A More Perfect French Union: France’s Newest Citizens and the Making of the Fourth Republic

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 3:10 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Lorelle D. Semley, College of the Holy Cross
As the French Empire transformed into the French Union during the post-WWII Fourth Republic, a major point of contention was the citizenship status of Africans and Antilleans. However, there has been little attention to the gendered nature of these racialized concepts of citizenship and civil status under the Fourth Republic’s French Union. The Antillean colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guyana (plus Réunion in the Indian Ocean) became French overseas departments, but Africans acquired citizenship in the French Union and maintained their civil/personal status. The separation of political rights and civil status for Africans acquiring French citizenship was not new, but French women’s right to vote was.

The Fourth Republic featured not only new representatives from France’s former colonies but also women voters and politicians for the first time, making for extraordinarily diverse legislative bodies in an era before decolonization and the worldwide civil rights movement. I will examine how women, African and Antillean representatives, participated in parliamentary debates, including Deputy Gerty Archimède of Guadeloupe and Senator Eugénie Eboué-Tell of Guyana, to understand how issues of women’s citizenship and civil status intersected with questions of labor, education, and health, so central to the expanded social welfare programs of the time. The Fourth Republic has been criticized for its weak presidential structure and inability to resolve the decolonization crisis. France’s newest citizens were key shapers of policy at the time, raising questions about how their presence affected how the Fourth Republic has been remembered or, in many ways, forgotten in history.