The Making of the

Authored by: Marie-Paule Ha

The Routledge History of Western Empires

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415639873
eBook ISBN: 9781315879499
Adobe ISBN: 9781317999874


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In his 1897 speech for the inauguration of the Société Française d’Émigration des Femmes (SFEF), a society set up under the auspices of the prominent pro-colonial organisation the Union Coloniale Française (UCF) to promote the migration of French women to the empire, Joseph Chailley-Bert, the UCF secretary-general, informed his audience of a radical change in the nation’s colonial policy. After the two-decade-long military expansion, France should henceforth move from conquest to the development of her overseas possessions: ‘for the greatest number and the wisest of the colonists, these words, “colonial policy”, must acquire, have acquired another meaning. They signify the political and administrative organisation, and the economic exploitation of our colonies’. To this end, it was not enough to send men and capital to the colonies, what was further needed, Chailley-Bert contended, was ‘the one element that constitutes the family and forms its very basis: women’. 1 The UCF’s recognition that women have an essential role to play in the colonial scheme of things indeed signals a sea change in the nineteenth-century colonialists’ thinking about the empire, which had been hitherto constructed as an exclusively male preserve where white women feared to tread. How could we account for such a total volte-face of what Ann Stoler describes as the ‘strident misogyny of imperial thinkers and colonial agents’, 2 the group notoriously known to blame women for the ruin of the empire as epitomised in the ‘myth of the destructive female’? 3

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