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France on the threshold of the 20th century /
A steady but controversial government /
Public education

Public education

A growing school population

Secondary education for girls became widespread thanks to the Camille Sée Law of 21 December 1880, which resulted in 41 high schools and 29 junior high schools being opened in the space of twenty years. Some 100,000 children received a secondary education, although the university remained the domain of the elite, with only 30,000 students-although this figure increased threefold between 1870 and 1900.

Primary education

Whereas France's Jesuit schools closed their doors in 1880, the establishment of primary education that was free (Law of 16 June 1881), secular and mandatory (Law of 23 March 1882) struck a chord. Its teachers were described by Péguy as "black-robed hussars of the Republic," while for Jean Bouvier they imparted a social ethic of "discipline, obedience, and docility towards one's employer as well as the authorities." "In school, we are gentle and grateful to our teachers, and helpful and friendly towards our classmates. We love our village, which is a small corner of France, and we do it honor by learning our lessons and becoming good children." In penning this pledge on the last page of her reading primer, Le Tour de la France par Deux Enfants, G. Bruno (the nom de plume of Augustine Fouillé) had no idea that more than eight million copies of her book would be sold-at the rate of 500,000 copies a year between 1880 and 1910. The author's intention was to give her readers "every sort of duty in the form of examples," and to provide a civics lesson through "understanding of one's native land."

Rules for proper behavior and social taboos

Le Tour de la France par Deux Enfants, whose illustrations were secularized in the early 20th century, was a blend of religious guidelines and rules for good behavior, and strengthened social taboos. All of this complied with the instructions of the inspector-general of public education, who required that working-class children be instructed in the "persistent deprivation of comforts and pleasures." Trade unions, associations, and the various left-leaning political parties, on the other hand, sought to awaken the consciousness of the proletariat, to challenge the political and social order, and to end the belief that "the most beautiful thing in the world is the charity of the poor." In Toulouse in 1892, Jean Jaurès exhorted students to raise themselves up "above all necessities, all inevitabilities, and above society itself, with respect to its ever-present material and savage side in order to make the immortal purity of sources spring forth in the ancient human forest."


The University pays homage to Pasteur. The Sorbonne

Girls' School

Boys' School

Centennial of Victor Hugo's birth

"Being an honest man…"