University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term > Ambition and Decorum: Women's Entry into the Professions in Belle Époque France

Ambition and Decorum: Women's Entry into the Professions in Belle Époque France

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France, a country which did not grant women the suffrage until 1945, was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nevertheless at the forefront of progress in women’s education. From 1868 women were admitted into the Medical Faculty, eleven years before the same right was accorded to British women by the University of London. Yet what might seem an easy progression for women’s educational and professional prospects was seamed with contradictions. Women who wished to enter the professions needed to finesse, to some degree the powerful gender expectations of the period which assumed women’s divinely ordained role in the domestic sphere. In addition, even the phrase ‘professional women’ (especially in French) carried with it the suggestion of the age old stigma attached both to actresses and prostitutes, ‘public women’. This paper will examine the strategies by which two women, Madeleine Pelletier (1874-1939) and Constance Pascal (1877-1937), the first to gain a foothold in the French state psychiatric system, represented themselves in a hitherto all-male profession, examining their gender related choices in constructing an identity in the public sphere and the constraints, real or imagined that they confronted.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term series.

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