At its start, New France was a man's world: the province of soldiers, fur trappers, and priests, it had little to offer women. In time, the colony became more agricultural, which allowed for more women, but as late as the mid-17th century, there was a severe imbalance between single men and women in New France. The small number of female immigrants had to pay their own passage, and few single women wanted to leave their familiar places to move and settle in the harsh climate and conditions of New France. The growth of population in the competing English colonies awakened concern among some officials about their ability to maintain their claim in the New World.
To increase population and the number of families, the Intendant of New France, Jean Talon, proposed that the king sponsor passage of at least 500 women. The king agreed, and eventually nearly twice the number were recruited. They were predominately between the ages of 12 and 25, and many had to supply a letter of reference from their parish priest before they would be chosen for emigration to New France.
Marguerite Bourgeoys was the first person to use the expression "filles du roi" in her writings. A distinction was made between King's Daughters, who were transported to New France at the king's expense and were given a dowry by the king, and women who emigrated voluntarily and using their own money. Other historians used chronological frameworks to determine who could be called a fille du roi. Research by the historical demographer Yves Landry determines that there were in total about 770 to 850 filles du roi who settled in New France between 1663 and 1673.
The title "King's Daughters" was meant to imply state patronage, not royal or noble parentage. Most of these women were commoners of humble birth. As a fille du roi, a woman received the King’s support in several ways. The King paid one hundred livres to the French East India Company for the woman’s crossing, as well as furnishing a trousseau. The Crown paid a dowry for each woman; this was originally supposed to be four hundred livres, but as the Treasury could not spare such an expense, many were paid in kind. As was the case for most emigrants who went from France to New France, 80% of the filles du roi were from the Paris, Normandy and Western regions. The Hôpital-Général de Paris and the St-Sulpice parish were big contributors of women for the new colony. As such, most of the filles du roi were from urban areas. A few women came from other European countries, including Germany, England, and Portugal. Those who were chosen to be among the filles du roi and allowed to emigrate to New France were held to scrupulous standards, which were based on their "moral calibre" and whether they were physically fit enough to survive the hard work demanded by life as a colonist. The colonial officials sent several of the filles du roi back to France because they were judged below the standards set out by the King and the Intendant of New France.
Almost half of the filles du roi were from the Paris area, 16% from Normandy and 13% from western France. Many were orphans with very meager personal possessions, and their level of literacy was relatively low. Socially, the young women came from different social backgrounds, but were all very poor. They might have been from an elite family that had lost its fortune, or from a large family with children to "spare." Officials usually matched women of higher birth with officers or gentlemen living in the colony, sometimes in the hopes that the nobles would marry the young women and be encouraged to stay in Canada rather than return to France.