The turn of the twentieth century witnessed the rise of the female expert in France, as a result of structural changes in the French public sphere, the entry (...)
The turn of the twentieth century witnessed the rise of the female expert in France, as a result of structural changes in the French public sphere, the entry of women into certain professions, and transnational developments. This article contends that certain French women, despite their marginal political status, transformed this gender-specific expertise into a political resource they could use to shape public opinion, politics, and institutions on the eve of World War I.
Keywords : women and expertise, gender history, public sphere, citizenship practices, transnational circulation of knowledge.
« La coopération intellectuelle transnationale et l’emergence de l’experte en France à la Belle Époque »
Le tournant du vingtième siècle voit l’émérgence d’une expertise féminine en France, grâce à la restructuration de l’espace public, l’accès des femmes aux professions, et l’intensification de la coopération intellectuelle transnationale. Cet article démontre que certaines françaises, malgré leur statut politique marginal réussissent à transformer cette expertise féminine spécifique en resource politique dont elles peuvent se servir pour influencer l’opinion, la politique et les institutions à la veille de la première guerre mondiale.
Mots clés : femmes et expertise, histoire du genre, espace public, pratiques citoyennes, circulation transnationale des savoirs.
In a 1900 article in the widely read Grande revue, French sociologist Gabriel Tarde wrote that the capacity to shape others’ thinking – what he termed “[l’]aptitude à exercer l’action inter-spirituelle” – depended the most on two factors: age and sex. A change had taken place since ancient times when the elderly had held the most power to influence. In Tarde’s
Although Tarde may have been right in correlating age and the power to shape others’ opinions, by the time he wrote his essay women in France had actually started to acquire expertise that – when reinforced by traditional feminine attributes such as femininity and motherliness – would endow them with a gender-specific authority to which men completely lacked access. This article analyses the emergence of such womanly expertise in Belle Époque France as a social and cultural process conditioned both by structural changes in the French public sphere and by transnational influences. We will first examine how the gradual politicisation of issues arising from evolving perceptions of gender difference and relations and from women’s entry into the professions contributed to the emergence of a kind of “feminine” expertise in the late nineteenth century. The next section will demonstrate how French women experts’ participation in transnational networks both built on and reinforced their authority at home. Finally we will discuss the transformation of womanly expertise into a broader, yet still gender-specific form of public authority. It is my contention that certain French women, despite their marginal political status, were able to convert this gender-specific authority into a political resource they could use to shape opinions, policies, and institutions on the eve of World War I and beyond.
By the end of the nineteenth century, in spite of limitations on their access to higher education and professional training, Frenchwomen had begun to make inroads into professions understood as extensions of traditionally “feminine” domains such as childrearing, homemaking, charity and philanthropy, and what today might be termed “care work”. The specialist knowledge they began to acquire in their new roles as teachers, nurses, or social workers appeared specifically feminine, rather than gender-neutral, because it derived from experience in areas of life about which they, either simply because they were women or because they exercised appropriately womanly professions, were thought to know more about than men. These areas of feminine expertise included being female and the female life course (including maternity and childbirth); educating children, caring for the family, and managing a household, the traditional social and civic functions of the Republican mother; and womanly vocations such as teaching, social work, nursing, moral reform, and philanthropy. By the first decade of the twentieth century, feminism and women’s rights constituted additional areas of feminine expertise and eventually, authority. 
Some early examples illustrate how this gender-specific expertise functioned. The support of Olympe Gevin-Cassal, Inspector General in the Department of Children’s Services from 1896, was eagerly sought by a variety of enterprises aimed not only at children but also at mothers’ welfare and education.  During this period women in positions of responsibility also began to attend national and international congresses in the capacity of experts: for example, a handful of Interior Ministry prison inspectresses debated with male politicians and civil servants and with philanthropists of both sexes at the Congrès pénitentiaire international and at national congresses on released prisoners between 1895 and 1900. These women’s expertise and credentials came from their professional experience with the penal system and with female prisoners in particular. In keeping with the logic of the times, their gender gave them wider authority to pronounce on the potential moral dangers and psychological consequences of the incarceration, treatment and release of female criminals than their male counterparts might have, and it was for this reason that they were selected to report on such concerns. But their authority did not extend to the condition of male prisoners, nor did it give them the wide latitude they would have needed to criticize the prison system as a whole, the judicial process, or political decision-making.
