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History and origin

While theories abound about the origin of the French Bulldog, the most popular is that lace workers from England in the mid-1800s brought smallish English Bulldogs with them, when they sought work in northern France. The little bulldogs became very popular as ratters and loyal companions. Soon, their numbers swelled. Meanwhile, breeders in England seized on the opportunity to sell undersized specimens of an old breed to fanciers as a "new" breed, including the "tulip" eared puppies, which cropped up at times in bulldog litters. French bulldogs were originally bred as ratters, but are now bred as lap dogs and companions.

The magazine "Country Life", in the 29 April 1899 takes up the story: "Some five-and-thirty years ago in fact, [i.e. about 1865], the small-sized or light-weight Bulldog was common in this country; so much so that dogs of the breed that scaled over 28 lbs were not encouraged at such shows as Birmingham, which was at that period the most important exhibition of its kind in England. Then by some freak of fashion the Toy Bulldog became all the rage in Paris, with the result that the celebrated Bill George, of Canine Castle, Kensal New Town, the most eminent dog dealer of his or any other day, received carte blanche commissions from French customers to procure them light-weight Bulldogs, and by this means England was denuded of all the best specimens".[1]

 As the new, smaller built dogs gained popularity in France, they became favorites of the Parisian "Belles De Nuit" - the street walkers. One reason for this is that when strolled, the exotic looking dogs brought attention to their owner, and gave potential customers a legitimate reason to chat with her. Another is that the docile breed was content to nap for short stretches when brought to hotel rooms, without making a fuss. Breed historians can still sometimes turn up notorious "French Postcards" bearing images of scantily clad French prostitutes posing with their little "Bouledogues Fran├žais". The aura of notoriety that ownership of the little dogs conveyed made the rich upper class the few people that could afford to own them. Later as popularity grew, many people wanted to show that they too had arrived. And so the little dogs became an acceptable as well as a fashionable way

French Bulldog circa 1915

 for the well-to-do classes to show off how daring they could be, and they soon became favorites of the "artistic" set across Europe.

Photos dating to around this time show the Russian royal family posing alongside their French bulldogs, and they imported several of the little dogs from France. Other famous fanciers included Toulouse-Lautrec, the author Colette and King Edward VII. A French bulldog, insured for the, at that time, astronomical sum of $750, was on board the ill-fated Titanic.

It is inarguable that without the influence of dedicated, turn-of-the-century American fanciers the breed would not be what it is today. It is they that organized the very first French bulldog club in the world, and it was they who insisted that the "bat" ear so associated with the breed today was correct. Until that time, French bulldogs were shown with either the "bat" or "rose" ear.

All in all, French bulldogs are an international breed, with breeders of many nations being responsible for the creation of the dogs we know today.


A Brief History of the FBDCA by Jim Grebe, FBDCA Historian

Ears. It was a dispute about ears that prompted the founding of the French Bull Dog Club of America on April 5, 1897. American breeders were incensed that the English judge, George Raper, had put up rose-eared Frenchies at the Westminster Kennel Club show in February. Most British and French judges favored dogs that, in effect, were toy bulldogs and that of course included the rose ear. There was no published standard defining the breed and no organization in America or Europe that was devoted to the breed so the Americans decided to organize and set the rule requiring bat ears as part of the new American standard. This was fiercely criticized by the French and British but the Americans stuck to their guns, so today the bat ear is universally recognized as a key element of a true French bulldog.

Members of the new French Bull Dog Club of America (FBDCA), men of wealth and prominent social standing, had made liberal trophy donations to the 1898 Westminster show and E. D. Faulkner, a club member, was chosen to judge the Frenchies. But the club was outraged when they discovered that bat-eared AND rose-eared dogs were to be judged. The Westminster club ignored the protests and so the FBDCA pulled its support of the show and Mr. Faulkner withdrew from the judging assignment. 

