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Title: Between public and private : women's social action in France, from 1934 to 1944
Author: Perkins, Michelle A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2673 5582
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2008
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This thesis explores the complex interplay of ethnic, religious and gender identity for Catholic, Communist and Jewish women who participated in social welfare activities in France in the 1930s and whose experiences informed their later socio-political activities under the Nazi Occupation of 1940 to 1944. In doing so, it will address the often distinct histories of feminism, social action, ethnicity and gender together, while highlighting the specificity of the Jewish experience in the latter period. By taking a cross- 'denominational' approach, both the nature and experience of French women's activities can be highlighted, thereby deepening our understanding of their motivations and expectations regarding social 'duties' and social 'action'. The language with which women expressed their interest in the social reflected their personal conception of French identity and citizenship, ethnicity, political and religious beliefs, as well as their determination to be considered as rational, professional activists. Memoirs, private correspondence and associational papers demonstrate this personal questioning alongside public experience. These sources illustrate the forging of personal and professional contacts that were to be of inestimable significance during Occupation. The thesis addresses sites of ideological conflict and practical consensus between women participating in social action using a wide range of source material, including police reports, organisation archives, as well as the women's pages and Catholic, Communist and Jewish press. Despite disparate ideological views, a broad consensus existed on the natural aptitude of women for social welfare and the importance of their social duties, namely maternity. This idea of social motherhood was also consciously used to advance women's professional responsibilities. Polarised debates within France over the Spanish civil war, the fascist threat and engagement in the Republican cause forced women to question their beliefs about both the limitations and possibilities of social activism appropriate to their sex. Anti-fascism became a significant facet of welfare action and heightened nascent political consciousness in a younger generation of French women. The pressing need for welfare under Occupation engaged many women in work that they had no training for, or experience in, in both the sanctioned public and clandestine spheres. Instead of focusing on the Resistance per se, this thesis offers an understanding of social action as a site through which individual and communal identity was negotiated, thereby pointing to continuity - rather than rupture - between the interwar and Vichy periods.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available