The division of responsibilities at major congresses, including those where most of the participants were women, and in large women’s organizations such as the Conseil national des femmes françaises, also confirms that credentials, expertise and professional experience were becoming as important as social prominence in determining the extent of a woman’s public authority. Though she might participate in the work of many sections of a congress, the respected and experienced educator Pauline Kergomard was the natural choice to head the section on Education of the CNFF, just as specialists in other fields might head other sections.  The founding board of the Congrès de l’éducation sociale in 1900 comprised a significant minority of women, about half of whom had teaching credentials, and many of whom were school administrators.  Like men, women had begun to be chosen on the basis of professional expertise to lend specific kinds of symbolic legitimacy to civic projects.
Changes in the gendered structure of the French public sphere by the beginning of the twentieth century also contributed to the emergence of female expertise and the recognition of woman as experts. What might have seemed like “feminine” interests and issues – maternal and child welfare, reproduction and birth control, and woman’s work – had started to attract the attention of national politicians, civil servants, and academics due to the government’s growing alarm about French population decline, venereal disease, and social cohesion whereas French women were increasingly concerned about seemingly manly issues of war, peace, and colonialism. Both Marguerite Durand’s daily newspaper La Fronde, produced by and for women, and the Dreyfus affair contributed to this sea change: on the one hand, as Mary Louise Roberts has suggested, helping raise the visibility and political value of the feminine by modifying the public’s understanding of womanhood and femininity, and on the other hand, by enabling intellectuals to make explicit the connection between women’s rights, human rights, national interests, and social progress.  Because many of these questions ultimately came down to ethics and morality, which were understood as gendered, the cultural authority of highly regarded professional women became useful to those at the French political and intellectual center despite the institutionally and politically marginal position of such women.
The restructuring of French public discourse and concomitant emergence of womanly expertise did not take place in isolation from trends in the wider world. International displays of Frenchness at forums such as World’s Fairs provided evidence of the rising national and international value of gender in public life. At the Paris World’s Fair of 1900, a major showcase for French culture which had been in the works for many years, two women’s congresses, one feminist and one not, exhibited feminine social action and the achievements and aims of the French women’s rights movement (though these women’s congresses had precedents, and female delegates from France had attended such meetings held in other locations). Women also participated in other Congresses such as the solidarist Congrès pour l’éducation sociale; indeed, the World’s Fair’s organizing committee had placed education, a field in which women were exceptionally well represented, at the top of the conference agenda from the beginning. 
