, social workers
in the 1960s insisted on persuading sometimes reluctant parents to send
their children to summer camps. In some cases, this meant applying for
grants or for spaces in employer-​or company-​sponsored camps. Even for a
family drowning in debt, court-​appointed family budget supervisors often
worked to ensure that at least some of the children would be able to go to
summer camps.41 One tutor managed to have a girl sent for a five-​week stay
in a “pre-​adolescent village” in the Var, hoping that she would return with
a more respectful attitude toward her parents.42 In one case, while it took
some persuasion, the family finally agreed to send their thirteen-​year-​old
daughter to a summer camp. The social worker followed up and noted that
the girl had been “enchanted by her stay.”43 One sixteen-​year-​old boy had a
less enchanting experience. Sent to Glénans for a “nautical summer camp,”
the boy had to go home because he was afraid of water and refused to get
on a boat.44
In spite of the unfortunate outcome of that particular experience, the
fact that a working-​class teen could be sent to a nautical summer camp sig-
nals how far France had come economically. Journalist Michèle Manceaux
expressed the wonder and pride in how far France had come by 1961 in an
article focusing on America’s new first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1949–​
1950, a few years before marrying, Jacqueline Bouvier spent a study-​abroad
year in France. A photo shows her scrubbing her clothing in an outdoor wash-
ing basin. “In 1950, at the Salers Wash Basin, Jacqueline Bouvier washes her
laundry; in 1961 at the White House, she’s the wife of President Kennedy.”
The author, who met Jackie, then twenty, during her study-​abroad year, had
been impressed by the future first lady’s simplicity. Her life might not have
been typical of most American exchange students; she did after all live with
the Comtesse de Renty. Still, even though in 1949 she had to have a food
ration card because France “had not yet re-​established the wealth and ease of
the prewar [period],” Jackie never complained about the material hardships
she encountered in France. She took a vacation with a friend, shared a room,
wore shorts and espadrilles, and, like everyone else, washed her clothes at the
public wash basin. Both Jackie and France had come a long way, the article

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      127

Affluence and Its Discontents

Affluence as an experience and as a concept has long been gendered. Rising
wealth, improved standards of living, and the development of a consumer
society all had tremendous implications for women’s lives and led contem-
poraries to focus on women in new ways. In 1961, Anita Pereire reported
the results of a survey of some twenty thousand young women asked about
a wide variety of topics, both practical and abstract. When asked what they
most needed to be happy at present, the most common response was more
money.46 An article on domestic arts celebrated the “stunning expansion”
in sales of domestic appliances. “This soaring progression is the triumph of
mechanical domestic help that liberates women squeezed by thousands of
manual, depressing, and outmoded chores.”47 On the one hand, predictions
of female liberation through domestic appliances, a trope that can be found
even back in the nineteenth century, generally proved wrong. When domes-
tic labor becomes less strenuous, standards of cleanliness rise; new expecta-
tions require domestic labor that is less strenuous but often equal to the time
saved by the new technology. Clearly, vacuuming a carpet is less taxing than
hauling it outdoors and beating it with a broom; using a washing machine is
considerably easier than dragging clothing to a public washhouse.48 Still, with
a washing machine, sheets can, and are expected to be, changed more often.
However, the arguably liberating aspect of the new labor-​saving consumer
and domestic goods was only one piece of affluence’s impact on women’s
lives. Other observers instead focused on the ways consumption gave women
a newly heightened role in the French economy. With France’s economic
expansion partly based on the production of consumer durables, domestic
appliances did more than profoundly change the conditions of domestic
labor. They put a hugely important sector of the French economy primar-
ily into women’s hands. According to Etienne Hirsch, France’s general plan-
ning commissioner, women by 1961 controlled three-​fourths of all French
consumption. Their daily purchases and decisions had a critical impact on
the French economy. The Women’s Civic and Social Union (UFCS), a long-​
standing, originally Christian women’s social organization that promoted
women’s engagement in civic and social causes, focused much attention on
women’s roles as consumers as France recovered from the war. Both Hirsch
and the UFCS advocated home economics training to help women make
rational decisions about purchases that balanced their needs with their fam-
ily’s budgets. The UFCS allied with consumer groups, using the new media,
radio and television, to inform women, unions, consumers, and cooperatives

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about the value of various appliances. The UFCS explained that it made sense
to purchase durable goods using credit, for example, when the price of the
item would be offset by an appreciable savings of time, labor, and fatigue.
Although the UFCS worried about “abusive indebtedness,” it pointed out
that some purchases could eventually save the family enough money to make
up the purchase price.49
In 1963 the French section of the International Home Economics
Federation hosted a conference entitled French Home Economics Faces an
Evolving World. The conference focused on how home economics, by improv-
ing domestic equipment and reducing time, cost, and fatigue, responded to
people’s growing aspirations for leisure time and activities like travel. The
brochure emphasized women’s essential role as consumers and managers
of family budgets, insisting on their need for instruction. Some historians
have interpreted the idea that women needed outside instruction as dismis-
sive of women’s abilities. However, it could also be seen as empowering, by
emphasizing that domestic tasks required skill and by promoting the infu-
sion of new technologies—​modernism—​into the domestic world. While the
conference emphasized women’s roles as domestic managers, it also included
an exhibit on “women’s work outside the home.” Such paid labor was not,
the brochure insisted, only or always the result of economic necessity. In
some cases, women had “a desire to participate in a life open to much larger
circles than that of the family unit, an awareness of the liberation and self-​
affirmation that the exercise of a profession represents.” Professional activities
allowed a woman to develop “her personality.” But the federation noted that
work outside the home also required women to establish a new equilibrium
between “men’s and women’s family and social functions.”50
As this sentence suggests, two ideas rarely expressed in earlier publi-
cations began to appear in in books and articles in the early 1960s. First,
women might legitimately develop their own personalities and pursue “self-​
affirmation” through paid employment. Second, in promoting new domestic
appliances, the brochure insisted that modern household equipment, beyond
easing the burdens on women, could even facilitate the “sharing of tasks
among all the members of the family.”51 The idea that husbands and children
could and should take on domestic duties was finally in the air, if not neces-
sarily widely implemented in many households.
In elite intellectual circles, thinkers like Roland Barthes had since the
war focused their attention on issues of affluence and consumption, how they
skewed values, and on the emptiness created by the drive to have more mate-
rial possessions.52 It seems too easy to point out that elite men who bemoaned

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      129

consumerism were not the ones bound to perform domestic labor and were
affluent enough to spend time in cafés while others washed their dirty laun-
dry. But it is also interesting to witness how, once affluence had passed the
threshold of being aspirational for the vast majority of families, once a large
number of families had attained a certain level of what the French call “com-
fort” in their daily lives, the stirrings of anxiety and unhappiness appeared
more broadly as well. We can see in popular magazines a greater realization
of the limits of consumption in making people happy and the trade-​offs the
new consumerism created.
With women closely linked in the public discourse to the new consum-
erism, not surprisingly much of the early criticism focused on women. For
example, Marcel Bonnefoy, in Constellation, addressed the burning question
of why American GIs in Europe were marrying fewer French women than
they had just after the war. Bonnefoy cited authors Marcel Aymé and Georges
Simenon’s descriptions of French women as hard, prosaic, and calculating.
In support of that vision, Bonnefoy interviewed an American army officer
living in France. The GI had expected French women to be romantic, but
his French girlfriend only dreamed about “having a Cadillac, a refrigerator,
a washing machine.”53 Bonnefoy also cited a French Polling Agency (IFOP)

Mother, father, and four children crowd around the family television, still a novelty for
many French families in 1960.
Gamma Rapho K005037-​A4

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survey. Over one thousand French women were asked what they needed to
make them happy. Only 22 percent mentioned love, while 54 percent selected
“A comfortable life and material conveniences.”54
While husbands and children may have yearned just as strongly for such
material comforts as televisions and automobiles, wives attracted the most
criticism for what their materialism was doing to spousal relations. Novelist
and Elle editorialist Jean Duché had posed a question to his readers: “If your
husband kills himself working to pay for all the accessories of modern life …
couldn’t it be, at least in part, your fault?” A number of readers challenged
Duché directly, accusing him of preaching poverty from a comfortable perch.
It’s easy to lecture about satisfaction with what you have, one woman wrote,
“when you have everything you want.” Why, she asked, should Duché have a
car and a television and not the rest of us? While denying that he personally
owned a television, Duché insisted that, rather than preaching poverty, he
advocated knowing “what you’re aiming for, and aiming well,” because, he
pointed out, “you can never have everything you want.” He hoped to prod
readers to question their desires, which by nature are limitless. Be as material-
istic as you want to be, he wrote, “but then don’t go complaining about living
with an ‘absent’ husband: he no longer has the time, the energy, maybe even
the inclination to express his love to you, to engage himself with his children,
to cultivate himself, to smile.”55
Thus skeptical observers blamed women for the drive to accumulate stuff,
pushing their husbands to work longer hours, then complaining when their
husbands did not spend enough time with the family. Never mind that men
most often decided on one of the largest expenses for families, the purchase
of an automobile. The popular and women’s press began in the 1960s to take
note of the new conflicts erupting within families over issues linked to new
consumer goods. While television ownership in France lagged well behind
that of the United Kingdom or the United States and France’s national
broadcasting system only had one television station until 1964, the growing
presence of this new device, often occupying a central physical and emotional
space in the midst of the family home, could sow discord.56
In contrast to Duché’s implication of the wife as the one whose desires
for material goods spoiled marriages, early in the television era, one article
raised an initial version of what would become a perennial spousal conflict
often blamed on husbands. The women’s magazine Confidences in the 1960s
featured a regular column, “Elle et Lui” (Her and Him), in which Elle and
Lui responded separately to a reader’s letter asking for advice about a par-
ticular romantic or family problem. In a 1962 column, “The Curse of the

Family, Sex, Marriage, and the New Self      •      131

Television,” Rose Marie from Rennes complained that her husband exasper-
ated her. Ever since he had decided they could not live without a television,
“all the intimacy of our former evenings, so enjoyable, has been sacrificed to
this machine.” No longer did they sit and converse or listen to their favorite
albums as they had in the past. No sooner had he come home from the office
than her husband threw himself down in front of the television, anxious to
catch the start of his favorite program, which he watched, attentive and silent,
until the last minute. “He gobbles down the dishes I prepare so carefully in
an unstoppable rhythm, and without the slightest compliment.” Worse, her
husband accused her of being selfish and retrograde, apparently the insult of
the moment for those opposed to the newest thing. The final straw was that
while she worked in the kitchen, “exhausted by the scouring and ironing,” he
reproached her for not joining him to watch. She was disgusted. Were all men
like this? How could she get him to admit how ridiculous he was being?57
Elle and Lui responded very differently to Rose Marie’s complaint. Elle
warned Rose Marie against thinking that a man might admit he was wrong,
but accepted the premise. The couple should have time to talk, listen to music,
and enjoy meals without the TV, and she suggested a strategy that would
let him experience her point of view. Rather than preparing nice meals, RM
should follow his example: plant herself in front of the television, leaving only
to run quickly to the kitchen to open a few cans of preserves, empty them
onto a paper plate and serve them cold, to be eaten in front of the television.
After three nights, Elle figured that RM’s husband would get the point. But
hurry, Elle warned, before France’s new, second station began broadcasting.
Lui offered a very different point of view, mocking Rose Marie’s com-
plaints about what Lui described as the “best husband in the world.” Your
husband rushes home nightly, beating all speed records, Lui asked, plants
himself in an easy chair until bed time, and you complain? Would RM prefer
her husband spending his evenings in a local bistro drinking with his buddies
or, worse, with his ravishing young secretary? If Rose Marie had an ounce of
sense, she would not complain. Lui suggested lowering her cleanliness and
meal standards and recommended, as Elle did but for different reasons, that
she put down the dishtowel and take up the easy chair. The stormy personal-
ity he detected in her letter was in need of distraction. Instead of working
after dinner, get up ten minutes earlier in the morning to wash the dishes,
make simpler meals, get with the times. Rose Marie was lucky, Lui concluded,
that her rival was a television and not another woman.58 Neither Elle nor Lui
considered suggesting that hubby leave the couch and help his wife with the
household chores.

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Ronds et Chansons de France no. 7 was a 45 rpm vinyl recording aimed at children, new
participants in the consumer economy. This series of recordings from the 1960s included
booklets with music, lyrics, and compelling illustrations of each song, which encouraged
modern consumption of traditional French songs.
Rondes et Chansons/​Philips Corporation /​Photograph by Taylor M. Fayle

After years of yearning for greater comfort and ease, French families began
to experience the negative aspects of prosperity. Having finally emerged from
the long era of economic depression, war, destruction, occupation, rationing,
shortages, and hardship, through the slower than hoped for reconstruction
and recovery, the general French public finally experienced a rising standard
of living, with a larger number of families able to afford adequate housing
with such amenities as electricity and indoor plumbing. Once the majority
of people in France had attained those comforts, journalists, authors, and
psychologists in the 1960s began debating and discussing the implications
of affluence and consumption for families and marital relationships. Because
this economic expansion centered on the manufacture and sale of consumer
durables, women emerged as a particular focus of discussion and debate.
However, women were not the only object of concern. Public attention also
converged on other groups.


In 1961 Marie-​Claire published an article that asked, “But what

do today’s girls really want?” The author, Guillaume Hanateau,
described the typical young woman who “loves staying out all
night, sports, dancing, and seductive bad boys.” Accompanying his
essay was a cartoon of a typical young woman with the body parts
labeled: eyes for watching movies, ears ready to listen to a modern
jazz quartet, “foot broken from overuse of the accelerator.”1
Taking the tone of an anthropologist describing a strange
and exotic culture was typical of early 1960s writing about young
women. In fact, books and popular magazines fixed their attention
in the early 1960s not just on jeunes filles but also on two addi-
tional and overlapping groups, youth, a group encompassing older
teens and unmarried young adults, and women. The early 1960s
press continued the trend of addressing women as wives, moth-
ers, and consumers. However, unusually, journalists and authors
in the 1960s began writing about women as women, not as people
entirely defined by their family roles. Of course, the lower end of
the age spectrum for women included “les jeunes filles.” Youth as
a category, while often gendered male, in fact included both sexes.
Thus a particular individual could belong to all three of these

By the late 1950s, the popular press, population experts, and
public authorities finally recognized the demographic shift
known as the baby boom and its magnitude in France. Given
the near obsession, dating back to the 1870s and increasing
through World War II, with declining fertility rates, known as
“dénatalité,” the sense that France had a booming population
represented a major cultural change. By 1940, fears of declining

1 3 4   
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population had come to define nearly all discussions about the family and
even about women’s roles in France, and had resulted in a series of poli-
cies and programs designed to reverse the trend directed both at increas-
ing births and at reinforcing what was considered the “traditional” family. 2
Birth rates began to change, climbing just a bit during the war and continu-
ing the trend upward, with more dramatic increases after the war. There
were many fewer one-​child families, and many more families with at least
three children. Twenty years after the climb in birth rates, talk of declining
population disappeared.3
Since the baby boom allayed concerns about France not having enough
babies, by the early 1960s, popular and official concerns shifted to deal-
ing with the implications of the bulging population of young people for
housing and especially for schooling. In the early part of the decade, the
national education ministry undertook to reform what had become an
archaic, elitist educational system that left too many young French people
ill-​prepared for the economy and jobs of the future. Universal primary
schooling for all, mandatory for the vast majority only to age fourteen,
imparted basic literacy but no advanced skills or foreign language train-
ing. Many observers agreed that the system no longer sufficed. The ques-
tion was what to do.
Differences emerged over how to reform universal schooling. While
some elites worried about opening the floodgates to a closed system that
ensured their children’s professional success, other forces pressed to democ-
ratize the system. In particular, two prominent educators, Paul Langevin
and Henri Wallon, a scientist and a psychologist, both chaired professors
at the prestigious Collège de France, and both members of the Communist
Party (PC), proposed a plan just after the war aimed at democratizing
France’s educational system.4 In place of the customary parallel elemen-
tary and middle school systems, one for elites and one for everyone else
that provided little possibility for children in public elementary schools
to advance to secondary schools, the Langevin-​Wallon plan proposed a
single elementary school system that all children would attend up to age
eleven, followed by a period of observation that would allow schools to
direct children. All students would complete some secondary schooling
from fifteen to eighteen, but at age fifteen students would choose whether
they would advance to a lycée and then on to higher education or pursue
technical training. In theory such a reform would open access to the elite
secondary schools, lycées, whose final diploma exam, the baccalaureate
exam, was the entry requirement in France for access to higher education.

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      135

The Langevin-​Wallon proposals, radical for the late 1940s, were never
adopted. However, the pressure of a bulging student population in an educa-
tional system seriously out of line with France’s modern economy built over
the next decade. Finally, in 1958, the Fifth Republic launched an effort to
reform schools that culminated in the Ordinance of January 6, 1959, known
as the Berthouin Reform. This law represented a halfway measure, transform-
ing the existing “complementary courses,” optional additional years of school-
ing for non-​elite students who had attended public elementary schools, into
middle schools, called colleges of general education (Collèges d’enseignement
general, or CEGs) and open to all children, with schooling mandatory to age
sixteen for all students. CEGs undertook a period of observation of their
students and could, in theory, promote their talented students for continued
education at the elite lycées. Most CEG children, however, for their final few
years would be funneled into technical secondary schools or trade schools.5
However, elite students continued to attend separate middle schools, called
colleges of secondary education (Collèges d’enseignement sécondaires, or CES)
that prepared them for lycée and eventually higher education.
Seeing an opportunity to exploit the frustrations of the growing group
of parents of primary school students, in the early 1960s the Communist
Party attempted to mobilize parents by criticizing the proposed changes
as inadequate and unfair. An issue of the PC’s youth magazine, Notre
jeunesse, criticized the Berthouin Reforms and advocated going back to the
older Langevin-​Wallon plan. The essay noted that in 1964 France had a
“demographic wave” of 1.1 million people between the ages of fourteen and
twenty. The reform plan’s two tracks would direct 60 percent of all students
to the less desirable CEGs; another 25  percent of the least gifted would
complete a terminal cycle at the end of primary school. A mere 15 percent,
“the brilliant ones,” almost entirely from the middle and upper classes,
would gain access to a pre-​lycée CES. The Communist Party argued that
the reforms, rather than democratizing the public educational system as the
sponsors promised, in fact maintained the same rigid, class-​based segrega-
tion as before and were actually intended to bar working-​class youth from
higher education.6
Beyond the PC’s role, parents themselves began to organize and lobby,
producing bulletins outlining their demands. For example, the Council
of Parents of Students in Public Schools in the Sannois region advocated
adopting the more democratic Langevin-​Wallon plan. But this group also
expressed more immediate concerns, for example, the need to reduce over-
crowding in the classroom, replace inadequate facilities, and improve teacher

1 3 6   
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The inside pages of an elementary school notebook from 1961, typical of those used
in a French public elementary schools. Ideas about childhood and education may
have been changing, but this school notebook barely differs from those of earlier
Collection of Stephen Fishman /​Photograph by Taylor M. Fayle

pay. This parent group even protested a decree of 1964 that ended funding
for sports facilities in the schools, demanding that every public school have a
qualified physical education teacher. The bulletin and others always referred
to the demographic wave that had already swamped primary and secondary
schools and was lapping at the foundations of higher education. They espe-
cially protested reforms that only appeared to be democratic but in fact, they
insisted, limited working-​class children’s mobility, leading them to a destiny
of factory work.7 Clearly, parents of school-​age children had become a large
and sufficiently unhappy group, with rising but frustrated expectations for
their children, that they attracted the attention of the left and also organized
themselves to exert pressure on the system.
Meanwhile, through most of the 1950s the vast majority of adolescents
completed their required schooling at age sixteen. Court files suggest that
many more young teens earned their primary education certificates than dur-
ing the war years. Either way, many teens stopped attending school at age
sixteen and began working for wages. The size of that age group expanded,
making clear the need for additional training for the new kinds of employ-
ment created by the changing economy. Housing construction was catching

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      137

up with demand but still lagged behind the ability to provide adequate space
for the growing population of larger families, especially squeezing poor and
working-​class families into small spaces. The problem was how to provide
adolescents sixteen to eighteen, still mostly living at home, with the job train-
ing they needed and keep families in tight living quarters from imploding,
while still finding a safe place for working-​class teens.
One solution emerged in the case files from the early 1960s for teenagers
no longer in school but not yet mature enough or earning enough to establish
themselves outside the family home. Group homes for young workers ( foyers
de jeunes travailleurs/​euses) began to open in urban areas. These group homes
provided low-​cost supervised living quarters; others also provided job train-
ing on-​site or were linked to nearby apprenticeship centers, providing a place
to live as they completed training or underwent apprenticeships with outside
employers. Nearly all references to these foyers appeared in cases from the
Paris region, where housing was especially tight, and the Nord, another area
with a large urban industrial zone and working-​class population.
For minors who attracted the attention of the juvenile courts, group
homes for young workers offered an additional option for judges seeking to
remove a minor from a problematic family situation or a minor who seemed
to be adrift or without family support. However, the young workers’ homes,
which provided housing, adult supervision, and often job training, were not
particularly equipped to provide counseling or therapy for the minors who
exhibited signs of psychological disturbance or whose behavior indicated
serious issues.
An alternative for young minors in need of additional intervention took
shape starting in the late 1950s in response to the 1958 Ordinance for the
Protection of the Health, Security and Morality of Minors in Danger, which
allowed children’s judges to intervene to protect minors who had not nec-
essarily broken the law, run away, or been the object of a parental request
for paternal correction.8 To provide options for such minors, the Seine
Educational Action Association opened a group home for boys in Paris,
eventually formally named the Foyer Jean Cotxet, after a former juvenile
court judge. By 1964 there were four Jean Cotxet Homes in Paris; in 2016
there were fourteen homes serving more than four thousand minors. Similar
homes for girls also opened in Paris in the 1960s. The Foyer le caligo and the
Foyer de la jeune fille opened on the rue de Crimée,9 along with girls’ homes
run by religious organizations, such as the Refuge Sainte-​Anne.10 These group
homes provided supervision, job training, and often therapy.11 Similar homes
opened in the Nord and eventually across France.12

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From Bals to Boums: Youth Counterculture and

the Generation Gap
Since the early twentieth century distinct youth cultures had existed, from
the jazz age of the interwar period to the zazou/​swing counterculture of the
war years. It became a truly mass phenomenon across the West by the 1950s,
when affluence and leisure became accessible to young people across social
strata. Teenagers socialized among themselves in mixed-​sex groups. The most
frequently cited activity in the 1950s, both in popular magazine articles and
by social workers in case files, bals, were street or café dances, sometimes with
live music. After 1960, the term “bal” disappeared from the lingo, replaced by
three terms that roughly translate as “parties”—​les boums, les surboums, and
les surprises-​parties. Although surprise-​partie is derived from the English term
“surprise party,” a French surprise-​partie is not a surprise. All three terms,
surprise-​partie, boum, and surboum, referred to a party with music and danc-
ing, no longer held on the street or in a public café but in a private setting.
According to a 1960 survey of teenaged girls asked if they had ever been to a
surprise-​partie, 68 percent said they had been to one, although 40 percent of
them claimed they had not enjoyed it.13 After 1960 the terms appeared regu-
larly in the popular press. Elle responded to one teen who wanted to know
if she could ask a boy, someone she did not know well, to dance while at a
In the United States, a television program, Dick Clark’s American
Bandstand, hosted new artists and introduced teens to hit songs and new
dance styles.15 In France, the radio rather than the television was the equiv-
alent cultural location. Daniel Filipacchi’s Salut les copains, first broadcast
in 1959 and modeled in part on American Bandstand, introduced a wide
audience to American rock and roll and played quite a bit of American and
British popular music. But France also had its own rock stars, such as Johnny
Hallyday, Françoise Hardy, and Serge Gainsbourg.16 French adolescents who
listened to this music came to be called, after the music’s frequent refrain,
“les yé-​yés.” Even the Communist youth magazine Notre jeunesse carried
an ad for a record, Surprise partie NGF, in its May-​June 1965 issue, listing
songs like “Let-​Crazy-​K iss,” “Goldfinger,” and, of course, “Yeh-​Yeh.”17 Post
blousons noirs and pre-​hippies, the yé-​yés danced the twist and the Madison,
the beginning of dancing with, but not holding, a partner of the opposite
sex.18 As in the 1950s, youth culture in the 1960s was not limited to middle-​
class youth. The style, “long” mop-​top hair and blue jeans for boys and heavy
makeup, flipped hair, miniskirts, and go-​go boots for girls, appeared even in

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      139

social workers’ reports about working-​class teens.19 In a 1967 report about

a sixteen-​year-​old boy who ran away from home, the social worker reported
that the teen eventually returned to Paris “and adopted a ‘beatnik’ lifestyle.”20
Even before the “beat generation” of the late 1950s and early 1960s, youth
culture included a measure of defiance. One thing stands out however in
sources after 1960. Both adults and young people had become much more
explicitly aware of what the French called “the generational divorce” (le divorce
des generations), known as the “generation gap” in America. By the middle of
the decade, adult concerns grew, and the term “youth revolt” began to appear.
Numerous articles explored the generational divorce. Author and journal-
ist Madeleine Chapsal surveyed young women, in particular plumbing their
feelings about their elders. She found that most jeunes filles insisted that they
loved their parents but also that they considered them idiots. To be an adult,
they reported, was to “resign oneself to no longer changing.” Tension between
teens and their parents, Chapsal insisted, beyond emotional conflicts, were
really the result of a “conflict of ideas.”21 Of the 76  percent who reported

A  teenaged girl dances in the foreground while a guitarist plays and sings at a party
around 1960. This new way of dancing and interacting with the opposite sex in the 1960s
replaced the public street dances of the 1950s.
Gamma Rapho RH026271 /​Photograph by M. Simonet

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that they felt a sense of conflict with their parents, 36 percent attributed it
to a “difference in mentality.” Still, asked if their parents tried to understand
them, 63 percent said yes.22 Chapsal thus concluded that conflicts between
parents and teens, while painful and even aggravating, were not truly serious
or devastating.23
Journalist Anita Pereire, editor of Elle’s teen-​girl section, quizzed another
group of young people about their elders. According to her research, many
adults worried about young people, hearing reports of “gangs of wolves, crazy
yé-​yés.” After meeting and talking with hundreds of young people, in Paris
and around France, she reassured her readers that young people were “nei-
ther misunderstood nor rebellious.” Rather, she found them “level-​headed.”
However, her young interviewees explained, “There’s you, and there’s us, two
distinct worlds, and it’s just fine like that.” Still, 62 percent of her group pro-
fessed respect for their parents. What 43  percent disliked about the older
generation, she found, was adult hypocrisy. Asked, in language intended to
elicit a specific response, which clichés they most hated from their elders,
three emerged: “It’s for your own good,” “In my day,” and “When I was your
age.”24 It would be easy to imagine contemporary youth complaining about
their elders in very similar language (and vice versa, “Kids these days!”). But
to many French observers in the early 1960s, these views were something
new, different, and a bit frightening. As an interesting final point, Pereire
asked her young respondents about the elders they most admired. Far and
away the first name mentioned was Albert Schweitzer, followed closely by
“my dad”; trailing a bit behind but in third place overall was “my mom.”25
An article in Constellation also explored the generational conflict between
parents and teenaged children that some 80 percent of adolescents professed
to have experienced. To illustrate, the article described a confrontation in
a public housing apartment (HLM, or low-​rent housing) in a working-​class
Paris suburb. A father yelled at his teenaged son, even though the son had just
turned over his full paycheck, for arriving home past his curfew. Constellation
insisted that similar scenes played out daily across France, illustrating “the
divorce of the generations.” The article attributed the conflict to the fact that
for most adolescents, home was the only place where they were still treated
like children. To try to address generational conflict, from December 1963
through February 1964 the Paris branch of the Ecole des parents hosted a
series of monthly meetings and debates between parents and youth at the
Paris Medical School. Hoping to learn from adolescents directly about their
“youth revolt,” the Constellation article announcing the meetings pointed out
that in many ways such conflicts were a normal part of adolescence, which

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      141

features a rupture with childhood, a growing drive for independence, and a

desire for autonomy. The Ecole des parents’ meetings allowed the older gen-
eration to learn more about the youth of 1964, “a youth also able to express
itself in a style other than yé-​yé.”26
While the two previous articles rested on a subtle assumption of youth as
young men, Jean Duché, editorialist at Elle, extended the analysis of youth
to young women by writing about his own daughter. She, age fifteen, and
most of her friends, he complained, all tried to look the same. They applied
“a kilo of black eyeliner and red nail polish; they walk around with a heavy
look, as if they were in mourning,” a cigarette between their fingers. He won-
dered why teenaged girls felt the need to make themselves look older than
they were, particularly when they also felt so superior to the old fogeys they
wanted to resemble. Clearly, Duché admitted, he understood nothing, but
consoled himself with the thought that this phase too would pass. The teen
girls he could not understand would eventually reach twenty, slough off the
“highly cumbersome skin of the adolescent,” and accept themselves for who
they are.27
Adults had trouble understanding the young people of the early 1960s,
and young people felt misunderstood by their elders. As A, a teenaged girl
who had run away, admitted in writing to the juvenile judge, “Maybe I am
what everyone calls us kids, a delinquent.”28 In trying to convey how young
people felt about adults, Chapsal mentioned two books that young people
felt particularly drawn to in the early 1960s. Hervé Bazin’s Vipère au poing
(Viper in the Fist), first published in 1948, was a novel narrated by one of
two boys raised by their grandmother. The boys’ parents left the two broth-
ers behind with their grandmother when they moved to China with a third
child. When the grandmother dies, the parents return. Their mother proves
to be distant, cold, cruel, even brutal with the two boys, so awful that they
nickname her “Folcoche”—​meaning crazy pig. The father is also strict but for
the most part stays out of family matters, ceding control over the children
to his wife. This novel was widely cited as an example of bad mothering. The
pedagogy professor Maurice Debesse had cited Vipère au poing in the 1950s,
even though it was fictional, in his discussion of what happens in families
that lacked maternal love. Chapsal described Vipère as “one of the key bedside
books for adolescents.”29
It would hardly be surprising to learn that many adolescents felt their
parents did not understand or even love them. Citing this novel suggests
that Chapsal, Debesse and other observers feared there could be a kernel of
truth in that feeling. It also indicates that the concern expressed in the 1950s

1 4 2   
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about domineering mothers continued to resonate. This leads to a second,

surprising book popular among teens for its portrayal of bad mothering, a
Holocaust narrative often read in early 1960s France for what it revealed
about family dynamics between teen girls and their mothers. The Dairy of
Anne Frank, first published in French in 1950, quickly became a bestseller
in France with two million copies sold. It was eventually adapted for both
stage (first presented in New York in 1955 and in Paris in 1958) and screen
(1959). According to Chapsal’s survey, many adolescent girls who read the
diary focused on Anne’s depiction of her mother as rude, tactless, and totally
lacking in understanding.30 Journalist Jean Barses described the passion of
certain contemporary young girls for truth and honesty as “analogous to that
which bursts forth in The Diary of Anne Frank.”31
By the early 1960s, a bulging population of children, teenagers, and young
adults was coming of age. The baby boom created a large enough age group
to drive aspects of popular culture. Magazines, books, and radio broadcasts
appealed specifically to the youth demographic; the concerns and frustrations
of youth took on a new magnitude in the broader culture, which illuminated
the growing notion of a widening gap between young people and the older
generation. All of this clearly laid the groundwork for the 1968 explosion to
come. Reading early 1960s magazines and books makes those events seem
“overdetermined,” as the mathematicians would say.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: Women

In the early 1960s, many authors and journalists also focused attention on
women, exploring the changing boundaries of their lives. The assumption
that most women would marry and have children remained in place, but
increasingly writers began exploring alternatives. Many of the early 1960s
debates concerned topics that remain relevant. Popular publications began
considering the implications, at home and in the workplace, of the decisions
women were now assumed to be free to make, even if, while asserting wom-
en’s freedom to choose, most voices continued to stress more conventional
options. Even writers who stressed convention also at times complicated it.
A Christian women’s social group, the Union féminine civique et social
(UFCS), complained in a 1960 editorial that while men were judged for their
qualities rather than whether or not they were married, women continued to
be catalogued as either women who stayed at home and raised children or as
professional, independent women who earned salaries. The UFCS criticized

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      143

the desire to box women entirely into one of those roles, noting the simi-
larity to both Nazism and Stalinism. Hitler and the Nazis insisted that all
women should be mothers, while Stalin insisted that all women work outside
the home; neither fascist nor communist leaders truly cared about women,
instead using them as a “means to exercise power.” The UFCS celebrated the
fact that in France women had the freedom to choose. But rather than stop-
ping with that facile pat on the back, the UFCS pressed on, noting that true
freedom to choose only existed when not constrained by economic impera-
tives. Low salaries for men might propel working-​class women into the labor
force even if they preferred to stay at home; the same was true if the single-​sal-
ary allowance fell too far below what a woman might earn.32
Most of those who wrote about women in the early 1960s acknowl-
edged how far women had come. In her survey of young women’s attitudes,
Madeleine Chapsal pointed out that a family disaster impelled Simone
de Beauvoir to continue her studies and noted the strength of will it took
Beauvoir to succeed in the man’s world of higher education back in the 1930s.
Nowadays, Chapsal rejoiced, a girl no longer needed to be “a woman war-
rior to follow [Beauvoir’s] pathway to the Latin Quarter.” However, when
she asked female university students if they planned to work outside the
home once they married, nearly all of her interviewees said not unless it was
financially necessary. “A wife should stay at home,” nearly all of those young
women already enrolled in higher education insisted. Chapsal also inter-
viewed young women who were not continuing their studies but were already
at work as secretaries, shop workers, or sales clerks. To her surprise, Chapsal
found that they were not planning to quit working for wages when they mar-
ried but that they wanted to marry “so that they could quit their jobs.”33
In other words, according to Chapsal, young women who pursued higher
education continued to insist that most of them would and should marry, at
which point they would not work for wages, while also asserting that they no
longer considered marriage as an “end in and of itself.” Asked if boys and girls
truly had equal opportunities to lead the lives they wanted, the group split
evenly, with 45 agreeing, 45 disagreeing, and 10 unsure.34
With the proper role for women no longer set in stone, the primacy of
female domesticity no longer assumed, many unmarried young women felt
torn. Regardless of widening opportunities, old, still-​powerful assumptions
left many women uncomfortable making decisions or articulating their
choices in terms of self-​actualization. Growing numbers of young women
continued their education, pursuing advanced degrees, yet still assumed they
would marry and that when they did their primary duty would be to their

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homes and families, at least temporarily. Perhaps the most telling response in
Chapsal’s survey was what most of the young women selected from the list
of options they were asked to rank as first priority for women. Rather than
selecting either family or career as most important, most respondents voted
for combining family and career. However, only six young women selected as
top priority for women the option of “self-​fulfillment.” Many young women
continued to conceptualize their lives as centered on duty to others rather
than to themselves. Such expectations led one reader to complain to Marcelle
Ségal that some men married just so they would have a wife to “take care of
housekeeping, cooking, laundry.”35 While accepting that some women had
no choice but to work for wages, the notion of women choosing to work for
personal satisfaction remained problematic. Still, by the early 1960s, the dis-
cussion began to address the difficulties of harmonizing women’s many roles
as wives, mothers, housekeepers, and professionals.
In a moving article about her personal life, Marie-​Claire’s advice colum-
nist Marcelle Auclair tackled that issue. With a photo of Auclair, looking
elegant in a silk robe and colorful necklace, seated behind her typewriter
smoking a cigarette, the article pointed out that Auclair was not just coun-
selor and guide to more than 5.5 million Marie-​Claires across France; she was
also a grandmother. Auclair reported that she had asked her own daughter if,

Marcelle Auclair, journalist, author, and advice columnist for Marie-​Claire, poses with
her books and typewriter for the February 1965 issue of Marie Claire.
Courtesy of Jean-​Victor Auclair Prévost /​Photograph by Bibliothèque nationale de France

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      145

based on her childhood memories, she had suffered from having a “mother
who had a career and therefore was not always at your disposal.” Her daugh-
ter replied without hesitation that she had not suffered at all, but then con-
fessed that she might have responded that way in part because she too had a
profession and hoped her own children were not suffering.36
Auclair’s third child, a son, agreed that his childhood had been happy.
However, her second child, also a son, disagreed. Having a professional
mother, he insisted, had a foundational influence on his childhood, although
he did not recall being unhappy at the time. Rather, its importance had
emerged later, as he thought back on those years while trying to deal with
various emotional issues. However, he insisted that he did not in principle
oppose women’s work outside the home and pointed out that, to be fair, he
could just as easily accuse his father, author Jean Prévost, also absorbed by his
work, of the same lack of availability to his children.37
How could women successfully combine waged and domestic work?
Djénane Chappat, in Elle, recommended trying to simplify domestic tasks.
“Modern women are often irritable, torn between husbands, children, and
their professional lives.” Chappat suggested adopting products to make
domestic tasks easier, such as Mastic Cimacole to repair floor tiles or new
bottle stoppers from Spain to replace hard-​to-​extract corks.38 One sure sign
of the wider acknowledgment of a problem is commercial solutions being
promoted in women’s magazines.

New Horizons for Women

Some women wanted to expand their horizons beyond the dichotomy of
work and family. One reader wrote to Marcelle Auclair asking if there were a
“woman’s club that could allow us to keep up with current cultural, economic
and social events around the world.” Auclair recommended the International
Feminine Club in Paris, founded by Mme Perigot de la Tour, which pro-
vided a setting of “understanding and friendship.” The club organized “infor-
mational evenings,” with educational lectures on art, music, painting, and
poetry. It sponsored excursions to museums and visits to historical sites in
Paris, the provinces, and even abroad. It had started out as a combination
of a book club that met to exchange and discuss books and a pen pal group
that corresponded about the books with women in other parts of France
and the world.39 This kind of a club would have appealed to women with
the resources and leisure time to take part, but it also addressed a desire to

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expand their cultural capital in a generation of women who may not have had
the educational opportunities younger women had by the 1960s. While some
middle-​class women born in the first half of the twentieth century would
have continued schooling into secondary school, only a very small proportion
went on to university. Even secondary education required a level of literacy
and cultural knowledge beyond the basics imparted to non-​elite women of
that generation.
For women with professional ambitions, many publications began cel-
ebrating new pathways and the successful breakthroughs of women into pre-
viously all-​male domains. Nous deux in 1963 published a celebratory photo
essay, “Madame Judge,” about the first woman to become a presiding judge of
the Court of Assizes in all of France’s history. She had entered the magistracy
as soon as it opened to women, just after the war, and in her 1946 speech she
insisted that the “task of judging is one for which the female temperament is
particularly well-​suited.” Adjacent to the article on the judge, another piece
highlighted Mme le professeur, a television show about mathematics hosted by
a woman, Lena Wattieux. She had been chosen for her profound knowledge
of mathematics and because she was young and passionate about her profes-
sion. The broadcast originated in Lille in 1959, and in 1963 it was picked up
for broadcast across France.40
In spite of the clear progress women had made successfully entering
previously male professions, on the political left, essays and editorials
began to highlight and criticize occupational sex segregation and even
noted what we now call the “glass ceiling,” unacknowledged assumptions
about gender that not only kept most women at the lowest ranks in their
occupations but also prevented female employees from reaching the top
ranks. As Antoinette liked to point out, such occupational segregation
in effect negated French law’s equal pay provisions. Journalist Andrée
Cazaubon, in an issue commemorating International Women’s Day, noted
the increasing number of salaried women in France, with 644,000 more
women in the labor market than there had been in 1954 for a total of
five million French women earning a salary. The change was irreversible,
Cazaubon claimed, since nobody could imagine a France “without nurses,
without telephone operators, without schoolteachers.” Clearly Cazaubon
could not imagine a world without working women, but neither could she
envision a gender-​neutral labor market. However, given that women work-
ing outside the home represented an irreversible reality, Cazaubon insisted
that the real problem women faced was the “double burden,” which pre-
sented a huge challenge to women’s ability to maintain their equilibrium.

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      147

Cazaubon and Antoinette explicitly advocated social policies and institu-

tions to assist salaried women and reduce their concerns about their chil-
dren so they could better organize their double burden.41
Elle’s Jean Duché also addressed the problem. For many women, having
a job represented freedom, a way to affirm their independence. But Duché
admitted that society had done little to facilitate women’s professional pro-
motion. “No sooner does a woman succeed in making a little place for herself
among a group of suspicious men than she goes home, after a full workday, to
the ancestral work of housekeeping that awaits her.” In other words, women’s
so-​called liberty often became a form of slavery. Yet he failed to make one
possible inference: that married men should take up some of women’s “ances-
tral” labor. Rather, Duché suggested that if France really cared about the fate
of its women, it would make more part-​time work available for them.42
Régine Etienne wrote in Constellation about another possible problem for
women who worked outside the home. Some women might end up earning
more than their husbands. In part, Etienne pointed out, that possibility had
only recently developed. Earlier in the century, working women had been
limited to the lowest-​wage factory jobs or to low-​wage work as secretaries,
sales clerks, or maids. However, 1964 represented a brave new world. Women
could be doctors, judges, lawyers, engineers, professors, politicians, even
CEOs (chefs d’entreprise). Nearly all unmarried women in France worked
for wages in 1964, as did one in three married women. One-​third of France’s
children, nearly five million of them, were cared for by two million single
mothers, either unmarried, widowed, or divorced. No longer was there an
attempt to stigmatize that lifestyle, but Etienne did point out that wives who
earned higher wages than their husbands still “upset the laws of society, a
total ensemble of conventions, traditions according to which the man must
provide for his household.” Such a situation often resulted in family dramas
and even, at the extreme, in murder or suicide.
Etienne interviewed sociologist Paul-​Henry Chombard de Lauwe, who
explained that a man who earned less than his wife could feel inferior and
weak and might respond with violence or ask for a divorce. However, rather
than recommending that women limit their ambitions, Etienne highlighted
the happy exceptions to the rule. One husband, for example, an artist who
worked at home, also took on the primary responsibility for housework and
children. This enlightened husband declared, “There’s no shame in this.” De
Lauwe pointed out that this arrangement only worked if both husband and
wife were “liberated from prejudice” and able to function as two equal parts.
But even for those couples, de Lauwe pointed out that such a husband would

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still have to deal with a wider world hostile to his situation. Wives needed to
be aware of that and keep their husbands’ spirits up.43
Gender relations in marriage represented a key issue for women, but rather
than confining attention to women as wives or mothers, journalists also
addressed women’s personal independence. Jean Duché wrote quite a few edi-
torials in Elle in the early 1960s that grappled with changing gender norms
and how they played out in women’s real lives. He addressed what might have
seemed like a relatively unimportant matter, but one that greatly affected
women’s ability to operate independently. A reader had described the curi-
ous stares of fellow travelers when, while waiting for her train, she sat alone
having lunch at the station’s restaurant. She insisted she hardly resembled a
“showy pinup,” nor was she in a tiny town where anyone unfamiliar might be
noticeable. Duché wondered why fellow travelers considered a woman having
a meal alone so “strange.” Why could women earn a living, live alone, take
a midnight train alone, but not dine alone at a restaurant? An independent
woman should not only be able to dine alone, Duché insisted; she should
also be free to attend a play and even have a drink afterward at a café without
being seen as a prostitute. Old mental habits still lurked in the collective sub-
conscious, he suspected, and clearly the revolution was still incomplete. The
next generation of women would have to erase the last vestiges of “masculine
feudalism.” As far as he was concerned, “You can dine alone as much as you
please. I only hope that it still sometimes pleases you to dine with us.”44

The Woman Genius Conundrum

While women had made tremendous strides in a variety of professions, Jean
Duché set off a firestorm of controversy when he raised the question of why
there were so few women geniuses. In previous centuries he hardly found that
surprising, given the restrictions placed on women and men’s monopoly on
education. But Duché insisted that by 1963 girls had had access to higher edu-
cation for half a century, and yet relatively few female geniuses had emerged.
He speculated that perhaps being a genius required the internal drive that
came from a “restlessness, a frenzy, an obsession,” which were essentially vir-
ile, meaning masculine, personality traits.45
When his readers responded with an outpouring of angry mail, Duché
vehemently denied that he was a reactionary, but admitted that his explana-
tion had perhaps been insufficient. He conceded that he knew some women
with “virile characters,” even a few “viragos.” But he admitted that women

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      149

probably sensed, in spite of all the talk about freedom and opportunity, that
in fact society “does not accept women developing their talents. Society
appears to go along, without really accepting it.” Women who believed the
talk of freedom and acted accordingly paid dearly. First, Duché pointed out,
professional women strained to manage the double burden. Even on the job,
in leadership positions women struggled with male subordinates who often
hinted that their female boss was not “to their taste.” In other words, in spite
of the talk about equality, Duché conceded that so long as mediocre male
employees could not be sent back to work as typists or secretaries, “superior
jobs will be barred to women.” Duché’s essay described what has come to
be called the “glass ceiling” of unspoken expectations that limit women’s
upward professional mobility. However, he issued a challenge. Men will never
give women equality, he pointed out. Women needed to conquer it. Duché
also challenged women with another question, also still part of the debate.
Did women really want to imitate men? Was that not an admission that
“feminine values are inferior”? Still, Duché concluded with a call to arms.
“My sisters, you are arriving in a New World just waiting to be discovered;
go get it!”46
Thus in the first half of the 1960s, popular magazines and books clearly
indicate an awareness of profound changes in women’s lives and their critical
role in the economy. However, while acknowledging that women constituted
a significant part of the labor force, one that included nearly all single women
and one in three married women, marriage, children, and domesticity were
still considered central to women’s lives and identities. The benefits of the
changes for women’s independence and self-​actualization hardly erased the
serious problems that remained, and still remain, unresolved. Women were
primarily segregated in lower-​paying occupations and at the lowest ranks,
although they had begun to break into new fields. They earned less and had
less upward mobility in the workplace. Finally, most married women and
mothers in the labor force also faced the double burden of primary responsi-
bility for domestic chores and childrearing. Social norms made unaccompa-
nied women uncomfortable in many social spaces.

Girls Just Wanna Talk about Themselves: Les Jeunes Filles

At the intersection of the two groups, women and youth, lay the subject of
a near obsession by the early 1960s, les jeunes filles, a term difficult to trans-
late that indicates unmarried females from their mid-​teens into their early

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twenties.47 The anxiety about rebellious youth and fears of a widening gen-
eration gap on the one hand, the contradictory expectations for adult women
and what their new freedom implied about gender, spousal relations, and
family life on the other converged to create a particularly intense preoccupa-
tion with jeunes filles. These young women constituted half of the baby boom
that was rebelling against adult expectations. Celebration, tinged with anxi-
ety and bewilderment, emerged in discussions of this growing population
of young women. Contemporary adults wondered who these young women
were, what they were thinking, what they liked and disliked, wanted, cared
about. What books did they read? What movies did they watch? What music
did they listen to? Whom did they admire?
Reflecting another new development in the 1960s, rather than limiting
themselves to speculation about jeunes filles curious writers and magazines
undertook “enquêtes,” or surveys, sampling groups of varying sizes, sending
them questionnaires, interviewing them, assembling groups of young women
to discuss issues together.48 Given the nonscientific methodologies and sam-
pling mechanisms, the bias toward middle-​class and elite young women, and
the lack of transparency about how questions were posed, it would be a mis-
take to assume the surveys provide us with a completely accurate portrait of
what young women of the era really thought.49 Nevertheless, the fact that
so many authors and magazines conducted surveys documents adult atten-
tion to the category of young women. For one thing, there were no similar
surveys of young men in the early 1960s. The only listing from this era in the
Bibliothéque nationale’s catalog with “young men” in the title was a book that
explored what young men thought about young women. The responses also
show us how the young women polled responded to adult interest, how they
represented their views when questioned. Often the young women in these
polls tended to push back against prevalent ideas they considered inaccurate
or exaggerated, probably a combination of writers wanting to reassure adult
readers and young women rolling their eyes at adults. In any case, the polls
represented a new way of trying to understand young women in the 1960s.
Journalist Jean Barses titled his Constellation article “Les 10 énigmes
de la jeune fille 1960” (The ten enigmas of the young woman of 1960). He
explained, “The young ‘New Wave’ French woman of eighteen to twenty …
does not have much left to hide: she’s been tested, oriented, surveyed, inter-
viewed, photographed, filmed from every angle.” However, Barses insisted
that nobody had studied younger adolescent girls between the ages of thir-
teen and seventeen. Their bodies had matured, but they were still “little
girls” ( fillettes) in spirit. According to contemporary psychologists, early

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      151

adolescence was an age of secrecy, revolt, and secession from adults. From
time to time, parents might come across a daughter’s diary or letter, some-
thing that revealed their daughter’s secret life. According to Barses, parents
who did so reported being astonished to discover that the daughter they
thought they knew had become a stranger, even hostile. According to Barses,
mothers reading these diaries worried whether their daughters could turn
into “a Lolita? a cheater?”50
To address the knowledge gap, Barses and a team of opinion research-
ers devised ways of penetrating the secret world of the young adolescent girl.
They found most teen girls they approached were reluctant to give up their
free time for a boring meeting with adults they did not know. To penetrate
that world, Barses’s team focused on the major Paris girls’ lycées and per-
suaded some of those lycées’ younger supervisors (surveillantes) to encourage
their charges to take part in Barses’s survey, a sample that effectively limited
the group to urban, middle-​class girls. The resulting interviews uncovered,
for example, a common schoolgirl ruse: explaining to a parent who had given
them cash to purchase a Metro ticket that they had not brought home any
change because the cashier at the Metro station had refused to return their
change. Apparently, this had in fact happened to one teenaged girl, and the
story spread rapidly by word of mouth and morphed into the useful legend of
the “train-​station-​cashier-​who-​refused-​to-​give-​back-​my-​change.”51
Beyond the shock of learning that this was a lie, many parents expressed
bewilderment as to why their teen daughters needed additional cash. Barses’s
discussions and surveys revealed the teenaged girls’ strange habits that
resulted in the need for cash. He reported that groups of teens saved up cash
that they obtained in a variety of ways—​using the train station ruse, resell-
ing books or record albums, offering services, even stealing cash from their
mothers’ purses—​precisely so that they could do what their parents prohib-
ited: “Buy provocative outfits for themselves, books, go to movies restricted
to those over eighteen or to parties for the under-​seventeen crowd.” In par-
ticular, teenaged girls insisted on paying their own way while out with boys.
According to Barses’s shocking revelation, teen girls of the day believed shar-
ing the cost of group outings was the best way to maintain their male friends’
respect, whereas allowing a boy to pay for an outing implied a girl’s willing-
ness to “flirt,” or make out. Teenaged girls needed cash to retain control over
their intimate activities while taking part in mixed outings, financing their
clandestine lives outside of home and school.52
While concealing activities from parents was hardly new, Barses insisted
that by 1960 it started at much younger ages. By twelve or thirteen, many

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teenaged girls had already begun plotting early revolts, expressing opposi-
tion to their parents. According to school supervisors, some 80 percent
of thirteen-​year-​old girls dreamed of living away from home in a board-
ing house rather than with their own families. By age fourteen or fifteen,
revolt against parents broke out into the open. Girls at that age dressed
not so much to attract boys as to “defy their parents, the teachers, even
the principal, and finally, the entire world.” Girls usually fell into a clique
with others in their school, with whom they exchanged record albums,
horoscopes, and photos of movie stars. They went in groups to see films
like A bout de soufle (Breathless) or Les cousins. But most of these outings,
including parties, took place during the day. Barses reassured the surely
shocked parents that these groups of young teens were not pre-​delinquent
gangs. Rather, some twenty boys and girls who liked each other gathered
around a few leaders who often dictated the group’s style and activities.
Barses argued that this kind of an experience was not negative and in
effect served as an apprenticeship to “group life.”53
Barses’s report may not have reassured many parents. However, his survey
only represented one among many. Also in 1960, Madeleine Chapsal pub-
lished Verités sur les jeunes filles (The truth about teenaged girls). Having seen
Marcel Carné’s 1958 film Les tricheurs (The cheaters), Chapsal worried. Did
the film accurately depict the reality of most teen girls’ lives? With its cast,
including Jean-​Pierre Belmondo, portraying young, undisciplined, pleasure-​
seeking rebels who cared little about responsibility or love, Chapsal wanted to
find out what actual teens and young women thought about the film, whether
it accurately reflected their outlook and ideas about the future. Given gen-
erational segregation, Chapsal pointed out that she did not personally know
any jeunes filles, so she asked friends and colleagues for the names of young
women she could interview. One of her journalist colleagues had a sixteen-​
year-​old sister, for example. Chapsal managed to round up one hundred teens
and young women, inviting small groups of them to the journal’s offices. She
conducted some twenty group interviews based on a fifty-​question survey.
Although by her own admission most of the young women Chapsal inter-
viewed were lycée students from the middle and upper classes, she did manage
to include fifteen young women either from working-​class backgrounds or
who had left school and already worked for wages. Chapsal listed the family
background of the 100 girls she interviewed: 12 came from the upper middle
class, 43 from the bourgeoisie, 30 from the petty bourgeoisie, and 15 from a
working-​class milieu. Of the total, some 32 of the girls attended lycée, 25 of
them preparing to take the baccalaureate; 18 of the young women worked as

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      153

apprentices learning a trade; 23 young women worked for a salary. Two of her
young women listed no occupation.54
Chapsal admitted that to match the population of all young French
women, she should have interviewed more working-​class and rural girls. But
she justified her somewhat non-​representative sample, arguing that most peo-
ple applied the term “jeunes filles” to those with the time and means to “live
like ‘jeunes filles.’ ”55 Thus Chapsal shared the widespread perception that
youth culture mostly was the province of middle-​class, urban students. In
fact, evidence from various sources suggests that by the 1960s youth culture
had spread across social classes and was no longer limited to the middle class.
Chapsal worried that the girls who agreed to take part in the survey might
be suspicious about being questioned about themselves. But, in her first find-
ing, Chapsal reported that the issue never came up in any of her discus-
sion. “The teenaged girl was eager for one thing and one thing only: to talk
about herself.” Chapsal found that most girls, even those pursuing advanced
degrees, were still focused on marriage. To her relief, few of her interview-
ees considered films like Les tricheurs or A bout de soufle to have anything
at all to do with their lives. In fact, asked to list their favorite films, most
girls chose Les enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise), a classic made dur-
ing the German occupation and released in 1945, set in early nineteenth-​
century Paris. Asked about their favorite actors, teenaged girls listed Gérard
Philippe, an actor who had appeared in over thirty films in the 1940s and
1950s before dying in 1959 of liver cancer; Audrey Hepburn; and Jean Gabin,
another classic French actor whose career stretched from the 1930s through
the 1950s, ahead of Brigitte Bardot (who was followed by Marlon Brando).
Their favorite book and play was The Diary of Anne Frank, and, to the huge
relief of Chapsal, and probably many of her readers, the book they liked least
was Françoise Sagan’s racy Bonjour tristesse.56
Trumping both Barses and Chapsal, Elle magazine’s Anita Pereire,
assigned to the “jeunes filles” beat, published the results of her study of twenty
thousand young women ages fifteen to twenty-​three who sent responses to
the eighty questions Elle had published in October 1960. Once again, based
on the readership of Elle, the respondents would almost all have been fairly
well-​educated, middle-​to upper-​class urban young women. Pereire explained
that she wanted to know the following:  “Who are you? How do you live,
what do you think, what are your hopes, and do you really resemble the por-
trait certain popular films and novels of today have painted of you?”57 Her
respondents averaged 18.5 years old; 85 percent of them reported living with
their parents. In another telling sign of the middle-​to upper-​class bias of

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the sample, 73  percent of them reported having their own bedrooms, and
55  percent were students, half in secondary schools and the rest in higher
Apparently this survey seconded the conservative findings about taste
that Chapsal’s study reported, the preference for classic over new wave films.
The respondents chose Jacques Brel as their preferred male vocalist and Edith
Piaf for female vocalist, both representatives of the pre-​rock French chanson
tradition; they indicated that their preferred author was Albert Camus, who
had recently died in an auto accident. Although Camus may not have been
a classical author like Racine or Flaubert, Chapsal’s respondents notably
did not choose Françoise Sagan. Pereire found herself surprised to discover
among the twenty thousand young women sampled that “the so-​called ‘new
wave’ values are beaten out by conventional classics.” Asked directly what
they thought about new wave films, 38 percent of the young women report-
edly described them as “exaggerated,” and only 21 percent considered them to
be “true,” equal to the 21 percent who labeled them “harmful.”59
Asked what they needed to be happy in the present, most of the young
women listed having more money, followed by a satisfying job, the assurance
that they would not be hurt by love, parents who were less strict, and, at the
bottom of the list, to be prettier. Asked which woman they would most like
to be, the top choice (of 9 percent) was Princess Grace of Monaco, a woman
(American no less) who gave up her professional career in Hollywood for
marriage. Yet the other top choices expressed a stronger admiration for
professional success beyond marriage; second on the list was Marie Curie
(8.5 percent), then Georges Sand (7 percent) and Simone de Beauvoir; a few
brave or crazy souls listed Joan of Arc as the woman they most wanted to be
like, although it is not clear whether they admired her piety or her military
Their expectations for their personal lives trended in a more conserva-
tive direction than Pereire had expected. The vast majority, 97 percent of the
young women, envisioned for their lives “only one solution: marriage.” They
expected to marry for love and viewed married life as an important founda-
tion for their lives, but not as its sole purpose. Only slightly fewer, 93 percent,
expressed a desire to have children. As far as their relationships with their
parents, most of the respondents reported getting along with them reason-
ably well.61
Thus, studies published in the 1960s reassured adults that the vast major-
ity of contemporary teenaged girls and young women still viewed their future
as leading inexorably to heterosexual marriage. Only a few voices questioned

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      155

that destiny. More often advice columnists warned readers of the dangers of
resisting marriage. Marie-​Madeleine, an advice columnist for Confidences,
printed a letter from an “Anne-​Marie” from Paris. Her boyfriend, Serge,
had many good qualities, loved family life, and wanted them to settle down
together. She insisted, however, “I seek freedom and despise the bourgeois
life.” She loved her studies and wanted to continue “her intellectual training
and her traveling.” Should she accept Serge’s proposal? “Could we be happy
together?” Marie-​Madeleine warned Anne-​Marie that she detected in her let-
ter “seeds of a potential old maid.” However, in reading between the lines,
she also detected that Anne-​Marie’s desire for liberty and intellectual forma-
tion were really only a façade, a mask hiding her true and deep attachment
to Serge. Marie-​Madeleine urged her not to fall victim to her theories, not to
play Don Quixote seeking total liberty, tilting at the bastions of bourgeois
life. She might end up old and all alone. If Anne-​Marie and Serge truly shared
tastes, his love of family would not be at all incompatible with her enthusiasm
for intellectual life and travel.62
Several years later, also in Confidences, the husband-​and-​wife advice team
Elle and Lui addressed a similar theme. “Marriage Evader” insisted she was
clear-​headed, had a job she loved, and was “fully aware of all the disappoint-
ments that marriage almost always brings about; I have retrenched myself in
a celibacy that is happy, peaceful, and well enough organized that my life is
not dull.” Then she met a man who shared so many of her interests that she
considered him her twin. Now in a relationship, he was pressing her to marry.
To persuade her, he had suggested living together for a two-​week trial run,
which had only confirmed his desire to marry. She, however, responded dif-
ferently, “I watched this brilliant, fascinating man transformed into a banal
being.” Such a “devalorization of personalities, suffocated by the little prob-
lems of life as a couple, revolts me.” Was there really no exception to the rule
of marriage?63
Elle and Lui ultimately agreed; no exceptions were granted. Otherwise,
however, their responses varied widely. Elle insisted that the problem was
the trial run, a bad-​faith visit to the country of marriage that naturally left
her disoriented. The real problem was not the “oddities” of daily life but the
absence of true love, which would have converted his oddities into charming
habits. True love “does not suffocate, but radiates.” Marriage Evader clearly
admired her young man, but only love would inspire the indulgence, under-
standing, and devotion she lacked.64
Lui took a harsher line, labeling Marriage Evader’s honesty a sham, since
she did not have the courage to admit that her own “profound egoism” had

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caused the experiment to fail. “Everything revolves around you, your ideas,
your aspirations.” She never thought to find out what her boyfriend might
want and need. To marry is to receive, but also, according to Lui, especially
for a woman, to give. “You are certainly not mature enough for marriage.”
Hoping her boyfriend would soon get over her, Lui concluded with a sentence
that could easily have appeared in any Vichy-​era publication about the topic:
“Between family life and the life of a couple, the egotistical organization of
celibate life is a sterile, intermediate phase.” Only sincere goodwill might
“overcome these flaws.” Both Elle and Lui insisted that marriage was prefer-
able to celibacy; both attributed the failed experiment to Evader’s errors, but
they differed as to whether Evader was simply confused about true love or a
selfish bitch.65
The few young women willing to express doubts about marriage voiced
a number of concerns. Some women rejected marriage as a rebellion against
bourgeois norms; for others their rejection represented a refusal to compro-
mise their standards or limit their personal aspirations. We also see a few
hints that some young women were less than taken with their male counter-
parts, although in one case the competition was not what we might expect.
“Perplexed Amazon” wrote Marcelle Ségal, concerned. She was sixteen, pretty
enough, but had developed a reputation for being “indifferent to boys,” which
she admitted was true. On the other hand, she had a real passion for horses,
which her friends mocked. “So does that make me abnormal?” Ségal reas-
sured her, “Not in the least. We all have our own things.” Ségal only hoped
her friends’ things were as commendable as hers and urged her to pursue her
passion for horses, a worthy one. Someday, Ségal closed, she might be lucky
enough to meet a man “as noble, vigorous, as eager, loyal, courageous, and
faithful as a horse.”66
Ségal’s compassionate and supportive response must have reassured many
girls, worried about being “normal” owing to their lack of interest in boys.
However, Ségal was one of the few voices to go beyond reassuring young girls
that they were normal and that someday their prince would surely come.
She penned a passionate defense of women who never married. Reader GB
wondered about Ségal’s notion that the life of a single woman “can be very
rich and just good as that of a married woman.” GB, orphaned young, had
lived on her own all her life, working to earn a living. She wondered whether,
even if a woman ended up with a less desirable husband or a mother-​in-​law
who hated her, it was better to have “someone to love, to devote oneself to.”
Without that love, GB conceded that old maids often ended up developing a
“horrible character,” but she maintained that it was hardly the women’s fault.

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      157

Ségal, however, rejected the very premise, pointing out that married women
who were harassed by need or worn down by successive pregnancies, who had
husbands who cheated, drank too much, or were lazy, brutal, or poor provid-
ers could develop similar character defects. How could anyone in good faith
describe those kinds of marriages as worth more than “peaceful celibacy?”67
Ségal disputed the belief that any marriage, even to the worst hus-
band, was preferable to being single. Such attitudes, she insisted, resembled
banknotes that were only worth something so long as everyone agreed to
accept them. Public opinion often shifted dramatically, finding beautiful
what had been considered ugly. One day, Ségal hoped, “those responsible for
fashionable opinions will revalorize ‘single ladies,’ those precious ‘aunties’
which every family relies on” to care for their parents, babysit nephews and
nieces, and help out with loans. Every family, parish, and charity in France,
Ségal declared, relied on its devoted single ladies. All society leaned heavily
on them. But, Ségal asked, what did society, what did families do in return
for all these services? Why did so many people insist that single women did
not experience real life when they provided so much for so many other people
while supporting themselves? Single women may not have raised children of
their own, but they often cared for other people’s children, supported their
parents and siblings, and provided a sympathetic ear or even emergency loans.
If single women did not exist, Ségal concluded, “We would have to invent
them.” Happily, they did exist, and rather than ridiculing, devaluing, or treat-
ing them as second class citizens, she wrote, “It’s past time to treat them like
full citizens. They do more than their share. Honor to our single ladies!”68
Ségal herself had been married and divorced; after the death of her bio-
logical child, she adopted children. Although no longer married in the 1960s,
Ségal was not defined as an old maid, because she had been married and given
birth, but she clearly sympathized with women denigrated as old maids. But
her defense did not rest on pity. Ségal insisted on recognizing unmarried
women’s worth, focusing on their contributions to society and families more
broadly defined to include them. Even without, as the unspoken assumption
would have it, having experienced sex with a man or childbirth, unmarried
women experienced life, Ségal insisted. They were not solitary, unloved, dried
out, selfish, useless. Rather, they were engaged and giving—​an integral part
of society and of nearly every family.
Few voices echoed Ségal’s point in the early 1960s. Marie-​Madeleine’s
warning to her correspondent about the dangers of not marrying and becom-
ing an old maid remained potent and dominant. Adults thus insisted, and
most teenaged girls and young women got the message, that their path in

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life should be to find a suitable mate and to marry. While approving of the
goal, many in the older generation also expressed concerns about the ways
teen girls in particular dressed to attract young men. Over the decade of the
1950s and gaining strength in the 1960s was a new “division” in the fash-
ion world. For the first time, the fashion industry and women’s magazines
created and promoted fashion specifically for teenaged girls, setting it apart
from fashion aimed at adult women.69 In the 1960s, fashion for jeunes filles
visually represented the youth revolt. Barses asked what to make of “skirts so
tight that only by twisting the torso, tucking in the knees, and taking tiny
hops can stairs be climbed, or, on the other hand, skirts so short and wide,
mounted on a hoop, that every gesture to bend down reveals their garters.”
He described 1960 as the era of “red tights and black stockings,” worn with
high heels “in garish yellow” or “patched blue jeans and culotte skirts like the
ones Wimbledon stars wear.” Hair, either very long or very short, was always
messy, “like BB [Brigitte Bardot] or Pascale Petit.” The discrete necklaces of
the past gave way to aggressive “enamel pendants—​woven with pearls,” or
even “in boondoggle shapes.” Along with all this, girls all carried Air France
or TWA travel bags.70
Elle magazine contested what it insisted was a widespread opinion that
the fashion of 1961 had converged with that of 1925. While Elle admitted
the similarities in the two eras, it argued that women had changed. The flap-
per (garçonne) of 1925 was the “long lost sister” of her 1960s counterpart.
Women now had broader shoulders, with “sunken” waists and tummies, high
breasts, thin thighs, and long, muscular legs. Today’s woman was more ath-
letic. The straight-​line shift had indeed returned in 1961, but not the 1920s’
ideal, flat-​chested woman. The 1961 shifts’ darts emphasized breasts that
were also sculpted to a point by the period’s bras. Hair and makeup also dif-
fered. The 1920s cloche, pulled down over the forehead, had been replaced
by a jaunty bowler perched on top of the head to reveal thick bangs and a
pageboy or short pouf of hair.71
The reality however, both in the 1920s and the 1960s, was that women’s
bodies had certainly not evolved into a new physical form or shape. The 1920s
style was a first pass at the post-​corset era. By 1961, women of all ages may have
become more physically active, more likely to engage in sports or exercise,
possibly gaining some musculature, but hardly changing the entire popula-
tion’s leg length, breast size, or height. Prior to World War I, corsets provided
external ways to control a woman’s shape and make it conform to an ideal,
with the body also hidden below long, loose skirts and sleeves.72 The thin,
boyish, flat-​chested figure in style in the 1920s required a woman’s body to

Youth, Women, Jeunes Filles      •      159

conform to the ideal, not with a shape-​forming garment but through internal
discipline, diet, and exercise. In fact, the pointy bras and armor-​thick girdles
of the 1950s could be viewed as a new version of pre-​1920s corset, with New
Look full skirts covering the hips and thighs. In the 1960s, the neo-​corsets
gave way again to a more “natural” style. The result was a renewed focus for
young women on their bodies and their weight. Pereire’s survey asked her
respondents, “What bothers you about your physique?” The highest number
of the respondents, 37 percent, listed weight, followed by skin (24), legs (22),
nose (19), chest (18), waist (15), hair (14), teeth (14), and hands (9). As for
dieting, 27 percent of the respondents reported that they were dieting; the
same percentage colored their hair, and 26 percent claimed that they exer-
cised regularly.73
Concern about appearance led one reader to write Ségal. She insisted that
she was “horribly ugly” with “skin like a toad, bad looking, too fat.” It was so
bad that people stopped and stared at her on the street. In spite of her educa-
tion and diplomas, she had no friends and no boyfriend and had been unable
to find a job. Clearly, the very thought of working with her “horrifies people
in advance.” She found food a consolation and thus had a hard time dieting.
Hair stylists were too expensive. The one time she had worked to make herself
beautiful, she claimed that men on the street took her for a prostitute. Ségal
seized on that example. Did she mean that men followed her? Accosted her?
That kind of thing happened to all young women except for “ugly ducklings.”
Therefore, Ségal concluded, the writer could not possibly be as ugly as she pre-
tended. “Try again, make an effort, a little fine tuning, and you will become a
pretty girl.” In fact, it was her character that needed more than a fine tuning.
Ségal invited the young woman to visit her office and talk with her in person,
promising, “My ugliness will comfort you!” 74
More concerned about weight was “Domestic Heart,” age twenty, who
confessed that at 166 centimeters and 72 kilos (5 feet 5 and 159 pounds),
she was “hideous!” However, rather than asking for diet advice, Heart com-
plained that the styles she found in Elle were “not suitable for my classic
matron body type.” Could Ségal suggest a few examples of women who were
both charming and portly? Ségal complained about contemporary beauty
standards, noting that attractive women in past eras had breasts and hips.
What we call cellulite, she pointed out, they celebrated as “curvy, plump.”
Ségal backed up her point by referring readers to the ideal women in Rubens
and Renoir paintings. Ségal then provided what Heart requested, several con-
temporary examples, the “fantastic black singers Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia
Jackson.” “Buxom whites are too thin-​skinned,” Ségal complained.75

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The era’s fashions and beauty expectations aroused new anxieties about
weight. Adults worried less about girls’ bodies and more about what their
hair and clothing expressed. Few writers of any generation challenged the
still-​dominant expectation that a young woman’s goal was to marry, although
neither did they question a teenaged girl’s choice to continue her education
or a young woman’s desire to have a professional life. To get from point A,
the life of a teen girl, either in school or working while spending free time
at parties dancing to the Beatles or Johnnie Hallyday, to point B, marriage,
required courtship, which meant formal dating and, of course, le flirt. Here
again, differing visions and expectations for young men and young women
led to confusion, as changing times called some values into question while
leaving others, contradictory at times, in place.

7 D AT I N G A N D C O U R T S H I P

“Can I  take the first step?” So many letters arrived asking that
question that Anita Pereire of Elle went over some ground rules
in 1960 for girls fifteen to seventeen who were just beginning to
date. Pereire recognized that things had changed dramatically
since their grandmothers’ era. The strict rule that girls were never
to take the first step had fallen aside, leaving many young women
confused as to what they could do. To help, Pereire’s article, antici-
pating today’s “Frequently Asked Questions” format, posed a series
of questions and answers allowing her to delineate appropriate and
inappropriate behavior step by step.

Q: Can I call him on the phone first?

A: Yes, but never call a second or third time.
Q: Can I give him a Christmas or birthday gift?
A: Yes, but only if you have known him a long time, and only a
small gift such as a book or a record album.
Q: Can I invite him to my house for lunch?
A: Yes, so long as it is not a formal presentation to your family.
Q: Can I write to him first?
A: Yes, especially if he’s doing his military service, but again, if he
does not respond, do not write a second time.
Q: Can I go out alone with him?
A: Yes, if your parents agree, but you are not obligated to accept all

Finally, the critical question:

Q: Can I go alone into his bedroom?

A: No. A teenaged girl never goes alone into a boy’s bedroom. He
may have the best of intentions; still, as stupid as it may seem to
you, I say NO.”1

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In this instance, Pereire instructed teenaged girls not to put themselves in

situations that might lead to sex. Although the times may have been chang-
ing, there were still limits. The clothing, hair, and music of many teen girls
may have been rebellious. Many journalists, parents, and social commenta-
tors expressed concern about a youth “in revolt” against its elders. By the
early 1960s, most observers, both men and women, viewed women’s lives as
having changed profoundly, and they recognized that young women’s lives
now included educational and professional aspirations. Yet many values and
expectations about gender remained firmly in place. When questioned, most
young women insisted that their futures would include marriage and chil-
dren. Their questions about appropriate behavior reflected anxiety about
doing anything that might threaten their marriage prospects.
In the early 1960s, a few voices began questioning the universality of
that assumption, arguing that it could be acceptable for some young women
not to marry. Some young men and women who did not feel the pull of the
supposed marriage/​family destiny expressed anxiety that hinted in veiled
language at homosexual desire. In general, however, a lack of interest in mar-
riage was couched not in moral terms but in social-​psychological-​scientific
language: Am I normal?
In Nous deux, the advice columnist and romance novelist Agnès Chabrier,
writing through the early 1960s under the pen name Daniel Gray, responded
to a fifteen-​year-​old girl who had lost touch with her mother since her par-
ents’ divorce. A wonderful teacher had come into her life, counseled her, and
showed her affection. Slowly, she confessed, affection for her teacher had
turned into adoration. Her teacher insisted that she was experiencing a “cri-
sis of adolescence” that would soon pass. Meanwhile, the beloved teacher had
stopped responding to the postcards sent by the suffering student during the
summer vacation. Gray, moved by the girl’s letter, understood that she suffered
from loving someone unable to return the feeling. But the teacher, a woman
twenty years her senior, had done the right thing. Gray assured the young stu-
dent that over time, given her intelligence and courage, she would get past her
pain.2 The responses of the teacher and Gray both indicate that the notion
of an adolescent crisis had escaped the boundaries of expert circles, entering
popular awareness. Folding the girl’s intense attraction for her female teacher
into the category of an adolescent crisis may have been accurate but was also a
way of neutralizing it and denying the potential implications for her sexuality.
Paralleling this girl’s crush on a female teacher, a letter from a young man
expressed less sadness about unrequited love than fear about the same-​sex
aspect of his attachment. Marcelle Ségal responded to “Mickey,” who had

Dating and Courtship      •      163

explained, “I only think about him. If it were a girl, I would understand. I ask
myself if I’m normal.” According to Mickey, the friend liked him “normally,
you know, like a buddy.” He could not imagine not seeing this friend. “I’m
kind of sentimental. Is this an adolescent crisis?” Ségal reassured him it was
“a classic crisis. Passionate friendships are very common between adoles-
cents.” It was after all, “an awkward age.” The shy ones become “crude,” the
passionate ones turn boring, the nice ones transform into jerks. “Everything
expresses itself sideways! The heart also can go the wrong way. It’s only tragic
for those who make it tragic.”3 An intense crush on another boy was nothing
to worry about, and soon things would revert to “normal.” But what if it was
more than a passing phase? Although neither Daniel Gray nor Marcelle Ségal
even considered that possibility, at least their responses were reassuring and
supportive rather than alarmist or condemnatory in tone.
More judgmental was the response in Confidences to the father who wor-
ried about his fifteen-​year-​old daughter. Her mother had died when she
was four, and he had never remarried. Now he worried because his daugh-
ter had become, “extremely passionate about one of her teachers, a young
woman of thirty.” He worried that his daughter “could become one of those
women who reject the idea of marriage. … Do you get what I’m saying?”
The response reassured him that his daughter, raised in an exclusively mascu-
line world without the affection and admiration she would have felt for her
mother, must have transferred those emotions to one of her teachers. Her age
was a critical one for all girls, and even young girls who had mothers “tend
to feel toward their female teachers or older colleagues the feeling that wor-
ries you in your daughter.” Confidences recommended having her spend more
time with her school friends’ families, experiencing a more gender-​balanced
family atmosphere. She should also get involved in sports, which would be
good for her equilibrium, and if she played tennis or swam, she would also
meet boys. Try finding a “mixed youth club.” But the father was told not to
despair, not to challenge his daughter, which would only “get her back up”
even if he felt the need to be vigilant. “Once this ‘thankless age’ has passed,
she will undoubtedly be a young woman like the rest.” Then he would have to
worry about her crushes and her boyfriends. “The anomalies you seem to fear
are pretty rare.” If things had not changed in a year, he should take her to an
Hints at homosexual attractions were rare, deemed unlikely, outside of
the norm; probably the real-​world responses would have been far more nega-
tive and judgmental than what these advice columnists wrote for the public.
But their responses generally dismissed anxieties about sexuality that readers

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expressed and downplayed the same-​sex attachments as not something worth

worrying much about, especially in comparison to other aspects of dating
and courtship that attracted quite a bit more concern.

Yes, I flirt, is that so wrong???

First of all, flirting, an old term that began to appear regularly in popular
periodicals in the 1950s, exploded as the subject of articles and books in the
early 1960s. Again, the term still carried implications beyond suggestive talk
or gesture in France, implying also physical intimacy short of sex. The flirt
continued to be so much a part of youth culture that one social worker felt the
need to note about a seventeen-​year-​old boy his lack of flirting experiences.6
Given the fascination with flirting, Pereire’s survey had asked her twenty
thousand respondents point blank:  Do you flirt? Nearly 70  percent said
yes, and when asked to explain why, 37 percent admitted that flirting was
“pleasant.” Still, nearly half of the girls, 46 percent, judged harshly girls who
let themselves be kissed too easily.7 Marcelle Auclair, in a discussion with a
group of young men and women, reported that they considered romance a
threat to the success of their studies. “So, flirting yes. … Love, no!”8 Flirting
was a useful substitute for falling in love while young people focused on fur-
thering their education.9
Jean Duché described flirting as a rite of passage for the younger genera-
tion. “Of course, you have to flirt. … To have flirted … represents pass-
ing an important milestone in life.” How important was it for teens to go
through this phase, which Duché assured his readers would eventually pass?10
In 1961, Michèle and Gisèle from Roanne wrote to Confidences to settle a
dispute they had with their friends about the matter of flirting. “Some say it’s
normal for a teenaged girl to flirt acceptably. Others maintain that it’s not.”
Since they insisted that they shared the goal of getting married, Michèle and
Gisèle wanted to know if they were more likely to succeed by flirting or by
refusing to flirt. Confidences replied by inquiring what they meant by flirt-
ing. It would be fine if they meant the term “in the nice way.” But at all costs,
Michèle, Gisèle and their friends needed to avoid going too far, something
that would not help and could seriously damage their chances of marriage.11
The same idea appeared in Pereire’s article “Oui, je flirt … c’est mal?”
(Yes I flirt … is that so bad?).” Pereire admitted that girls, even from the
strictest families, had to deal with the fact that customs had changed.
Pereire agreed with Confidences. The key was to know the difference

Dating and Courtship      •      165

between an “innocent flirt and a degrading promiscuity that causes you

to lose your self-​respect and the respect of boys.” Pereire explored why
young people seemed intent on flirting. Some girls wanted to “impress
their girlfriends,” others took it as a sign of being emancipated, and some
girls simply could not say no. Finally, Pereire explained that some girls
found themselves at a party with nothing better to do or hoped it might
make a boy fall in love. She warned girls that boys compared notes and
shared experiences. “This girl, yes, very nice,” or “This equipment is easy
to operate! Whatever you want, my man.” To a boy, a girl’s appearance,
intelligence, and personality meant nothing. “It’s the flirt, flirting for
flirting’s sake.” A young woman Pereire interviewed confided that flirting
had become a tribal ritual. “We kids flirt because we’re young, because we
can’t very well play cards while other couples are making out in a nearly
dark room!” Pereire, not reassured, did her best to buck up the girls who
broke with the crowd. She insisted that girls who refused to flirt, who had
the courage not to follow the crowd, were the truly emancipated young
women. Still, Pereire understood that few girls would resist the pressures,
and so she warned girls about knowing when to stop.12

The Virginity Games
In the 1950s, rapid economic modernization and urbanization, combined
with Beauvoir’s writings, the popularization of Freud, and the explosive
Kinsey reports, resulted in publications that focused more frequently and
explicitly on sex and sexuality. The frank acknowledgement that both men
and women had a sex drive, potentially liberating for women, played a role
in the sexual revolution that normally is considered to have erupted after and
partly in response to the events of 1968. However, these trends unspooled
over a much longer time, and, like all revolutions, the sexual revolution had
its victims. What, given all this new information, was “normal”? Some people
worried about their desires and their lives. Changing ideas about sex, a topic
no longer entirely bounded by older moral or religious codes of conduct, left
many young people uncertain. Particularly young men and women engaged
in dating, as they moved toward what most of them considered the next logi-
cal phase of their lives, marriage, expressed a series of contradictory beliefs.
Young women felt particularly confused, under pressure from competing
internal and external forces, torn and unsure of how to behave and what the
consequences might be of the choices they made. In some ways, girls’ choices

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had been less complicated when conventional morality clearly forbade pre-
marital sex, even if those rules were only obeyed in the breach, as court files
make abundantly clear.
As early as 1960, the expectation that a young woman had to be a vir-
gin when she married had begun to weaken, but it had not disappeared.
The issue came up indirectly in advice dispensed about flirting; girls were
clearly warned not to go “too far.” However, the question of virginity also
arose directly and explicitly in a wide variety of venues. In her 1960 survey,
Madeleine Chapsal decided against asking her interviewees directly whether
they were virgins, which would have put them on the spot without generating
particularly reliable information. Instead, she asked them if they thought a
young woman should be a virgin when she married. Out of 100 responses, 49
said no, 43 said yes, and 8 said it depended, although there was no indication
on what.13 Journalist Marcel Bonnefoy, writing in Constellation, reported
that France was among the more virtuous of Western nations. Based on the
Kinsey report, he pointed out, one in two American women admitted to
having had sex before marriage, whereas in France, that figure was only one
in three. Bonnefoy, who did not clarify the source of his information about
French women and premarital sex, still concluded with relief that France was
not as “light, frivolous, and libertine as its reputation would suggest.”14
But while it was weakening, the expectation that a woman should be a
virgin at marriage had hardly disappeared. Pereire’s 1961 survey of twenty
thousand jeunes filles asked the same question Chapsal had asked the year
before: “Do you consider it important for a young woman to be pure when
she marries?” The meaning of the term “pure” could not have been mistaken.
A large majority of her respondents, 73 percent, agreed with that statement.15
Marcelle Auclair had assembled a group of young people to discuss Les taup-
ins, a television series broadcast in 1964 about a circle of young students. The
word taupin, literally a kind of beetle, is French slang for an advanced high
school science/​math student attending an elite preparatory school. Many
adults reportedly found the characters’ lack of morality disturbing. One
of the central characters, for example, was a young woman determined to
have sex for its own sake, without emotional attachment. Auclair asked her
group what they thought about virginity at marriage. While nobody made it
explicit, clearly Auclair and her group shared the assumption that the issue
only applied to brides; no one expressed concern about young men’s premari-
tal sexual experiences. In any case, in her group, which included only two
girls, Auclair reported that every one of them agreed, “You have to be a virgin
when you marry, and, all in all, marry a girl who’s a virgin. Still, we shouldn’t

Dating and Courtship      •      167

let ourselves become obsessed by the issue.” Virginity was an ideal, they con-
cluded. The most important thing was for partners to be frank with each
other about their status when deciding whether or not to marry.16
In spite of the confusing, fluctuating attitudes, many voices still advo-
cated premarital chastity, if only for practical reasons. Letters, essays, and
surveys clearly indicate, however, how problematic the situation was for
young women, torn by conflicting ideas and expectations, afraid to appear
old-​fashioned among their peers by resisting overtures, fearing the anger
of adults, not to mention the real possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, if
they gave in. It is also clear that teen girls and young women rightly worried
that, as hard pressed as they were by many of their male romantic interests to
have sex before marriage, if they gave in they might be scorned by those same
potential marriage partners for not being virgins.
Thus young men and women held contradictory and confusing ideas,
often hanging on to expectations of female virginity as preferable in theory
but remaining confused and uncertain about how that applied to their lives.
Marcelle Ségal, for one, attempted to shore up the resolve of more vulnerable
young women. Rosette, age sixteen, explained that she worked as a domestic
servant and had fallen in love with her employer’s twenty-​year-​old son, who
seemed to return the affection. Sonny had come to her bedroom, but, wor-
ried, she had put him off. The next morning, he refused even to greet her,
and since then had treated her like a “frightened maiden.” Desperate, Rosette
wrote Ségal. “Should I give in to him so he’ll come back to me?” Furious, Ségal
responded, “Give in to that whippersnapper who tomorrow would have you
fired,” lock your bedroom door, and if he follows you into the kitchen, chase
him with a broom, like a “furious maiden!”17 Historically, elite men taking
advantage of vulnerable young female household help was an age-​old story
with unhappy consequences for many poor, rural, or working-​class women.
New here was Rosette’s dismay, not just because her boss’s son had become
angry and distant, dashing her unrealistic hopes of a real relationship, but
because she had been made to feel old-​fashioned and prudish in maintaining
her virginity.
Ségal included, to encourage her readers, an unusual letter from a young
man, a sixteen-​year-​old student who, in the end, regretted his year-​long love
affair with an older woman. His relationship had cost him dearly; he had
failed his exams and had to repeat a full year of school. He lamented the fact
that so many young men obsessed more about the need to lose their inno-
cence than about passing their exams. In fact, he pointed out, in the long
run, to get ahead in life a diploma was worth much more to a young person

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than sexual experience. “I would like to tell boys and girls between fifteen and
eighteen to stay pure.” Ségal agreed, concluding, “They might even listen to
you. … Me, they’d treat like an old fool.”18
Popular books and magazines voiced the continuing, firmly anchored
double standard among young males. On the one hand, teen and young adult
men wanted to have sexual experiences without having to marry, but on the
other, many young men expressed a firm desire to marry a virgin. The con-
tradictory goals resulted in a teen version of the saints/​whores dichotomy for
middle-​class women whereby a woman was either chaste and pure, a saint, or,
if she engaged in sex outside of marriage, fully degraded, a whore. In 1960s
France, sources expressed the view that young men thought about two kinds
of young women: those with whom they could have sexual experiences with-
out thinking about marriage and those young women they would consider
marrying. In his study of what young men thought about young women,
P. Chambre, a university professor and director of the Ecole des parents in
Chambéry, warned young women not to be fooled by young men’s appear-
ances (and heated requests). The young men he polled warned girls, “Know
how to make others respect you.” Whatever they might say in the heat of the
moment, in fact young men wanted “young women with more dignity.” They
looked at a young woman as a future mother. Boys only respected girls who
“knew how to insist on being respected.” Chambre concluded that adoles-
cent and young adult males knew well, even if they did not openly admit it,
that they would never consider marrying and having as the mother of “their”
children a young woman who accepted all their advances and fulfilled all
their desires.19 Chambre himself described these beliefs as a double standard,
“completely different demands about conduct before marriage depending
on whether it concerns the young woman or the young man.” He attributed
some of that double standard to male egoism. Still, he noted that many psy-
chologists, doctors, and marriage experts agreed that a young woman who
abandoned all reserve to please a boyfriend could end up destroying the pos-
sibility of true love in marriage.20 Pereire, of Elle, similarly warned young
women even against letting young men kiss them too easily. “Letting yourself
be kissed over and over again, telling yourself it’s not important, makes you a
‘girl of no importance.’ ”21
Thus by the early 1960s teen and young adult women lived in the crosscur-
rents of contradictory movements of public opinion and private pressures. In
all this, the possibility of young women’s own sexual desires rarely appeared,
although a few advice columnists made veiled references to the need not just
to resist the external pressure of a boy but to exercise self-​control. Most of

Dating and Courtship      •      169

the voices in this conversation assumed the pressure was external. Young
men pressed their female partners to have sex by appealing to their desire to
get with the times. In any case, by the early 1960s, women’s magazines were
publishing a rising tide of letters from young women articulating their con-
cerns about this particular issue, asking what they should do when pressed to
have sex by a young man they liked. In fact, the letters rarely mentioned sex
directly. Instead they, and presumably their male friends, used three expres-
sions that clarify the attempt to play on teenage girls’ emotions. A boy would
ask a girl “to give ourselves to each other” (qu’on se donne) or “to belong to
him” (de lui appartenir), or, in only the most explicit form of emotional black-
mail, to give him “proof of her love.”
Lisette wrote to Confidences that she loved Mario even though her parents
were not enthusiastic about him. For her eighteenth birthday, he pressed her to
invite him over to spend the evening on a night when her parents would not
be at home. She had asked him to wait, hoping her parents would change their
minds about him. “But Mario wanted me to give him proof of my love. What
do you think?” Confidences thought her parents had been right not to trust
Mario; she should follow their lead and “not trust this boy” or she might regret
it. He should be giving her proof of his love “by respecting you and being wor-
thy of you—​beware of young men demanding that kind of ‘proof.’ ”22
Agnès Chabrier, writing as Daniel Gray, responded to fifteen-​year-​old
Christine, whose eighteen-​year-​old boyfriend “asked [her] to belong to
him.” Having resisted his entreaties, she finally ceded and then regretted her
actions. She no longer cared for the boy but feared breaking off the relation-
ship, because he had threatened to tell people what they had done. Chabrier
expressed sympathy for her plight. Here Chabrier, writing as a man, unusually
referred to female desire, explaining that Christine’s awakening but poorly
controlled sensuality and blind instinct had pushed her into the boy’s arms.
Having played at being an adult, she now faced troubles far beyond her age.
Her example should serve as a warning to other young women. “Very proud
of their nascent virility … young boys play at being conquerors and tough.
Foolish vanity pushes them to scorn their victims.” Chabrier recommended
ceasing all contact and forgetting her “young rooster.” If her seducer exercised
such poor judgment as to brag about it to other people, Christine should tell
her parents what had happened. They could threaten him with legal action,
a “complaint for corruption of a minor.” That would shut him up, making up
for the severe punishment her parents were likely to impose on her for her
behavior. But if Christine gave in to his “blackmail,” she could end up in a
much worse place, where no one would be able to save her.23

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In another case, a twenty-​two-​year-​old young woman’s serious boyfriend

argued that they should “belong to each other” before deciding to marry, as a
proof of love and to determine if they were compatible. Chabrier supported
the young woman’s desire to wait until the wedding night, pointing out that
her boyfriend’s arguments echoed those of “all boys who tempt their victims,
paying the price of a lie to satisfy their desire for conquest.” The only thing
a girl proved by giving in was her own weakness. Sexual instinct had noth-
ing to do with true love, and having sex was no way to judge the future of a
marriage. Chabrier closed by asking what would happen if the “test” failed.
Would she test things again with her next boyfriend? And the next? With
how many young men? Chabrier complimented her courage for having
resisted his pressure.24
Another young woman, an eighteen-​year-​old engaged to her boyfriend,
expressed a different concern. Fear led her to refuse his entreaties to “give her-
self” to him, which caused her to worry. She loved her boyfriend, so why did
the idea of having sex with him repulse her? Why, when he kissed her, did she
feel coldly removed? Other girls had sex with their fiancés. Was she normal?
Chabrier responded that regardless of the general morality or wisdom about
what an engaged couple could do, she was well within her rights to refuse
him. “Bless the fear that prevented you from committing an irreparable stu-
pid mistake.” Chabrier called on all fiancées to resist such entreaties, empha-
sizing that there were far too many pregnant and abandoned fiancées.25
Chabrier’s advice in Nous deux regularly condemned the young men who
made these demands. Chabrier’s masking her identity with the male pseud-
onym Daniel Gray may have added credibility to “his” condemnation of
young men’s pressure to have sex. An advice column in Confidences echoed
that condemnation, responding to a young man who admitted that his girl-
friend had become his mistress, and her parents, treating him like her fiancé,
had even loaned him money. But he confided that he no longer loved her.
Confidences accused him of being dishonorable and dishonest, taking advan-
tage of the young woman and her parents. “Let me even add that you have
gone too far. … This whole situation is not at all pretty!” The only honorable
thing to do was to give her back her liberty and repay her parents the money
they had loaned him.26
However, aside from a few counterexamples, most attention focused not
on convincing young men not to demand sex from their girlfriends but on
buttressing young women’s resolve. Dr.  Masse, a family doctor, in “Votre
fille doit être avertie” (Your daughter must be informed), addressed moth-
ers, dismissing a frequent refrain he heard from mothers, that their daughters

Dating and Courtship      •      171

had little to learn from them about sex. One mother explained to him that
when she was young, girls knew nothing about sex. She herself had learned
about it from her friends, by word of mouth. But today, this mother insisted,
“just about any high school girl is more informed than her mother.” Masse,
however, explained that many girls had confided to him, “No matter how
informed we think we are, there are still subjects and things that we know
nothing about.” Masse assured mothers that in fact most girls did not know it
all. They desperately needed to learn about sex not from their peers but from
someone older, someone with more life experience. Nothing, Masse insisted,
replaced a mother. Even if discussing sex with their daughters felt awkward,
failing to discuss it left their daughters unarmed at a decisive point in their
lives. “Hiding beneath her emancipated ways, her free manners and language,
often lurks genuine confusion.” Times were changing, but parents needed to
open their eyes to the new world their daughters inhabited, one in which a
boy might propose “an outing in the car” or a weekend “in the countryside.”
Mothers, with twenty years more experience, needed to guide daughters fac-
ing such tempting choices.27
Pereire’s survey of twenty thousand girls highlighted the same point.
Nearly all the respondents, 92 percent, insisted that “parents are the ones who
should fill their children in on the realities of life.” However, only 41 percent
claimed to have been instructed in this way by their own parents. Most of
what they knew they had learned from friends.28 Masse concluded, “Our
country’s mores are oscillating between a rigor that is losing ground every day
and a liberalism that has had ambiguous results.” Absent the moral censure
and threatened social ostracism that once kept most girls from misbehaving,
Masse worried that not all girls were strong enough to avoid taking risks.29
The issue of premarital sex also arose in a new context, something that
appeared in the 1960s, the first dating services. The materials produced by
one such service provide additional perspective on the complicated atti-
tudes toward appropriate sexual behavior when dating. This organization,
Orientation Nuptiale (ON), created a computerized dating service, one of
the earliest. To instruct potential clients, ON published two pamphlets, one
for young men and one for young women. People who joined the club filled in
a long questionnaire about themselves, their personalities, their hobbies, their
tastes. A team of psychologists, the pamphlet explained, had studied thou-
sands of male-​female relationships and determined why some succeeded and
some failed. Thus they had developed a scientific method, using punch cards
of course, to match clients with people of the opposite sex who had the most
compatible personality. Once the matching process had been completed, each

1 7 2   
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client received a packet of “Perfect Harmony Sheets,” with basic information

and a brief personality profile for each possible dating candidate. Recipients
could correspond, via ON, with any of the people in their packet. Based on
their correspondence, clients could decide whether to meet or even to date.30
However, ON made its position on intimacy clear to those using its ser-
vices. “Everyone is free to act according to his or her conscience, so long as one’s
behavior does not hurt others.” ON instructed daters to respect “the rules of
common morality.” While denying that they intended to act as “fathers of
virtue,” ON reminded its female clients of the risks of giving in to a moment
of abandon, because women suffered most of the consequences of a failure to
respect “common morality.” A man could want to possess a woman without
necessarily wanting to marry her, ON pointed out. Even if he had been con-
sidering marriage, a man often lost interest in marriage once a woman had
given herself to him. “One no longer wants what one already has.” Should a
female client end up pregnant and unmarried, the burden of raising the child
would fall entirely on her, and single mothers faced greatly reduced chances
of marriage. The risks were simply not worth it. In bold letters, in case the
message had not been conveyed clearly enough, the pamphlet asked clients to
“let us know about any breach of the rules of common morality.”31

Too late, she’s pregnant, now what?

