La Pitié and La Salpêtrière, two of the oldest hospitals in France, were combined in the twentieth century to form the "largest hospital complex in the world". In 2012, celebrating four hundred years since the earliest incarnation of the first, this surprisingly academic yet readable, commemorative tome was published. Why would this be of any interest to you, Dear Readers? Because many of you are descended from women sent from La Salpêtrière to Canada and known as "les Filles du roy", to Louisiana, to Saint-Domingue, to Martinique, and to what is now Reunion, and because some of you are descended from the officers, doctors and nurses who worked there.
Written by Anne-Sophie Pimpaud and Gilles-Antoine Langlois, the book is beautifully produced, on fine paper, with lovely type with photographs and illustrations of a high quality. Most importantly to you, it is completely bi-lingual, with the French text in the left-hand columns and the English text in the right-hand columns. This is a history of two hospitals, their functions, their architectures, their place in the social and medical history of Paris. It is not a genealogy book and will not help you to prove your ancestry but it will give you a wonderful insight into your ancestress's life were she incarcerated in La Salpêtrière.
Langlois gives a few paragraphs to "orphan girls transported to the [North] American colonies", from 1669, on page 51. He differentiates between them and the later prisoners, "debauched women" who, from 1684, were rounded up at night and sent to the newly built prison cells of La Salpêtrière (pp. 52-53). We like the fierce defiance of some of the women in the description of their being arrested and imprisoned without charge, legal representation or trial, merely for being female and outdoor after dark. In prison, their protest took the form of shrieking en masse, long and loud, driving mad their tormentors.
The first part of the section by Pimpaud goes into great detail about the types of girls taken in as orphans and about their daily lives, from what they ate to the skills that they were taught (pp. 149-163); good for all of you writing historical novels based on your research. Through the nineteenth century, the institutions changed in function from hospice, orphanage and prison to medical hospitals, then medical training institutions, then an asylum, maternity hospital and more until they became, together, the huge medical complex that they are today.
The book ends with eight lovely and clear drawings showing the historical development of the site from 1690 to 2012. The notes are extensive and revelatory as to sources on the subject. Sadly, there is no index. The book is out of print but it may easily be purchased à l'occasion, or second hand, (as we did ours) on the behemoth.
Gilles-Antoine Langlois and Anne-Sophie Pimpaud. La Pitié-Salpêtrière The Pitié-Salpêtrière. Paris : Somogy éditions, 2012.
©2018 Anne Morddel