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More About the Middle Class

During the 19th century, the middle class, also called the classes moyennes or bourgeoisie, grew from the groups of 18th century commercial and industrial capitalists. At the same time, many new occupations were created which primarily used mental skills rather than physical labor; the number of i ndividuals and families in these careers exploded in number, creating a substantial, and eventually dominant, middle class.

Booming Bourgeoisie
In 19th century Paris, the middle class generally included the white collar occupations: bankers and money lenders, industrial entrepreneurs, doctors, dentists, engineers, architects, chemists, accountants, surveyors, managers of private and public institutions (businesses, academies and hospitals), manufacturers, teachers, nurses, merchants and shopkeepers (owners of líatelier and la boutique, or managers of newly created department stores, mail order houses, retail cooperatives, and chain stores), bookkeepers, salesmen, and clerks. As the manufacturing businesses grew larger, they needed a large hierarchy of middle class supervisors and managers. The increasing complexity of operations required a large management staff of accountants, engineers, chemists, as well as an international raw material procurement staff, distribution network and sales force. Artists were also generally considered part of the middle class. In 1880, there were nearly 3200 artists represented in the Salon. In 1899, a popular street and trade directory listed over 2500 fine arts practitioners in Paris. Students seeking apprenticeship in a masterís studio or school presented a letter of recommendation or an example of their work as well as paid an entry fee called la bienvenue (the welcome). Artists were required to pay a monthly fee from 12 to 25 francs to the common fund of the studio to pay teachers and models, and to cover the expenses of materials and cleaning supplies. The newest student, called the rapin , was required to do the manual chores for the master and more senior students. As time passed and as the budding artist progressed, he might become the most senior student, the massier, and become responsible for the day to day operation and finances of the studio, the hazing of new students, and the hiring of models each morning in the rue de la Grande Glaumiere. The massier also served as the spokesperson and entertainment coordinator for the entire body of students. Elementary or primary school teachers had lower social status than teachers of advanced schools or art schools. Teaching was an important avenue of upward social mobility for many as it did not require capital, property, or family connections; university teaching provided the most upward mobility through a well-established occupational hierarchy.

Canít Stop Shopping
Retail shopkeepers and small property owners (the petit bourgeois) were the middle class subgroup with the most contact with the lower class. Many of the shopkeepers had migrated from smaller towns across the country. Most of these migrants opened food trade businesses (food shops, cafes, bars, wine merchants) as there were few barriers to entry, low capital and low skill requirements for these enterprises. Shopkeepers and their employees prepared all the items for sale, measuring and weighing, packaging, and labeling. Starting capital for different types of firms varied widely from 19,000 francs to establish a new bakery to 2,000 francs to open a fabric shop. But only 700 francs were required to become a grocer, though 10,000 to 15,000 francs were recommended to open a grocery, and a few establishments were valued at up to 40,000 francs. The shops of the most prosperous grocers were located in the most fashionable residential districts (Chaussee díAntin, Palais-Royal, rue Vivienne, Saint-Avoie, and Saint-Meni) and owned by a few important family dynasties. During the 19th century in Paris, the number of cafe locations increased by 600%, grocers increased by 400%, the number of butchers increased by 300%, and both innkeepers and bakeries increased in number by 200%. Shopkeepers sometimes produced the goods sold (jams, pastas, candy and confections, and coffee). Women often managed the shops while their husbands worked outside the home at a larger firm; by 1900, over 165,000 of the Parisian retailers were women. Retailers catered to specific clientele; those serving the upper class had to provide credit by running tabs for their customers (some of whom might never pay for goods already delivered), those serving the working class kept much longer hours and sold in tiny quantities. Lower-middle class clerical workers were upwardly mobile, usually well-educated but without property, and earned slightly more than semi-skilled lower class workers. After the middle of the 19th century it became increasingly difficult to rise from the lower-middle class without extensive education. Industrialization and vertical integration increased the need for specialized experts in technology-related fields and increased the demand for small independent businesses to service and support them. Industrial manufacturers developed exclusive relationships with retailers, establishing consistent sizes and quantities for goods, branding their products, and advertising their names on loss leader or sale products.. Brush, textile and glove-makers supported reduced taxes for department stores as they sold over 40% of their production through these huge, new shops. By 1880, the food industry had shifted to mass processing and manufacturing of products in canneries. After 1890, the shift of consumers to department stores, mail order houses, retail cooperatives, and chain stores resulted in a dramatic increase in bankruptcies. In many retail businesses, it was possible, and more economical, for married couples and families to work together. There was a great deal of social mobility among members of the lower-middle class; many of them were originally master craftsmen or shopkeepers, or even working class.

