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Prison Saint-Lazare - Un arrivage dans la cour de l'administration, en voitures cellulaires - 13 février 1897

The arrival of prisoners at Saint-Lazare


By William Walton, published in 1899

Searching a prisoner at Saint-Lazare

Saint-Lazare, on the Faubourg Saint-Denis, is at once a hospital, a police station, and a prison for women, and its methods and regulation have long been the object of earnest denunciation. As a prison for women, it is divided into two sections, for those accused, and for those condemned to less than two months’ imprisonment; among the latter are women of the town, who have a special hospital. The only condamnées who remain for any length of time within these walls are the sick, nursing women having a child less than four years of age, and those enceinte. There is a special crèche for the newly-born babies,—for there are no less than fifty or sixty births annually. The nursing mothers, whether convicted or only accused, have special dormitories, and there is a shady garden for the wet-nurses. The prostitutes are provided with a special section. These unfortunates have not passed before any court; they have been condemned without appeal by a Chef de Bureau of the Préfecture de Police to an imprisonment of from three days to two months. During the day, the inmates are assembled in a workroom under the surveillance of one of the Sisters of the Order of Marie-Joseph, to whom is confided a general oversight of the workrooms and the dormitories. These prisoners take their meals in common, take their exercise walking in a long file, and at night sleep in a great chilly and crowded dormitory. Those who have merited it by their conduct are given one of the cells of the ménagerie, a double story of grated cells, furnished each with a bed, a stool, a shelf, and an earthenware vessel. The menagerie was formerly devoted to the service of the correction maternelle.

Saint-Lazare: Morning prayer in the section of prostitutes

In the great dormitories, there may be witnessed each morning such a scene as that reproduced in the illustration, the prayer addressed to the image of the Virgin on the wall, decked out with faded artificial flowers and with tapers in front of her; following the example of the Sister, all stoop with more or less reverence before this symbol and utter with more or less sincerity from impure lips the prayer for a pure heart. This grand dormitory is a great hall containing more than eighty beds arranged in four rows. The red tile floor is of irreproachable cleanliness, the eighty beds, with their gray blankets and white bolsters, are arranged with military symmetry. But this cleanliness and this good order, it is claimed, count but for little in the amelioration of these unfortunates, gathering contamination from each other in this indiscriminate herding together.

According to the law, those merely accused, the prévenues, and those actually convicted, are kept apart from each other, but in each of these two classes no distinctions are made—the homeless unfortunate, arrested for délit de vagabondage, is associated with the criminal guilty of infanticide or assassination. Even the little girls of ten and twelve years are kept together in the same promiscuousness, those already hardened in criminal ways corrupting the more innocent.

The prévenues enjoy certain privileges; they are not obliged to work, though it is but seldom that they refuse to take up some of the light sewing which occupies their leisure and brings them in small sums of money; they are not obliged, when they take their exercise, to walk round and round in a circle in the préau, forming in line only at the entrance and the exit. The formalities of search and interrogation, upon entering the prison, are the same for all, as are the general regulations and the discipline. All rise at five o’clock in summer, and at six or half-past six the rest of the year, and all go to bed at eight; all receive meat with their bouillon only on Sundays. The children are more favored in this respect, being furnished with eggs, roast meat, etc.

Everywhere are seen in these gloomy and unwholesome halls and corridors “the austere and consoling figures” of the Sisters of Marie-Joseph. They wear a dark robe, sometimes with a white apron, a white cornette under a black veil which has a blue lining, and they supervise all the details of the monotonous life of the prison. Rising in the dawn, a half-hour before any of the prisoners, they perform their devotions, and one of them rings the bell which summons all to leave their beds; they direct the workrooms in which the prisoners sew, a Sister sitting upright in a high chair, like a teacher presiding over her class, and they keep a watchful eye during the night on all the sleepers, in all the dormitories, great and little. Their hours of service as guards are from five or six o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock in the evening. After this hour, until the morning again, two Sisters remain on watch in the first section of the prison and one in the second. Their sole comfort and recompense is found in prayer and meditation in the mortuary chamber of Saint Vincent de Paul, now transformed into an oratory for their use. There is also a chapel for the use of the inmates, as well as a Protestant oratory and a synagogue.


