Do a search for "color one shot camera" and see what comes up. I actually made dyes from 5x7 one shot plates that a portrait photographer was still using in the 80's. Registration was done dying and drying mats and then aligning visually and punching. OH... and these were 40x60".
For the same reason that you couldn't set your color head to default filtration, you can't use default exposures or development on color negs. I've made quite a few dyes from negs and getting a balanced set of interpositives was always time-consuming and unpleasant. This usually became a black hole of lost time.
Color correction was done in various ways. If you had an image with a dramatic issue (like outdoor film shot under tungsten) it would pay to make exposure compensations in the separation negs - otherwise you try for default exposures from transparencies. For matrix film, you would have default exposures for a test strip. Corrections were all seat-of-the-pants at this point and you would correct for density and color in your full-sized set of mats. If your first full-sized print looked pretty good, you would use precise amounts of sodium acetate in the first rinse to subtract color (image is too magenta; add 5ml of sodium acetate to the rinse). You could also add highlight reducer (Calgon water softener) to the rinse and you could adjust dye contrast with acetic acid or triethanalomine (sp?) but this would ruin your dye for future use.
All this localized color and tone control was remarkable compared to C-prints which were much more limited. Add to this the deep blacks, extreme color gamut and beautiful gelatin surface and you have an explanation for why the medium was sought out by art photographers. The real commercial value was in advertising of course. Retouchers could use the same dyes to work on the print and as a result, the retouching was integrated into the image and wouldn't "shoot through" or reveal itself to a color separation camera or scanner the way ink airbrushed onto a C-print often would.
I agree with you that there's great satisfaction in producing something, but I also think about the fact that Cartier-Bresson didn't print his own work.