Although advice columnists were clear, even in the face of wavering social
attitudes, in instructing young people not to have premarital sex, not all
young couples followed the rules, and some young, unmarried women
became pregnant. In earlier decades, most advice columnists would have
agreed that the best and most honorable response to that situation would
be for the man to marry the woman. But that opinion also began to change
in the early 1960s. Young women who found themselves pregnant were no
longer always instructed that marrying the baby daddy was the best option.
In 1961, a seventeen-​year-​old girl wrote to Marie-​Madeleine of Confidences.
Her boyfriend had promised to marry her when he found out she was preg-
nant, but he disappeared just before the wedding. Later he wrote to apolo-
gize, explaining that his parents had forced him to leave, and now he was
in Algeria completing his military service. Although she had immediately
written him back, he never responded. Marie-​Madeleine advised her to try to
inspire his paternal dedication by sending him a photo of the baby. But in the
end, Marie-​Madeleine suggested that she might be better off raising her child

Dating and Courtship      •      173

alone than marrying “a father so unworthy of that role.” Finally, she advised
the girl to save all of her former fiancé’s letters, which would be necessary
should she need to “make a legal demand for child support.” In other words,
trying to get him back was worth some effort, but it was not worthwhile to
force a marriage at all costs. Single parenthood with financial support might
be preferable. Marie-​Madeleine pointed the young woman to a legal solution
to ensure that outcome.32
Other advice columnists were equally unsure about pushing young women
to marry the father of their out-​of-​wedlock babies. In a particularly compli-
cated situation, one young woman explained to Ségal that one night, after
drinking too much, her fiancé had slept with another woman who was now
pregnant and threatening suicide. The young man wanted to admit paternity
of the other woman’s baby but still marry his fiancée. She wondered about
going ahead with the marriage, building her happy future on the unhappi-
ness of two other people, one of them an innocent child. Ségal posed a more
pertinent question. Could the writer really build a happy future with “a weak
man, unable, after two glasses of alcohol, to resist a temptress”?33
In another unwed expectant mother situation, Elle and Lui of Nous
deux disagreed strongly in responding to the mother of a pregnant, unwed
eighteen-​year-​old daughter. At first her daughter’s young man had shirked
his responsibility. Eventually, under pressure from both the writer and his
own mother, the baby daddy agreed to “fix his mistake by marrying” her
daughter. But now her daughter had decided she did not want to marry the
baby’s father, claiming that he was not what she wanted in a husband and
she preferred raising the baby alone. Her mother, furious, pointed out that
all the flaws her daughter attributed to her boyfriend had not prevented her
from thinking him good enough to have forgotten the principles “that I had
inculcated in her.” How could her daughter prefer to be the source of “every
malicious rumor,” to take on the heavy burden of single parenthood, when
she could give the baby a father, even one less “admirable” than she might
have hoped?34
Elle took the daughter’s side, saluting her courage. She did not favor per-
suading the daughter that “a questionable father is better than no father at
all.” Yes, her daughter had made a mistake, although the excuse of youth
justified some measure of indulgence. Her “weakness,” however, had been
redeemed by her courage and sangfroid in accepting the burden. Elle advised
the mother, rather than complaining, to be understanding and recognize
that her daughter knew the young man best and if she chose to be alone, it
must mean she knew that marrying him would only make things worse.35

1 7 4   
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Lui, on the other hand, was furious. Her headstrong daughter overlooked
the fact that not just her future but the child’s future was at stake. Her daugh-
ter’s refusal to marry condemned the child to be “different from others,” to
suffer the material hardships of having a single mother. If the daughter even-
tually married someone else, then the child would be subjected to a stepfa-
ther. Finally, Lui noted that her daughter had never mentioned the father’s
point of view. Lui insisted that because the daughter was too young to judge
her own situation properly, the mother had to impose the right decision on
her to alleviate the consequences of her youthful indiscretion.36
Opinion diverged, in other words, about the best course of action for an
unwed mother.37 One source suggests that this was a large enough popula-
tion to benefit from guidance. In 1964 legal adviser Lucien Isselé published a
guide for single mothers. The book spelled out the legal situation for a child
born out of wedlock. If the father did not recognize paternity, rather than
the mother having full custody, a “guardian’s council” (conseil de tutelle)
would be assigned to make decisions about the child. Instituted as part of
the Napoleonic legal code’s ultraconservative gender provisions, the required
guardian’s council assumed a single mother could not function as the sole
custodial parent. Reform of this and other provisions of the code’s treatment
of married women finally happened in 1965. But in 1964, a guardian’s coun-
cil was still required.
In contrast, the Family Code, which originally required parents to be
married for access to benefits, had been amended. Unwed mothers had full
access to all family allowances and benefits. They could get the single salary
allowance even if there was no other parent if they had at least two dependent
children at home, and even if they did not work for wages (when it was cre-
ated, the single salary allowance was meant to supplement the father’s wages
for stay-​at-​home moms). By 1964, a single mother not earning a salary who
had two children at home could be eligible, because the state considered a
mother with two young children “unable to exercise a professional activity.”
Single mothers were also eligible for prenatal coverage and a maternity allow-
ance. Social workers from the family allowance funds were available to assist
expectant mothers to “smooth out difficulties resulting from family ten-
sions.” Social workers would assist an unwed mother in finding a home or a
“welcome residence” ( foyer d’acceuil) for the last months of pregnancy.38
By the 1960s, French family policy, which when created in 1939 firmly
anchored support and encouragement of having babies to the “traditional” fam-
ily by limiting benefits to legally married parents, had dropped those require-
ments. Babies were babies, and the French government supported all parents,

Dating and Courtship      •      175

married or not, easing the financial burden of childbirth and childrearing. Thus
unwed mothers in France faced fewer financial hardships than their counter-
parts in many other countries; they were ensured medical care and a minimal
level of financial support even if they did not marry the father. However, for
another year, the legal code still required the appointment of a guardian’s coun-
cil for unwed mothers, a form of supervision not required if the mother married
even the most immature and irresponsible of young men. The law continued to
rest on the assumption that a single mother needed guidance to make the right
decisions for her children, even as family benefits became more value neutral
and benefits were no longer denied to unwed mothers. Isselé’s guide covered
matters from a practical point of view, remaining silent about the young wom-
an’s extramarital sex and not presuming that the best interest of all children
was for the mother to marry the father.
Virginity and unwed mothering had become matters of debate. Sexual
morality was clearly loosening in the first half of 1960s, and in 1965 Marie-​
Claire published an article by the American author and Nobel laureate Pearl
S. Buck analyzing those changes. After exploring the link between love and
happiness, Buck quickly shifted to considering changing ideas about sex.
Buck asserted that women had conquered their freedom but, at the same
time, “morality has declined.” Families were less united; marriages broke
up more often. Buck asked how society should respond “faced with the new
sexual revolution,” an unusually early use of that expression in the popular
press. In fact, the term “sexual revolution” dated back to the 1930s, coined
by Freud’s former colleague and eventual bitter rival Wilhelm Reich. Buck
insisted that in the United States women were sexually equal to men and
that both young people and adults had fully adopted the new “sexual values.”
Buck cited Kinsey’s revelation that only half of all American women were
virgins at marriage, and she claimed that men no longer cared about marry-
ing virgins. This was a sign that the double standard had given way to a new
equality of sexual values, a change she attributed to the two world wars, the
generalization of affluence, and the widespread commercial use of sex to sell
Another sign of changing values about sex and of the definitive end of
the population panic was that feminists, working quietly behind the scenes,
finally succeeded in changing attitudes and eventually amending laws relating
to contraception. In the 1950s, articles and advertisements in Constellation
had informed women how to calculate their fertile days of the month, first
under the guise of helping couples wanting to get pregnant and later drop-
ping that ruse and explaining that the calendar or temperature methods

1 7 6   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

could be used to avoid pregnancy. Feminists had steadily and forcefully advo-
cated the legalization of contraception throughout the postwar decades.40
Inspired by movements elsewhere, the French family planning movement
began to open clubs around France. Because they were private clubs, women
who joined them could learn about their legally available options. By the
early 1960s, pressure on the political system began to mount, and in 1966
the French assembly began debating the bill that would in 1967 legalize con-
traception. Women’s magazines had largely remained silent on the matter in
the 1950s but began to advocate openly for women’s access to contraception
in the 1960s.
In January 1966, Confidences, less urban and sophisticated and less politi-
cal than Elle, published an essay strongly advocating legalization of contra-
ception. The unsigned article insisted, “The big problem for women is the
ability to have children when they want and not according to the hazards
of nature.” This problem had dragged on far too long, the essay insisted, and
Confidences felt it could no longer overlook what the massive correspondence
they received from their readers had made abundantly clear. “Women, the
majority of women, demand the freedom of conception with fervor equal
to that with which they formerly demanded the right to vote.” The article
pointed out to readers still afraid of depopulation that legalizing contracep-
tion would not lower France’s birth rate. Rather, contraception would reduce
the number of illegal abortions. However, the article made clear that con-
traception was not to be used for “having fun without risk,” insisting that
reforms should not erase constraints that kept unmarried women from sex-
ual license. Contraception, Confidences insisted, should be limited to married
couples and provided under a doctor’s supervision.41
The essay included an interview with a leader of France’s family planning
movement, which still used the slogan “Happy Maternity” (La maternité
heureuse) to indicate clearly that it was neither anti-​baby nor anti-​parenting.
Under the guise of interviewing leaders of the family planning movement
about the private information it conveyed only to its registered members, the
essay outlined the various methods, including the Ogino (rhythm) method
using the calendar, the temperature method, the pill, the diaphragm, and
intrauterine devices (IUDs). The article then explained how the pill worked,
noted that some two million American women were using it, and closed by
covering the family planning movement’s lobbying efforts with the French
government to allow the sale of contraceptive products like the pill.42 Noting
that these devices, legal in the United States, could not be purchased in
France, the article decried one of the most puzzling aspects of this situation.

Dating and Courtship      •      177

Confidences found it unfair that all contraceptive devices used by women

remained illegal, while, “condoms are legal and freely sold for men in France.”
Clearly condoms still had a disrespectable taint that may have blinded some
contemporary journalists to the possibility that both men and women could
purchase them and that couples could use them to avoid pregnancy in situa-
tions other than prostitution. The article objected to the fact that men could
purchase condoms, whereas women were denied the right to purchase wom-
en’s devices.
Changing values about gender and sexuality rested on a vision of young
men and women as sexual beings and of sex as a basic human drive. Over
the first half of the decade, sources suggest there was much confusion about
how to meet and interact with potential life partners. Older Christian moral
views about appropriate behavior had lost much of their force, but the residue
of those older ideas remained. Some questioned the insistence on chastity
and virginity for unmarried women. Advice columns and articles indicated
that at least some young men invoked the notion that times were changing
to persuade young women to have sex, while at the same time insisting that
they wanted to marry virgins. Many young women expressed confusion, torn
between desire, pressure, and fear not just of the possible consequences and
stigma of premarital sex but of the new stigma of seeming old-​fashioned.
By the 1960s, young men and women expressed concerns not about being
immoral but about being abnormal. Those young people attracted to people
of the same sex began gingerly expressing their desires and attendant anxi-
eties, but for the most part the closet remained closed in popular women’s
magazines. In the juvenile courts, reports began to note such proclivities, but
that information did not dictate any particular interventions; rather, it was a
way of explaining behaviors and attitudes. For those young people who navi-
gated the transition to marriage, changing ideas about gender roles, gender
relations, and sexuality also had great implications for life after marriage.


N E W :   M A R R I A G E A N D C H I L D R E N I N 
THE 196 0 S

In 1962, novelist Paul Vialar took a hard line on an issue that

remained contentious in women’s magazines. Vialar reported
approvingly about townspeople in Staphorst, the Netherlands.
They had recently responded to the open adultery of a man and
woman, both of whom refused their neighbors’ entreaties to leave
each other and return to their respective spouses, with a modern-​
day charivari, a shaming ritual. The two were placed in a cart,
paraded around the town, and put on public display. The man
repented quickly, but the townspeople apparently had to threaten
to dunk the woman in the local canal before she ceded to the pres-
sure and returned to her husband.1 Vialar applauded the town’s
actions. His essay, something of an outlier in its time, looked both
backward, approving an archaic practice dating back at least to the
Middle Ages, and forward, demanding a single standard of moral-
ity for husbands and wives.
Responses to adultery, long resting on a double standard of
morality, reveal much about how gender conventions shaped views
of husbands, wives and married life. Those who wrote about it dis-
agreed about the proper response to adultery, but few questioned
the continuing centrality of marriage. The vast majority of young
people of both sexes wanted and expected to marry, according to
nearly every article, book, or survey from the early 1960s. Both
the total number of marriages and marriage rates remained high
in France well past the mid-​1960s.2 Anxiety about youth and
young women resulted from changing social expectations that,
for example, no longer held chastity for unmarried women as an
unquestioned requirement, leaving young women without clear
guideposts as they navigated dating. Young men felt free to express
and act on contradictory impulses. The long-​acknowledged male

Something Old, Something New      •      179

sex drive justified premarital sex for young men. At the same time, many
young men, who retained the power of decision about marriage, also pro-
fessed a strong preference to marry a virgin. This left many young women
dazed and confused, pulled in all directions. With little access to the know-​
how or products to prevent pregnancy, vulnerable young women suffered the
brunt of the disapprobation and the onus should they become pregnant out
of wedlock, with a “shotgun” marriage one of the happier outcomes.
Expectations about certain key aspects of married life, from sexuality to
adultery and divorce, continued to evolve in the early 1960s, without call-
ing into question the fundamental vision. Up through the mid-​1960s, the
standard vision of the family, a legal heterosexual marriage with the husband
as primary provider and the wife as primary housekeeper and child raiser,
retained its sway, although definitions of those roles continued to evolve,
becoming more flexible. Recognition of the fact that nearly one in three
married women worked outside the home led to an acknowledgment in this
period of the double burden many women faced. The high percentage of mar-
ried women in the labor force, even if the figure had not in reality changed
much over the twentieth century, fed the perception that French women in
the 1960s were liberated and interested in life outside the domestic sphere.
For husbands and fathers, a shift had taken place just after the war that
encouraged men’s greater emotional involvement in their families and their
children’s lives. In addition to prescriptive publications and social workers,
some men themselves, in court records, interviews, and publications from the
immediate postwar years, expressed that desire. Fathers were no longer seen
primarily as enforcers of discipline and ultimate but distant authority figures;
they had become an integral part of a dynamic system. Such ideas injected
more nuance into thinking about paternal authority. Fathers by the 1960s
were supposed to be softer (but firm); infused with psychological knowledge;
able to vary the exercise of authority in keeping with each child’s personality,
needs, and age; and in collaboration with mothers. Court documents reveal
that social workers struggled to assess families in crisis using the new, less
rigid criteria. In contrast to the idealized portrait of husbands and fathers, the
reality of family violence continued to appear in court records, often linked
to alcohol abuse. New in the 1960s was greater attention to that violence in
women’s magazines. In some instances, publications and court proceedings
expressed new responses to family violence. The husband or father’s right to
use violence to exert control over wives and children, considered a legitimate
form of “correction,” had long been part of patriarchy in the West in gen-
eral. The Napoleonic legal codes specified that wives owed obedience to their

1 8 0   
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husbands. By the early 1960s, male violence in the family was generally no
longer condoned or passed over in silence, but authors and legal authorities
alike expressed confusion about how to respond. Juvenile court records reveal
little or no willingness to intervene with families in general ways. After all,
these were juvenile courts whose focus was on the minor who attracted the
court’s attention, not the wives, mothers, or siblings.
In the 1960s, although some sources expressed a new awareness and
explicit disapproval of brutal, domineering husbands, the old idea that a
good woman could tame the most violent of men retained some force. Agnès
Chabrier, the advice columnist for Nous Deux who wrote under the decep-
tive male pen name of Daniel Gray, expressed that expectation in a 1961
response to a writer asking what to do about her husband, who had changed
dramatically since returning from his military service. The husband had
become angry and suspicious and counted his cash; he had even struck her
at times, insisting that he was the “master” and that she had to obey him.
Chabrier advised the writer to focus on and appreciate her husband’s bet-
ter qualities. Perhaps he worked hard to provide for her. After all, Chabrier
argued, being tough and difficult were common male traits. She needed to
learn to use his weak points to soften him. With charm and gaiety, most
women, Chabrier insisted, could get what they wanted from the men they
However, in the early 1960s, fewer and fewer advice columns advocated
this kind of “Beauty and the Beast” approach. Marcelle Ségal, writing for
Elle, rejected it. In response to a woman who wrote that her husband contin-
ually reminded her “You’re living under my roof” and “This is what a house-
wife ought to expect,” Ségal concluded, “There’s a man who does not mince
his words.” His wife had fair warning about what awaited her. Ségal laid out
three choices: she could either continue playing Cinderella, look for a job and
hire a maid, or “head for the door.”4
Less cosmopolitan, the adviser in Confidences even scolded one young
man who wrote about his own aggressive and domineering attitude. During
a fight, the writer explained, his fiancée had slapped him. “It is unacceptable
for a man to allow himself to be treated that way,” he wrote, concerned that
the slap revealed his fiancée’s true, terrible hidden nature. “Will I be able to
subdue her?” Marriage, the adviser responded, is not a “taming operation.”
What had he done or said that might have provoked her gesture? Had she
apologized? If neither of them was willing to make concessions, then it would
be best not to marry.5 Nous deux published the account of a husband who
regretted that his cold and cruel treatment of his wife for her inability to

Something Old, Something New      •      181

get pregnant—​as it turned out, because of his medical issues, not hers—​had
nearly caused her to divorce him.6
Reports from the juvenile courts are filled with evidence of family vio-
lence. Most often these cases did not start with allegations of violence. Rather,
the minor attracted the juvenile judge’s attention owing to delinquent behav-
ior such as theft. In some cases, the parents invoked paternal/​parental cor-
rection to get help with out-​of-​control teens, minors who, for example, left
home without permission, skipped school, or engaged in sex.7 However,
as they investigated, social workers at times uncovered deeper problems in
these families. In the case of a minor who had joined up with a gang of young
thieves to steal scooters and automobiles, the social worker discovered a dis-
turbing situation. The minor reported that his father had brutalized him.
The social worker arranged to meet with the parents. In the middle of that
meeting, the father became abusive and “ran down his wife, calling her a thief
and threatening to hit her.” The social worker’s impression was seconded by
many additional witnesses, neighbors, and even a member of the local police
force. The psychological exam reported the same pattern and concluded that
the boy “is not exaggerating.” In the end, the court placed him on probation
and sent him to live with his older brother. The social worker recommended
termination of parental custody.8
Social workers and other investigators took seriously any allegations by the
child, by teachers, or by neighbors that any of the adults in a family, mother/​
father/​stepparent, even older siblings, had engaged in violent behavior. This
was particularly true when the violence was directed against the children.
Very often, the reports linked violence to alcohol abuse. Violence most often
involved a father or a stepfather, but a few cases involved the unusual situa-
tion of an abusive mother. In one Paris-​area case, the social worker reported
her concerns about the mother’s alcoholism, confirmed by a neighbor who
reported that the mother drank too much, screamed at the children, and left
them alone to take care of the house and do the shopping. Even the younger
children were often seen hauling heavy items home from the market. The
children feared their mother, “who beat them.”9
The courts responded to allegations of abuse with a thorough investiga-
tion that attempted to treat all parties fairly rather than favoring either par-
ents or children. The investigators neither dismissed allegations nor assumed
they were accurate. In one case, a neighbor had reported that a family was
abusing a twelve-​year-​old boy. However, after spending time interviewing the
boy on his own and meeting with the parents, the social worker reported
no physical or emotional signs of abuse, and the case was closed.10 Court

1 8 2   
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records also confirm the strength of the therapeutic impulse, since figuring
out the best situation for a minor took precedence over punishing infractions
or buttressing parental authority. Excessive violence against children was not
condoned, although the only way to stop it was to remove the child from
the family. Rarely, at the extreme end of neglect and abuse, the court took
custody. Most often, however, both the minor and the family agreed to find
a living arrangement outside the family, with another relative or in a group
home or a therapeutic or other youth institution. Short of that, social work-
ers attempted to reduce family tensions by focusing on a few remedies. To
mitigate the severe overcrowding that made matters worse, social workers
intervened with housing authorities to move families into larger apartments.
Social workers also pressed parents to send children away to summer camps
to give both sides a break.
Family violence cuts across historical eras and geographical realms.
However, legal, cultural, and social responses to domestic violence have
changed over time. By the early 1960s in France, the system had clearly
shifted away from reinforcing patriarchal authority toward protection of
minors, although the legal recourse for an abused wife continued to be lim-
ited. Juvenile courts did intervene to protect children, if not to prosecute the
abuser. Still, social disapproval of abuse had clearly increased, reflecting a
changed vision of women, children, and men. Women were no longer viewed
as equivalent to children and in need of male domination and “correction.”
Children were seen as autonomous beings, needing discipline that was not
abusive. The ideal vision of the husband and father no longer centered on his
authority but on his relationships and the proper exercise of leadership, firm
but loving rather than authoritarian or brutal.
However, in the early 1960s popular press, concern about men, husbands,
and fathers was dwarfed by attention focused on a topic relating to mar-
ried women. As the changing ideas about sex created virginity debates that
swirled around teenaged and young unmarried women, so the new vision of
female sex and sexuality sparked a new preoccupation in the 1960s with the
married woman.

And Another Thing about Women …

The publication in the late 1950s of a French translation of Kinsey’s sec-
ond volume, on women, sparked interest in female sex and sexuality. The
discussion indicated a growing acceptance of the idea that women too felt

Something Old, Something New      •      183

sexual desire, had a sex drive, and enjoyed sex. Once the idea of female
desire and female pleasure became an acceptable topic to discuss in pub-
lic, a part of the public’s general mental universe, the acknowledgement
that women experienced sexual pleasure gave rise to a new set of fears and
anxieties. Unmarried women were torn by conflicting desires, for sex, love,
an emotional bond, and eventually marriage on the one hand and on the
other fear not just that they might get pregnant but also that having sex
would tarnish their reputation and render them unsuitable for marriage.
For married women, the expectation that they would marry for love and
the relatively new recognition that they could experience sexual pleasure,
together with a psychological orientation that delineated the boundaries
between normal and abnormal, resulted in the early 1960s in an anxi-
ety centered on the concept of female frigidity. Prior to 1960, the term
appeared a few times, for example, in 1950s advertisements for contracep-
tive calendars. But “frigidity” as a topic began appearing with increasing
regularity in articles and advice columns after 1960.
Furthermore, prior to the 1960s the term “frigidity” had been associated,
in publications listed in the Bibliothèque nationale catalog, with both men
and women, and even with animals. Only in the early 1960s did frigidity come
to apply almost exclusively to women who either felt no sexual desire or who
did not experience pleasure during sexual intercourse.11 Women who raised
the issue in letters to advice columnists worried about it as a perceived deficit.
But men were the ones who penned articles about female frigidity as a phe-
nomenon. In 1960, first out of the gate, Constellation published an article by
Jean Bretteau with the title “Les vraies causes de la frigidité” (The true causes
of frigidity). Bretteau interviewed a French psychiatrist who had worked in
the United States—​clearly the source of all pathology! The psychiatrist found
that many attractive and healthy American women complained that they
were unable to attain “true fullness” in love. Through his discussions with
them, he came to realize that their problem was not ignorance; his American
female patients seemed to know everything there was to know about sex. The
real culprit, he concluded, was Dr. Kinsey, whose books resulted in an over-
emphasis on the physical and technical aspects of lovemaking, causing many
American women to feel frustrated, even abnormal. According to Bretteau,
one study indicated that 40 percent of American wives did not experience
sexual pleasure. The figure, Bretteau insisted, was similar for French women,
who, while perhaps “less informed” than their American sisters, were more
romantic. The new, explicit marriage manuals had created unfortunate expec-
tations by insinuating that only the simultaneous pleasure of both partners

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was normal. Such an impossible expectation left too many young women feel-
ing a sense of failure, which caused fear, reducing desire, creating a vicious
cycle that eventually resulted in a “truly acquired frigidity.”12
Bretteau cited another sexologist, who argued that the real problem was
the basic inequality at the heart of the couple. A husband concerned about his
wife’s pleasure would find a solution. Unfortunately, too often men focused
entirely on their own pleasure, something no technique in the world could
remedy. As a result, many wives viewed sex as a conjugal duty. Other wives
avoided sex for fear of pregnancy. Both of these problems could be resolved,
so long as men considered their wives’ point of view. If not, the sexologist
defined female frigidity as a “defense mechanism.” Bretteau, having noted
that sex involves two people and having directed attention through his cita-
tion to men’s responsibility for some women’s inability to reach orgasm, then
explored why women, in spite of the greater openness about sex, still felt reti-
cent to talk about their problems. The article reassured its readers that frigid-
ity could be ameliorated, even cured, with proper treatment.
In addition to the possibility of hormonal treatments, the article men-
tioned one technique it described as a surprisingly simple treatment with
a 65 percent success rate. Dr. Arnold Kegel, a Los Angeles physician, had
developed a series of exercises to strengthen the muscles in the vaginal
walls to treat physical issues like urinary stress incontinence and genital
prolapse. When questioning his patients after they had begun his exercises,
Kegel had the happy surprise of “his patients thank[ing] him with unex-
pected enthusiasm.” Not only had their physical problems disappeared;
many patients “experienced in their conjugal lives previously unknown
Finally, Bretteau linked rising complaints of frigidity to the emancipation
of women. Increased independence and a growing tendency toward domina-
tion had not been good for women’s sexual satisfaction, he argued. When
women dominated their households and husbands ceded authority to their
wives to maintain family harmony, sexual problems ensued. Having echoed
a strongly traditional line about the evils of the “authoritarian” woman,
Bretteau’s essay took an unexpected turn. “For the true secret of frigidity is
that the emancipation of women and medical progress have not, up to now,
been accompanied by a corresponding evolution within the couple.” Rather
than advising men to dominate their wives or instructing women to cede to
their husbands, Bretteau concluded that, whatever problems they experi-
enced, a man and a woman “who live together honestly, on an equal footing,
and who care about each other will generally be able to resolve them.” Love

Something Old, Something New      •      185

was not about domination or technique but rather entailed a “form of rela-
tionship between a total man and a total woman.”14
Bretteau insisted that French women experienced frigidity in comparable
proportion to American women. In contrast, Marcel Bonnefoy, writing in
Constellation a year later, cited survey data revealing that French women were
more susceptible to frigidity. Only 46 percent of the French women polled
by the French Institute for Public Opinion (Institut française d’opinion
publique, or IFOP) “report being physically satisfied,” whereas in the United
States, 50 percent of women and, for some inexplicable reason, 64 percent
of English women reported this. Bonnefoy explained the discrepancy by
pointing to the fact that French married women were more likely to work
outside the home and also felt more intense stress about meeting France’s
higher beauty and fashion standards and expectations. Bonnefoy cast French
women, feeling pressured by their jobs, husbands, children, and the need to
look good, as modern society’s true martyrs.15
Both men’s essays, after hinting at older, masculinist explanations and
male-​dominated solutions, veered off into discussions surprisingly sympa-
thetic to women. Neither author ultimately questioned women’s fundamen-
tal right to equality and satisfaction in sexual matters. Nor did they conclude
that sexual satisfaction required women to give up striving for greater equal-
ity. Both articles appeared in Constellation, a magazine read by both men and
women, which had also taken the lead in the 1950s in publishing articles
about sexuality and in running ads for contraceptive methods. Was frigidity
in the early 1960s a matter of broad male anxiety in France? Did these essays
also reflect women’s concerns? Evidence from letters to advice columnists
indicates that at least some women, too, worried about frigidity, less about
not enjoying sex and more about how their lack of response might harm their
One woman, twenty-​five and married with two children, wrote to Nous
deux’s pseudonymous advice columnist Daniel Gray that she truly loved her
husband. “Unfortunately, in our sexual relations, I don’t feel anything.” She
and her husband both suffered from this situation, but out of delicacy they
never discussed it. She worried that he might leave her. Gray pointed out that
statistics indicated her experience was all too common and praised her for not
resigning herself to failure. Gray advocated discussing the matter openly with
her husband, who was, after all, “the most interested party.” Together they
would find a solution. Meanwhile, she should also visit a doctor, who could
improve her confidence and give her advice that would help her become “a
relaxed and happy wife.”16

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Caroline wrote to Marcelle Ségal of Elle, concerned that the passion

she had felt toward her boyfriend had turned over five months into exas-
peration. After ending the relationship, Caroline worried. Not only was
she no longer attracted to her boyfriend; she found herself not attracted
to other men. “Have I  become frigid? Reassure me,” she begged. Ségal
obliged, explaining that her reactions were as natural as the changing sea-
sons. Winter follows summer. The heart had gone into hibernation but
would surely reawaken in the spring. “I even guarantee you that one day
things will settle down.”17
The new openness about sex, the acknowledgment of female sexuality,
proved both liberating and anxiety-​provoking. Women could accept their
desire as normal, but those who did not experience it feared the absence of
desire, no longer a sign of purity and superior morality but a marker of abnor-
mality. Lack of sexual arousal caused anxiety about how their husbands might
respond. The discussion of frigidity assumed that only women experienced it.
While the widespread debates about virginity in the early 1960s only hinted
at female desire as a relevant factor, frigidity put it front and center.
Male desire for and satisfaction with sex was not only assumed but also
viewed as difficult to constrain. The supposed need for men to find an outlet
for a strong sex drive that a “good” woman/​wife supposedly did not have had
long justified the double standard.

Adultery and Divorce

Attitudes toward adultery and divorce underwent a dramatic shift after the
war. The earlier views, a harsh condemnation of female infidelity alongside
the dominant vision of male adultery as a meaningless trifle unimportant to a
marriage and concomitant insistence that married women excuse and forgive
their philandering husbands, had already shifted by the 1950s. Adultery was
wrong whether the husband or the wife committed it, even if most people
who wrote about it still advocated forgiving the adulterous husband rather
than ending the marriage. That attitude remained common in the early
1960s. The young women Chapsal polled in 1960 still professed that they
viewed a husband’s adultery as less serious a threat to a marriage than a wife’s
Most often, women whose husbands had affairs were still advised to for-
give and forget and were instructed on how to fight to get their husbands back
by making themselves as attractive as possible, using a “woman’s weapons.”