Related posts:

Parisian Prostitutes (1): The Fortifications Whore

The Opera of Paris:  We Procure Our Ballerinas to Wealthy Men



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Paris City Hall

The American columnist Charles Carrol Fulton, visited Paris in the summer of 1873. In a series of letters for The Baltimore American he faithfully reported his impressions. With a transparent enthusiasm, he described the beauty and amenities of Paris and his admiration for the efficient way in which the city was run:

It may be of interest to our City Fathers to know in what way the means for carrying on the expensive city government of Paris are obtained. Everything that is brought into Paris in the shape of food for sale must pay an octroi, or entrance duty, at the gates of the city, or, if by boats, at the wharf before it is landed. The receipts from this source last year amounted to 102,286,000 francs, or $20,448,000; market dues, $2,000,000; weights and measures, $21,020; supply of water, 1,028,000; slaughter houses, $600,000; rents of stands in the public ways, 90,060; dues on burials, $140,000; sales of lands in cemeteries, $139,000; taxes for pawing, lighting, etc., $2,100,000; trade-licenses, $3,500,000; dog tax $90,000; sale of night-soil, $132,000: total receipts, $39,556,410.

Among the items of expenditure are, interest of debt and sinking-fund, $9,214,000; expenses of collections, salaries etc., $1,689,000; primary institutions, $1,100,000; public worship, $36,000; national guard and military service, $576,300; repairs of public buildings, $ 346,000; assistance to the poor, including hospitals, $4,469,200; promenades and works of art, $653,340; public schools, 123,200; public festivals, $152,000; the police department, $3,124,000; new public works, $4,924,000; lighting streets, $783,416,000.

One of the public buildings, victims of fire during the Commune uprising in 1871, the Hotel de Ville was fully restored in 1882.

It will thus be seen that, notwithstanding the tribulations through which Paris has passed [the Siege of Paris by the Prussian army and the Commune uprising in 1871], she spent last year nearly $5,000,000 on new public improvements, whilst the receipts exceeded the whole expenses of the city by nearly $150,000. Poor Baltimore, with its “rings” and political hunkers, spends literally nothing on public improvements, and runs deeper in debt every year (*). The city government of Paris is a model for the world, and if we must continue to keep the incompetents in control, do send them over here to learn something.

(*) It is sad that not much has been learned in budget-balancing, both in the US and the EU, since this article was written.

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From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873.

The official returns of the hospitals of Paris show that of the fifty-five thousand of births in the city during the past year, fifteen thousand three hundred and sixty-six were illegitimate. The proportion of illegitimates to the number of inhabitants is not quite up to that of Vienna, which has ten thousand for one million inhabitants, whilst the population of Paris is nearly two millions. In various parts of Paris , boxes called tours are established, each of which revolvers upon a pivot, and, on a bell being rung, is turned around by the person inside to receive the child that may have been deposited in it without attempting to ascertain who the parents are.

The child is taken to a hospital and cared for, and as soon as a nurse from the country may be procured, it is given into her charge. Nurses from the country, of good character, are always applying for these infants. The nurses are paid by the city from four francs to eight francs per month, according to the age of the child, care being taken to assign the children to nurses living as far as possible from their birth-places. After the second year, the nurse may give the child up, when, if no other nurse can be found for it, it is transferred to the Orphan Department. Sometimes the nurses become so attached to the children that they retain them. The number of children thus placed out in the country to nurse is about four thousand annually. The abolition, in some of the departments, of this humane custom of receiving these little waifs and asking no questions has caused infanticide to become very frequent. As for infanticide before birth, the number is said to have doubled and trebled in some districts, and to have risen to four and five times the usual amount in others. The average number of foundlings maintained at the Paris Hospital is four thousand four hundred. At the age of twelve the boys are  bound apprentice to some trade at the expense of the city. A portion of one hundred and forty-eight francs is awarded by the city to female foundlings when they marry, provided their conduct has been unexceptionable throughout.

The Hospice des Enfants Assistés founded in 1640 by St. Vincent of Paul is for the reception of foundlings. For a child to be received at this hospital, however, it is necessary that a certificate of abandonment be produced, signed by a Commissary of Police. The Commissary is bound to admonish the mother or party abandoning the child and to procure for them assistance from the hospital fund in case of their consenting to retain and support the child. Every encouragement is thus given to those who relinquish the idea of abandoning their offspring and consent to support them at home. Of the children received at this hospital, those that are healthy are put out in the country to nurse, whilst those that are sickly are retained at the hospital until they die or recover. The number of beds in this hospital is about six hundred. And the children annually sent from it to the country are about four thousand three hundred. The children are first placed  in a general reception room, called La Crêche, where they are visited every morning by the physicians assigned  to the different infirmaries. In each of these infirmaries, as well as in La Crêche, cradles are placed around the walls in rows, and several nurses are constantly employed in attending to them. An inclined bed is placed in front of the fire, on which the children who require it are laid, and chairs are ranged in a warm corner, in which those of sufficient age and strength sit part of the day. Everything is admirably conducted, and to all outward appearances they are kindly and humanely cared for.

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