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  • From the Salon to the Schoolroom: Educating Bourgeois Girls in Nineteenth-Century France
  • Linda L. Clark
From the Salon to the Schoolroom: Educating Bourgeois Girls in Nineteenth-Century France. By Rebecca Rogers ( University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005. xvi plus 335 pp.).

This significant contribution to a still relatively understudied area of French women's educational history is rich in insights into French culture and society as well. Previous scholarly studies have focused primarily on the period since 1880 when the Third Republic launched reforms in both primary and secondary education, in the process imposing more uniformity on public educational institutions. Rogers here highlights the decades between 1800 and 1880, drawing extensively from archives in Paris and some provincial departments and also from published primary sources. Her "Introduction" effectively positions the study in relation to the existing historiography. Another major strength is the presentation of multiple perspectives on the educational experience: what pedagogues wrote, what school inspectors saw and heard, what public officials and religious leaders wanted, what parents expected, what girls experienced, and who the teachers were.

One of Rogers's major goals is to challenge stereotypical images of nineteenth-century private girls' schools as merely frivolous in their emphasis on traditional feminine "accomplishments" or as intellectually inferior, especially if run by religious orders. Instead, her data on schools, teachers, and students' attitudes toward the educational experience suggest that instruction in middle-class girls' schools was "complicated and multifaceted" (p. 2) and often more serious in curricular ambitions than critics contended. By the second half of the nineteenth century, she also argues, both French and foreign observers saw something distinctively "French" about offerings in the private schools in question, regardless of whether they were run by lay women or by religious orders. Private schools are Rogers's focus because, with the exception of the several Legion of Honor schools started by Napoleon I, there were no public secondary schools for girls until Victor Duruy launched an experiment in girls' secondary courses in 1867 and the Third Republic passed the Camille Sée Law creating public secondary schools for girls in 1880.

The word "bourgeois" in the subtitle indicates the centrality of social class in Rogers's study. She is not investigating what public primary schools offered to daughters of "the people" (le peuple). Prefigured by differences between "petites écoles" and more elite schools under the Old Regime, France's nineteenth-century structural and administrative separation between primary and secondary education began under Napoleon I and continued well into the twentieth century. Rogers explains that she uses the term "secondary" as contemporaries understood it, equating "secondary" with a "middle class" clientele more than with a distinctive age group (p. 79). Many of the schools studied actually offered primary-level classes to their middle-class students before these students advanced to something truly post-primary. The growth in numbers of middle-class girls' schools also demonstrates that they often attracted more than one segment of the middle class, from higher to lower.

The model middle-class women in Rogers's study were moral, competent, and oriented toward domestic responsibilities benefiting husbands and children, yet such women home managers also took an interest in some public or social issues [End Page 784] and could converse about them. This role model was, in effect, a post-1789 synthesis of select aristocratic models and Rousseau's well-known anti-salonnière model. For young middle-class women, the school functioned as an "intermediate social space" (p. 10) between the private home and public political and economic arena, helping to break down commonly articulated notions of a sharp divide between private and public spheres.

The teachers in middle-class girls' schools fell into three categories. On the one hand, religious orders were intensively involved in providing instruction, and Rogers, like Sarah Curtis (Educating the Faithful, 2000), seeks to correct longstanding facile generalizations about religious schools' inadequacies by offering detail on specific orders and their schools and curricula. On the other hand, Rogers also underscores lay women's extensive involvement in private middle-class girls' schools, especially in urban areas. What may seem surprising, however, is the longstanding presence of a third type...


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