Something Old, Something New      •      187

Women should spare their cheating husbands tears, reproaches, sexual

refusal, or coldness; wronged wives should not play the victim. However,
while advocating forgiveness combined with the use of feminine wiles to win
back a straying husband, in 1963 Chabrier also recommended to one reader,
in case those tactics did not work, that she establish a “certified report of
adultery,” which she would need in case of a divorce.19
The broader context for the discussion of adultery and divorce was the
repeal, after the Liberation, of Vichy’s law prohibiting divorce in the first
three years of marriage and instructing judges to tighten their definitions of
“cruelty and abuse”—​one of the three grounds for divorce.20 Divorce rates
rose rapidly just after the war, the result in part of what demographers call
“suspended” divorce. People in hard times, economic crises or wars, often
postpone divorce as they struggle to survive. In this instance as well, people
in the first three years of marriage had been forced to postpone divorce, and
couples separated by the war’s captivity, forced labor, or deportation also
would not have divorced until after the war.21 In the late 1940s atmosphere
of continuing demographic concerns related to France’s perceived population
crisis, the rising number and rate of divorces just after the war provoked great
anxiety. French society in general continued to stigmatize divorce; women
were still strongly urged to stay in unhappy marriages, if only for the chil-
dren’s sake; the grounds for divorce did not change until a major reform
allowed for divorce by mutual consent in July 1975.22 All of this made divorce
a difficult choice for many women. Adding to the burden of the decision were
the generally lower salaries women earned and the extreme shortage of hous-
ing, which eased only at the end of the 1950s.23
By then, however, the divorce rate curve in effect dropped back to where it
would have been had the increase remained steady from the late 1930s, rising
only very slowly over the next twenty years. Also, it became increasingly clear
to everyone, not just demographers, that France was experiencing a huge baby
boom. The decade’s rapidly rising number of babies combined with the slow-​
down in rising divorce rates mitigated the panic about France’s perceived
family crisis and depopulation that had peaked just prior to World War II.
Thus demographic trends reduced concerns about a family crisis. That,
combined with the new emphasis on personal satisfaction, eased the negative
view of divorce. By the 1960s, some articles and advice columns expressed the
idea that divorce might be a reasonable option for an unhappy wife. While
sad and unfortunate, divorce was no longer portrayed as always the worst
possible outcome. Many articles and advice columnists passed along infor-
mation to the cheated-​on spouse, most often a wife, who might need to have

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recourse to divorce. It had become a practical matter, with issues sorted out
on that basis, less often discussed in moral terms.
Chapsal’s survey of young women asked, “Is divorce acceptable?” to
which 80 percent responded yes. 24 Cécile, thirty, with two young children,
wrote to Ségal for advice. Her husband had cheated on her. She had tried
to forgive him but could not stop making scenes and had refused to have
sex. Eventually, when he asked for a divorce, she realized her error and
tried to win him back. He had not been persuaded. She wanted to “redo
[her] life” but divorce did not seem like an option since she had “no occu-
pation.” Ségal cut to the chase, “No occupation, that’s your weak point.”
Cécile needed career training, and fast. Once she was able to earn a living,
she would then be free to make the right choice, rather than hanging on
to a husband who no longer wanted her. Getting a job might even make
her husband see her differently. Ségal pointed out that it was not unusual
for husbands to return to wives once they realized that their wives were
capable of living without them. 25 Chabrier echoed Ségal’s practical stance
in advising a woman whose husband, after fifteen years of marriage, had
left her for someone else. The letter writer had heard through the grape-
vine that her philandering husband regretted his mistake and wanted to
come back, but she was too proud to ask him to come back and, in any
case, admitted that she could not forgive him. However, she worried about
whether at thirty-​eight she could possibly “start over [her] life.” Chabrier
pressed her to file for divorce. A full year had passed since her husband’s
departure. She needed to take stock and sort out what had gone wrong so
as to avoid throwing herself blindly into a new relationship. 26 But Chabrier
insisted she would indeed recover and find love again.
Jean-​Jacques Delacroix wrote about the results of an IFOP survey of
women and love that explored their experiences and attitudes toward divorce.
One in ten women had experienced divorce. He profiled three of the women
who had taken part in the survey, two of whom had divorced their husbands
after discovering adultery. However, Delacroix devoted most of the article to
one woman who had chosen not to divorce, in spite of her husband’s adultery,
their ongoing conflicts, and the fact that she and her husband had grown
apart and no longer loved each other. They had both taken lovers but decided
to stay together and keep up appearances for their children’s sake. For her,
that decision meant giving up the chance to marry the other man. While such
factors hardly sound like a recipe for happy co-​parenting, still this respondent
insisted that she had “no regrets.” At the dinner table, the happy smiles of her
children, ages five to eighteen, “make it all worthwhile.” She concluded that

Something Old, Something New      •      189

her strong identity as a mother had determined her choice. For less mater-
nal women, divorce might have been an easier choice. But she insisted that
divorce is never “good for the children.” If a husband was a good father, “you
have to endure and accept.”27
According to Delacroix, the IFOP study revealed that most women viewed
divorce as an extremely serious decision. While only 10 percent of marriages
ended in divorce, some 54 percent of the women surveyed expressed the opin-
ion that most marriages were unhappy. Why, Delacroix wondered, did so
many women apparently stay in unhappy marriages? Some 70 percent of the
women polled listed children as the main reason not to divorce. Delacroix
attributed rising divorce rates to the modern woman, since most divorced
women also worked outside the home. Possibly confusing cause and effect,
rather than considering that divorced women with children might be more
likely to need paid employment, Delacroix argued that women who had
achieved financial independence felt freer to choose divorce. The presence of
children and economic difficulties represented the two most powerful brakes
on divorce. Religion and, as Delacroix put it, the question “What will people
say?” played less important, if still significant, roles in preventing divorce.
While society no longer banished the divorced woman, and while the right to
divorce was considered an important feminist achievement, divorce remained
a “life experience that sweeps over the soul of a woman, like a storm!”28
Less stigmatizing than it had been, divorce was still considered trau-
matic, particularly for women. Most of what was written about divorce
focused on women’s experiences and attitudes. Divorce had never had
the same stigma for men that it had once carried for women. But women
were no longer universally advised to remain in a bad marriage. Children
changed the equation, but even here, some writers admitted that divorce
might not always be the worst option for the children either. Marcelle
Ségal defended herself in response to reader F. Dorny, who accused Ségal
of “too often advocating divorce.” Dorny complained that Ségal adopted a
“contemptuous irony” with writers who chose to remain faithful to their
promises and their religion. Ségal found Dorny’s reproach surprising.
Most readers, she noted, scolded her as the “men’s accomplice,” since she
had advised so many wives to save their marriages by responding to adul-
tery with “sweetness and resignation.” Ségal agreed that many marriages
should be saved for the children’s sake, but what if there were no children
involved? Even if there were children, what if the drinking, brutality, or
laziness of the father put both the mother and the children in danger?
“In that case, I admit, I do not respond with a sweet tone to that beaten,

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insulted woman, who no longer has the requisite love, patience, or even
hope that things might get better.” Such facile, unrealistic consolations,
such “bleating and misleading optimism seems to be an irony just as con-
temptuous as my rude honesty.” 29 Even with children involved, divorce
might still be the best choice.

Suffocating Moms, Sibling Rivalry, and Sex Ed; or,

Childrearing in the Early 1960s
Most ideas about childrearing remained relatively stable in the 1960s. The
delivery without pain method continued to gain followers. Pernoud regularly
revised J’attends un enfant, a perennial bestseller. In 1965, Pernoud took the
material on raising children and expanded it into a second book, J’ élève mon
enfant (I’m raising my child). Books and articles about raising children, writ-
ten by left-​wing, right-​wing, religious or secular authors, all recommended
knowledge of child psychology and explored personality traits and Freudian
In the 1950s, articles and books expressed anxiety about the modern
woman and the authoritarian, dominating mother. In the 1960s some arti-
cles and essays expressed concern that mothers who worked outside the home
might be too detached from their children.31 But a new concern emerged
relating to mothering and clearly linked to Freud:  the suffocating mother.
Monge described excessive maternal love, mothers whose overpowering love
kept sons in particular attached to their mothers’ apron strings.32 Maternal
love that was too possessive and too demanding could have “unfortunate
consequences” for children, who might become oversensitive and excessively
dependent on maternal approval for their every move.33
Similar concerns about (s)mothering also appeared in juvenile court files.
Social workers had always focused on the question of authority, which parent
exerted it, whether there was too much or too little, whether one parent com-
pensated for the excesses or deficiencies of the other parent’s authority. But
the 1960s files include new descriptions centering on the overbearing or suf-
focating mother. In the Nord, the mother of an older teen boy was unhappy
in her conjugal relations, having divorced the boy’s father and remarried a
violent and brutal man. According to the case study, she compensated for
her unhappy marriage by giving in to her son’s every demand, rendering him
“affectively infantile.” The mother, in other words compensated for her “mar-
ital disappointments by suffocating her son.” As a result, the boy responded

Something Old, Something New      •      191

with aggression whenever he encountered any obstacles to the fulfillment of

his desires.34
Yet the opposite type, the cold and detached mother, was hardly preferable.
In Paris, a seventeen-​year-​old girl who had run away from home had a mother
the social worker described as “not at all maternal.” The mother’s “aggressive-
ness and rejection” came through in the interview when she described her
own daughter as “an ungrateful, lying, and lazy child.” The psychiatric report
concluded that the mother’s rejection had left her daughter “in disarray.”35
The social workers and psychologists in these cases had little interest, it
seems, in trying to treat the family as a unit. Rather, they attempted to deter-
mine the best course of action for the minor involved and in particular if that
minor could or should be left with the parents or sent to one of the many
placement options—​a foster family, training center, psychiatric institution,
for a few, possibly a correctional facility. The goal was therapeutic. In order to
rehabilitate the minor, the first step was diagnosing what caused the misbe-
havior. In addition to expanding their attention to include psychological por-
traits of the parents and parenting style, attention also broadened to include
other key family relationships, in particular with siblings. Here again, the
case files and popular books and magazines converged, with both giving
increased attention in the 1960s to a family dynamic hardly ever addressed in
earlier sources: sibling rivalry.
The new attention to siblings can be attributed in part to the changing
demography of family life in France. The baby boom resulted in many fewer
one child families and many more children living in families with multiple
siblings. Parents, more likely to have grown up in one-​or two-​child fami-
lies, found themselves confronting issues they were not sure how to handle.
One of the regular advice columnists for Confidences in the early 1960s, Mme
Verneuil, listed as a “mom and expert in psychology,” wrote of “l’injustice de
la nature” (nature’s injustice) in response to a mother with two daughters,
Lise, aged fifteen, and Valérie, aged thirteen. Lise, the mother explained, was
blessed with a rare combination of beauty and intelligence, whereas Valérie
suffered from every possible complex. Somewhat less attractive than her older
sister, Valérie had decided that she was the ugliest person on earth. With
grades less brilliant than her sister’s, Valérie had given up on even trying at
school, insisting that she had no intention of continuing her studies. Dad
was not helping, the mother confided, since he constantly held big sister Lise
up as an example when scolding Valérie. However, her mother had been told
by several teachers that in fact Valérie, if she tried harder, might be as smart
as, if not smarter than, Lise. Unfortunately Lise intentionally darkened the

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shadow she cast over her little sister, constantly trying to “show herself off to
her advantage” and to Valérie’s detriment.36
Verneuil pointed out that Lise’s obnoxious behavior was, in fact, quite
normal for an older sibling, but worried about Valérie becoming even more
“withdrawn.” Verneuil advised the mother to work on Valérie directly to
convert her chagrin into brio. Rather than comparing her appearance to
Lise’s, the mother should help Valérie “make the best” of her own traits.
When talking with Valérie, she should emphasize her strongest points,
whether it was her hair, her smile, or her voice, and then do the same with
her intelligence and schoolwork. Verneuil recommended that she even
pass along to Valérie that her teachers thought she might be smarter than
her big sister, something that might inspire Valérie to prove them right.
When other people, family or friends, sang Lise’s praises, mom needed to
explain to them that Valérie was in a difficult transitional phase in her life,
but, like her older sister, she too would blossom. Finally, Verneuil urged
the mother to work on her husband’s behavior and attitude, which did
him no honor.37
Marcel Faudaire tackled sibling rivalry head on in a Constellation article,
“Je n’aime pas mon frère. Je n’aime pas ma soeur” (I don’t love my brother;
I don’t love my sister). Faudaire warned parents that children were extremely
sensitive to slights. Parents needed to exercise caution whenever they praised
one of their children to avoid creating a sense of inferiority (a complex) in
the other children. Parents should treat all children equally and avoid both
excessive praise and systematic criticism of any child. Instead, they should get
to know each child’s strengths and weaknesses, to help each child learn about
him or herself to get a better sense of his or her possibilities.38
Sibling rivalry was a factor in several juvenile court family studies. One
sixteen-​year-​old girl, C, resented her older sister, eighteen, who worked selling
shoes. Big sister made good money and, even though she lived at home, had
more independence and more pocket money than C. The mother reported
that the older sister was sometimes selfish when it came to her younger sib-
ling. The social worker described relations between the sisters as “devoid of
affection … divided by jealousy.”39 In another case F, twelve years old, had
two younger sisters but felt “neglected.” She had become the object of her
family’s disapprobation and feared that her mother might carry through with
a threat to send her away to boarding school. The social worker concluded
that F saw herself not as a protective older sister but “as a Cinderella who
steers clear as well as she can … of the malice of younger sisters who are more
loved than she is.”40 As these cases indicate, social workers in the 1960s paid

Something Old, Something New      •      193

new and careful attention to the issue of sibling relations in diagnosing fam-
ily problems at the root of a minor’s misbehavior.
Thus in the 1960s parents were warned about not provoking or aggravat-
ing sibling rivalry. As in the 1940s and 1950s, the issue of parental authority
still attracted attention and concern. Both mothers and fathers were regu-
larly assured that children needed firm parental authority. Parents should not
let fear of creating psychological complexes in their children prevent them
from providing firm, strict, and loving guidance. Monge warned parents
who refused to exercise their authority that their efforts, rather than creating
confident and independent children, would have the reverse effect, creating
insecure children filled with guilt and racked with the fear of losing their
parent’s love.41 Parents needed to act like, and see themselves as, parents, not
as buddies or friends.42

Sex Education
Parents in the 1960s were also newly instructed about another element of
parenting not explicitly addressed in previous decades. Given the more open
attitude toward sex in the broader culture, it was only a matter of time before
sex appeared in literature about raising children. Many articles and books
about raising children directed attention to their children’s sexuality, and in
particular firmly insisted that parents educate their children about sex, using
the term “sex education.” In previous decades, most people who wrote guides
to raising children assumed that mothers would instruct their daughters
before or when they began to menstruate, and that fathers would have “the
talk” with boys, perhaps only informally and piecemeal.
But there was a new, explicit directive that parents needed to be aware of
their children’s developing sexuality, both instructing and monitoring their
children. In particular, one court case suggests that parents were supposed
to be actively policing to prevent masturbation. One minor, a teenaged boy,
experienced huge tension with his parents arising from his nighttime bed-​
wetting. The parents insisted he did it on purpose to vex them. The social
worker noted with approval that the boy stopped masturbating after he
was sent to a foster home where the father kept a closer watch over the boy.
Putting a stop to his masturbation also stopped the bed-​wetting.43
Such explicit language did not appear in the popular and women’s
magazines or guides to childrearing. Still, the general consensus was that
as social mores relaxed, parents more than ever had to educate their chil-
dren about sex. Studies published in the early 1960s reinforced that idea,

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highlighting young people’s clearly stated desire and need for parental
guidance. But both parents and adolescents were confused and unsure
about how to accomplish this exchange of information. Pereire’s article
about how young people viewed their elders focused directly on this topic.
She asked her respondents, “What subjects can you not approach with
your elders?” (emphasis added). First on the list for 45  percent:  “sexual
matters.” Another 43 percent listed “love.” Pereire pointed out that par-
ents could not all of a sudden start the conversation about intimacy and
sex when a child turned fifteen. Young people were more “modest” than
their elders imagined. “From early childhood on, there must never be any
‘barriers’; such matters should never be ‘hidden’ or made ‘taboo’!”44 In her
earlier article summarizing her survey of twenty thousand young women,
Pereire found that some 92 percent of young unmarried women insisted
that “parents should be the ones to teach their children the facts of life.”
However, only 41 percent reported having been instructed in this by their
own parents, nearly all of them by their mothers. As a result, most of what
they knew about sex they learned from friends.45
Monge’s book about raising children ages two to seven included a sec-
tion on sexual education. Monge alerted parents that children’s interest in sex
awakened early, manifested by certain questions or gestures. Parents should
not lie, nor should they embarrass their children, make sex a “forbidden
topic,” or create guilt. However, they should work to prevent sensuality from
awakening prematurely. To avoid that, it was critical that parents not share a
bedroom with their children. Children should sleep in a different room, and
each child should have a bed of his or her own. As for “unseemly gestures” (a
veiled reference to masturbation), parents were advised neither to overreact
nor to ignore them. Rather, they should calmly and firmly stop the behavior,
treating it like any other gaffe, like failing to say thank you, for example.46
Case files show that the courts mirrored the more intense attention
to the sexual behavior of minors. In addition to masturbation, reports
included concerns raised by anything out of the ordinary about the
minor’s sexuality or sexual behavior.47 Even a Catholic-​sponsored home
for troubled girls (a Bon Pasteur) included “sexuality” in its reports on the
girls living in its homes.48 Reports also noted odd behavioral quirks of a
sexual nature, such as a girl who liked to touch other girls’ “chests” and a
boy who reportedly tried to look up his sister’s skirt.49 One Muslim boy
was described as never having “flirted,”50 and a non-​Muslim French teen-
aged girl, seen as troubled, was said in the neighborhood to be having sex

Something Old, Something New      •      195

with “Arabs.”51 As in the past, case files also included allegations of moles-
tation, sexual abuse, and incest.52

It seems fitting to end with the sexual preoccupations adults more often and
more openly expressed about children. Surely, prior to the 1960s, children
masturbated, expressed interest in sex, hid porn under their bedcovers, and
acted in inappropriate ways. No doubt children have historically been the
victims of sexual assault, abuse, incest, and molestation on the part of par-
ents, other adults with authority over them, even strangers. But in the case
files from the war years, investigations not directly linked to sexual issues,
such as those initiated as the result of theft or running away, rarely delved
into this level of detail.53 By the 1960s, sexuality became an element in com-
piling a full personality profile, which then served as a template for what to
do with the minor. The juvenile court case files have no indication of authori-
ties arresting or bringing charges against adults accused by minors of having
molested them. Or perhaps that was not the social worker’s responsibility.
They were more interested in removing the minor from a bad family situation
than in taking legal action against an alleged abuser.
The first half of the 1960s witnessed the spooling out of trends that dated
back to the immediate postwar. After the Liberation, partly in reaction to
the experiences of the war, the separation and hardships, and in explicit rejec-
tion of the extreme vision promulgated by Vichy, gender roles were reaffirmed
structurally, but also, within the existing assumptions, reimagined in terms
of the content of those roles. Women were portrayed as more broadly capable,
as deserving of personal choice in questions of marriage and waged work, as
full political citizens. Most women, it was assumed, were destined for mar-
riage, but some women had skills and talents that opened up legitimate
pathways outside of marriage and domesticity. During the war and German
occupation, married women had demonstrated an ability to survive difficult
circumstances without the support of absent husbands. While still celebrat-
ing marriage and domesticity, sources in the late 1940s expressed new admi-
ration for women’s abilities. Husbands and fathers expressed a strong desire
to invest more emotionally in their families, to develop closer relationships
with their children. Couples were renegotiating how to exert authority over
their children, how to relate to each other.

1 9 6   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

In the 1950s, the end of the war decade brought a sense of another break
with the past. Robert Prigent, writing presciently in 1952 about the evolution
of the family, not only emphasized the decade’s break with the past but also
argued that the biggest changes to family life in the 1950s were the liberation
of women and children. Our 1950s mothers’ lives might not seem liberated
by twenty-​first-​century standards, but in France, the women of the 1950s
struck their contemporaries as “modern.” While ideas about adolescence as
a crucial transitional phase of life had developed in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, popular books, magazines, and advice columns
paid much more attention to children, especially young children, only after
World War II. Experts conveyed to a more open public that young children
had rich internal lives, arguing against the older popular vision of the infant
and young child as an inert entity slowly evolving a conscious inner state. The
liberated woman and child both were reinforced by and in turn fed a new
vision of human nature, of the self, profoundly shaped by Freud, Kinsey, and
Beauvoir. Psychology was not just a way to understand and explain unhealthy
behavior and treat people having problems; it was a way of understanding
every person and a way every person could understand him-​or herself. The
new orientation resulted in a preoccupation with sex and sexuality, and not
just for titillation. Writers, journalists, and psychological “experts” explored
these issues openly, in wide-​circulation publications. The attention rested on
the recognition of the power of sexuality to drive behavior, to define the self.
Existentialism, somewhat passé in elite circles by the 1950s, still continued in
the broader public to foster an emphasis on individual choice, in opposition
to expectations imposed by society or religion.
The early 1960s represented an era in which those ideas had fundamen-
tally altered, for a larger and larger proportion of the population, the defini-
tion of the self. The idea that people could think about themselves, discerning
hidden drives and complexes they could explain with reference to their own
childhoods, represented a new way of relating to, understanding, and creat-
ing a mental picture of the self. Journalists, experts, authors, and filmmak-
ers in the early 1960s struggled to work out what that new psychological,
post-​Freudian self-​implied for spousal relations, courtship, marriage, and
childrearing, without knocking down entirely the edifice of older ideas about
gender and social roles for men and women. Given the depth and long history
of the double standard, with its tolerance of male violations of sexual expec-
tations about chastity and fidelity, the new post-​K insey vision of sexuality’s
frank acknowledgement of female sexual desire and pleasure, not surprisingly,
aroused the most controversy, contradictions, and confusion. Fear about the

Something Old, Something New      •      197

implications led many to emphasize young children’s critical need for parents
to educate them about sex. Adolescent and young unmarried women strug-
gled to sort out contradictory norms both favoring and rejecting the need to
retain premarital virginity, under the relentless pressure of the pop-​cultural
sexualization of young women and, for many of them, personal pressure from
young men to put out. The “new” attitudes toward sex troubled the waters,
leaving young women feeling particularly confused and vulnerable. If they
succeeded in repressing whatever sexual desire they felt while dating in order
to marry as virgins, once married, women felt pressured to be mature sexual
partners capable of experiencing simultaneous pleasure in their sexual rela-
tions with their husbands. Desire was something that, having been locked up
in a secure cage, could simply be released. The pressures resulted in anxiety
and guilt for both unmarried and married women.
The sexual revolution was beginning, but the people had not yet stormed
the Bastille. The end of an economy of want; the rising ability to consume,
so long repressed and desired; the increasingly well-​educated and less reli-
gious population; all these gave rise to a new awareness of the problems and
irritations affluence created. The bulging population of increasingly affluent
children and adolescents, a larger percentage of them likely to be literate, in
extended schooling, with resources and leisure time, fed an obsession with
youth in general and teenaged girls /​young women ( jeunes filles) in particu-
lar. Young people defined themselves as a social category. One thing many
young people and the older generation agreed on was the widening genera-
tion gap. Conflicts erupted between the generation born before or during the
war and their children, born after the war.
By the mid-​1960s, the ground had clearly been prepared for the explo-
sion to come. Did people have any idea about the turmoil ahead? Elle
journalist Jean Duché, early in 1968, prior to the May explosion, reviewed
the American film Bonnie and Clyde and implied that he felt the ground
shaking. Duché, shocked at the celebration of such insignificant “riffraff ”
viewed as heroically contesting the establishment, pointed out that at least
Bonnie and Clyde fought the failed capitalist system during the Great
Depression. “Today’s youth that sees itself in these heroes are in despair
about prosperity; in other words, consumption does not seem like a wor-
thy ideal to them. Long live Bonnie and Clyde, those likeable assassins
of the bourgeoisie! Such an attitude hardly commits young people to
anything, except, precisely, to consume. There’s no way to escape this.
Unless …” Duché wondered, “unless these millions of tiny, abortive
revolts are preparing the ground for a revolution?” But in that case, where

1 9 8   
•    From Vichy to the Se xual Re volution

was the revolutionary class, ready to grab power? Duché, admitting he was
no prophet, predicted in February 1968 that he did not see a revolution
on the horizon. However, his prediction was not entirely off-​base. He con-
cluded that today’s youth revolt was “due precisely to the fact that every-
one, financiers or workers, is complicit in the desire to consume. And so?
Either today’s youth will remain faithful to their confused demands and
will redefine our most essential values, which would be a true revolution,
if you will, but a moral one. Or else they too will take their place at the
banquet table.”54 May 1968 was indeed a somewhat successful attempt to
redefine basic human values by those who eventually also took their place
at the banquet table.
The eruption of May 1968, an apotheosis of trends, finally launched a
true challenge, deeply questioning fundamental assumptions about gender,
male and female human nature, in the most profound ways, even if the results
remain inconclusive. Those assumptions, while stretched and pulled out of
shape, had remained intact. The questioning of the late 1940s, 1950s, and
early 1960s made the eventual challenge starting in 1968 possible. But the
years just prior to 1968 were not just the precursor to 1968. They also rep-
resented the closing of the final chapter of the “postwar” era in France. The
events of 1968 opened a new book, and we continue to write the chapters as
we work out what the changes it sparked mean for us as men and women; gay,
lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or straight; single, husbands, wives, unmarried
couples, parents, children, and siblings.


I n t roduc t ion
1. “Le courier de Marie-​Claire,” Marie-​Claire 185 (8 February 1941), 2. All transla-
tions are mine unless otherwise indicated.
2. “Elle et lui: Quant un mari a les idées trop étroites,” Confidences 772 (19 August
1962), 8.
3. For more about population anxieties and the development of Family Allowances,
see Susan Pedersen, Family, Dependence and the Origins of the Welfare State: Britain
and France, 1914–​1945 (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1993);
Joshua Cole, The Power of Large Numbers:  Population, Politics, and Gender in
Nineteenth-​Century France (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2000); Alisa
Klaus, “Depopulation and Race Suicide: Maternalism and Pronatalist Ideologies
in France and the United States,” in Mothers of a New World:  Maternalist
Ideologies and the Origins of Welfare States, ed. Seth Koven and Sonya Michel
(London: Routledge, 1993), 188–​212; Miranda Pollard, Reign of Virtue: Mobilizing
Gender in Vichy France (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1998); Elinor
Accampo, Rachel Fuchs, and Mary Lynn Stewart, Gender and the Politics of Social
Reform in France 1870–​1914 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).
Cheryl Koos, “The Good, the Bad, and the Childless:  The Politics of Female
Identity in Maternité (1929) and La Maternelle (1933),” Historical Reflections/​
Réflexions historiques 35, no. 2 (Summer 2009) 3–​20; Angus McLaren, Sexuality
and Social Order (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1983); Andrés H. Reggiani, God’s
Eugenicist:  Alexis Carrel and the Sociobiology of Decline (New  York:  Berghahn,
2007); and William H. Schneider, Quality and Quantity: The Quest for Biological
Regeneration in Twentieth-​Century France, Cambridge Studies in the History of
Medicine (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
4. Hannah Diamond, Fleeing Hitler:  France 1940 (New  York:  Oxford University
Press, 2008).

•    Notes to pages xiii–xv

5. Robert Paxton, Vichy France:  Old Guard and New Order (New  York:  W.  W.
Norton, 1972); Jean-​Pierre Azema, From Munich to the Liberation, 1938–​1944,
trans. Janet Lloyd (New  York:  Cambridge University Press, 1984); Philippe
Burrin, France under the Germans: Collaboration and Compromise, trans. Janet
Lloyd (New  York:  New Press, 1996); Julian Jackson, France:  The Dark Years,
1940–​1944(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
6. Women’s magazines during the war included Notre coeur, Pour elle, Marie-​
Claire, and Votre beauté.
7. For more on Vichy’s family ideology, see Miranda Pollard, Reign of Virtue:
Mobilizing Gender in Vichy France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1998), and Françine Muel-​Dreyfus, Vichy et l’ éternel féminin: Contribution à
une sociologie politique de l’ordre des corps (XXe siècle) (Paris: Seuil, 1996).
8. Pollard, Reign of Virtue.
9. Sarah Fishman, We Will Wait:  Wives of French Prisoners of War, 1940–​1945
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).
10. For data on juvenile crime during the war, see Sarah Fishman, The Battle for
Children: World War II, Youth Crime and Juvenile Justice in Twentieth-​Century
France (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
11. Paxton, Vichy France; Azéma, From Munich to the Liberation; Marc Ferro,
Pétain (Paris: Hachette, 1993).
12. The first historian to dispute the public version that the postwar leaders made a
complete break with Vichy was Robert O. Paxton in his Vichy France. Since then
many historians have explored other areas of deep continuity, including K. H.
Adler in Jews and Gender in Liberation France (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge
University Press, 2003). She analyzes deep continuities in attitudes toward gen-
der and Jewishness during the liberation era.
13. Fabrice Virgili, La France “virile”:  Des femmes tondues à la Libération
(Paris: Editions Payot & Rivages, 2000). Virgili argues the Liberation era’s wide-
spread violence and shaming of local women accused of collaborating with the
Germans, shaving their heads and parading shorn women past jeering crowds,
expressed not only a desire for political revenge but also an attempt to reaffirm
male control over female sexuality. Targeted women had engaged in various
forms of collaboration; since the war the perception that rules is that the shorn
women had betrayed France sexually by sleeping with German soldiers.
14. Claire Duchen, Women’s Rights and Women’s Lives in France, 1944–​1968
(London: Routledge, 1994), 4. Duchen explores how gender ideologies imme-
diately after the war intersected with the era’s political and economic change.
Despite key postwar feminist victories, suffrage, legal equality, equal wage laws
for women, population concerns together with continuing economic hard-
ships quickly pushed women out of the political sphere. The number of women
elected to France’s legislature peaked in the first postwar elections of 1946, when
women won 6–​7 percent of legislative seats. The numbers rapidly declined by

Notes to pages xv–xvii      •      201

1958 to under 2 percent of legislative seats by 1958, Duchen, Women’s Rights,

15. Kristen Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies:  Decolonization and the Reordering of
French Cultures (Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1996); Ross analyzes the por-
trayal of women in films, advertisements, novels, and Elle magazine, revealing
the vision of gender and domestic life along with the contradictory and racist
elements of modernization inherent in the new consumerism.
16. Rebecca Pulju, Women and Mass Consumer Society in Postwar France
(Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 2011). Counter to Duchen’s
claim that domesticity discouraged women from engaging in politics, Pulju
uncovered women’s critical role, creating consumer groups involved not only
in examining consumer goods but also in political advocacy and education.
Redefining politics to include issues like the home, family, child care, schooling,
and domestic needs allows the critical role women played to re-​emerge. Jackie
Clarke, in France in the Age of Organization: Factory, Home and Nation from
the 1920s to Vichy (New York: Berghahn, 2013), notes that extending scientific
approaches to the domestic world dated back to the interwar rationalization
movement initially directed at industrial production.
17. Richard Jobs, Riding the New Wave: Youth and the Rejuvenation of France after
the Second World War (Stanford, CA:  Stanford University Press, 2007). He
explores national policies directed at youth, seen as critical to France’s future
success, in a variety of realms, politics, educational reforms, social welfare, juve-
nile justice, and cultural debates.
18. Susan Weiner, Enfants Terribles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
2001), 6. Weiner focuses on teenaged girls represented in Elle and Mademoiselle
magazines, Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour tristesse, and New Wave films like Marcel
Carné’s Les tricheurs.
19. See Paula Michaels, Lamaze:  An International History (Oxford:  Oxford
University Press, 2014), and her article “A Chapter from Lamaze History: Birth
Narratives and Authoritative Knowledge in France, 1952–​1957,” Journal of
Perinatal Education 19, no.  2 (Spring 2010):  35–​43, available at http://​w ww.
20. Camille Robcis, The Law of Kinship:  Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the
Family in Twentieth-​Century France (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press,
2013). Robcis explores widespread discussions about the family in France by
intellectuals, psychoanalysts, and academics like Jacques Lacan and Claude
Lévi-​Strauss. She argues that their work buttressed “traditional” ideals of het-
erosexual family life.
21. This is an issue addressed only briefly at the end of two previous books, Fishman,
We Will Wait, and Fishman, Battle for Children.
22. Denise Dubois-​Jallais, La tzarine:  Hélène Lazareff et l’aventure de “Elle”
(Paris: Robert Lafont, 1984); Samra-​Martine Bonvoisin and Michèle Maignien,

•    Notes to pages xviii–xix

La Presse féminine, Que sais-​je? 2305 (Paris:  Presses universitaires de France,

1986), 22–​24; Karine Grandpierre, “How Elle Conquered the World,” INA
Global, 7 February 2013, trans. Peter Moss, available online at http://​w ww.
inaglobal.fr/​en/​press/​article/​how-​elle-​magazine-​conquered-​world, accessed July
3, 2014, and Grandpierre, “ELLE: Un outil d’émancipation de la femme entre
journalisme et littérature 1945–​1960,” Contextes, November 2012, available
online at http://​contextes.revues.org/​5399, accessed July 3, 2014.
23. Constellation first appeared in 1946 as the Paris edition of La France libre, put out
by André Labarthe, a left-​wing activist and author who joined de Gaulle’s Free
French in London during the war and eventually broke with de Gaulle but con-
tinued his resistance activities. There are accusations that Labarthe was a Soviet
agent, but reputable sources dispute that allegation. Interestingly, the French
government supported Constellation in the late 1940s, to compete with Reader’s
Digest, which they considered a mouthpiece of the US State Department, for
readers in spheres of French cultural influence from Latin America, to West
Africa, to Canada. Constellation attracted many important writers like Boris
Vian and Yves Gibeau. At its peak in the 1950s the circulation was six hundred
thousand. It fused in 1970 with Lectures pour tous. The joint magazine, Lectures
pour tous, Constellation, lasted only until 1974. Thierry Cottour, “Constellation
et Rencontre (1967–​1970): Un malentendu fécond,” in François Vallotton (ed.),
Les éditions rencontre, 1950–​1971 (Lausanne: Les éditions d’en bas, 2004), 145.
24. Modeled on the Italian magazine Grand Hotel, which included romances, his-
toires vrais (true stories), and illustrated stories, Nous deux was started by an
Italian media mogul who moved to France in the 1920s, Cino Del Duca. Isabelle
Antonutti, Cino Del Duca: De Tarzan à Nous deux, itinéraire d’un patron de
presse (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2012); see also Patrick Eveno,
Cino Del Duca: Le Napoleon de la presse du coeur (Paris: Vuibert, 2010), and
Bonvoisin and Magnien, La presse féminine, 22–​24.
25. A colleague recalls that as a teenager her parents forbade her reading Nous deux,
which meant she had to hide her illicit copies from them.
26. The golden age was followed by a crash after 1968, which Bonvoisin and Magnien
attribute to the radical economic, cultural, and social changes in women’s lives
of the period; urbanization, schooling, work, morality, and contraception all
transformed women’s lives in ways that bypassed women’s magazines, unable to
integrate the transformations. I would note also the rise of competing media,
television in particular. Bonvoisin and Maignien, La presse féminine, 26–​27.
27. A group calling itself the “Comité pour la dignité de la presse féminine,” piloted
by Marcelle Auclair, in 1953 issued a series of bulletins, “Le vrai visage de la
press du coeur,” warning of the pernicious nature of this press that misrepre-
sented women’s lives and accusing Cino Del Duca of having been pro-​Mussolini.
Marcelle Ségal claims, inadvertently, to have named the job of responding to let-
ters asking for advice on relationships “Courrier du coeur” when the task landed

Notes to pages xix–xxii      •      203

at her feet, against her preferences, early in her time at Elle. See her Mon métier:
Le courrier du coeur (Paris: Horay, 1952).
28. This notice first appeared in “Nos lecteurs écrivent,” Confidences 708 (23 April
1961): 43, and was repeated in subsequent issues over several months.
29. According to several accounts, Marcelle Auclair of Marie-​Claire also responded
personally to all the letters she received.
30. Though the radio was ubiquitous by the 1950s, Allô, Ménie was the first radio
show that truly focused on women’s lives, created by journalist and women’s
advocate Ménie Grégoire. It did not begin broadcasting until 1967, after the
focus of this study. For more on radio advice see Claire Blandin, “Médias: Paroles
d’experts/​paroles de femmes,” in “Le dossier: L’Expertise face aux enjeux bio-
politiques: Genre, jeunes, sexualité,” ed. Ludevine Bantigny, Christine Bard and
Claire Blandin, special issue, Histoire@politique 14 (May-​August 2011), available
online at http://​w ww.histoire-​politique.fr/​index.php?numero=14&rub=doss
ier&item=134, accessed December 5, 2014. Having written for Elle, journalist
and author Grégoire took up a reader’s suggestion to create her extremely pop-
ular radio broadcast on women, Allo, Ménie, which ran on RTL from 1967 to
1982. She died in August 2014 at the age of ninety-​five. “Ménie Grégoire, voix
mythique de RTL, est décédée à l’âge de 95 ans,” RTL, 16 August 2014, available
online at http://​w ww.rtl.fr/​culture/​medias-​people/​la-​celebre-​animatrice-​radio-​
menie-​gregoire-​est-​decedee-​a-​l-​age-​de-​95–​ans-​7773748405, accessed December
16, 2014.
31. On the rise of the concept of adolescence at the turn of the twentieth century,
see Kathleen Alaimo, “Adolescence, Gender, and Class in Education Reform
in France:  The Development of Enseignement Primaire Supèrieur, 1880–​
1910,” French Historical Studies 18, no. 4 (Fall 1994): 1025–​1055, and also her
article “Shaping Adolescence in the Popular Milieu: Social Policy, Reformers,
and French Youth, 1870–​1920,” Journal of Family History 17, no.  4 (Fall
1992): 419–​438.
32. Archives départementales de la Drôme 1385 W 46 (1949). She also complained
about inadequate funding and difficult bus schedules.
33. Some case reports provided almost literary descriptions: Archives départemen-
tales de Paris 1418 W 580 described one young boy of seven, regularly sent by his
parents to run errands, as a “typical Paris street urchin” (le genre “Titi Parisien”)
who loved being out on his own and spending his afternoons in the neighborhood
34. Research conducted in juvenile court case files from the Paris region, the Nord,
the Gard, and Indre-​et-​Loire during World War II provided a baseline, allow-
ing for comparison with the postwar period. See Fishman, Battle for Children,
87–​91, for discussion of the juvenile court records consulted from 1940 to 1945:
ADP, Archives départementales d’Indre-​et-​Loire, Archives départementales du
Nord and Archives départementales du Gard.

