"Algerians" and exemplary French mothers (1945-1962)

Sophia Lamri

7 March 2002

As its name indicates, the Medal for the Large French Family is bestowed exclusively on French families. Between 1945 and 1960, however, in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside of Paris, thirty-two “Algerian” mothers received this award. It is true that owing to full citizenship acquired through simple colonial migration (until independence in 1962, Algeria was indeed France and the “Algerian” immigration an internal migration), the “Algerians” settled in France were by law assimilated to the French population and thus came under a whole group of juridico-administrative practices within the rationale of the French model of integration into the Republic.
The fact remains that given its social position—at the bottom of the socio-cultural ladder—and the discrimination it faced, the colonial immigration was nonetheless perceived as foreign, indeed, the most foreign to the nation. Between assimilation and house arrest, the history of the Medal for the Large French Family bestowed on “Algerian” mothers describes in a very concrete way the contradiction faced by colonial immigration. This contradiction is expressed above all by the elevation to the rank of exemplary (literally: “serving as an example”) French mother of “foreign” women otherwise stigmatised as bearers of archaic values which would, notably, confine them to the reproductive function alone.

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