Three years later, in preparation for the World’s Fair of 1904, peace activist and Radical politician Lucien Le Foyer wrote feminist leader Caroline Kauffmann to solicit her cooperation in an initiative called the “Comité central d'organisation des bourses de voyage au Canada et aux États-Unis, à l'occasion de l'exposition de Saint-Louis en 1904.” The purpose of the organization, which had the support of “considerable personalities”, was to enable “a certain number of French men and women of limited means” to travel to
Heightened international awareness of gender issues also created opportunities for French women experts to participate in transnational intellectual networks, both enhancing their personal visibility and authority and also contributing to the reinforcement and recognition of womanly expertise in
Forty-three of the original 166 founding members hailed from
Thus the French women whose collaboration the editors of the Revue de morale sociale sought in 1899 were clearly selected because they were already considered specialists in gender relations, moral reform, or feminism at home. But these French contributors and founding members, both women and men, also added value to the Revue de morale sociale’s project as members of a celebrated new group of moral experts: the intellectuels, or public intellectuals. The Dreyfus case had fed the international image of French intellectuals, notably but not only the members of the Ligue des droits de l’homme, as champions of human rights and justice and bearers of the legacy of the French Revolution. Members of the Ligue were sought-after partners for foreign intellectuals: for example, the Senator Ludovic Trarieux, president of the Ligue, was asked to head the six-member European delegation that traveled to St. Petersburg in June 1899 to protest the threat to Finnish sovereignty.  Because the supporters of the RMS saw the transnational project of eradicating the sexual double standard – like the Dreyfus affair, the Armenian genocide, the Boer War, Finland’s fight to keep its autonomy, and the failed effort to abolish state-regulated prostitution in Geneva – as a problem of human rights,  the endorsement of 12 active members of the French LDH, in particular the female activists Ghénia de Sainte-Croix, Maria Pognon, Marie Bonnevial, and Jeanne Schmahl, provided a significant moral boost to the cause. 
Juxtaposing articles on gender issues in France with texts on other countries, all by purported national experts, with the support of an illustrious groupe d’initiative, became a strategy for creating a transnational discourse on gender injustice and embedding the combat to eradicate it in the universal moral project of defending human rights. In this sense, the review bears a striking resemblance to the form of action favored by intellectuals throughout Europe at this time: the petition. The key difference here was that both male and female “signatories” and authority were needed to make the appeal for gender justice. Participation in such enterprises in turn reinforced French women contributors’ status as experts at home, by demonstrating their implication in a transnational network of recognized authorities on gender issues and reform.
The period after 1900 witnessed an increase in women’s civic activism in France, and the politicization of gender issues drew in their male colleagues also. Women were invited to lecture before scholarly societies, at people’s universities, and at the independent institutions of higher learning that emerged beginning in the late nineteenth century: they organized and participated in meetings and congresses on civic education or philanthropy; founded civic associations to promote women’s interests and eventually suffrage; published articles in women’s, feminist, and literary-political publications; and joined reformist discussion forums. Organizations such as the CNFF lobbied parliament and worked their connections to get reform proposals onto the political agenda.
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, some women had begun converting their expertise in women’s fields into a broader public authority on women and the feminine. In 1908 Jane Misme, a journalist and editor of La Française, was invited by the Société de sociologie de Paris to speak not about women in journalism, but about female schoolteachers and women of letters as social types.  August Moll-Weiss, director of the École des mères, lectured to the society in 1910 on “Housewives and feminism,” and Union de pensée féminine founder Lydie Martial the following year on “Evolution and women.”  During the same period, Louise Compain, inspectress for a private child welfare agency, syndicalist, novelist, and publicist became a regular at the series of discussions, known as Libres entretiens, sponsored by Paul Desjardin’s Union pour
That female expertise in specific domains could now be generalized to encompass the broader implications of gender relations testifies to the structural changes taking place in both French society and the public sphere. Moroever, once women had begun to appear as experts, their specialized knowledge and opinions, whether feminist or “feminine”, could be mobilized not only to enrich public debate, but also to support scientific findings or political positions. Works by “feminine” experts in particular attracted attention from scholars seeking scientific justification for the maintenance of traditional gender hierarchies in the family and society. The educator Anna Lampérière provides an emblematic example. The former director of a training program for nursery school teachers, she was working as a journalist and publicist to support her two young daughters when she became involved with Léon Bourgeois’s solidarist movement in the mid-1890s. She soon became one of the most active proponents of solidarist civic education, first creating the Société d’études féminines in 1898, then organizing and serving as Secretary General of the Congrès de l'éducation sociale in 1900), and later Secretary General of the Société pour l'éducation sociale, both presided over by Bourgeois. By 1898, she had published a full-length manifesto on female solidarism, Le rôle social de la femme, which attracted attention both at home and abroad through reviews in publications such as the North American Review and sociologist Émile Durkheim’s Année sociologique.  Now a recognized expert on women’s social role, as well as a seasoned educator, she was chosen by the Minister of Education to conduct an exploratory study on the creation of a program of “feminine” university studies, the conclusions of which were published in 1903.  By the time she followed up with a second book in 1909, her professional credentials, social resources, and identification with the movement’s leadership had established Lampérière as an authority on solidarism from a female perspective.  Her works became a reference for scholars close to Bourgeois’s solidarist movement, such the zoologist Edmond Perrier, who sought, by drawing parallels between human and animal behavior or between modern and traditional societies, to defend scientifically the status quo in gender relations and civic life against more liberal, “feminist” political visions of the Republic. 