•    Notes to pages xxii–4

35. The Archives départementales de Paris (ADP), Archives départementales de la

Drôme (ADD), Archives départementales du Nord (ADN) and the Archives
départementales des Bouches-​du-​R hône (ADBDR). In the Nord, the cases
involved delinquent minors in the juvenile courts, but the holdings only go back
to 1950. In Marseilles many records originated from a newly created observa-
tion center for boys, so most cases in Marseilles centered on adolescent males.
Finally, the Drôme, a rural area with low levels of delinquency, included case files
of delinquent minors, custody (divorce), and termination of parental custody
(dechéance paternelle).
36. Jean Fourastié, Les trente glorieuses, ou, la révolution invisible (Paris:  Librarie
Arthème Fayard, 1979); Ellen Furlough, “Making Mass Vacations:  Tourism
and Consumer Culture in France, 1930s to 1970s,” Comparative Studies in
Society and History 40 (1998):  247–​286; Furlough, Consumer Cooperation in
France: The Politics of Consumption, 1834–​1930 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Press, 1991); Pulju, Women and Mass Consumer Society.

Chapter 1

1. Elle 65 (11 February 1947), 4–​5; only 30 percent insisted that they preferred to
marry a girl who did not work for wages, and 10 percent hedged, explaining that
it depended on the métier.
2. ADBDR 1144W 5.
3. ADBDR 1144W 7.
4. ADBDR 1144 W 16.
5. While the British military and German POWs remained in France after 1944,
I  could find references only to American soldiers in case files. I  adopted the
phrase “friendly occupation” from David Reynolds’s work Rich Relations: The
American Occupation of Britain, 1942–​1954 (London: Harper Collins, 1995).
6. Mary Louis Roberts, What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War
II France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 73, explores American
soldiers’ sexualized perceptions of and assumptions about French women and
the disruptive effects of their presence in French society.
7. ADD 1385 W 43; ADP 1418 W 177.
8. Joe Weston, “LIFE’s reports: GIs in Le Havre,” Life, 10 December 1945, 19;
Roberts, What Soldiers Do, 2.
9. Reynolds, Rich Relations, xxiii.
10. Noëmie Fossé, “Les trafiquants de la Libération:  Le commerce illégal des
produits U.S. Army en Seine-​et-​Oise: Vols, recels et marché noir (1944–​1950),”
presentation at the Western Society for French History Conference, 11–​13
October 2012, Banff, Canada, explored the topic of US Army–​related traffick-
ing of American supplies, by Americans and French, in the Seine-​et-​Oise, in
1945–​1947, a time with a heavy American presence in the region.

Notes to pages 4–6      •      205

11. ADP 1418 W 175.

12. In this case, the report expressed serious concerns about his “vie sexuel” and
claimed, “On peut sans exaggerer parler de sa ‘bestialité.’ ” Was this a reference
to homosexuality? It is not clear, but it is an early mention of the issue of sexual-
ity, something the wartime reports were silent about. The final twist in this case
is that the boy’s parents were Spanish and he was barely able to speak French
(ADBDR 1144W 3).
13. Cited by Francine Muel-​Dreyfus, Vichy and the Eternal Feminine: A Contribution
to the Political Sociology of Gender, trans. Kathleen A.  Johnson (Durham,
NC:  Duke University Press, 2001), 89. Vautel sang the praises of the average
Frenchwomen who “humbly and courageously do their traditional duty every
day” and served as a rampart against feminism.
14. Georgette Varenne, La femme dans la France nouvelle (Clermont-​Ferrand:
Mont-​Louis, 1940), 6.
15. Madeleine Cazin, Le travail féminin (Rennes: Faculté de Droit, 1943), 49.
16. Varenne, La femme, 10.
17. Karen Offen, “Depopulation, Nationalism and Feminism in Fin-​ de-​
France,” American Historical Review 89, no. 3 (June 1984): 648–​676; see also
her book European Feminisms: 1700–​1950 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press, 2000): 182–​249.
18. There are many works on French feminism, including Offen, “Depopulation,
Nationalism and Feminism”; Charles Sowerwine, Sisters or Citizens:  Women
and Socialism in France since 1876 (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University
Press, 1982); James F.  McMillan, Housewife or Harlot:  The Place of Women
in French Society 1870–​ 1940 (New  York:  St. Martin’s, 1981); Carolyn
Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades:  Women in the Paris Commune
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); Patrick K. Bidelman, Pariahs
Stand Up! The Founding of the Liberal Feminist Movement in France, 1858–​1889
(Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982); Marilyn J. Boxer, “ ‘First Wave’ Feminism
in Nineteenth-​Century France: Class, Family and Religion,” Women’s Studies
International Forum 5, no. 6 (1982): 551–​559; Steven Hause, Women’s Suffrage
and Social Politics in French Third Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1984); Claire Goldberg Moses, French Feminism in the Nineteenth
Century (Albany, NY:  SUNY Press, 1984); and Joan Scott, Only Paradoxes
to Offer:  French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard
University Press, 1996).
19. M. R. Bouchemousse, “Points de vue: sociologie: “L’Institution familiale,” L’Ecole
et la famille 2 (November 1947): 35. Note that Bouchemousse herself never mar-
ried. She traveled internationally to take part in UNESCO-​sponsored meetings
in the 1950s. Prior to the war, in 1931, she published a book on education under
the male pseudonym Jean Mora, L’Ecole et le bien commun (Paris: Fédération
nationale catholique, 1931). During the war and under the French State at Vichy,

•    Notes to pages 6–14

she served as mayor of the city of Vigeois-​Corrèze, Gouvernement de Vichy,

Images officielles de la femme (Paris: La documentation française, 1939–​1945).
20. See Adler, Jews and Gender in Liberation France, for an excellent discussion of
the continued influence of pronatalists like Georges Mauco on French policy in
the years just after the war.
21. Robert Prigent, active before the war in Christian social movements (JOC and
MPF), joined de Gaulle in Algiers, where he submitted the law to grant women
the vote.
22. Cited by Sandra Fayolle, “Réagir aux premiers votes des femmes: Le cas du Parti
communiste français,” Cahiers d’ histoire 94–​95 (2005): 7, 47; see also “On ne
changera rien sans faire confiance à la femme,” L’Humanité, 12 April 1945.
23. Simone Dubreuilh, “Qu’est-​ce que la jalousie?” in Elle 1, no. 105 (2 November
1945), 10.
24. Fishman, We Will Wait, 156–​167.
25. La femme au service du pays (Paris: Union féminine civique et sociale, 1945), 11
(”la travailleuse”).
26. See Jackie Clarke, France in the Age of Organization: Factory, Home and Nation
from the 1920s to Vichy (New York: Berghahn, 2013), for a fascinating account
of how experts began to shift their attention to the home.
27. Nicole Rudolph notes that the hugely popular annual exhibit called the Salon
des arts ménagers (SAM) conveyed the idea of the modern home as an important
workplace for women. Homemaking was treated like a profession, a combina-
tion of engineering and art. Rudolph describes the SAM vision of the housewife
as a hybrid of the scientific home engineer with the angel of the house. SAM gen-
dered the division of labor but also elevated women’s roles as housekeepers with
a critical role to play in France’s national modernizing project. Nicole Rudolph,
At Home in Postwar France, 1945–​1975: Modern Mass Housing and the Right to
Comfort (Oxford: Berghahn, 2015), 87–​102.
28. Duchen, Women’s Rights, 69–​70. See also Jobs, Riding the New Wave, 71–​83, on
the creation of the profession and training of family assistants.
29. Paulette Bernège and Marie-​Louise Cordillot, Guide d’enseignement ménager:
Pédagogie, installation des cours (Paris: La Maison Rustique, 1947): 6.
30. Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies, 104–​105.
31. Roger Cousinet, “Preface,” in Bernège, Guide de l’enseignement ménager, 5–​6;
he goes on to discuss the need to analyze/​rationalize domestic work, 5–​6.
32. Françoise Giroud, “Aujourd’hui ce sont les garçons qui veulent se marier et les
jeunes filles qui hésitent,” Elle 1 (13 February 1946), 6–​7.
33. Giroud, “Aujourd’hui,” 6–​7. Following an unsurprising trope, Giroud admon-
ished men to compliment their wives, thank them, take them out from time to
time, and even help out around the house.
34. ADP 1418 W7 1947.
35. ADP 221/​73/​1.

Notes to pages 15–23      •      207

36. ADP 221/​73/​1 (Ne fait past l’objet d’aucune remarque défavorable).
37. ADP 1418 W2. 1946.
38. ADP 1418 W 15.
39. Fishman, Battle for Children, 135–​145.
40. Kristen Stromberg Childers, Fathers, Families and the State in France, 1914–​
1945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003). POW families presented a
model of how paternal authority could be exercised in the absence of an actual
father. POW wives were encouraged to think of themselves as their husband’s
instrument, executing his authority even as they exerted their authority directly
over their children. Acting “as if ” the husband/​father were there, asking them-
selves what he would do, or consulting via correspondence maintained the father
as the ultimate authority. See Fishman, We Will Wait, 143–​146.
41. “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 64 (28 January 1949), 2.  As for how she
might stop the inappropriately dictatorial behavior, the columnist provided lit-
tle practical advice, beyond advocating that she avail herself of women’s “classical
weapons”: “sweetness, tenacity, diplomacy.”
42. René Boigelot, pseud Pierre Dufoyer, L’Intimité conjugal, le livre des époux, 4th
ed. (Paris: Casterman, 1942); René Boigelot, pseud Pierre Dufoyer, L’ intimité
conjugal:  le livre de la jeune épouse, 18th ed. (Paris:  Casterman, 1949); René
Boigelot, pseud Pierre Dufoyer, L’ intimité conjugal: le livre du jeune mari, 18th
ed. (Paris: Casterman, 1949).
43. Boigelot, Le livre des époux, 31; Boigelot, Le livre du jeune mari, 34.
44. Boigelot, Le livre des époux, 40.
45. Boigelot, Le livre du jeune mari, 93.
46. Boigelot¸ Le livre du jeune mari, 94.
47. ADD 1385 W 44.
48. ADBDR 1144 W 26.
49. ADBDR 1144 W 16.
50. ADBDR, 1144 W 22.
51. ADP 1418 W 186.
52. ADP 1418 W 15.
53. ADBDR 1144 W 26.
54. Boigelot, Le livre du jeune mari, 97 ff.
55. ADP 1418 W 7, la mère a trop houspillé sa fille.
56. ADD 1385 W 44.
57. ADD 1385 W 45; in this case, the social worker raised another issue of some
concern, although it was not necessarily the deciding factor. She recommended
in favor of the mother’s custody even though she had no reason to reproach the
father and was certain he would be an excellent father. She expressed concern
about having a single father raise the two children by himself, especially when
one was a “fillette” of twelve.
58. ADD 1385 W 45.

•    Notes to pages 24–32

59. ADD 1385 W43, “une vie honnête,” “avec coquetterie.”

60. ADD 1385 W 43; see also ADD 1385 W 44.
61. ADD 1385 W 44.
62. ADD 1385 W 45.
63. ADD 1385 W 46.

Chapter 2

1. Marie-​Claire 1 (October 1954), 1.

2. For an excellent discussion of the postwar construction of housing, see
W. Brian Newsome, French Urban Planning 1940–​1968: The Construction and
Deconstruction of an Authoritarian System (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), and
for the debates and decisions about domestic interiors for the new housing, see
Rudolph, At Home in Postwar France.
3. On the concept of the modern, see Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and
the Forms of the Social Environment (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), which
focuses on the century from 1830 to 1930.
4. Robert Prigent, Renouveau des idées sur la famille (Paris: Presses universitaires de
France, 1953), 309.
5. Robert Prigent, “Evolution des idées sur la famille:  Présentation d’une étude
enterprise par l’I.N.E.D.” Population 7 (July-​September 1952): 398.
6. See Weiner, Enfants Terribles, 44–​45.
7. William H.  Masters and Virginia E.  Johnson, Human Sexual Response
(New York: Bantam Books, 1966). Unlike Kinsey, who pioneered interviewing
people about their intimate lives, Masters and Johnson studied human sexual
response in a laboratory setting, first with prostitutes and eventually with vol-
unteers who were arbitrarily paired. A French translation by Francine Fréhel et
Marc Gilbert, Les réactions sexuelles, appeared the next year, 1967.
8. Dagmar Herzog, “The Reception of the Kinsey Reports in Europe, “Sexuality and
Culture 10, no. 1 (Winter 2006): 46n5. Historian Sylvie Chaperon links Kinsey and
Freud, arguing that together their writings posed serious challenges to conservative
visions by questioning accepted norms about two things in particular, male homo-
sexuality and female sexuality. Chaperon argues that the offensive against female
sexuality primarily focused on attacking Beauvoir’s Second Sex, which included
chapters on female sexual pleasure. See Sylvie Chaperon, “Kinsey en France: Les
sexualités féminins et masculins en débat,” Le mouvement social 198 (January-​
March 2002): 91–​110; see also Dagmar Herzog, Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-​
Century History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
9. See Chaperon, “Kinsey en France”; Herzog, “Reception of the Kinsey Reports,”
39–​48; Christine M. Cano, “The Kinsey Report in France,” Contemporary
French Civilization 35, no. 1 (2011): 33–​52; Daniel Guérin, Kinsey et la sexu-
alité (Paris: René Julliard, 1955); and Guérin, “Les messages de déliverance de
Kinsey,” La France observateur 30 (August 1956): 14.

Notes to pages 33–37      •      209

10. “Comment vous-​êtes vous connus?” Confidences 286 (21 April 1953), 16.
11. ADP 1418 W 188; ADBDR 1144 W 32; ADP 1418 W 33; ADBDR 1144 W 32.
12. ADBDR 1144 W36.
13. ADP 1418 W 191; 1418 W 33; 1418 W 25; 1418 W 113; 1144 W 40.
14. ADP 1418 W 191; 1418 W 20; 1418 W 184, ADBDR 1144W 26; 1144 W 32.
15. ADBDR 1158 W260; 1144 W 26; ADN 1481 W 411.
16. ADBDR 1144 W40, 1144 W 86; ADD 1385 W 49.
17. ADBDR 1144 W32.
18. ADP 1418 W 33; 1418 W 193; 1418 W 188; 1418 W 191; 1418 W 23; ADN
1481 W 416.
19. ADP 1418 W 191.
20. ADP 1418 W 113; 1418 W 25; ADBDR 1144 W 36; 1158 W 260.
21. ADP 1418 W 40. Based on the name, he was most likely not an Algerian of
European ancestry.
22. ADP 1418 W40; ADBDR 1144 W 86.
23. ADP 1418 W 20.
24. ADP 1418 W 20.
25. ADBDR 1144 W 26, 1158 W258.
26. ADBDR 1144 W 32, 1144 W 98; “jeune métis eurafricain type algérien,” 1144
W 98; 1144 W 110.
27. ADBDR 1144 W 40.
28. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 311 (12 November 1951), 3.
29. ADP 1418 W 191; ADBDR 1144 W34; 1144 W 86; ADD 1385 W 49.
30. “Ménage de gitanes,” ADBDR 1158 W 265; 1144 W 36; another family of
“forains” described as “evolved” lived in a “roulotte luxueuse.” ADD 1385 W 48.
31. For data on court decisions regarding delinquent minors during the war, see
Fishman, Battle for Children, 110–​112.
32. K.  H. Adler, Jews and Gender in Liberation France; Alice Conklin, In the
Museum of Man:  Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 1850–​ 1950
(Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2013); Todd Shepard, The Invention
of Decolonization:  The Algerian War and the Remaking of France (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); currently he is working on a project explor-
ing race, integration, and the French variant of affirmative action in the 1950s and
early 1960s France (“Affirmative Action and the End of Empires: ‘Integration’ in
France (1956–​1962) and the Race Question in the Cold War World”); Andrew
M.  Daily, “Race, Citizenship, and Antillean Student Activism in Postwar
France, 1946–​1968,” French Historical Studies 37, no. 2 (2014): 331–​357.
33. Dominique Veillon, Nous les enfants, 1950–​1970 (Paris:  Hachette, 2003):
34. Duchen, Women’s Rights; Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies. While both scholars
acknowledge changes in legal status, voting rights, and visions of women, both
would prioritize the conservative elements of postwar gender, interpreting much
of the rhetoric of modernity as in fact serving to contain change.

•    Notes to pages 37–40

35. Church attendance declined slowly in the 1950s and precipitously in the 1960s.
By the end of the 1960s the number of adults reporting weekly communion had
dropped to 15  percent. Alice Conklin, Sarah Fishman, and Robert Zaretsky,
France and Its Empire since 1870, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
2014), 330.
36. Pulju, Women and Mass Consumer Society.
37. Daisy de Gourcuff, “Avec les 12 trouvailles vedettes des arts ménagers,” Elle 326
(25 February 1952), 56.
38. Gourcuff, “Avec les 12 trouvailles,” 57, 56.
39. From the cases dating to the 1950s that originated in the greater Paris region,
I was able to determine family income for thirty-​one families. Ten of those fami-
lies received no family allowances either because they had too few children to
qualify or because the children had exceeded eligibility age, which varied based
on the number of children in the family. Of the twenty-​one families receiv-
ing family allowances, six large families, with the number of children ranging
from seven to ten, received family allowances that exceeded the parents’ earned
salaries. In some cases, allowances doubled family income; one family with ten
children, crammed into a two-​room apartment, received allowances nearly
triple what the father earned in salary (father’s salary: 18,000 francs a month;
family allowances:  50,000 francs). Another father with nine children (also in
a two-​room apartment) received allowances of 60,650 francs, nearly double his
earned income of 33,000 francs a month. In most cases family allowances did
not exceed the parents’ salaries, but in three cases they exceeded 50 percent of
earned income, and in two families the allowances increased total income by
more than a third. For the remaining eight cases the amount of the allowances
either represented less than one-​third of the monthly income or was not reported
separately. Data from the following: ADP 1418 W 23, 25, 28, 33, 40, 113, 177,
184, 188, 190, 191, 193, 195.
40. Christiane Rochefort, Les petits enfants du siècle (Paris: Grasset, 1961), 65: “Et
mon Frigidaire, il est là!”
41. Conklin, Fishman, and Zaretsky, France and Its Empire, 258.
42. Newsome, French Urban Planning; Rudolph, At Home in Postwar France;
Danièle Voldman, La reconstruction des villes françaises de 1940 à 1954: Histoire
d’une politique (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997).
43. ADN 1481 W 407.
44. Paul-​ Henry Chombart de Lauwe, Paris:  Essais de sociologie, 1952–​ 1964
(Paris: Les Editions ouvrières, 1965).
45. Newsome, French Urban Planning.
46. ADN 1481 W 407; ADBDR 1144 W 86.
47. Veillon, Nous les enfants, 57.
48. Marcelle Auclair, “Depuis 20 ans que vous me faites confiance,” Marie-​Claire 26
(March 1957), 60. Auclair laments that married women suffered under the same

Notes to pages 40–45      •      211

civil incapacity they had in 1937, celebrates the ballot, then scolds women to use
the ballot more often to prevent men and all their technologies from “blowing
up the planet.”
49. Marie-​Claire 29 (March 1957), 116.
50. Marie-​Claire 28 (February 1957), 12.
51. L’Ecole et la famille 87 (October 1959), 9.
52. Jean Vernueil, “La France aussi riche que les français,” Constellation 135 (July
1959), 26. See also Pulju, Women and Mass Consumer Society.
53. Helene Gordon-​Lazareff, “Journal d’une journaliste,” Elle 114 (27 January
1948), 4–​5.
54. Veillon, Nous les enfants, 117; see also Pulju, Women and Mass Consumer Society,
and Rochefort, Les petits enfants du siècle.
55. Edith Kurzweil, The Freudians: A Comparative Perspective (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1989), explores the diffusion and reception of Freud’s ideas through
the early twentieth century in Austria, Germany, England, France, and the United
States. See also the seminal work by Sherry Turkle, a thorough and excellent analysis
of the reception of Freud in France, Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s
French Revolution, 2nd ed. (New York: Guilford, 1992); Alain de Mijola, Freud et la
France: 1885–​1945 (Paris: PUF, 2010), also explores the French responses to Freud.
More recently, Camille Robcis, The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis,
and the Family in France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), details how
complex Freudian theories in an even more complex Lacanian version were trans-
lated by key public figures in ways that gained them a wider audience, in particular
shaping legal and political approaches to family law.
56. Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics.
57. The PSP went through two major schisms in the decades after 1945, the result
of a falling out between Anna Freud and Jacques Lacan. The website of the
Psychoanalytic Society of Paris (Société psychoanalytique de Paris, or SPP)
includes a lengthy discussion and analysis of these divisions. See http://​w ww.
58. On Heuyer and the development of a juvenile delinquency “establishment”
in France from the interwar through the Vichy years, see Fishman, Battle for
Children, 127–​135.
59. Sophie Morgenstern, “Un cas de mutism psychogène,” Revue française de psych-
analyse 1, no. 3 (1927): 492–​504; Morgenstern, Psychanalyse infantile (symbol-
isme et valeur clinique des créations imaginatives chez l’enfant) (Paris: Denoël,
60. Eric Binet, “Françoise Dolto,” Perspectives:  Revue trimestriel d’ éducation com-
paré 29, no. 3 (1991): 505–​506. When the Psychoanalytical Society of Paris split
in 1953, she sided with Lacan to create the Société française de psychanalyse,
and she remained with Lacan after the second schism of 1964, as he founded the
Ecole Freudienne de Paris, where she remained until 1980.

•    Notes to pages 45–47

61. The Hôpital Trousseau, affiliated with the Centre médico-​psycho-​pédagogique

Claude Bernard since 1947.
62. Kurzweil, Freudians, x.
63. Ecole des parents et des éducateurs, Ile-​de-​France, “Historique,” http://​w ww.
ecoledesparents.org/​fnepe/​historique. The Ecole des parents still exists, with
local groups in about forty-​five departments across France. The Paris Ecole des
parents still has a welcome center for parents and children, for discussions and
orientation, and a training center for professionals in social and medical-​social
fields. See the history on their website at http://​w ww.ecoledesparents.org/​
64. A. J. Dalzell-​Ward, “L’Ecole des Parents, Paris: For Research, Instruction and
Training,” Cerebral Palsy Bulletin 3, no. 2 (1961).
65. Dalzell-​Ward, “L’Ecole des Parents,” 181–​182.
66. Jean-​A lexis Néret, Guide du chef de famille: Pratique et complet, Collection
des Guides Néret (Paris: Lamarre, 1950), 155, 156; see also Maurice Debesse,
Comment étudier les adolescents: Examen critique des confidences juvéniles, 3rd
ed. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948), 1–​3; Revault d’Allones,
“L’Amour maternel dans la psychologie féminine,” L’Ecole des parents et des edu-
cateurs 2 (1953–​1954): 15–​17, 20; her highly Freudian article includes a section
about the oedipal issues of motherhood.
67. The entire double issue of Vie sociale explored the first Social Work Schools,
opened between 1908 and 1937, “Etudes: Histoire des premières écoles de ser-
vice social,” Vie sociale 1–​2 (January-​April 1995).
68. Brigitte Bouquet, Christine Garcette, and Georges Michel Salomon, “Les pre-
mières écoles de service social: Un atout majeur pour la professionnalisation des
assistantes sociales,” Vie social 1–​2 (January-​April 1995): 16.
69. Jean-​Félix Nouvel, Psychologie pratique à l’usage des élèves assistantes sociales
(Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1946), 32, 94, 125; note that both Nouvel and Néret also
cited Dale Carnegie, indicating a variety of influences beyond Freud.
70. ADP 1418 W 41. See also 1418 W 40 and 203. In the Marseilles region, C, a
seventeen-​year-​old girl placed in a charitable institution by her parents, was
described as “in full adolescent crisis,” her delayed puberty left her unstable, her
problems too deep for a collective therapeutic institution to modify. ADBDR
1158 W 260,
71. Roger Cousinet,”Préface,” in Guide d’enseignement ménager pédagogique, by
Paulette Bernège and Marie-​Louise Cordillot (Paris: La maison rustique, 1947),
5–​6; see also Prigent, “Renouveau des idées sur la famille.”
72. Néret is not exactly correct here, the article had not been “deleted” but presum-
ably nullified by the 1938 law that gave women judicial rights, for example, to
testify in court, and by the constitutional declaration in 1946 of equal rights for
women. A thorough overhaul of marriage law did not take place until 1965.

Notes to pages 47–54      •      213

73. Néret, Guide du chef de famille, 68.

74. Mary-​Louise Roberts, Civilization without Sexes:  Reconstructing Gender
in Postwar France, 1917–​ 1927 (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press,
1994); Roberts, Disruptive Acts:  The New Woman in Fin-​de-​Siècle France
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
75. Michel Huber, La population de la France: Son évolution et ses perspectives (Paris:
Hachette, 1950), 325.
76. Pierre Lazareff, “Madame de Sevigné fut l’aieule des dames qui font votre
‘Elle’: Tout ce qu’il faut savoir sur les femmes journalistes,” Elle 311 (12 November
1951), 14–​17.
77. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 311 (12 November 1951), 3. “La liberté
sexuelle de la femme.” “Ma vie est à moi.”
78. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley (New York: Vintage,
1989), xiv, 267.
79. Françoise Giroud joined the Resistance, was arrested and imprisoned, and after
the war joined with Hélène Gordon-​Lazareff to found Elle. Considered a con-
servative feminist, she served in the Giscard government of the 1970s.
80. “Femmes d’aujourd’hui,” Elle 486 (1955), 28–​29; Giroud also claimed that 86
of every 100 people in the liberal professions were women, a change she labeled a
seizure (mainmise) of professions that shaped the nation’s destiny, not a promo-
tion but an irreversible revolution.
81. “Les résultats de l’enquête effectuée par L’Institut français d’opinion pub-
lique pendant le dernier trimestre de 1957,” poll cited in Françoise Giroud,
La nouvelle vague: Portraits de la jeunesse, 27th ed. (Paris: Gallimard, 1958),
82. “Que nous reserve 1951? L’avenir est aux femmes.” Nous deux 186 (1951) 9.
83. “Que nous réserve 1951?” 9.
84. ADP 1418 W 193.
85. ADP 1418 W 203; see also 1418 W 33. “Il prend le type décadant existentiel-
liste. Il s’ennuie, ne croit à rien.” The theft was an “acte gratuit” to “lutter contre
86. James H.  Jones, Alfred C.  Kinsey:  A  Public/​Private Life (New  York:  W.  W.
Norton, 1997); Herzog, Sexuality in Europe, 109–​111.
87. Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey.
88. Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin, Sexual Behavior
in the Human Male (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1948), 59; See
Herzog, “Reception of the Kinsey Reports,” 39–​4 0.
89. Clément Mareuil, “Les tournants dangereux des fiançailles: Jusqu’où peut aller
une jeune fille,” Constellation 47 (March 1952), 57–​61.
90. Eve Brown, “J’ai dit non! au Docteur Kinsey,” Constellation 66 (October
1953), 62–​66.

