Individual French Schools: Ecole de plein air de Faïdoli (1950s?)

Figure 1.--The girls in the class seem to be working together on the project here, some kind of printing exercise. Notice the ink roller. They all wear the same short plaid smock. One girl seems to have a protective apron. The girls all wear the same baggy long pants as the boys. A lady reacher seems to be helping. Image courtesy of the MD collection. 

We have learned quite a boy about this special school located in the mountains. We only have one image taken in one of the class rooms, probably in the late 1940s oe ealu 50s. I think it may be a kind of experimental school. It ceratinly does not look like a typical French classroom jamed with desks and all the students facing the teacher at the front of the room. All of the children wear smocks. While this is not unusual for a French school in the 1930s, the fact that they are matching smocks and the children, including the girls, wear rather baggy long pants, is rather unusual. The children also seem to be wearing slippers. Our French readers have provides us some fascinating insights about the school which was a special facility for children with breathing difficulties.

The Red Cross

A HBC reader informs us that the school was supported by the French Red Cross. The specialised education center Faïdoli was mainrained by the French Red Cross. The official name was the Centre d'éducation adapté Faïdoli. The term "Ecole de plein air" may refer more to the general type of school rather than the official name.

The School

I have no information on this school other than an image. We have an image taken in one of the class rooms, probably in the 1930s. We thought at first that it might be some kind of an experimental school. It ceratinly does not look like a typical French classroom jamed with desks and all the students facing the teacher at the front of the room. Often experimental schools were not strict about clothing. This school, however, appears to have an actual uniform. A French reader tells us, "This is what we here in France call a 'school in the open air'. These schools are situated in a beautiful mountain region in center of France. Here the air is clean and the children can breathe deeply. It can be quite cold in montains because of the altitude. Thus all the children are dressed warmly, even the girls wear long trouses and pullovers all day. Several hours during the day when the weather is good, the children are dressed in short pants and allowed to play in the sunshine. At these open air schools the children were boarders and very well looked after. The clothes in this time were provided by the school. One reader tells us that these children, however, did not have breathing problems, but emotional difficulties. Further researh has reveaked the following. A HBC reader has phoned the second headmaster of this school who provided some chronological history.

Before World War II

Modern treatments for lungs illnesses (such as tuberculosis and pleurisis) didn't exsit. The sick children in the towns and cities were first admited to hopitals or sanatorium and recieved medical care there. After a while they were send to institutions like the school here, normaly located in the mountains. According the age of the child, the specific institution was chosen. These facilities were called : Centre aéré, Classes de plein air . ( Open air centre - Open air classes ) All the children were mentally and emotionally nprmal without others troubles. This was the case of centre de Faïdoli utill 1952.

During World War II

The centre de Faïdoli was located in the " Zone non occupée ", the unoccupied or Vichy zone of France. It was put under the control of the " Croix Rouge Suisse " ( Swiss Red Cross ) and of lot of Jew children were hiden and cared for in the school. They were mixed in amoong displaced French children. All these children remained at the school untill the liberation by the Americans in 1944 and the end of the War in 1945. The Germans never attempted to find Jrewish children at the school The former headmaster believes this is could be because of the Swiss connection. Perhaps it was becaused no one informed on the children. We note that in Au revoir les enfants, the Gestapo came only after an informer reported the Jewish boy. Readers interested in more information may want to look at the HBC page on the Holocaust in France.

After World War II

After the war the the children left the school. And by 1952 the school had closed. aved this house. To day the school has a new orientation. It has become the " Centre d'éducation adapté de Faïdoli " That means , that this Instition has the mission to bring up far of the cities some children having some trouble of personnality and behaviour, probably send overthere by a Judge .


A party was held at the school 2001. It was organized by the " Association des Oeuvres de la Montagnes " noe grown up children who were cared for here during the war.

The Children

We are not positive just wjo the children are. Certainly they are mostly French, but there appear to have been some Swiss children as well. One reader tells us, "This is a school for children with heath problem, especially breathing disoerrders." Another reader maintains, "The school is an institution for children with an intelectual deficiency often accompanied with troubles of personality and behaviour." He notes a French Red Cross website whoich reads, "C'est une institution qui accueille des enfants présentant une déficience intellectuelle acompagnée souvent de troubles de la personnalité et du comportement." The above description is not necessarily valid for the children pictured here, but there was for sure at the time when this picture was made some health characteristic common to all kids that explains their uniform and warm clothing style. This is rather surprising actually as the children look so well behaved an industrious in the photograph.

Figure 2.--These boys appear to be working near the girls. Note that there do not appear to be buttons on the front or back of their smocks. Click on the image for a nother class view with the teacher. His informal clothes suggest this is a post-Woeld War II image. Image courtesy of the MD collection. 


