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French readers could not have picked up a newspaper during the final decades of the nineteenth century without encountering a story like Florine Seigneurgent’s, whose words appeared in the Gazette des Tribunaux in 1890. Florine was a complainant in fraud proceedings against one Ernest Nizet, a thirty-three-year-old man who had directed a number of financial agencies and banking operations across the country in the 1880s. As it transpired, he was a stellar example of the many fly-by-night financial intermediaries proliferating in the nation’s cities, compromising their clients’ capital through incompetence, bad luck, or ill intent. Pursued by his creditors and authorities, Nizet had run off with the assets of his Parisian securities brokerage, leaving 450 000 francs in debt and the “strange discovery” of accounting books that turned out to be richly decorated wooden boxes. Florine’s statement stood in for those of his many victims, capturing the multiple complaints lodged against him:The witness: An unfortunate peasant woman, ignorant of the cunning and trickery of large cities, I’ve been the victim of a swindle that has robbed me of all the savings that my husband, my son, and I, with great care and cost, had been able to put aside. There was a man in our region, working in league with some of the large banking houses of Paris, who shamelessly fleeced and robbed all the unfortunates simple enough to be taken in by his silver promises. I was robbed blind by these so-called certificates, so wonderfully embellished and yet completely worthless, since neither the City of Paris nor the Crédit Foncier recognize them […] I came to Paris to demand an explanation and imagine the shock of finding out that the head of the bank had fled and taken the money with him…


Women were important managers of wealth in nineteenth-century France and their activities in this domain warrant renewed attention from historians. This paper offers preliminary discussion of the absence of the female investor in scholarship on French financial history. It outlines existing historiography on women and finance in nineteenth-century France, pointing to new opportunities suggested by research on female investment in other countries as well as shifting historical assessments of women’s enterprise in France. It shows that women’s lack of prominence in the scholarship on finance follows from the silence on women’s practices in key contemporary sources and it sketches the conditions of possibility for recovering their presence from alternative sites. It argues that incorporating women into our study of popular finance allows us to ask new questions of the past, and promises to solve at least two problems – not only that of the erasure of women as consequential agents in French financial histories, but also that of the omission of the modest and ordinary investor in accounts of the construction and operation of financial markets.

  • women shareholders
  • investors
  • finance in France
  • suffragette
  • Mathilde Méliot
Alexia Yates
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Uploaded on on 18/11/2022
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