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More About Lower Class Children

Lower class children in 19th century Paris were treated much like little adults, and were encouraged to become independent as soon as they were able. As infants, they were supervised by family members, if necessary, as their parents often both worked outside the home. Lower class children and adults played games of chance, selling games, games of exercise, and games of wit and conversation. Before 1820, newborn infant mortality was extremely high in some areas of Paris, reaching nearly 6%, and attributed to early delivery caused by heavy domestic work; maternal post-pregnancy mortality was also high, reaching almost 5% (it was more common among unwed women than for married mothers). By the mid 19th century, one third of all children in France were illegitimate, mostly born into lower class families. Across Europe, infant mortality was even higher, reaching 20% at some points during the 19th century. Child mortality was also high; in some years, 30 to 50% of all children died before the age of five. In the 1870s, socialist activists protested to change the conditions of children living in poverty. During the 1880s, legislation was passed to allow the removal of children from abusive families. Also, many private philanthropies were established to care for children’s rights, education and health care.

School’s Out
Lower class children were not required to complete their formal education. Until late in the 19th century, their access to education of all types was restricted. In 1881, French legislation provided compulsory, free, secular, elementary education for all children ages six to 13. By 1885, funding for public school teachers’ salaries had been substantially increased, and in 1886, the French government established an inspection system to enforce national education standards. Young men over the age of 20 were generally excluded from secondary schools and encouraged to seek work in the trades. Students worked to obtain school-granted certificates to enable them to enter technical schools or apprenticeships.

Child Laborers
Young men and women from working class families had more freedom than those from other classes; they began working outside the home at younger ages, were expected to earn their own income, and become self-supporting as early as possible. In 1841 legislation was enacted which prohibited children under the age of eight from working in the factories, reduced the workday for children under 12 years of age to eight hours (from 13), and limited the workday for those over 12 years of age to 12 hours. In 1874, France banned the hiring of all children under the age of 12. Rural single youngsters often migrated to the cities to earn higher incomes; some to help support their farming families, some to earn enough to purchase their own land someday. Many working class youths chose to forgo or delay marriage by joining journeymen’s guilds. These guilds provided housing arrangements for young apprentices and journeymen in the homes of older, successful craftsmen, enabling their younger members to concentrate on developing their skills and becoming independent, but many also prohibited early marriage.

Love, Not Marriage
During the 19th century, romance, premarital sex, prostitution and illegitimate children had became more accepted than previously in France. Of all classes, the upper-working class was most opposed to their young daughters being forced or bribed into becoming prostitutes. But for many girls, prostitution was a necessary job to earn funds before marrying and having a family.

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