As these examples also show, intellectual men could be instrumental in fostering womanly expertise and authority when it complemented their own ideological and/or political projects. During the Belle Époque, more and more texts by women recognized as experts began to circulate and gain public recognition, sometimes with a boost by a prominent male mentor. Texts by foreign female authorities also appeared in translation, their circulation in French-speaking milieux set into motion by men of letters or academics sympathetic to their ideas who either translated or wrote prefaces for their works. For example, in 1900, RMS collaborator and LDH member
In 1908, philosopher Léon Brunschvicg, as moderator of the Union pour la vérité’s first Libre entretien of the season, on “maternal authority,” explained the group’s choice of discussion format by saying that rather than taking up issues of principle, which would have certainly brought a lively exchange, they had:
decided ... to formulate a few well-defined questions as they appeared to us in the facts about the current state of society’s evolution. On the basis of these questions, already considered and discussed in previous studies and in women’s or feminist meetings, especially of the Conseil national des femmes françaises, we could expect precise solutions that could later be expressed clearly in a legislative text. 
In other words, even if associations such the Société de sociologie de Paris or the Union pour la vérité did not frequently sponsor lectures and debates on gender issues by female experts, their significance should not be underestimated. These were not just private discussions where friends and colleagues with similar worldviews got together to discuss topical issues – although they obviously served that function also. The minutes of these meetings were published, and some of those present or those who read the proceedings might be in a position to propose or influence current or future legislation. It was thus not a coincidence that the Union scheduled discussions of the economic, social, political and legal status of women in beginning in 1908-1909. Different measures affecting women’s citizenship were on the agenda. Most notably, the previous year, in 1907, CNFF leader Avril de Sainte-Croix had convinced LDH leaders to endorse the suffrage petition the moderate women’s group was about to submit to Parliament, which was considering electoral reform. During this time, the CNFF converted to suffragism and a French suffragist organization, the Union française pour le suffrage des femmes (UFSF), formed in 1909. In fact, the most active female participants in these Entretiens were Brunschvicg’s wife Cécile, Louise Compain, and Pauline Kergomard, two of whom were ranking members of the CNFF, which had the previous year petitioned Parliament to add women’s suffrage to the proposed reform bill. Also at this time Jane Misme – a founding member of the UFSF, of which Cécile Brunschvicg would become a leader and for which Louise Compain would later become publicist – began lecturing on women’s social role at the Société de sociologie de Paris, whereas men connected with the Musée Social had previously done so. 
These are just a few examples of how Republican politics and the enhanced public value of “the feminine” enabled well-connected professional women to expand their expertise into public authority. As sought-after collaborators, they drew on their new-found expertise in feminism and the feminine to gain access to various civic forums, influence political agendas, shape public discourse on the “woman question,” or publicize the specific political goals of organizations like the CNFF and the UFSF or of other, non-feminist, reformist associations. Moreover, the authority these women experts possessed could not be acquired by their male counterparts: it was gender specific.
