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Relations Between Men and Women

Tiffany Douglas

    Relations between working class men and women in the 19th century were for the most part amicable. They were inherently dependent on one another. Women needed men more for financial stability, while men needed women for emotional stability or a sense of a home life. To better understand this situation between the sexes, one needs to understand the conditions that the two were up against.

    As demonstrated through the autobiographies in the book, The French Worker, by Mark Traugott, the majority of working people lived and barely survived. The majority of men and women did marry and their largest concern was finding employment to put food on the table. The author Bede (1775-1830) explained his situation as this, "Although burdened with four children, my wife and I managed, by dint of hard work and thrift, to give them each a trade that assured them, as well as us, a livelihood (pg. 63-4). Another worker Martin Nadaud (1815-1898) wrote, "To find myself in such distress, I who work so hard, I who was always frugal! Death is a hundred times preferable to living like this" (pg. 214). This is an example of the harsh condition that many men and woman found themselves in. Life was difficult at best.

    Young unmarried men sometimes spent the several years searching the country for work, often on a "Tour de France", while women worked closer to home. This Tour de France was a valuable training step for the men. Their families could only hope the male workers who went away would be smart with their money and grow in their skills. The majority of men worked hard, especially due to the fact that most felt a strong sense of loyalty to their family. Nadaud talked about how difficult and sad it was to leave his wife after only seventeen days of marriage to find work (pg. 241). This was their reality.

    Home life was also a major concern between women and men. They faced great difficulties in it. For example Bede explained, "Soon after my discharge, my wife gave birth to a son who was the crowning grace of our family, but heaven took him from us at thirteen months after his birth. Joy at my amnesty soon gave way to other sorrows." (pg. 60).

    Though life was at best a struggle, women and men did enjoy one another. In Nadaudís story he wrote that he was happy to be going to see his wife and he even taught her to read (pg. 243). He also declared, "It is a sad and painful moment when, after seventeen days of marriage, a man must leave the woman he loves, a woman endowed with such virtues" (pg 241). Men cared a great deal about the women in their life as women were sad to see men have to leave home to find work. However, both sexes accepted that their lives would be spent for the majority apart.

    It is important to realize that some men and women did not marry. Jeanne Bouvier (1876-1935) seemed to have witnessed too much pain in her parentís marriage. She even was quoted, "My God, how sad it is to have parents who hate each other so!" (pg. 379).

    Also, men often exploited women through prostitution and unwanted advances often exploited women. The writer Norbert Truquin talked about how he was saved from poverty by two prostitutes in Saint-Remy (pg. 259).

    In summary one must understand that for the majority woman and men needed one another. They made homes together and in the case of Norbert Truquin they even worked together. They seemed to mutually respect one another for the role they played in the otherís life. Nadaud wrote, "... I can affirm that I have since known the grandeur of spirit as well as the treasures of goodness and devotion that are locked in the hearts of most women" (pg. 190). Men and women of the 19th century working class lived in a society were they each gave and took in order to survive.

 

 

All design copyright Sara Hinds 2002

All essays copyright students of History 541,  University of Kentucky 2002

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Department of History, University of Kentucky, email popkin@uky.edu.