Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective


Sigot Nathalie, University Paris 1

The nineteenth-century saw the emergence and the development of a French school of economics claiming the legacy of both the Physiocrats and Jean-Baptiste Say. This school contributed to the institutionalization of economics in France, especially through the creation of the Société d’économie politique [Society for Political Economy], still in existence today, and the publication of the Journal des économistes as well as a dictionary which was reprinted several times. While the works of the economists who took part in this process are still well known (see for instance Levan-Lemesle, 2004), the role that women economists played in the Society has never been the object of inquiry. My paper aims to fill this gap in the literature, by focusing on Mathilde Méliot, the first woman who was accepted as “correspondent member” and one of the three women who became a “full member”. Today she is almost totally forgotten, to the point of not even being mentioned in biographies on women economists (Dimand, Dimand, and Forget, 2000; Madden, Pujol, and Seiz, 2004). Nor is she mentioned in Offen’s impressive book on the “woman question” (Offen, 2018), or in studies devoted to French feminism such as Bidelman (1982) or Moses (1984), to name but a few. While little is known about her life (section II), she played a quite important role in France at the time, both as a feminist (section III) and as an economist specialized in financial matters (section IV). Two other women enjoyed the privilege of entering the Société d’économie politique at the turn of the nineteenth century: Clémence Royer was the best known, but she died a few months after becoming a member, thereby playing no role in its activities. The story of the last one, Marie Le Roy, was less tragic, but her nomination can hardly be explained by her contribution to economics, which seems very weak (see below). The Société d’économie politique was reluctant to admit women among its members (section I). Mathilde Méliot can thus be considered an exception on two levels: first, her membership was a mark of recognition of her professional skill (as a journalist) by the members of the Société – a fact which makes her situation fundamentally different from that of Marie Le Roy; and second, unlike Clémence Royer, she was able to participate actively in the activities of the Society. Her name, nevertheless, has been forgotten; I conclude by proposing some reasons why this may have been the case.


Keywords: Nineteeenth century French liberal school ; Women question ; Mathilde Méliot ; Feminism

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