Living primarily in cities and larger villages, the middle class blended imperceptibly at its upper end with the aristocracy. This group of so-called notables reaped most of the benefits of industrialization and dominated politics until the Third Republic in the 1870s. At its lower end, the middle class fused with the upper reaches of the working class. Between these extremes emerged a large class of white-collar workers with modest incomes derived from small businesses, retail shops, and clerical and professional jobs. This class formed the backbone of the republican constituency in the late 19th century.
In families of the middle class, women were not expected to work in salaried positions outside the home. This was particularly true for women who were married and had children. But primarily because of economic necessity, 68 percent of all women over age 16 and 56 percent of all married women held salaried jobs in 1906; these numbers were, however, much lower in nonagricultural areas.
Despite their critical contributions to the economy, women had far fewer rights than men. Indeed, they constituted the largest disadvantaged group in a nation that had proclaimed the equality of rights in 1789. Under the Code Napoléon, husbands had full control over family property, including dowries brought by wives into their marriages. Divorce was illegal from 1816 until 1884, and the legal and social consequences of adultery were much more severe for women than for men. Secondary education was unavailable to most females until the 1880s. The right to vote was extended to women only in 1945 after a half-century of agitation. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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