Gaining Power and Earning Money
During the 19th century, there was a growing interdependence and specialization in the urban economy. The middle class became increasingly successful and class conscious, and began organizing and agitating to gain more political power. As large manufacturers grew, small manufacturers found it difficult to compete. By the 1830s, the tailorsí struggled against the ready-made clothing manufacturers to remain in business. Many small businesses became suppliers to the large industrial firms. Independent producers became increasingly dependent on the merchant capitalists from whom they purchased raw materials, and to whom they sold their finished products. Small shopkeepersí freedom was limited by the merchants and wholesalers who advanced credit and loans with conditions of exclusivity of manufacturing and distribution. During the financial crises of the 1840s, retailers and master artisans joined working menís associations to differentiate themselves. In 1846, the societe des artes was established by the shopkeepers and artists to create social distance from industrial firms in the woolen trade. The middle class developed social institutions to increase their influence in the local community: local church choirs, ex-servicemenís clubs, charitable associations, and industrial and trade associations. During the 1880s and 1890s, the concentration of labor in large firms, surplus in manufacturing, and industrialization of farming led to falling industrial and agricultural prices. Credit restrictions, bankruptcy, particularly of small businesses, and unemployment followed. The middle class protested the concentration of wealth by the financial monopolies and sought a more powerful political role to match their increasing economic importance and support their financial interests. After 1850, the segment of the economy made of craftsmen and traders expanded substantially; the tax yield rose by more than 50%, the number of taxpayers increased by 25%, and the average annual tax for a business increased from 22 francs to 36 francs. Reforms successfully excluded the smallest firms from paying any tax at all. In spite of the growth of industrial manufacturing, at the end of the 19th century, over 75% of all production firms were still domestic operations, independent masters, or family enterprises.

Thatís Entertainment
After mid-century, successful upper-middle class, the bonne bourgeoisie, financiers, industrialists and businessmen aspired to rise in society, and so they earnestly emulated the aristocratic upper class by enjoying entertainment, art, and culture, and by relaxing at their rented or newly-built country homes on vacations and weekends. By the mid-19th century, theatre had become a favorite pastime of the middle class; the most popular productions portrayed men and women of upper class and middle class breaking rules of sexual and social behavior. Theatre offerings expanded to meet demand, and included vaudeville, street performers, folk musicians, comedians, jugglers, and puppeteers; some performing up to 10 shows a day. Middle class social climbers relied on conspicuous consumption to indicate their higher social status; they rode in privately owned horse carriages, enjoyed more expensive entertainment and leisure activities more frequently, and hired additional domestic servants.

Lifestyles of the Bonne Bourgeoisie
The middle class Parisian lifestyle was characterized by comfortable housing and lavish dining. Originally renters, by the end of the century, most middle class families owned their own homes. The average middle class family with an annual income equivalent to at least $10,000 spent 25% of it employing 10 or more servants. Food consumed the largest portion of their annual budget. Their favorite leisure centered on recreational eating with family, friends and important guests; with the aid of many servants, they hosted lavish dinner parties with eight or nine separate courses. Often they each selected a different day of the week on which to hold their events to avoid scheduling conflicts. In warm months, they held country picnics prepared and served by domestic help. Middle class Parisians spurred the aesthetic development of French cuisine as they ate more frequently in public restaurants. By 1900, a restaurant guide to Paris listed nearly 1000 places to eat in the city. Changes in culinary tastes and dining patterns indicated the changing social and cultural values of the Parisian bourgeoisie.

Values and Vices
In the 19th century, the middle class in Paris held values which included a reverence for common sense, hard work, discipline and family ties, diligence towards regular church attendance, and dedication to Christian morality. Many in the middle class claimed to regard gambling, drinking, and sexual pleasure as sinful. Some middle class individuals (mostly women) married into noble families. Many middle class marriages involved large dowries and detailed nuptial contracts. During this period, middle class women led the feminist movement in France, seeking legal rights for women, access to better educations, and entry into professional occupations. Women also participated in the ongoing social revolution, visiting cafes and restaurants to dine alone if they wished. French marriage manuals of the late 19th century granted women the right to orgasms.

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