chapter  10
THE FUNCTION AND MALFUNCTION OF MUTUAL AID SOCIETIES IN NINETEENTH- CENTURY FRANCE
ByAllan Mitchell
Pages 18

One of the obvious lacunae in the historiography of modern France is the absence of a thorough study of mutual aid societies (sociétés de secours mutuels), which played a crucial pan in public health throughout the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth. Although the lives of millions were directly touched by the Mutualité, its complex evolution admittedly remains a ‘puzzle’ for historians and its social impact is still ‘largely unexplored’.1 The subtitle of a recent sketch of mutualism by one French scholar tells all: ‘une histoire maintenant accessible’.2 Until very recently we have had nothing more than several older general narratives, collected and catalogued in the musty library of the Musée Social in Paris. To these have lately been added a few competent local monographs, as well as some bibliographical guides for the history of French social security. The rest, astonishingly, is silence.3