•    Notes to pages 55–61

Chapter 3

1. “Une jeune ménage qui débute,” Confidences 604 (31 May 1959), 37–​38.
2. See ­chapter 2, p. 49.
3. Françoise, “Vivre en paix,” Nous deux 397 (1955), 2.
4. Fishman, We Will Wait, 164–​167.
5. Françoise, “Vivre en paix,” 2.
6. Marcelle Auclair, “Pourquoi les femmes sont-​elles moins libre que les hommes?”
Marie-​Claire 27 (January 1957), 66.
7. Marcelle Auclair and Françoise Prévost, Mémoires à deux voix (Paris:  Seuil,
1978), 229–​230. They were to have dinner with friends; Marcelle was late from
her job at Marie-​Claire and went straight to the friends’ home, leaving Jean wait-
ing for her at the Metro. He arrived furious, she apologized, and he responded
in dry tone, “Cela ne changera rien à la raclée que tu vas recevoir en rentrant.”
She clarified that he had never struck her and she knew he was just putting on an
act in front of his friends, playing “le coq,” but it pushed her over the edge. She
packed and left that night.
8. See Landon Storrs, The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), for a discussion of the Red
Scare in the US after World War II and its silencing of formerly influential voices
on the left.
9. Robert Sautereau et al., “Quatre millions de femmes veulent chanter cette vie là,”
Antoinette 1 (November 1955), 2.
10. Daniel Deschamps, “La course infernal contre les lampes” Antoinette 1
(November 1955), 3, “à travail égal, salaire … inégale”; “Soyez ‘Femmes 1956,’ ”
Antoinette 1 (November 1955), 12.
11. “Une femme avertie en vaut deux: Le divorce,” Antoinette 2 (1 December
1955), 18.
12. Madeleine Colin, “Bonne année” Antoinette 39 (January 1959), 3; for an excel-
lent discussion of French caricatures of Germans see Irene Guenther, Nazi Chic:
Fashioning Women in the Third Reich (New York: Berg, 2004), 21–​28.
13. Lisa Greenwald, “The Women’s Liberation Movement in France and the
Origins of Contemporary French Feminism, 1944–​1981” (PhD diss., Emory
University, 1996).
14. Fishman, We Will Wait, 131–​132.
15. “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 300 (Special Edition, 1952), 47.
16. She lost her only biological child, a daughter, very young, but does not explain
the circumstances. After the war, she adopted two boys orphaned by the
Holocaust. Marcelle Ségal, Moi aussi, j’ étais seule (Paris:  Grasset, 1971). See
Douglas Johnson, “Obituary, Marcelle Ségal, Independent, 7 January 1999.
17. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 486 (4 April 1955), 5.

Notes to pages 61–66      •      215

18. André Maurois, “Ne divorcez pas!” Marie-​Claire 1 (October 1954), 54–​55.
(Maurois seconded George Sand’s call in the nineteenth century for “égalité
sentimentale pour les femmes.”)
19. According to Auclair, wives committed adultery in their hearts long before find-
ing an actual lover. But Auclair shifted the blame, insisting that 99 percent of
married women intended to remain faithful, but if a wife’s heart was not filled
by her husband, she would look elsewhere. In effect, the husband had invited the
lover into his home. Marcelle Auclair, “La femme adultère est-​elle plus coupable
que l’homme adultère,” Marie-​Claire 27 (January 1957), 67.
20. Auclair and Prévost, Mémoires à deux voix, 229.
21. Marcelle Auclair, “Pourquoi les femmes sont-​elles moins libre que les hommes?”
Marie-​Claire 27 (January 1957), 66.
22. Auclair and Prévost, Mémoires à deux voix, 228–​231. Her ex, Jean Prévost, by
her account, had always supported her career and had been active in caring for
their children. During the war he joined the resistance, the Vercors Maquis, and
was killed in action in 1944.
23. France:  Ministère de la Justice, Compte général de l’administration de la
justice civile et commerciale et de la justice criminelle (Années 1944-​ 1947)
(Melun: Imprimerie Administrative, n.d.), xx.
24. These figures taken from Fabrice Cahan, “De l’‘efficacité’ des politiques pub-
liques: La lutte contre l’avortement ‘criminel’ en France, 1890–​1950,” Revue
d’ histoire moderne et contemporaine 58 (March 2011): 105.
25. Greenwald, “Women’s Liberation Movement,” 65–​69.
26. Dr. Povil, “Les jours décisifs de la maternité,” Constellation 42 (October 1951),
143–​144; although it initially opposed the practice, the Catholic Church,
which later named it “natural family planning,” eventually approved the rhythm
27. Constellation 132 (April 1959), 199. “La femme n’est féconde que certains jours
par mois … Lesquels?”
28. Laurence Pernoud, J’attends un enfant, 3rd ed. (Paris:  Editions Pierre Horay,
1958). The first edition appeared in 1956.
29. I discovered her email and corresponded briefly with her in 2008, shortly before
she died in 2009.
30. “Les mères orphelines de Laurence Pernoud,” Le Figaro, 3 January 2009,
available online at http://​w ww.lefigaro.fr/​sciences/​2 009/​01/​03/​01008-​
20090103ARTFIG00364-​les-​meres- ​orphelines- ​de-​l aurence-​p ernoud-​.php,
accessed July 11, 2012. Her biographical material does not date Pernoud’s years
in the United States. However, in our 2008 email correspondence Pernoud
dated her stay to the early 1950s.
31. Based on the BNF catalog information, Comment soigner et éduquer son
enfant, trans. Victor Chevalier (Verviers:  Gérard, 1960). A  coauthored book

•    Notes to pages 66–69

about feeding was published in French in 1956. Benjamin Spock and Miriam
Lowenberg, Comment nourrir son enfant, trans. Victor Chevalier and Jenny
Jacquemain (Vervier: Gérard, 1956). Spock had undergone psychoanalysis and
integrated Freudian approaches into his books.
32. Her publisher’s website also includes information on Pernoud, http://​editions-​
horay.pagesperso-​orange.fr/​permoud/​auteur.htm#up, accessed July 11, 2012.
I searched the Library of Congress for titles on pregnancy and childbirth pub-
lished in the United States before Benjamin Spock’s book appeared in 1946 and
turned up only two titles published between 1930 and 1945. In 1973, Gilbert
Schnyder interviewed Pernoud, asking in a dismissive tone why, since women
are mammals like cows, they were not capable of giving birth without needing
a book. Pernoud responded brilliantly, “Oui mais une femme, elle pense, elle a
une intelligence.” See the video at RTS Archives, http://​w ww.rts.ch/​archives/​
33. Marie-​Claire 26 (December 1956). By 1973, according to the interview with
Gilbert Schnyder, it had sold six hundred thousand copies. The comments fol-
lowing her obituary in Le Figaro make clear just how important her books were
for many women in France.
34. Pernoud, J’attends, 19, 33–​34.
35. This may sound foolish compared with today’s recommendation not to smoke
at all, but American women of that generation recall smoking and drinking
throughout their pregnancies.
36. Pernoud, J’attends, 79, 81.
37. Pernoud, J’attends, 230.
38. Pernoud, J’attends, 230–​231.
39. Monique Chajmoweiz and Cécile Veyrinaud pointed out that the alternative to
Lamaze in 1950s France was “accouchement avec douleur.” See the informative
article and excellent recent book by Paula Michaels, “A Chapter from Lamaze
History: Birth Narratives and Authoritative Knowledge in France, 1952–​1957,”
Journal of Perinatal Education 19 (Spring 2010): 38; Paula Michaels, Lamaze:
An International History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); My mother,
who had two babies in the United States in the 1950s, recalled having to insist
on staying awake during her third delivery (1961).
40. Rose Vincent, “Catherine est née ‘sans douleur’ grace à l’accouchement naturel,”
Elle 488 (18 April 1955), 28–​31; Vincent pointed out that back in 1930 an
English obstetrician, Grantley Dick-​Reed, had published Childbirth without
Fear. The method differs from Lamaze, but was similar enough that Lamaze and
Velley reached out to Dick-​Read, suggesting collaboration. Dick-​Read was not
interested. Clinics and hospitals in France began to adopt “accouchement sans
douleur” in the early 1950s.
41. Vincent, “Catherine est née ‘sans douleur,’ 28–​31.
42. Pernoud, J’attends, 135, 264.

Notes to pages 69–78      •      217

43. Pernoud, J’attends, 157, “le biberon de minuit, c’est vous.”

44. Pernoud, J’attends, 153–​167.
45. Pernoud, J’attends, 161–​162.
46. Pernoud, J’attends, 163.
47. Pernoud, J’attends, 164.
48. Dominique Veillon describes the evolution of parental authority toward greater
flexibility, attributing it to Spock’s writings and new French psychological views
of childhood. Veillon, Nous les enfants, 240.
49. Jean Monteaux, “J’attends un enfant: Journal d’un père,” Elle 322 (28 January
1952), 14–​17.
50. He also explained that fathers had the right to a three-​day “congé de naissance”
in the first two weeks after birth. In fact, the paternity leave first appeared in a
law passed by Vichy, July 31, 1942, which was readopted and modified after the
war by the provisional government. Law of July 31, 1942, modified July 20, 1944,
August 1945, and April and August 1946.
51. Néret, Guide du chef de famille, 68.
52. Néret, Guide du chef de famille, 226.
53. For an excellent discussion of ideas about fatherhood up through Vichy, see
Childers, Fathers, Families and the State.
54. Maurice Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel dans la psychologie masculine,” L’Ecole
des parents et des éducateurs 2 (December 1953): 3–​14.
55. Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel,” 3.
56. Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel,” 4.
57. Debesse cites a novel, Jules Renard’s Poil de carotte (Brussels: Aux éditions du
Nord, 1928), about a particularly cruel mother. It was cited fairly regularly in the
1950s, an indication of the fears about dominating mothers.
58. Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel,” 5, “l’androgyne paternal,” “élément féminoide.”
59. Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel,” 6, “papa-​gateaux.”
60. Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel,” 8.
61. Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel,” 11, 13.
62. Debesse, “Le sentiment paternel,” 14, “épanuoissement.”
63. Suzanne Herbinière-​Lébert, “L’Enfant à la maison et à l’école,” in Edmond
Lesné, Comment élever nos enfants de 3 à 14 ans: Petit guide des parents (Paris:
Editions sociales françaises, 1953), 48. The expression was “enfant-​roi.”
64. ADP 1418 W 33.
65. ADBDR 1158 W 285, “ne frappe pas maman!” “violent et brutal, bat sa femme
et ses enfants à la moindre contrariété.”
66. ADP 1418 W 33.
67. ADP 1418 W 191; ADP 1418 W 193.
68. ADP 1418 W 193. His wife, Mme C, loved her children but, since she was too
busy running her small business to care for them, had no patience and was ner-
vous and rigid, and the children, “très abandonné, enfants très libres,” lived

•    Notes to pages 78–81

“un peu en bohème.” The son showed up at school wearing torn clothing held
together with safety pins.
69. See Fishman, We Will Wait, 159, and Battle for Children, 82–​83, 104, 124.
70. Fishman, Battle for Children, 102, 124, 146.
71. M.  H. Revault d’Allones, “L’Amour maternel dans la psychologie féminine,”
Ecole des parents et des éducateurs 2 (1953–​1954):  2, 14. Dr.  Revault was the
daughter of Gabriel Revault d’Allones and granddaughter of Ernest Renan.
During World War II she lived in the United States and was in touch with
Resistance leader Jean Moulin. She was also linked to psychoanalytical circles
and affiliated with the Ecole des parents. In 1956, with A. Ferré, she published
Pour mieux élever nos enfants, les connaitre, les comprendre.
72. Revault, “L’Amour maternel,” 15–​20. While she made indirect references to it,
Revault did not mention contraception. She detailed the impact of pregnancy
and nursing on the mother’s “affective equilibrium.”
73. Revault, “L’Amour maternel,” 22; On the double burden of working mothers,
see also Yves Dompière,”Nous en demandons trop aux femmes de 20 à 45 ans,”
Constellation 131 (March 1959), 135–​140.
74. Revault, “L’Amour maternel,” 23. She pointed out that children often respond
better to adults who were not their own parents. It is not clear how many such
cooperative, parent-​run after-​school homework groups existed in the 1950s.
75. Revault, “L’Amour maternel,” 21, 22.
76. Revault, “L’Amour maternel,” 23, 26–​27. See also Dublineau, “La mère seule,”
Ecoles des parents 2, no. 10 (1954) 3–​114.
77. Lesné, Comment élever nos enfants, 51; Lesné insisted that even when tired,
mothers needed to try and maintain their good humor, express an interest in
their husband’s jobs, economize, and establish a budget within the family’s
means. Be patient with children rather than barking orders, be sure they follow
the instructions given, and above all, “don’t make daddy into the bogeyman”
(Ne faites pas de son papa un croquemitaine).
78. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 310 (5 November 1951), 52. “Chapitre
fessées. Nous voilà loin du coeur. Voulez-​vous suggèrer à votre maman de venir
bavarder un jour amicalement avec nous.”
79. “Confidences reparait après 7 ans!” Confidences, n.s., 1 (10 October 1947), 9;
“Le service social de Confidences reprend ses activités” reminded readers that
they were not just writers of a journal people could confide in but counselors and
advisors; they had created a social service for readers in difficulty to help them
find the information they needed and to put them in touch with existing social
services or other groups that could help. Marianne Monestier, “Le Courrier des
lectrices,” Marie-​Claire 27 (January 1957), 5. One reader asked, “Puis-​je con-
sulter utilement votre service psycho-​technique?” Monestier responded, “Notre
psychotechnicienne est à votre disposition.”
80. ADP 1418 W 188; W 190, ADBDR 1158 W 285.

Notes to pages 82–88      •      219

81. ADP 1418 W 203; see also ADP 1418 W 190.

82. ADP 1418 W 113; 188; 23; “manque de poigne.”
83. ADP 1418 W 113, W 188, W 23; W 23.
84. ADP 1418 W 113; ADBDR 1158 W 260; ADBDR 1144 W 32; W 40.
85. “Allo docteur? Danger pour les garcons: ‘la mère dominatrice,’ ” Marie-​Claire 29
(March 1957), 62.
86. ADP 1418 W 113.
87. ADBDR 1158 W 260; 1144 W 32, 1144 W 40.
88. Fishman, Battle for Children, 82–​126. In court documents nearly all mothers
worked for wages, as did nearly all of the minors.

Chapter 4

1. Hélène Brulé, Parents modernes pour enfants modernes (Paris: Hachette, 1956),

7, 12, 13, 15.
2. For an overview, see Hugh Cunningham, Children and Childhood in Western
Society since 1500 (New York: Longman, 1995).
3. Emilie Carles, A Life of Her Own, trans. Avriel H.  Goldberger
(New York: Penguin, 1991), 29.
4. Françoise Cribier, “Résumé-​analyse de l’entretien avec Madame Beffin, jeunes
provinciaux d’hier, vieux parisiens d’aujourd’hui. CNRS Equipe de géogra-
phie sociale et gerontology: Une enquête menée avec l’aide de la Mission du
patrimoine du Ministère des affaires culturelles,” LGH 808 GSG Bi 06, names
changed by research team. Mme Beffin was born in 1907 in the Ardennes.
5. See for example Lawrence Stone, The Family Sex and Marriage in England,
1500–​1800, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1983); Edward Shorter, The Making
of the Modern Family (New York: Basic Books, 1977).
6. Conklin, Fishman, and Zaretsky, France and Its Empire, 263. On HLMs see
265, 300.
7. Conklin, Fishman, and Zaretsky, France and Its Empire, 298.
8. Herbinière-​Lebert, “L’Enfant à la maison,” 47.
9. Hélène Brulé, Le role de la femme dans l’ éducation familiale et sociale
(Paris: Editions Foucher, 1950). Brulé also stresses psychology in Parents mod-
ernes pour enfants moderns (Paris: Hachette, 1956).
10. Néret, Guide du chef de famille, 155–​160.
11. Pernoud, J’Attends un enfant, 153–​167; see also Herbinière-​Lebert, “L’Enfant à la
maison,” 47, and Brulé, Le rôle de la femme, 73.
12. Rose Vincent, “Vos enfants et vous:  Donnez-​leur de bonnes habitudes—​Des
repas sans problèmes,” Elle 486 (4 April 1955), 23. Having grown up engaged
in endless mealtime struggles with my mother in the early 1960s, I doubt many
French families adopted Vincent’s advice in the mid-​1950s.
13. Brulé, Le rôle de la femme, 84–​85.

•    Notes to pages 89–94

14. Lesné, Comment élever nos enfants, 61.

15. Herbinière-​Lebert, “L’Enfant à la maison,” 48.
16. Néret, Guide, 225.
17. Lesné, Comment élever nos enfants, 89. Centres de neuro-​pédiatrie were not
likely to use Freudian psychoanalysis.
18. I have not found any evidence for these services aside from the recommendations
in the magazines. Marianne Monestier, “Le courrier des lectrices,” Marie-​Claire
27 (January 1957), 5.
19. Since children under the age of thirteen were not subject to the juvenile jus-
tice system, the case files do not include childrearing issues relating to young
children except insofar as investigations delved back into the teenagers’
younger years.
20. “Une maman angoissée,” “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 185 (25 May
1951), 2.
21. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 310 (5 November 1951), 52. Ségal
invited him to meet with her. See also Robin, “L’Age difficile de nos filletes,”
Constellation 132 (April 1959), 75–​77.
22. Fishman, Battle for Children, 67–​69, 124–​126.
23. Fishman, Battle for Children, 116–​117.
24. ADP 1418 W 193; W 40, W 33, W 203, W 41, W 33, W 184.
25. ADD 1385 W 47; W 23.
26. ADP 1418 W 195, W 28, W 113, W 33, “On y remarque cependant un mag-
nifique poste de télévision.” W 188.
27. ADP 1418 W 188, “espèce de petit pouilleux.”
28. ADP 1418 W 188, 190, “les films de bagarre,” 40, 203; K, accused of theft,
involved in a biking accident, went to the movies twice a week, watched detec-
tive films, read detective series, and tinkered. ADP 1418 W 33; R reported loving
the movies and long outings on the metro or bus and ended up running away
multiple times; ADP 1418 W 177; H, 17, liked to wander around town without
any particular goal, hung out a local cafés and played “football de table,” ADP
1418 W 33.
29. “Dès que nous le voyons sur une affiche ou à l’écran, nous nous roulons par
terre avec des cris affreux. Cela ne peut durer. Pourriez-​vous nous indiquer
une Brandothérapie?” “Si vous tenez trois semaines, inutile de m’écrire. Je
l’apprendrai par les journaux.” Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 486 (4
April 1955), 5.
30. ADP 1418 W 191, 28, 23, 203.
31. ADP 1418 W 191. C, who ran away from home at age seventeen, also reported
going to dances. ADP 1418 W 28.
32. The owner accused the boys of having broken the coin machine so that they
could steal the money. ADP 1418 W 203. Another report mentions a dance at
the “Paris-​Swing.” ADP 1418 W 40.

Notes to pages 94–102      •      221

33. “Aussi les dancings,” ADBDR 1144 W 50, 40, “fréquente assez assidument
les cinemas et les bals.” One sixteen-​year-​old girl “goes pretty faithfully to the
movies and dances.” ADBDR 1158 W 265. In Valance, G, a seventeen-​year-​old
plumber’s apprentice, listed as his distractions going out with his friends, movies,
and dances. ADD 1385 W 47; ADN 1481 W 409.
34. ADD 1385 W 47.
35. ADD 1385 W 47.
36. “Qu’en dites vous, André Luguet?” Confidences 185 (25 May 1951), 19.
37. Herzog, “Reception of the Kinsey Reports,” uses the term “petting” and argues
that Europeans obsessed over petting as an American practice at the root of all
other American sexual ills, 41. However, at the same time this new French activ-
ity they called le flirt also attracted attention.
38. ADP 1418 W 113.
39. ADP 1418 W 114.
40. AD 1418 W 203; also from Marseilles area, ADBDR 1133 W 61, 1954, use of
the term “le flirt” about a teenaged boy.
41. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 310 (5 November 1951), 52. “J’ai eu 4
42. “Parlons en amies: Un jeune homme m’a dit.” Marie-​Claire (19 April 1940), 111.
“Elle était fort jolie, mais plus encore coquette, une parfaite adepte des jeunes
stars américains.” “Je prenais le thé avec une petite peste … coquette, menteuse,
provocante, méchante. … Ce n’est jamais ces jeunes-​fi lles-​là que nous songeons
à épouser.”
43. “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 185 (25 May 1951), 2.
44. “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 185 (25 May 1951), 2.
45. ADP 1418 W 33; ADP 1418 W 28.
46. Ivan Hornbostal and Jacques Borge-​Willy Rizzo, “Le secret d’une généra-
tion: Frénesie pour Bécaud,” Marie-​Claire 27 (February 1957), 24–​25.
47. ADN 1481 W 407, 1959.
48. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 488 (18 April 1955), 5 (“Donc,
Marinette, c’est non!”).
49. Marcelle Auclair, “Pourquoi les femmes sont-​elles moins libres que les hommes?”
Marie-​Claire 27 (January 1957), 66.
50. Auclair, “Pourquoi,” 66.
51. Auclair, “Pourquoi,” 66.
52. Auclair, “Pourquoi,” boxed headline: “Egalité de principe, inégalité de fait,” 69.
Auclair did not respond directly to this letter. Her column invited readers to
respond, but no readers’ responses appeared in subsequent issues.
53. Auclair, “Pourquoi,” 69.
54. Auclair, “Pourquoi,” Marie-​Claire 27 (January 1957), 69.
55. Guy Robin, “L’Age difficile de nos fillettes,” Constellation 132 (April 1959), 75.
56. Guy Robin, “L’Age difficile de nos fillettes,” 75.

•    Notes to pages 103–106

57. Françoise Sagan, Bonjour tristesse (Paris:  René Julliard, 1954); Aurélie Adler,
“Bonjour tristesse:  Fête ou défait du monde moderne?” Revue critique de fixx-
ion française contemporaine 5 (2012): 243–​251, available online at, http://​w ww.
critical-​review-​of-​contemporary-​french-​fi xxion.org/​rcffc/​article/​view/​f x05.19/​
667, accessed June 26, 2014.
58. First, the daughter’s desire to target an adult pressing her to accomplish goals
she herself pretends to reject, defining that adult as the enemy to be expelled,
represents a common adolescent emotional drama. Second, in the story Cécile
successfully manipulates every other character to carry out her exact wishes, an
exaggeration of the teen self and its centrality to everyone else.
59. Bonjour tristesse sold nearly one million copies in its first year according to Jobs,
Riding the New Wave. See also Richard Williams’s obituary, “Françoise Sagan,
‘She did what she wanted,’ ” Guardian, 28 February 2014 available online at
http://​w ww.theguardian.com/​books/​2 014/​feb/​2 8/​f rancois-​sagan-​bonjour-​
tristesse, accessed July 9, 2014.
60. Weiner, Enfants Terribles, ­chapter  2, 67–​106; see also Ross, Fast Cars, Clean
Bodies, 54–​57.
61. The film was restricted for anyone under age eighteen in Nice and completely
banned in the Vaud. Jobs, Riding the New Wave, 179.
62. Jobs, Riding the New Wave, 177–​179.
63. Bardot plays a young woman as a creature of pure pleasure, openly sexual,
completely lacking in modesty or self-​restraint. On the car accidents that close
Bonjour tristesse and Les tricheurs, see Kristen Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies.
64. Both stories involved teens from upper-​class backgrounds, families with sum-
mer villas on the Mediterranean, who could afford to send their children to elite
secondary and post-​secondary schools.
65. Jobs, Riding the New Wave, 179.
66. In 1970, the term “parental” officially replaced paternal. See Sylvia Shafer,
Children in Moral Danger and the Problem of Government in Third Republic
France (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1997); Pamela Cox and
Heather Shore, eds., Becoming Delinquent: British and European Youth 1650–​
1950 (London: Ashgate, 2002).
67. Check out also Claude Millet’s film La petit voleuse, female companion film to
Truffaut’s The 400 Blows directed by one of his collaborators. In his life, Truffaut
experienced much greater tensions with his mother than with his stepfather,
whose last name he took. Furthermore, Truffaut landed in detention after
deserting from the army but never spent time in a juvenile observation center.
In other words, Truffaut’s film explores, from the child’s perspective, Doinel’s
struggles with adults and their institutions, rather than providing an accurate
portrayal of the era’s observation centers, which probably were neither as brutal
as Truffaut portrayed them nor as benign as reformers had hoped. See François
Truffaut, Truffaut par Truffaut (Paris: Editions du chêne, 1985), a posthumous

Notes to pages 106–114      •      223

compilation of writings by Truffaut about his life and his films, including a dis-
cussion of his childhood.
68. Fishman, Battle for Children, 87.
69. In the Paris region, of the 44 cases from 1950 to 1959, 17 involved charges of
theft (39 percent), 17 of running away, and 7 were paternal correction (24 total,
or over 50 percent, were “status offenses.” In the Bouches du Rhône region, of
the 28 cases in the 1950s, only 9 were theft (32 percent), 12 vagabondage, and 11
paternal correction. ADP 1418 W files, ADBDR 1144 W files (26, 32, 36, 40,
50, 61, 86, 98, 110), and 1158 W files (258, 260, 265, 285).
70. ADP 1418 W 114, from 1955; a similar case involved a boy who hooked up with
a lower-​social-​status girl, ran away from home, was placed at an observation cen-
ter, and eventually released, ADP 1418 W 40.
71. ADD 1385 W 47.
72. ADP 1418 W 33.
73. ADP 1418 W 191.
74. ADP 1418 W 113.
75. ADN 1481 W 409. “Je fais comme tout le monde.”
76. ADP 1418 W 40, W was sent to Saint-​Maurice, a relatively harsh response.
Wartime cases did not have reports that attempted to explain sexual misconduct
with reference to psychological issues like insecurity or an unfulfilled need for
love and affection.
77. ADP 1418 W 190.
78. ADP 1418 W 113, “doux” “Il prit une allure effeminée, se fait teindre les cheveux,
faire un indéfrisable, et mettait de la crème sur le visage,” “très ironique.”
79. ADN 1481 W 407, “aucun signe d’invertissement en ce qui concerne
80. For more on the history of homosexuality and the development of gay subcul-
tures in France see Jeffrey Merrick and Michael Sibalis, eds., Homosexuality in
French History and Culture (Philadelphia: Haworth, 2001).
81. ADP 1418 W 203, “un blue-​jean ridiculement serré. Un coupe de cheveuex
assez curieuse ne pouvait le faire passer inaperçu,” “sourire ironique” “visage peu
mobile, aux lèvres sensuelles et molles, aux cheveux courts collés sur le côté.”
“habillé et coiffé à la mode St. Germain-​des-​Près.”
82. ADP 1418 W 40. The examining doctor reported that M had “une ambivalence

Chapter 5

1. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 311 (12 November 1951), 3.

2. “Pages pratiques:  Si vous voulez être heureux en 1960,” Confidences 635 (3
January 1960), 35–​36. But wait, there’s more! Wives should avoid serious discus-
sions about their mental state, or even the price of butter, right when husbands

•    Notes to pages 114–120

were tuning the radio to listen to a soccer match. Wait for the game to end, and
meanwhile prepare his bathrobe, slippers, and pipe. Husbands should under-
stand that their wives sometimes needed to confide in someone, and they should
listen kindly even if they found the topic uninteresting, since their wives did the
same for them. Wives should not serve the same dish three times, even if their
husband said he loved it; husbands shouldn’t complain if out of zèle mal dirigée
their wives served the same dish repeatedly.
3. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 1013 (20 May 1965), 80.
4. See Jobs, Riding the New Wave; Weiner, Enfants Terribles.
5. The lack of Algerian families may be the result of my limited sample, but also
suggests that fewer Algerian families remained in Paris. ADP 1418 W 370, 560,
568, 576, 584, 596, 609.
6. There were small Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities in France, but
the vast number of people who identified as Catholic had given the church
great power to shape how ordinary people thought about morality. See Maurice
Larkin, France since the Popular Front:  Government and People, 1936–​1996,
2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 298; Arnaud Régnier-​Loilier
and France Prioux, “Does Religious Practice Influence Family Behaviors?”
Population and Societies 447 (July–​August 2008): 1–​2.
7. “Connais-​toi toi-​même:  Etes-​vous bonne psychologue?” Confidences 637 (17
January 1960), 8; according to the article, many people considered themselves
“très psychologues.”
8. René Monge, Notre rôle de parents: L’Enfant de 2 à 7 ans (Paris: Editions Néret,
1962), 18–​19.
9. Comment élever nos enfants de six à seize ans:  Guide pratique pour les parents
(Paris: Editions Néret, 1961). 54.
10. “Un jeu test pour les 7 à 14 ans:  Découvrez la personalité de votre enfant,”
Constellation 188 (December 1963), 244–​247, 235–​242.
11. Andrée Cazaubon, “La travailleuse 62: À l’ère de l’électronique,” Antoinette 77
(March 1962), 12.
12. Marcelle Auclair, “Chez Marcelle Auclair: Ses petits secrets de bonheur quotid-
ian,” Marie-​Claire 127 (May 1965), 77.
13. ADBDR 1944 W 151; ADBDR 1144 W 237; see also ADP 1418 W 588; ADN
1481 W 403; ADBDR 1481 W 415; ADN 1481 W 415.
14. Fishman, Battle for Children, 95–​101.
15. ADP 1418 W 609 (tests mentioned included the Terman IQ, EMMP, TPG,
and TESO).
16. ADP 1418 W 370; a sixteen-​year-​old girl given a Rorschach test was described as
lacking true affectivity, unstable, puerile, lacking self-​control, ADP 1418 W 563.
17. Until recently, the French system favored psychoanalytical treatment of autistic chil-
dren over applied behavior analysis (ABA), which has helped many people with autism
develop vital life skills. See “French Autistic Kids Still Mostly Get Psychotherapy,”

Notes to pages 120–123      •      225

Associated Press, London, 18 May 2012, available online at http://​usatoday30.usato-

accessed July 7, 2016. Since 2006, a parent’s group, Autisme France, has fought to “sor-
tir l’autisme de l’institution psychiatrique.” www.autisme-​france.fr. For an overview
of the French “querelle de l’autisme,” see Jacques Hochmann, Histoire de l’autisme: De
l’enfant sauvage aux troubles envahissants du développement (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2009).
Thanks to Jonathyne Briggs for his insights.
18. See Rudolph, At Home in Postwar France, for an excellent analysis of the design
of new housing, which was thought to be able to reduce class conflict, improve
family life, build national identity, and make people happy. Such broad goals
generated conflicts between various groups over interior design.
19. Anne Laferrère and David Le Blanc, “Housing Policy: Low-​Income Households
in France,” in A Companion to Urban Economics, ed. Richard J.  Arnott and
Daniel P.  McMillen (London:  Blackwell, 2006), 159–​178; Elizabeth Langley,
“The Changing Visage of French Housing Policy and Finance:  A  Half-​
Century of Comprehensive, Complex and Compelling Home Building,”
student paper, available online at http://​w ww.housingfinance.org/​uploads/​
20. “Nos lectrices écrivent,” Confidences 773 (26 August 1962), 43. It was called the
“Service de prêt à l’équippement ménager de premier nécessité.”
21. Cetelem stands for Crédit à l’équipement électroménager. Pulju, Women
and Mass Consumer Society, 73; see also Sabine Effosse, Le Crédit à con-
summation en France, 1947–​1965:  De la stigmatization à la réglementation
(Paris: IGPDE, 2014).
22. ADBDR 1944 W 152.
23. ADBDR 1944 W 151.
24. ADP 1418 W 555.
25. ADP 1418 W 568.
26. ADP 1418 W 552; see also 1418 W 560, 563, and 603.
27. ADN 1481 W 403, 408, 412.
28. ADBDR 1144 W 167.
29. On the consumer credit debates, see Pulju, Women and Mass Consumer Society,
73–​94, and Effose, Le crédit à consummation.
30. ADP 1418 W 596.
31. ADP 1418 W 603.
32. ADP 1418 W 576, see also W 555, family owed 4,500 francs, 4.5 times the
father’s salary; G family with lots of debts and mortgage purchased TV to keep
their son at home and away from local bars and cafés, ADN 1481 W 403, see also
404. 412. 415. 417.
33. The law of August 22, 1946, together with the decree of December 10, 1946,
established “la tutelle aux allocations familiales,” which could be invoked
when children who gave the family the right to those allowances were raised in

•    Notes to pages 123–129

“manifestly defective conditions of food, lodging, and hygiene or when those

allowances were not being spent in the interest of the children.” “La tutelle aux
allocations familiales,” Population 6, no. 2 (1951): 329–​330.
34. ADP 1418 W 596.
35. ADP 1418 W 599.
36. ADP 1418 W 568.
37. “Je n’entretiens pas de maitresse, alors?”ADP 1418 W 603.
38. See Laura Lee Downs, Childhood in the Promised Land:  Working-​
Class Movements and the Colonies de Vacances in France, 1880–​1960 (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 2002).
39. “Spécial vacances, un privilège que nous voulons faire droit,” Notre jeunesse 1
(April 1964), 30–​32.
40. “Le pensé-​précis,” Elle 1013 (20 May 1965), 94.
41. ADP 1418 W 568; see also ADP W 576, scholarship from Renault, employer,
sent children to camp.
42. ADP 1418 W 587; see also 1418 W 603, family unable to send kids owing to cost
of moving, and W 580, family refused to send kids to a colony.
43. ADP 1418 W 609.
44. ADP 1418 W 609.
45. Michèle Manceaux, “En 1950 au lavoir de Salers (Cantal) Jacqueline Bouvier fait
sa lessive, en 1961 à la Maison Blanche, elle est la femme du Président Kennedy,”
Marie-​Claire 77 (March 1961), 44–​49.
46. Anita Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles parlent à coeur,” Elle 794 (10 March
1961), 142.
47. Djanane Chappat, quoted in “Les arts ménagers démenagent,” Elle 792 (24
February 1961), 48.
48. Rudolph, At Home in Postwar France, agrees that scholars should not discount
the reduced physical burden of household labor.
49. “La femme acheteuse et la vie économique,” Fiches documentaries d’action sociale
et civique 6 (April-​June 1961): 1–​6.
50. Institut pédagogique national, L’Enseignement ménager français face au monde en
évolution, Exposition présentée par la Section française de la Fédération internatio-
nale d'enseignement ménager et l'Institut pédagogique national (Paris: Ministère
de l’Education nationale, 1963): 10–​22.
51. L’Enseignement ménager français, 10–​22.
52. Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies, adds to the argument that the ideal of the
sparkling-​clean, modern kitchens covered the “dirt” of decolonization wars
taking place at the same time, 6–​9, 92–​94, 108–​122; see Roland Barthes,
Mythologies (Paris: Seuil, 1957).
53. Marcel Bonnefoy, “La française … une déception,” Constellation 153 (January
1961), 30.