But because of the gendered structure of the public sphere, womanly expertise still functioned best as a complement to the masculine authority of the intellectuals who welcomed women as collaborators. Furthermore, womanly authority did not yet have the universal reach that men’s authority did, nor could it always replace manly authority, even – or perhaps especially, Tarde might have argued – in debates over marriage, divorce, and the family.  In these areas, where women’s rights and women’s interests seemed to compete with those of men – or worse, of society or the family – the continued superiority of middle-aged men’s capacity to exercise “inter-mental action,” reinforced of course by law and custom, was revealed.
Nonetheless, as gender issues and sexuality moved to the center of public attention in France during the Belle Époque, the opinions and specialist knowledge of female experts could inform public debate about citizenship, education, population issues, child welfare, marriage, family life, and even international relations. Their participation in the transnational circulation of knowledge about gender issues and feminism both enhanced and drew upon their status as national specialists. Women’s expertise had become a political resource – both for feminists and for their opponents, within the government and in civil society – by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, as women and men of diverse ideological leanings began to share and circulate knowledge about gender relations to combat gender injustice, both in France and abroad.
Pour citer cet article : Anne Epstein, « Gender and the rise of the female expert during the Belle Époque », Histoire@Politique. Politique, culture, société, n° 14, mai-août 2011, www.histoire-politique.fr
 Gabriel Tarde, “L’action inter-mentale,”
 On women’s entry into the professions, see Juliette Rennes, Le mérite et
 L. Clark, Rise of Professional Women…, op. cit., p. 101.
 Ibid, p. 79-82.
 Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand (BMD), Dossier CNFF.
 “Liste des membres du Congrès,” in Congrès international de l'éducation sociale, 26-30 septembre 1900, Exposition universelle de 1900, Paris, Félix Alcan, 1901, p. XXVI-XLII.
 See Karen Offen’s pioneering article “Depopulation, Nationalism, and Feminism in Fin-de-Siècle
 Marcel Fournier, « Les Congrès internationaux de l’Exposition de 1900 », Revue politique et parlementaire, 24, 1900, p. 740-750; A. Barthélemy, « L’Exposition de 1900 », La Grande revue, 1 April 1900, p. 194-211.
 Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris (BHVP), Fonds Caroline Kauffmann, Fonds Bouglé, Lucien Le Foyer to Caroline Kauffmann (16 December 1903), Correspondance 1893-1910.
 On transnational networks and the emergence of international women’s movements, see Margaret H. McFadden, Golden Cables of Sympathy: The Transatlantic Sources of Nineteenth Century Feminism, Lexington, KY, University of Kentucky Press, 1999; Leila Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of An International Women’s Movement, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1998, and “Constructing Internationalism: The Case of Transnational Women’s Organizations, 1888-
 Revue de morale sociale (RMS), 5, no. 15, 1903, p. 246.
 The rest were Swiss, Italian, British, German, Finnish, Norwegian, and American. See “Groupe d’initiative,” RMS, no. 1, 1899, p. 5-8.
 Not all the founding members ever published articles in the review, but it is significant that they put their reputations behind the enterprise.
 On Gevin-Cassal and Kergomard see “Feminist Maternalists and the
 On de Sainte-Croix/Savioz, see Karen Offen, “ ’La plus grande féministe de France’ : Mais qui est donc Madame Avril de Sainte-Croix?,” Bulletin des Archives du Féminisme, 9, December 2005, and “Madame Ghénia Avril de Sainte Croix, the Josephine Butler of France,” Women’s History Review, 17, 2, 2008, p. 239-255. Bogelot is discussed in Florence Rochefort, “Feminism and Protestantism in nineteenth-century
 The French male contributors included political economists, legal scholars, theologians, physicians, leading members of the newly formed Ligue des droits de l’homme, as well as moral reformers, journalists, editors and philanthropists. Members of the founding board included professors from Parisian and provincial faculties of law, theology, and medicine, from the Collège de France, and from the Sorbonne, as well as editors and directors of high-visibility reformist, political, and scientific periodicals including
 W. Van der Vlugt, Pour La Finlande, Paris, Éditions de l’Humanité nouvelle, 1900, p. 19-27.
 “Histoire d’un plébiscite,” RMS 2, no. 5, 1900, p. 4-25.
