Family bonds challenged by the convent

Regulating family ties
Parents’ opposition to their daughters’ vocations in France and Spain in the 19th century
By Inès Anrich

In 19th century France and Spain, the expansion of female congregations clashed with the rise of the bourgeois family, which viewed women as the “angels at the hearth”, and with the affirmation of paternal power. The increasing number of cases of parents opposing their child’s vocation, arbitrated by civil or religious authorities, bears witness to this. Entry into the convent thwarted family strategies, such as the use of girls’ domestic or salaried work to ensure the survival of their families, or their marriage. By leaving their parents to join a religious order, these young women established a distance that reflected their own room for manœuvre in relation to paternal power. This space was still conditioned by their social or economic capital and by the application of the law by the public or religious authorities according to the political situation. Nevertheless, the vocation and the conflicts it created did not break the family bonds, with parents continuing to exercise a certain authority.

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