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Moving to Paris

Jennifer Frederick

    Paris was the center of much of French life during the 19th century. Its population largely increased from 600,000 at the end of the 18th century, to nearly a million people by 1840. The capital city was home to peoples from all over France and other European countries who went there to practice their trade and to seek employment.

    Paris seemed to be the city of all opportunity to workers from around Europe. People there became the center of political upheavals, such as the Revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and also helped to make Paris the great cultural city it was becoming. With such a large population living in Paris, there were numerous job opportunities. So, it became the home not only to skilled workers, but to unskilled workers as well as members of the bourgeoisie and peasants who moved to Paris to become workers.

    However, moving to Paris did not always offer every opportunity the migrant worker might have hoped for. Jacques Etienne Bédé described Paris as a "great" and "superb" (Traugott, 63) city, and although Agricol Perdiguier agreed with that, he also noticed a "painful contrast" (169). He comments, "This magnificent region was, for young travelers like myself, less hospitable that many others...In Paris, it was completely different" (169). Many times it was very hard to find employment, so workers would go and wait for days in public squares, like the Place de Grève, where masons would go to find jobs. Martin Nadaud says, "As I was unemployed in February 1835 and knew that the month of March would witness a swarm of workers returning to Paris, I was very much afraid of finding myself without a job and of being forced to go shiver each morning in the Place de Grève" (226). After days and days of waiting, many workers would decide to move on to another city to see if they could find work elsewhere. Many women migrated to Paris to work in factories or to work as seamstresses or maids. These women worked long and hard hours with little pay, and many times they were abused or taken advantage of. Paris did not offer such wonderful opportunities for everyone.

    Even though Paris was a growing city, it had a small-town feel to it depending on what street corner you found yourself on. On any given street, one might know everyone else because certain regions of the country sent workers of a certain trade to the city to work and live. For example, men from Limousin would go to Paris to work in the construction industry as masons. These men would work long hours throughout most of the year, and then return home to their families during the wintertime when the weather would not permit them to work. Men from Le Creusot sent turners to work in Paris. However, this was not as organized of a migration as the one described by Martin Naduad concerning masons. So, there were certain areas of Paris where these workers would inhabit and maintain their dialects and individual cultures.

    Moving to Paris was a common thing in the 19th century. This capital city became the home to many workers who migrated there in order to find jobs. For most workers Paris was much different from the places they came from. It was an urban setting and many of them came from the rural countryside. It was a growing city that was essentially the center of French work.



All design copyright Sara Hinds 2002

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

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