Obstacles to the Establishment of a Policy to Combat Infertility in France, c. 1920–1950

  • Fabrice CahenEmail author


This chapter traces the history of structures set up to treat reproductive disorders in twentieth-century France. The emerging centralized welfare state attached particular importance to both the health of the population and to family order, and sought to promote preventative medicine as a means of addressing reproductive issues. After the First World War, some hospital physicians collectively mobilized to create new facilities and procedures for infertility care. However, even in the 1940s, after the state began to encourage endeavours to combat infertility, it did not provide the financial commitment necessary to establish the large-scale public system of infertility care envisaged by reformers. Self-organization and the private treatment of infertility prevailed for most of the twentieth century. The failure of reform efforts illuminates contradictions between the aims of different agencies and authorities involved in formulating health and demographic policies, but may also reflect patient preference for private treatment.


Biopolitics Eugenics Law Medicalization Pronatalism 

Research Resources

Primary Sources

    Archival Sources

    1. The reports and proceedings of the Comité consultatif de lutte contre la Stérilité involontaire (1946) can be consulted in these files: Archives de la Bibliothèque nationale universitaire de Strasbourg, fonds Marc Klein, MS 6.518 and MS 6.525.Google Scholar
    2. Since 2011, the archives of the CECOS (Centres d’étude et de conservation des œufs et du sperme humains) Federation have been held at the Bibliothèque de l’Académie nationale de médecine.Google Scholar

    Published Primary Sources

    1. Louis Funck-Brentano and Édouard Plauchu, Traitement de la stérilité chez la femme (Paris, 1912). This text is available on, the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Several other texts published before 1914 can also be accessed via this site.Google Scholar

    The following are two very useful books for understanding medical approaches to infertility in the 1950s and 1960s:

    1. Jean Dalsace, La stérilité (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1962).Google Scholar
    2. Paul Funck-Brentano, Henri Bayle, and Raoul Palmer, Stérilité (Paris: Masson, 1954).Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

  1. Michael R. Finn, ‘Female Sterilization and Artificial Insemination in Fin-de-Siècle France: Facts and Fictions’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 18:1–2, (January-May 2009), 26–43.Google Scholar
  2. Simone [Bateman-] Novaes ‘Semen Banking and Artificial Insemination by Donor in France: Social and Medical Discourse’, International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care, 2 (1986), 219–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Robert A. Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  4. Naomi Pfeffer, The Stork and the Syringe: A Political History of Reproductive Medicine (Cambridge: Polity, 1993).Google Scholar
  5. William Schneider, Quality and Quantity: The Quest for Biological Regeneration in 20th Century France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut national d’études démographiquesPARISFrance

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