What Were Little Girls and Boys Made Of?

Primary Education in Rural France, 1830-1880

By Laura S. Strumingher

Series: SUNY series in European Social History
Paperback : 9780873956284, 209 pages, June 1983
Hardcover : 9780873956277, 209 pages, June 1983

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Table of contents


Part I. Primacy Education in the Countryside
1. The Poverty of Rural Schools
2. The ABCs of the Guizot System
3. Overcoming Parental Opposition to Education
4. The Contribution of Zulma Carraud

Part II. Gender Role Socialization in La Petite Jeanne ou le devoir and Maurice ou le travail
5. Childhood
6. Young Adulthood
7. Family
8. Old Age

Part III. The Impact of Education on French Children
9. The Children Speak
10. Conclusion

Appendix A: Livres Scolaires
Appendix B: Comparison of Schools and Teachers in the Rhône and Corrèze


Primary School Books were vehicles by which authors in nineteenth-century France hoped to shape the future. These authors, members of the middle class, believed in reason and progress and in their own ability to ascertain what was reasonable and to enforce progress. Not surprisingly, they did not always get the cooperation of the people whom they were trying to lead to a civilized life. Peasants, who made up the largest population of those needing progress, in the view of the middle class, did not accept new ideas unquestionably. They worked out their own compromises, evasions, and selections from the portrait of the good life presented to them in the village primary schools.

The books of Zulma Carraud are particularly interesting because they were directed specifically to socializing rural children to modern gender roles. Annotated excerpts from her best-selling books, La Petite Jeanne ou le devior and Maurice ou le travail, highlight the growing difference between women's work, which is referred to as "duty" and is portrayed as an expansion of woman's nature, and men's work, which remains a duty to his family, country, and God, but more importantly, becomes a source of fulfillment, provides a sense of achievement and of self worth. In Carraud's books, men use their skills to tame nature, to create civilization, in an ever-expanding field of endeavors, while women's work remains confined to child nurture, house care, care of the sick and elderly.

The process of inculcating new values is traced with the aid of school inspectors' reports, the letters and diaries of teachers, and a collection of notebooks kept by rural pupils. These documents provide a rare view of the dialectic nature of historical change.

Laura S. Stumingher is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Women's Studies of the University of Cincinnati.