Joan L. Coffey
“This study examines an important, yet largely neglected aspect of late-nineteenth-century social thought and experience. Coffey goes beyond existing treatments of the subject by skillful use of previously inaccessible archival sources.” —Francis Murphy, Boston College
Léon Harmel is a penetrating study of the French industrialist who from 1870 to 1914 advanced social Catholic and Christian democratic movements by improving factory conditions and empowering workers. Joan Coffey’s fascinating new book represents the first major study of Léon Harmel in English.
Harmel’s model factory at Val-des-Bois demonstrated that mutual accord and respect were possible between labor and management. Harmel turned his profitable spinning mill into a Christian corporation. His ethical business practices captured the attention of Pope Leo XIII and inspired his encyclical Rerum Novarum. Harmel also encouraged his workers to make pilgrimages to Rome. The collaboration of Pope Leo XIII and Léon Harmel laid the foundation of enterprises that collectively became known as the movement of Christian democracy.
Drawing on extensive archival sources, including the Vatican Archives, Joan Coffey’s work skillfully analyzes the personal relationship between Pope Leo XIII and Léon Harmel. Léon Harmel also offers a timely reminder of the power of personal ethics and provides a refreshing antidote to today’s business climate.
“Coffey does a masterful job of situating Léon Harmel—his life, his work, his ideology—in the context of French political and social turmoil in the last third of the nineteenth century. Coffey’s extraordinary synthesis of scholarly works on social, gender, and labor history is as impressive as her original archival research, making this book an important resource for any historian of France or of social issues. Beautifully written, it is also a great pleasure to read.” —Elinor Accampo, University of Southern California
“Joan Coffey’s book on Léon Harmel is a remarkable achievement in a number of ways. It provides a credible portrait of a French industrialist, turning the flat, cardboard caricature of the ‘industrial bourgeoisie’ into something both singular and complex. It enriches labor history and social history by wedding them with cultural history. It also reminds us that the tensions between corporate culture and employee autonomy are not of recent invention.” —Raymond Jonas, author of France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart
“Joan Coffey’s deeply researched study of Léon Harmel sheds new light on many of the most important issues of the late nineteenth century. A confidant of Leo XIII, Harmel emerges as a principled, but by no means perfect, advocate of social Catholicism whose commitment to improving the lives of workers was unconditional, abiding, and profoundly influential.” —Martha Hanna, University of Colorado, Boulder
“Joan Coffey weaves Harmel into a rich tapestry of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European developments, highlighting what made him particularly distinctive as a social reformer and showing that the threads of his legacy reach to standard twenty-first-century workers’ rights. This results in a book that will be valuable to both experts and non-specialists alike.” —Sandra Horvath-Peterson, Georgetown University
“Coffey’s study of Léon Harmel does what she promises it will: it uses recent scholarship to illuminate the connections between the man and his time and place. Harmel’s life as an entrepreneur, a social reformer, and a faithful and visionary Catholic gains focus from the careful analysis of industrial development, social thought, and the policies and problems of the papacy. The effective interplay of particular and general makes this work a biography and a profile of the period as well.” —Susan A. Ashley, Colorado College
“The biography becomes a veritable life and times and as such can be recommended not only to the specialist but to a much wider range of interested students and readers.” — Catholic Historical Review
“Engaging study. . . .” — American Historical Review
“It is to the credit of his biographer that she turns to the best sources so as to give us an exact account of a man of action who engaged in the debates of his time and devoted himself to those undertakings that he knew he could see through.” — Journal of Markets and Morality
“_Léon Harmel_ makes a major contribution to understanding the Catholic social tradition by documenting his significant influence on Catholic social teaching. [W]e can be grateful for the legacy of [Joan Coffey’s] impressive scholarship. Coffey has produced an impressive intellectual biography of Léon Harmel.” — Cistercian Studies Quarterly
“This model of careful scholarship and felicitous style deserves to be read by all students of modern French history. Essential.” — Choice
“Coffey’s wording throughout is clear and authoritative, never evasive or biased. . . . One must conclude that she accomplished her goal: a fresh history of a French industrial reformer, consistently interesting as it passes through his youth, his family business, his ideas and ventures, and his influences on others.“ — Catholic Library World