On This Day
1790 – France is divided into 83 départements, cutting across the former provinces in an attempt to dislodge regional loyalties based on ownership of land by the nobility.
n the administrative divisions of France, the department (French: département, pronounced [depaʁt(ə)mɑ̃]) is one of the three levels of government below the national level (“territorial collectivities”), between the administrative regions and the commune. Ninety-six departments are in metropolitan France, and five are overseas departments, which are also classified as regions. Departments are further subdivided into 334 arrondissements, themselves divided into cantons; the last two have no autonomy, and are used for the organisation of police, fire departments, and sometimes, elections.
Each department is administered by an elected body called a departmental council (conseil départemental (sing.), conseils départementaux (plur.)). From 1800 to April 2015, these were called general councils (conseil général (sing.), conseils généraux (plur.)). Each council has a president. Their main areas of responsibility include the management of a number of social and welfare allowances, of junior high school (collège) buildings and technical staff, and local roads and school and rural buses, and a contribution to municipal infrastructures. Local services of the state administration are traditionally organised at departmental level, where the prefect represents the government; however, regions have gained importance in this regard since the 2000s, with some department-level services merged into region-level services.
The departments were created in 1790 as a rational replacement of Ancien Régime provinces with a view to strengthen national unity; the title “department” is used to mean a part of a larger whole. Almost all of them were named after physical geographical features (rivers, mountains, or coasts), rather than after historical or cultural territories which could have their own loyalties. The division of France into departments was a project particularly identified with the French revolutionary leader the Abbé Sieyès, although it had already been frequently discussed and written about by many politicians and thinkers. The earliest known suggestion of it is from 1764 in the writings of d’Argenson. They have inspired similar divisions in many countries, some of them former French colonies.
Most French departments are assigned a two-digit number, the “Official Geographical Code”, allocated by the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques. Overseas departments have a three-digit number. The number is used, for example, in the postal code, and was until recently used for all vehicle registration plates. While residents commonly use the numbers to refer to their own department or a neighbouring one, more distant departments are generally referred to by their names, as few people know the numbers of all the departments. For example, inhabitants of Loiret might refer to their department as “the 45”.
In 2014, President François Hollande proposed to abolish departmental councils by 2020, which would have maintained the departments as administrative divisions, and to transfer their powers to other levels of governance. This reform project has since been abandoned.
Born On This Day
1781 – Rebecca Gratz, American educator and philanthropist (d. 1869)
Rebecca Gratz (March 4, 1781 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – August 27, 1869 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was a preeminent Jewish American educator and philanthropist in 19th-century America.
Gratz was the seventh of twelve children born to Miriam Simon and Michael Gratz. Her mother was the daughter of Joseph Simon, a preeminent Jewish merchant of Lancaster, while her father immigrated to America in 1752 from Langendorf, in German-speaking Silesia. Michael, who was descended from a long line of respected rabbis, and Miriam, were observant Jews and active members of Philadelphia’s first synagogue, Mikveh Israel.
In 1801, at the age of 20, Rebecca Gratz helped establish the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, which helped women whose families were suffering after the American Revolutionary War. In 1815, after seeing the need for an institution for orphans in Philadelphia, she was among those instrumental in founding the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum. Four years later, she was elected secretary of its Board. She continued to hold this office for forty years. Under Gratz’ auspices, a Hebrew Sunday School, the first of its kind in America, was started in 1838. Gratz became both its superintendent and president and assisted in developing its curriculum, resigning in 1864.
Gratz was also one of the founding members of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, around November 1819. In 1850, she advocated in The Occident, over the signature A Daughter of Israel, the foundation of a Jewish foster home. Her advocacy was largely instrumental in the establishment of such a home in 1855. Other organizations that came about due to her efforts were the Fuel Society and the Sewing Society.
Gratz is said to have been the model of Rebecca, the daughter of the Jewish merchant Isaac of York, who is the heroine in the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Scott’s attention had been drawn to Gratz’s character by Washington Irving, who was a close friend of the Gratz family. The claim has been disputed, but it has also been well sustained in an article entitled “The Original of Rebecca in Ivanhoe”, which appeared in The Century Magazine, 1882, pp. 679–682.
Gratz never married. Among the marriage offers she received was one from a Gentile whom she loved but ultimately chose not to marry on account of her faith.
Her portrait was painted twice by the noted American artist Thomas Sully. One of those portraits (both are owned by the Rosenbach Museum) is on display at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Shortly after Rebecca Gratz died in 1869, her brother, Hyman, founded and financed Gratz College, a teachers’ college in Philadelphia, in her memory.
Gratz is buried at Mikveh Israel Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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