American club members, driven by consuming indignation, organized their own show to be held on February 12, 1898. This was the famous first FBDCA specialty, held in the sun parlor of the luxurious Waldorf- Astoria Hotel, amid palms, potted plants, rich rugs and soft divans. Hundreds of engraved invitations were sent out and the cream of New York society showed up. And, of course, rose-eared dogs were not welcomed. It wasn't until 1910 that the second FBDCA specialty was held although during the intervening years the club donated trophies to shows where Frenchies were judged by approved judges.

Thereafter, specialties were held annually in New York City and enjoyed good entries until the start of World War I. The club was dominated by prominent New Yorkers including a Belmont, a Whitney, a Roosevelt and assorted Vanderbilts. Honorary members included Elsie de Wolfe, a prominent interior decorator, much ahead of her time; and James Gordon Bennett, the colorful dog fancier, international yachtsman and owner of the New York Herald.   Samuel Goldenberg was a prominent Frenchie breeder who was slated to judge the 1912 specialty. En route from France, Goldenberg was on the giant liner Titanic when it sank, a week before he was to judge. Both Goldenberg and his wife survived and arrived in New York just one day prior to the show. 

  In 1913 and 1914 the club published nine issues of published nine issues of
TheFrench Bull Dog, a magazine that contained a wealth of Frenchie-
  related articles and photographs. Publication ceased because offinancial losses but these  magazines provide the definitivepicture of the gilded age of Frenchies. As one would expect, copies of these magazines are highly valued by collectors today. By 1925 the club had 86 activemembers and was doing well enough that, along with the French Bulldog Club of New England, published the milestone hard-bound book,
The French Bulldog. It contained articles from the old club magazine plus material including drawings and photographs that are still widely reprinted today. The selling pricewas five dollars, a tiny fraction ofwhat a used copy is worth today.
The FBDCA suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930s along with the rest of the country. Membership declined and only a last minute canvass of members enabled the club to hold its 1931 specialty. Classes for white, pied and fawn Frenchies were included for the first time. After years of being held in New York, the 1933 specialty was held in conjunction with the Morris and Essex show on the grounds of Mrs. Dodge's estate in New Jersey and continued to be held there through 1941. The 1939 show had an entry of 100 Frenchies, the largest in many years. The price of The French Bulldog book was reduced to $3 in order to stimulate sales.

During the World War II years the FBDCA specialties were held in conjunction with the Westchester Kennel Club shows. Show entries and club participation were down sharply as America put priority on the great war effort. The club survived the war and the postwar years, but just barely. Membership hovered around fifty dues-paying members and specialty show entries were usually only a few dozen or so. The club's leadership, dominated by eastern breeders, continued to resist holding the annual specialties outside of the New York-New Jersey area.

By the late 1970s the club had over 100 members. An independent breed publication, The Frenchie Fancier, publicized Frenchie activities around the country and, later, The French Bullytin continued to encourage the transition of the FBDCA into a truly national club. The 1980s brought forth significant changes. The 1984 specialty was held in conjunction with the International Kennel Club in Chicago, our first specilty ever held outside the New York/New Jersey area. The specialty returned to New Jersey the following year but in 1986 it was in Edwardsville, Illinois. The show was rotated around the U.S for the next twenty years and the club became truly national with breeders, competitors, and fanciers from all areas participating in club activities. Club membership and show entries increased sharply. The FBDCA Centennial Show held in Overland Park, Kansas in 1997 had a record entry of 303 Frenchies.

The club's activities have expanded to include rescue, breeder and judges education, public education, health surveys and support of health research through the Canine Health Foundation. The need for these was becoming critical as the popularity of French bulldogs grew. Current club membership totals over 500 but we shouldn't forget those breeders of the past who kept the FBDCA going through the lean years when only a dozen or so would meet regularly to conduct the club's business. John Haslam, Fred Hamm and Peggy Clark Kelley were long-serving club presidents (nearly fifty years between them!) and one cannot overlook the Hovers. Helen Hover served thirty years as club secretary and her husband Dick was the club's AKC delegate for over thirty-five years. Let us hope that our efforts on behalf of this wonderful breed of dog are worthy of these pioneers of our American club.
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