Reforms in France

Although shaken by the Dreyfus affair, France achieved serious reforms in the early 1900s. Like Britain, France passed laws regulating wages, hours, and safety conditions for workers. It set up a system of free public elementary schools. Creating public schools was also part of a campaign to reduce the control of the Roman Catholic Church over education in France.

Separation of Church and State

Like Bismarck in Germany, French reformers tried to limit or even end Church involvement in government. Republicans viewed the Church as a conservative force that opposed progressive policies. In the Dreyfus Affair, it had backed the army and ultranationalists.

From 1899 to 1905, the government enacted a series of reforms. It closed Church schools, along with many convents and monasteries. In 1905, it passed a law to separate church and state and stopped paying the salaries of the clergy. Catholics, Protestants, and Jews all enjoyed freedom of worship, but the new laws ensured that none had any special treatment from the government.

Rights for Women

Under the Napoleonic Code, French women had few rights. By the 1890s, a growing women's rights movement in France sought legal reforms. It made some gains, such as an 1896 law giving married women the right to their own earnings.

In 1909, Jeanne-Elizabeth Schmahl founded the French Union for Women's Suffrage. Schmahl and other women sought to win the vote through legal means. Yet even liberal men were reluctant to grant women suffrage. They feared that women would vote for Church and conservative causes. In the end, French women did not win the vote until 1946.

Photo of a schoolroom, with a man standing as many school children sit at desks writing.

One of the many reforms in early 1900s France was the establishment of free public elementary schools.


  1. Identify Main Ideas What political changes did the end of the Franco-Prussian War bring to France?
  2. Draw Conclusions Explain the effect of Napoleon III's foreign policy failures.
  3. Explain How did coalition governments affect France?
  4. Draw Conclusions Why was the Dreyfus Affair an important event in French history?
  5. Analyze Information Why did French women not get the vote until 1946?

End ofPage 573

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments