The “Pédantes” and the “Glorieuses”: Home economics and the management of working-class aspirations (Paris, 1880-1900)

Working-class practices
By Thomas Depecker

This paper examines how the opening-up of the secondary education sector to working-class schoolgirls was managed, interpreted and overseen in Paris in the late nineteenth century. While the new cours complémentaires enjoyed a dazzling success, allowing many working-class schoolgirls to prepare for competitive exams or enter the job market, they sparked much criticism, and reformers and administrators alike proposed increasing the time dedicated to home economics. However, the aim was not to send these young women back to their homes, nor was it to hone their technical skills. By analysing an original survey on the social trajectory of cours complémentaires students, we can question the discourses on the necessity of home economics lessons in curricula for women. In this case, these discourses were a euphemism for the management of working-class aspirations, while providing a moral commitment to some of the young women who were the most likely to achieve social mobility thanks to the new possibilities offered by the public school system.

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