Through the history of our children, it is in fact our own history of France that we can explore at child height. That’s the bet of historian Éric Alary, a student of René Rémond, known for his work on the social history of the French in the 20th century.
Very concrete, the work is spanned by a suggestive red thread. In the beginning, and perhaps since the beginning of time, the child was almost a seldom desired object subjected to a hell of infant mortality. And then, since the 1960s, he became a “being personified,” a real legal subject, both protected and a commercial target.
Immersed in the world of adults very early
Éric Alary traces this path to becoming a child king with many examples through the shocks of our history. In the late 19th century, the scarcity of birth control and high infant mortality dampened parents’ attachment to their children. Those who survived were often seen as either productive poor or mouths whose place in society was precarious. They were completely subordinate to their father’s authority and usually immersed themselves in the adult and professional world at a very early age.
The Third Republic, which sought to forge future citizens and soldiers from infancy, insisted on the imperative of public hygiene, mandating “cleanliness visits” in schools, which are now compulsory, going so far as to remind them of the need to raise babies to wrap and wash. The petty bourgeoisie were quickly drawn out of the free world of childhood and schooled for their future tasks, while small farmers and laborers worked very early.
→ READ. Throughout history, children have paid a heavy price for epidemics
The Great War was to mark a turning point: the fathers suddenly disappeared, often forever. It lasted between the two wars “Account of the Living and the Dead”, with no less than a million orphans. The state and churches then multiplied the places of socialization, especially boy scouts and summer camps.
Today “Chief Negotiator”
Unfortunately, during the dark years of World War II, more children than 14-18 were killed through six years of persecution, deportation, bombing, food shortages and restrictions. Éric Alary recalls how the Exodus of May/June 1940 shaped an entire generation: 90,000 children lost their parents there…
→ CRITICAL. “Children in War”, the victims of 1939-1945
Then the “children of fortune” were born en masse, those of the post-war boom, of the consumption promised to everyone… With – already – compulsory vaccination and its considerable advantages in view of the still lurking infant mortality rate…
To this day, when the child that is inevitably desired has become both the linchpin and the cement of a couple weakened by the diversification of family models. Became “chief negotiator”the child selected and spoiled “no longer stands next to the adults: he counts as much as they do”, the author notes.