 “Groupe d’initiative,” RMS, no. 1 (1899), p. 5-8.
 “L’institutrice (Séance du 11 mars 1908),” Revue internationale de sociologie (RIS), 16, 1908, p. 273-296; and “La femme de lettres (Séance du 9 décembre 1908),” RIS 17, 1909, p. 11-46. See also Anne R. Epstein, “Women on the margins? Intellectual sociability and citizenship in Belle Époque
 “La Ménagère et le féminisme (Séance du 8 juin 1910),” RIS 18, 1910, p. 499-515; « L’évolution et la femme (Séance du 10 mai 1911),” RIS, 19, 1911, p. 408-435.
 Union pour la vérité, Libres entretiens, 1st series, 9, 1905; and Libres entretiens, 5th series, 1-6, 1908-1909. See also Epstein, “Women on the Margins,” p. 275-276.
 Anna Lampérière, Le rôle sociale de la femme, Paris, F. Alcan, 1898. The reviews are: Edmond Gosse, “The Reverses of Britomart, North American Review, June 1899, cited by Lampérière in La Femme et son pouvoir, p. 12-13 and Émile Durkheim, “Anna Lampérière, Le rôle social de la femme,” Année sociologique, 3, 1900, p. 390-391. Predictably, Durkheim criticized Lampérière’s method and some of her findings. But a review in by Durkheim in the Année, an important vehicle for the transnational circulation of social scientific research, was still excellent publicity.
 “La création d’un enseignement supérieur féminin,” Revue internationale de l’enseignement, 46, 1903, p. 312-322.
 La Femme et son pouvoir, Paris, V. Giard et E. Brière, 1909. On Lampérière see Anne R. Epstein, “Anna Lampérière, solidarité et citoyenneté féminine sous
 On Perrier’s use of Lampérière’s work, see
 Ellen Key, De l’amour et du mariage, Préface Gabriel Monod, Paris, E. Flammarion, 1907; Le Siècle de l’enfant Paris, E. Flammarion, 1910; and L’Individualisme (Images idéales), Préface Pierre de Quirielle, Paris, E. Flammarion, 1910.
 Ellen Key, De l’amour et du mariage, op. cit., p. 143.
 See for example, Ghénia (Avril) de Sainte-Croix, Une morale pour les deux sexes, Paris, 1900; La serve : iniquité sociale, Paris, 1901; and Le féminisme, Paris, V. Giard & E. Brière, 1907; Isabelle Bogelot, Trente ans de solidarité, 1877-1906, Paris, 1908; Käthe Schirmacher, Le travail des femmes en France, Paris, A. Rousseau, 1902; Olympe Gevin-Cassal, La fraternité en action, Préface William Poulin, Paris, Fischbacher, 1904; Marguerite de Witt de Schlumberger, Une femme aux femmes : pourquoi les femmes doivent étudier la question des mœurs ?, Genève, Secrétariat général de la Fédération abolitionniste internationale, 1908 (second of four editions).
 « L’Autorité maternelle », Libres entretiens 5, no. 1 (15 November 1908), p. 2-3.
 For details on the suffrage campaigns before 1914, see Laurence Klejman and Florence Rochefort, L'égalité en marche : Le féminisme sous
 See for example Jean Elisabeth Pedersen, Legislating the French Family: Feminism, Theater, and Republican Politics, 1870-1920,
Anne R. Epstein est chercheure post-doctorante à l’Université de Strasbourg, associée au PRISME-GSPE et au Network for European Studies de l’Université d’Helsinki, et chargée de cours à Sciences Po Paris. Ses recherches portent sur la sociabilité intellectuelle, le genre, et la citoyenneté au tournant du XXe siècle, la circulation transnationale du savoir sur le genre et le féminisme, et l’histoire transnationale des Écoles européennes.