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October 24, 2022

30 Fascinating Photos Show What Life in France Looked Like in the 1900s

For France before World War I, the 19th century, as elsewhere, was a period of economic modernization and growing national unity – but it was also a century of political turmoil, public dissatisfaction and military embarrassment.

The late 1800s saw the beginning of what the French call the Belle Epoque, or ‘beautiful era’. France and its people began to enjoy the benefits of industrialization and modernization: cheap resources, technological developments, new inventions like the telegraph, automobile and mass-produced consumer goods. Living standards improved generally, though France, like its fellow European nations, was still plagued by class disparity and poverty.

By the early 1900s, France had one of the most left-wing governments in Europe: a progressive mix of centrists and socialists. It passed laws guaranteeing freedom of religion and the complete separation of church and state; government funding of churches was abolished and all religious buildings were nationalized.

A series of laws decreed free and compulsory education for all French children, both boys and girls. The government also introduced a progressive income tax, with higher rates for higher earners – a radical innovation for its time.

These fascinating photos from Robert Bonnin that show what life in France looked like in the 1900s.

(Photo © Robert Bonnin)


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