Notes to pages 130–135      •      227

54. Bonnefoy, “La française,” 31; Rudolph’s book argues that comfort, meaning a
basic level of amenities and appliances in the home, had become something fami-
lies felt they had a right to attain. Rudolph, At Home in Postwar France, 11, 17–​51.
55. Jean Duché, “Sachez vivre,” Elle 792 (24 February 1961), 11. Duché insisted he
was not an enemy of worldly goods, just of seeking them whatever the personal
costs. He denied being retrograde but asserted that accumulating mechanical
devices per se was not truly “modern.” France was in the infantile phase (note
the Freudian language) in the world of new technology. Once done marveling,
the French would eventually have to attack the real problem of leisure, learning
to how to live.
56. Pascal Rozat, “Television History:  The French Exception,” INA Global, 21
January 2011, http://​w ww.inaglobal.fr/​en/​television/​article/​television-​history-​
french-​exception, accessed June 6, 2012. The third station arrived in 1972.
According to Rozat, in 1950 there were only 3,794 television sets in France, a
figure that jumped to one million by 1958.
57. “Elle et lui: La télévision, ce fléau,” Confidences 761 (3 June 1962), 37; she refers
to the TV as “cet engin.”
58. “Elle et lui: La télévision, ce fléau,” Confidences 761 (3 June 1962), 37. Given that
the second station only began broadcasting in 1964, RM had two years.

Chapter 6

1. Guillaume Hanateau, “Mais qu’est-​ce qui plait donc aux jeunes filles?” Marie-​
Claire 76 (February 1961), 4.
2. The policies rewarded couples who had children quickly after marrying and
created incentives for mothers of young children to leave the labor force. For
more on family policies, see Pedersen, Family, Dependence and the Origins of the
Welfare State; Pollard, Reign of Virtue; Cole, Power of Large Numbers; Muel-​
Dreyfus, Vichy and the Eternal Feminine; and Siân Reynolds, France between the
Wars: Gender and Politics (London: Routledge, 1996).
3. For a discussion of rising birth rates and other significant postwar population
changes, see Jean-​Pierre Rioux, The Fourth Republic, 1944–​1958, trans. Godfrey
Rogers (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), ­chapter 17, 350–​382.
4. Pierre Rossano, “Plan Langevin-​Wallon et systéme éducatif du secondaire en
1991,” Communication et langages 90, no. 1 (1991): 35, available online at http://​
www.persee.fr/​web/​revues/​home/​prescript/​a rticle/​colan_​0336-​1500_​1991_​
num_​90_​1_​2333, accessed July 13, 2012.
5. Rossano, “Plan Langevin-​Wallon,” 34–​41. Rossano includes excellent back-
ground on the Langevin-​Wallon plan, its inspiration in Jean Zay’s attempted
Popular Front educational reforms, and the implementation of the less ambi-
tious, less egalitarian 1959 reforms. He argues that over time the system created

•    Notes to pages 135–139

by the 1959 ordinance came to resemble the Langevin-​Wallon plan. Reforms

undertaken in 1969 and 1975 moved in the same direction. Lionel Jospin’s
socialist government’s Loi d’orientation sur l’éducation of 1989 again attempted
to democratize the system. In 2015 France’s socialist education minister Najat
Vallaud Belkacem introduced another series of reforms to French collèges.
Intended to level the playing field for all students, the proposal, met by a wave of
protests and teachers’ strikes, was implemented in the fall of 2015. See Manuel
Valls, “Pourquoi la réforme du college doit se faire,” Libération (17 May 2015),
accessed online at http://​w ww.liberation.fr/​france/​2015/​05/​17/​pourquoi-​la-​
reforme-​du-​college-​doit-​se-​faire_​1311120, accessed July 24, 2016.
6. “La jeunesse communist et les problèmes d’enseignement,” Notre jeunesse 2
(June 1964), n.p. See also André Martignole et  al., “A votre service,” Parents
d’aujourd’ hui 1 (1965–​1966): 2. Martignole argued for the democratization of
public education.
7. Nos enfants et nous, (Sannois: Conseil local de Sannois de la Fédération des con-
seils de parents d’élèves des écoles publiques, 1965), n.p. (eight-​page pamphlet).
8. See Isabelle Frechon, “Insertion sociale et familiale de jeunes femmes anci-
ennement placées en foyer socio-​éducatif ” (PhD diss., University of Paris X-​
Nanterre, 2003), 30–​55.
9. ADP 1418 W 587. Association d’action éducative de la Seine.
10. ADP 1418 W 603.
11. ADP 1418 W 558, 568 605, 609.
12. For example, the Foyer d’aide social à l’enfance, Association “la gite,” or “Au ser-
vices des jeunes travailleurs” in Roubaix, from ADN, 1481 W 403, 408.
13. Madeleine Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles (Paris:  Grasset, 1960):  160. See
also Jean Barses, “Les 10 éniqmes de la jeune fille 1960,” Constellation 149
(September 1960), 131.
14. Anita Pereire, “Puis-​je faire le premier pas?” Elle 783 (23 December 1960), 47.
15. John W.  Roberts, From Hucklebuck to Hip-​Hop:  Social Dance in the African-​
American Community in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Odunde, 1995).
16. Jonathyne Briggs, Sounds French:  Globalization, Cultural Communities, &
Pop Music, 1958-​1980 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); See also his
articles, “Sex and the Girl’s Singles:  French Pop Music and the Long Sexual
Revolution in the 1960s,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 21, no. 3 (September
2012): 523–​547; Briggs, “Nazi Rock: Gainsbourg and the Rebuilding of France,”
Jewish Quarterly 224 (Winter 2012): 16–​19.
17. Notre jeunesse 6 (May-​June 1965), 2.
18. See Jobs, Riding the New Wave; Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies; Weiner, Enfants
Terribles. The Madison, a line dance started in Columbus, Ohio, appeared on
The Buddy Deane Show in 1960, which launched its global popularity. The John
Waters’ film Hairspray features the Madison.
19. ADP 1418 W 600.

Notes to pages 139–146      •      229

20. ADP 1418 W 558. “Il rentre à Paris et adopte le mode de vie des ‘beatniks.’ ”
21. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 34.
22. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 151–​152.
23. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 37.
24. These were hardly scientific polls, and this is just one example of a leading ques-
tion designed to elicit responses that might not emerge with a different wording.
However, the idea that young people are frustrated by elders who say things like
“It’s for your own good” or “When I was your age” seems to me nearly timeless,
at least from the mid-​t wentieth-​century on.
25. Anita Pereire, “Que pensez-​ vous de vos ainés?” Elle 932 (1 November
1963), 90–​95.
26. “Dialogue direct parents-​jeunes,” Constellation 190 (February 1964), 228–​229.
27. Jean Duché, “La rose et le rouge,” Elle 972 (7 August 1964), 2.
28. ADP 1418 W 603. “Je suis peut-​être une délinquante comme tout le monde nous
29. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 29.
30. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 31.
31. Jean Barses, “Les 10 éniqmes de la jeune fille 1960,” Constellation 149 (September
1960), 130.
32. “Promotion de la femme? Elements de réponses pour 1960,” Union féminine
civique et sociale, Fiches documentaires d’action social et civique 1 (January–​
February 1960), 3, The UFCS, given its perspective, also highlighted a third pole
for women; beyond waged work or housework, women played a critical role in civic
and social action. The UFCS urged more women to get involved in politics. It also
decried inequities of women’s waged work, with women segregated into low-​wage
professions and, in all professions, at the low end of the job hierarchy.
33. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 49, 51, 52.
34. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 62. Asked if a woman should focus primarily
on family, self-​actualization, or a career, 27 voted for family, 21 for career, 6 for
self-​actualization, and 28 for family and career, 143.
35. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 143, “se réaliser elle-​même.” Ségal, “Courrier
du coeur,” Elle special issue (5 April 1963), 8.
36. “Chez Marcelle Auclair:  Ses petits secrets de bonheur quotidian,” Marie-​Claire
(February 1965), 72–​77; by then her daughter, Françoise Prévost, had become a film
star, appearing in New Wave films. Auclair and Prévost, Mémoires à deux voix.
37. “Chez Marcelle Auclair,” 77. That son, Michel, at sixteen, was also serving as a
stretcher-​bearer in the Vercors maquis when his father was killed.
38. Djénane Chappat, “Simplifiez votre travail ménager,” Elle 1013 (20 May
1965), 158.
39. Marcelle Auclair, “Le courrier des lectrices de Marie-​Claire,” Marie-​Claire 76
(February 1961), 17..
40. “Nous deux flash,” Nous deux 858 (1963), 6.

•    Notes to pages 147–157

41. Andrée Cazaubon, “La femme, le travail et l’amour: Une enquête,” Antoinette 1

(March 1964), 11–​20, the term she used was “double tâche,” 12
42. Jean Duché, “Deux manières d’être femme,” Elle 982 (15 October 1964), 3.
43. Régine Etienne, “Celles qui gagnent plus que leur maris,” Constellation 192(April
1964), 221.
44. Jean Duché, “L’Indépendance féminine a encore des restrictions,” Elle 932 (1
November 1963): 3. “Pin-​up tapageuse” is the term she used.
45. Jean Duché, “Cherchez la femme!” Elle 938 (13 December 1963), 3.
46. Jean Duché, “Cherchez la femme!,” 3.  “Vous êtes, mes soeurs, au Nouveau
Monde à découvrir. Par vous memes!”
47. Susan Weiner’s book focuses on this topic, exploring portrayals of jeunes filles in the
mass media: films, novels, and the popular press. Weiner, Enfants Terribles, 6.
48. Judy Coffin, “Opinion and Desire:  Polling Women in Postwar France,”
in The Voice of the Citizen Consumer:  A  History of Market Research,
Consumer Movements, and the Political Public Sphere, ed. Kerstin Bruckweh
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 51–​73.
49. Thanks to Rachel Chrastil for bringing out this point in our discussions.
50. Jean Barses, “Les 10 énigmes de la jeune fille 1960,” 131. Barses’ use of the term
“cheater” evoked Marcel Carné’s 1958 film Les tricheurs.
51. Barses, “Les 10 éniqmes,” 131, “employé-​de-​la-​gare-​qui-​refuse-​de-​rendre-​de-​la-​
52. Barses, “Les 10 éniqmes,” 131.
53. Barses, “Les 10 éniqmes, 133–​134. Barses argued that adolescence really ended
when girls began to fix their attention on one boy and to think about future
plans, usually at about age seventeen, 133.
54. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 17–​19.
55. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 10, 12.
56. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 197, 201; Sagan, Bonjour tristesse.
57. Pereire, “20,000 jeune filles,” 133.
58. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 137.
59. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 137, 142.
60. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 138.
61. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 143.
62. Marie-​Madeleine, “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 690 (22 January 1961), 43.
63. “Elle et lui: Réfractaire au mariage,” Confidences 852 (1 March 1964), 12.
64. “Elle et lui: Refractaire au mariage,” 12.
65. “Elle et lui: Réfractaire au mariage,” 12.
66. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 792 (24 February 1961), 17. Ségal used
the expression “Chacun a son dada.”
67. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 837 (5 January 1962), 14.

Notes to pages 157–164      •      231

68. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 837 (5 January 1962), 14; “Honneur
aux demoiselles.” This plays on the expression “honneur aux dames,” which is the
equivalent of the English “Ladies first.”
69. Weiner, Enfants Terribles, in ­ chapter  1 examines the shift from Elle to
Mademoiselle, 21–​66.
70. Barses, “Les 10 éniqmes,” 129–​134.
71. “Est-​ce bien vrai que cette sage année 61 rappelle les folles années 25?” Elle 792
(24 February 1961), 70–​71.
72. Valerie Steele, Fashion and Eroticism:  Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the
Victorian Era through the Jazz Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985);
see also any number of her other works, including The Corset: A Cultural History
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003).
73. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 137.
74. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 836 (29 December 1961), 8. Ségal used
the term “laiderons.”
75. Ségal, “Courier du coeur,” Elle 973 (14 August 1964), 4. “Les blanches plantu-
reuses ont le lard trop sensible.”

Chapter 7

1. Pereire, “Puis-​je faire le premier pas?,” 46–​47, “Puis-​je monter seule dans sa
chamber? A: Non. Une jeune fille ne va pas dans la chamber d’un garçon.” The
article includes more questions and answers about topics like public displays of
affection, kissing and dancing.
2. “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 709
(1961), 36.
3. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 935 (22 November 1963), 7.
4. “Nos lectrices écrivent,” Confidences 853 (8 March 1964), 43.
6. ADBDR 1481 W 402. The young man, of Algerian ancestry, was reported as
having leisure activities that were “healthy; he does not spend time at balls or
cafés, “on ne lui connait pas de flirt”; ADN 1481 W reports from the Nord filled
in a form that had the category “Loisirs,” which then listed the following subcat-
egories: Distractions familiales; Bals et flirts—​sorties tardives; Cafés: avec con-
sommation (beaucoup, pas beaucoup)—​sans consommation … ; Distractions
de plein-​air; Sports; Cinéma; Lecture; Etudes.
7. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 139.
8. Marcelle Auclair, “Ce que m’ont avoué les jeunes:  Une pièce à la télévision,”
Marie-​Claire 115 (May 1964), 94.
9. Ségal explained to another young man who wrote complaining that his friend
constantly bragged “le jour où je flirtais avec une telle” (one day when I was mak-
ing out with so-​and-​so) that if his buddy were truly sure of himself, he would

•    Notes to pages 164–170

have no need to brag to secure his reputation as a Don Juan. Marcelle Ségal,
“Courier du coeur,” Elle 792 (24 February 1961), 17. On advice about flirting,
see also Marie-​Madeleine, “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 698 (19 March
1961), 43; “Nos lecteurs écrivent,” Confidences 708 (28 May 1961), 43.
10. Jean Duché, “La rose et le rouge,” Elle 972 (7 August 1964), 2.
11. “Nos lectrices écrivent,” Confidences 710 (11 June 1961), 43.
12. Anita Pereire, “Oui, je flirt … c’est mal?” Elle 857 (25 May 1962), 116–​117.
“Machine facile! Tout ce que tu veux, mon vieux.”
13. Chapsal, Verités sur les jeunes filles, 161.
14. Marcel Bonnefoy, “La française … une déception,” Constellation 153 (January
1961), 31.
15. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 139.
16. Marcelle Auclair, “Ce que m’ont avoué,” 98. “Toutefois, ne pas se laisser obnu-
biler par la question de virginité.”
17. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 972 (7 August 1964), 4.  The writer
used the term “pucelle éffarouché”; Ségal advocating being a “pucelle en furie.”
18. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 972 (7 August 1964), 4.
19. P. Chambre, “Ce que les jeunes gens pensent des jeunes filles,” Revue de l’ école
nouvelle française 75–​76 (January-​February 1960): 44, 45.
20. Chambre, “Ce que les jeunes gens pensent,” 45. Most of the responses came from a
1959 survey that asked young men what they thought of the film Les tricheurs. As
usual, most of the respondents were secondary school students (lycéens) meaning
young upper-​middle-​or upper-​class men. Chambre found that many of these teen-
aged males expressed disdain for their female counterparts, who lacked character
and were “d’un niveau intellectual et sportif plus bas que les garcons.” So much for
the liberation of women! Boys considered supporting the notion of sexual equal-
ity primarily as “un excellent moyen d’asservissement” (12). They insisted that girls
only wanted one thing, to get a boy to marry them. A few boys seemed to believe
in true love, but Chambre found that boys were more likely than girls to get their
ideas about love, sex, and relationships, including ideas about brutality, cynicism,
duplicity, even bestiality, from the movies (19). Very few young men of seventeen
or eighteen were focused on marriage. However, asked what they wanted in a wife,
the totally unrealistic expectations included: “une campagne de tous les instants,
assez instruite mais pas savante, bonne ménagère, aimante, gaie, pour me recon-
forter après une journée de travail active, aimant les sports et aussi les enfants, donc
désirant en avoir.”
21. Pereire, “Puis-​je faire le premier pas?,” 47.
22. “Nos lectrices écrivent,” Confidences 702 (16 April 1961), 43.
23. “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 772 (22 March
1962), 52.
24. “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 843 (2 March
1963), 54.

Notes to pages 170–178      •      233

25. “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 970
(1965), 66.
26. “Nos lectrices écrivent,” Confidences 702 (16 April 1961), 43.
27. Dr. Masse, “Votre fille doit être avertie,” Constellation 193 (May 1964), 134–​137.
28. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 42.
29. Masse, “Votre fille,” 137.
30. L’Orientation nuptiale et vous: Edition féminine (Paris: Institut d’études des pro-
blèmes familiaux, L’Institut d’orientation nuptiale, 1960).
31. L’Orientation nuptiale et vous: Edition féminine.
32. Marie-​Madeleine, “Confidentiellement,” Confidences 698 (19 March 1961),43.
33. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur.” Elle 972 (7 August 1964), 4.
34. “Elle et lui,” Confidences 846 (19 January 1964), 19.
35. “Elle et lui,” Confidences 846 (19 January 1964), 19.
36. “Elle et lui,” Confidences 846 (19 January 1964), 19.
37. For an excellent study of these issues, see Rachel Fuchs, Contested
Paternity: Constructing Families in Modern France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2009).
38. Lucien Isselé, La mère célibatiare et l’enfant né hors mariage, Conseiller juridique
pour tous 1 (Paris: Editions sociales Mercures, 1964), n.p. Isselé also informed
unwed mothers of the financial assistance available for their child, on labor law
that required providing an expectant mother eight weeks of pre and post-​natal
leave. Volume 2 in this series provides advice on divorce.
39. Pearl Buck, “L’Amour peut-​il encore apporter le bonheur?” Marie-​Claire 127
(May 1965), 64–​65. Buck did not take an entirely positive view, calling the num-
ber of children abandoned by their mothers and the number of abortions a tragic
result of the sexual revolution.
40. Greenwald, “Women’s Liberation Movement.”
41. “Le contrôle des naissances,” Confidences 951 (23 January 1966), 18.
42. “Le contrôle des naissances,” Confidences 951 (23 January 1966), 19.

Chapter 8

1. Paul Vialar, “Vous et moi: Tous contre un scandale. . .” Nous deux 766 (1962),
3; the town of Staphorst sat squarely within the Dutch Bible Belt. According
to Vincent Sleebe’s article “Community and Social Control: An Enquiry into
the Dutch Experience,” “Instances of charivari are reported from the east-
ern as well as the southern provinces up until this very day [2004].” In Social
Control in Europe, vol. 2, 1800–​2000, ed. Clive Emsley, Eric Johnson and Pieter
Spierenburg (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2004), 185.
2. Claude Martin and Irène Thèry, “The PACS and Marriage and Cohabitation
in France,” International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 4, no. 3 (2001):
135–158. The marriage rate in 1949 was 8.2 marriages per 1,000 and still 7.6 in

•    Notes to pages 170–186

1969; the total number of marriages in one year peaked in 1972, then declined
rapidly after that.
3. “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 709
(1961): 36.
4. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 741 (4 March 1960), 4.
5. “Nos lectrices écrivent,” Confidences 702 (16 April 1961), 43. “Arriverai-​je à la
mater?” “une enterprise de dressage.”
6. “Le tyran dérisoire,” Nous deux 766 (1962), 2–​3, 53.
7. Olivier Faron, “Father–​ Child Relations in France:  Changes in Paternal
Authority in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” History of the Family 6,
no. 3 (September 2001): 365–​375.
8. ADN 1484 W 407; also ADP 1418 W 560; 1418 W 587.
9. ADP 1418 W 576.
10. ADP 1418 W 580.
11. A  search of the Bibliothèque nationale de France catalogue using the subject
“frigidity” turned up references that long predated 1960. However, works on
frigidity prior to the 1960s tended to focus on two things:  animal frigidity,
which meant problems with breeding aside from sterility, such as female rab-
bits refusing to copulate, and what was called frigidity of the human male,
meaning impotence; see Bartholomé Febrer, De la frigidité chez l’ homme
ou de l’affaiblissement prémature au point de vue des causes et du traitement
(Paris: Librairie internationale, 1871).
12. Jean Bretteau, “Les vraies causes de la frigidité,” Constellation 152 (December
1960), 63–​68.
13. Bretteau, “Les vrais causes,” 66–​67. Dr. Kegel, professor at the USC School of
Medicine, first published on this topic in 1948, the same year Kinsey’s book on
male sexuality appeared. A. H. Kegel, “The Nonsurgical Treatment of Genital
Relaxation:  Use of the Perineometer as an Aid in Restoring Anatomic and
Functional Structure,” Annals of Western Medicine and Surgery 2, no. 5 (May
1948): 213–​216. Kegel exercises are now broadly promoted for women wanting
to improve their sex lives, via American health and women’s magazines.
14. Bretteau, “Les vrais causes,” 68.
15. Marcel Bonnefoy, “La française. . . une déception,” Constellation 153 (January
1961), 29–​34.
16. “Daniel Gray se penchant sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 772
(1962), 52.
17. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle special issue (5 April 1963), 8; see also
Françoise Tournier, “La vérité médicale sur la frigidité,” Elle 1148 (December
1967), 86–​91. Tournier argued that men were often to blame because they
rushed sex. Women also developed problems owing to unresolved childhood
issues, stress, fatigue, and overwork. Tournier also worried that comparing their

Notes to pages 186–190      •      235

sexual experiences to what they saw on movie screens left many women feeling
18. Chapsal, Vérités sur les jeunes filles, 170; see also “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos
problémes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 840 (1963), 55, and “Nos lectrices écriv-
ent,” Confidences 702 (16 April 1961), 43.
19. “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 840 (1963),
55; see also “Nos lecteurs écrivent,” Confidences 848 (2 February 1964); 43, “Ne
pas vous négliger, ne pas pleurer”; “Soignez votre tenue, votre visage, votre coif-
fure, vos enfants, votre intérieur.” Act indifferent; it intrigues a man, and he’ll
come back. See also “Elle et Lui: J’ai pardonné sans oublier,” Confidences 848 (2
February 1964), 8, about a woman who forgave but could not forget her hus-
band’s adultery. Lui accused her of playing the noble victim and driving her hus-
band away.
20. The other two grounds were adultery (for a woman, any sexual relations with
another man; for a man, only sexual relations with another woman that took place
regularly in the conjugal residence) and conviction for a serious criminal offense.
21. Fishman, We Will Wait, 159–​163.
22. Larkin, France since the Popular Front, 342. On French divorce law see Dominick
Lasok, “The Reform of French Divorce Law,” Tulane Law Review 51 (1977): 259,
and Samuel Stoljar, “A History of French Law of Divorce—​II,” International
Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 4, no. 1 (1991): 1–​26.
23. On housing, see Newsome, French Urban Planning; Voldman, La reconstruction
des villes françaises; Rudolph, At Home in Postwar France.
24. Chapsal, Vérités sur les jeunes filles, 173.
25. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle 973 (14 August 1964), 4.
26. “Daniel Gray se penche sur vos problèmes sentimentaux,” Nous deux 970
(1965), 66.
27. Jean-​Jacques Delacroix, “La française et l’amour: Une femme divorcée peut-​elle
encore être heureuse?” Elle 733 (8 January 1960), 56–​59.
28. Delacroix, “La française,” 59.
29. Marcelle Ségal, “Courrier du coeur,” Elle special issue (5 April 1963), 8.
30. See Monge, Notre rôle de parents, 21–​22; Jean Lamarre, “Ces enfants qui ne
veulent pas manger,” Constellation 193 (May 1964), 74–​78, refers to Freud on
infants’ oral pleasure and speculates that a child’s refusal to eat could result from
a psychological crisis, 78; “Un jeu test pour les 7 à 14 ans: Découvrez la person-
nalité de votre enfant,” Constellation 188 (December 1963), 244–​247.
31. Auclair’s son, for example, attributed her having been a distracted mother to her
professional life. “Chez Marcelle Auclair: Ses petits secrets de bonheur quotid-
ian,” Marie-​Claire 127 (May 1965), 72–​77.
32. Monge, Notre rôle, 28. “Dans les jupes de sa mère” is the French expression.
33. Monge, Notre rôle, 22.

•    Notes to pages 191–195

34. ADN 1484 W 407 1960.

35. ADP 1418 W 603, 1961; other issues included the weak mother, the teen mother
lacking maternal love, mothers lacking firmness, fathers lacking firmness,
authoritarian fathers, in ADP 1418 W 190, W 563, 1418 W 609, ADN 1481 W
415, ADN 1481 W 408, ADBDR 1144 W 110; ADBDR 1944 W 151.
36. “Mme Verneuil, maman et expert psychologue, vous parle:  L’Injustice de la
nature,” Confidences 848 (2 February 1964), 14.
37. Verneuil, “L’Injustice,” 14.
38. Marcel Faudaire, “Je n’aime pas mon frère. Je n’aime pas ma soeur,” Constellation
187 (November 1963), 140–​145.
39. ADP 1418 W 563.
40. ADP 1418 W 587.
41. Monge, Notre rôle, 62.
42. Comment élever nos enfants de six à seize ans, 26. See also “Vos enfants et
vous: L’Autorité,” Confidences 770 (5 August 1961), 37; Monge, Notre rôle, 19;
Dr.  Berge, “Les sept pêchés des parents,” Constellation 151 (November 1960),
61–​63 (those seven sins: fear, weakness, perfectionism, lying, incoherence, vul-
garity, and nervousness).
43. ADP 1418 W 609, also ADBDR 1944 W 141 on “habitual masturbation”; ADN
1484 W 407 boy whose mom created such a poor “affective environment” that
his “bonne orientation sur le plan sexuel” could be compromised; ADN 1481 W
417, dad found porn hidden in son’s bed, speculated about masturbation.
44. Anita Pereire, “Que pensez vous de vos ainés?” Elle 932 (1 November 1963), 93,
“les sujets inabordables.”
45. Pereire, “20,000 jeunes filles,” 142.
46. Monge, Notre rôle, 27, “maladresse.” Monge moves from this topic, thinly veiled
masturbation patrolling, to the topic of Oedipal issues of sexualized feelings and
conflict with the same-​sex parent.
47. See ADP 1418 W 563, sexual pleasure horrifies; W 584, homosexual compensa-
tion; W 558, homosexual conflict at home; ADP 1418 W 555, sexual preoccupa-
tion; W 568, alleged sexual liaisons; ADN 1481 W 409, teen boy who had no
interest in girls.
48. One report described a teen girl who liked to “se faire remarquer par les jeunes
gens,” and who commented on “les scènes d’amour” while watching movies.
ADBDR 1944 W 153.
49. ADBDR 1944 W 151; ADN 1481 W 417.
50. ADN 1481 W 402.
51. ADP 1418 W 584.
52. ADBDR 1144 W 126, ADP 1418 W 603, 1418 W 584.
53. Sexual promiscuity of adolescent girls was a major concern during the war,
but social workers in cases that did not arise from a girl’s alleged sexual

Notes to pages 195–198      •      237

conduct did not delve into those issues, and the concern was sexual activity
per se of adolescent girls, which was defined as a form of perversion in and of
itself, not, for example, same-​sex attraction or masturbation. Sexual activity
of adolescent boys was not treated as problematic, nor did investigators probe
into private activity like masturbation. Fishman, Battle for Children, 25,
30–​39, 157–​159.
54. Jean Duché, “Sous le bonnet de Bonnie,” Elle 1158 (29 February 1968), 3.


P r i m a r y S ou rc e s
Archival Sources
Archives Départementales du Bouches-​du-​R hône (Marseille)
1144 W 3, 5, 7, 9, 16, 22, 26, 32, 36, 40, 50, 61, 86, 98, 110, 126, 150, 151, 167, 201, 237,
255, 258, 260, 265 (years 1945–​1966)
1591 W 1 (1960)
1944 W 151 (1960)

Archives Départementales de la Drôme

1385 W 43–​50, years 1947–​1958

Archives Départementales du Nord

1481 W 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 407, 408, 409, 411, 412, 414, 415, 416, 417 (years

Archives Départementales de Paris

1418 W 1, 2, 7, 10, 11, 15, 20, 23, 25, 28, 33, 40, 41, 113, 114, 175, 177, 179, 184, 186,
188, 190, 191, 193, 195, 203, 370, 539, 543, 549, 552, 555, 558, 560, 568, 576, 580,
584, 587, 593, 596, 600, 603, 605, 609 (years 1945–​1966)

•   Bibliography

Notre jeunesse
Nous deux

Books, Articles, Memoirs, Government Studies

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Auclair, Marcelle, and Françoise Prévost. Mémoires à deux voix. Paris: Seuil, 1978.
Badde, Claude. “Pas d’age pour l’éducation sexuelle.” Constellation 44 (1951):
Bazin, Herve. Vipère au poing. Paris: Editions Rombaldi, 1976.
Beach, Raymond. Nous et nos enfants. Dammarie-​les-​Lys:  Editions Les signes des
temps, 1966.
Beauvoir, Simone de. L’Amérique au jour le jour. Paris: Editions Paul Morihien, 1948.
———. The Second Sex. Translated by H. M. Parshley. New York: Vintage, 1989.
Bekoucha, D. Guide du chef de famille. Deux-​Sèvres: l’Office de la famille française,
Bernège, Paulette, and Marie-​ Louise Cordillot. Guide d’enseignement ménager:
Pédagogie, installation des cours. Paris: La maison rustique, 1947.
Binet, Eric. “Françoise Dolto.” Perspectives:  Revue trimestriel d’ éducation comparé
(UNESCO) 29, no. 3 (1991): 505–​506.
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Paris: Casterman, 1949.
———. L’Intimité conjugal: Le livre des époux. 4th ed. Paris: Casterman, 1942.
———. L’Intimité conjugale: Le livre du jeune mari. 18th ed. Paris: Casterman, 1949.
Bonnefoy, Marcel. “La française … une déception.” Constellation 153 (1961): 29–​34.
Bouchemouse, Helene. “Points de vue: Sociologie: ‘L’Institution familial.’ ” L’Ecole et
la famille 4, no. 2 (November 1947): 3.
Bretteau, Jean. “Les vraies causes de la frigidité.” Constellation 152 (1960): 63–​68.
Brown, Eve. “J’ai dit non! au Docteur Kinsey.” Constellation 66 (1953): 62–​66.
Brulé, Hélène. “La formation des instituteurs en France.” In La formation du personnel
enseignant: Angleterre, France, Etats-​Unis d’Amerique, edited by C. A. Richardson,
137–​216. Problèmes d’éducation 6. Paris: UNESCO, 1954.
———. Parents modernes pour enfants modernes. Paris: Hachette, 1956.

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———. Le rôle de la femme dans l’ éducation familiale et sociale. Paris:  Editions

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Carles, Emilie. A Life of Her Own. Translated by Avriel H. Goldberger. New York:
Penguin, 1991.