Chambon sur Lignon is located in a wonderful mountanousined region of France. It was near Le Puy in Auvergne region. It was not far from another school préventoriun that is very well know -- " La Bourboule ", Children with severe breathing problems are cared for there. About the turn of the 20th century, the area and particularly the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon became with many boarding houses for children a priviledged resort that some children needed for their physical and moral development. Still today there are many of these facilities which not only provide a useful service, but play a valuable role in the local economy. A village website reads, "Il y a cent ans... et même un peu plus, le Plateau et en particulier Le Chambon-sur-Lignon devenait, avec des établissements d'accueil comme L'Oeuvre Stéphanoise des Enfants à la Montagne, le Secours Suisse et des nombreux homes d'enfants, un lieu privilégié dont certains enfants avaient besoin pour leur croissance physique et morale. Actuellement il existe encore de nombreuses structures d'accueil constituant un point fort dans la vie économique de notre village."


The children are pictured in their classroom. There are several different activities going on in this class--unusual for the normally very traditional French schools. The blackbords seemed to suggest a science topic. The children at the table seem to be printing something. I note an ink roller. The boys at their desks are involved in some sort of class assignment. A French reader tells us, "They are studying geography with practical lesson. This is the reason why they are all wearing smocks."


Many French schools in the 1930s were single gender schools, with the exception of small rural schools. This class is codeucational with boys and girls mixed. As mentiioned above, this suggests that the image was taken after World War II when French schools began coeducational classes. Even so, the boys and girls appear to be working on different assignments. A French reader writes, "I just have show this school class to my wife. She agree with me. This mixed class is from the late 1950s, perhaps the early 1960s. Classes werenever mixed in France even by the 1930s. Even in the small rural schools, the children were separated within the class. One side was for the girls and the other side for the boys


The children look to be about 10-12 years old. There seem to be some older girls in the class. Notably they are wearing light colored smocks unlike the plaid smocks the younger children wear.


The image is undated, but HBC thought it was taken during the 1930s. A French reader, however, does not vthink the image is from the 30s. He reports, "I think rather from 1950s, perhaps the early 1960s. The style of smock looks more like the early 1960s. Alao the look of the teacher is not from 1930s; in this period they were all with a grey smocks. Also even in the Open School in the mountain, children during the 1930s were not mixed. I am practicly sure that this image was taken after the World War II." HBC tends to agree with the writer. We note a teacher wearing casual jacket looking very much like post-War styles. Another assessment is that the image shows the school in the late 1940s after the War or perhaps as late as 1950-52. Some of the childtren could be Jewish (mostly French Jewish children) or other displaced French children. Others may have health problem. But these are not the children with behavioral problems now cared for at the school. The fact that the inscription is written C Rouge on confirms that it was shot either during the war or just after the War.


The written inscription on the image is a little difficult to make out, but reads something like, "Ecole de plein air de Faïdoli (+Rouge) (la Salle de Classe) le Chambon sur Lignon ( Haute Loire ). M????." This means, "Open air School at Faïdoli (Red Cross) (The room for the class)." Le Chambon is the city. Haute Loire is a French region. Faïdoli and Rouge are the name of school. In addition to the inscription on the card, the writing on the black board says, "Tides slidding along a fault". This suggests a geography lesson.

Figure 3.--Many of the boys are sitting at their desks working on an assisnment. Click on the image for another view. Image courtesy of the MD collection. 



All of the children, boys and girls, wear smocks. This of course is not unusual for a French school, although wearing a uniform style and color was unusual and the identical styles for boys and girls. Most French children did not wear uniform smocks, but smocks of varying design and color. In addition, the smock was usually not compulsory. We note a few older girls wearing grey smocks. We do not see buttons on either the front or the back of thes smocks. Almost all the smocks are of a similar design in a plaid material. What we find curious about the smocks is that we an not determine how they buttonded. Curiously we do not see buttons at either the front or back of the smocks. A French reader tells us that these smocks had buttons at the side. In the side views, however, we see no indication of buttons (figure 1). This was the most common style for smocks in the early 1960s. These smocks were the same for all, and not specialy cut for each. The smocks are shorter than most French smocks we have noted. They are a collarless style. We have noted French school smocks both with and without collars. We do note that the girls use a waist band in the same material as the smock. Some of the boys on the other hand seem to prefer belts, although we see some also using the waist bands. Apparently some sort of waist device was required. In either case, the waist bands or belts served no practical purpose other than for appearance. A French reader tells us, "In the special schools, smocks are still compulsory for practical lessons."


We also note that all children, including the girls, wear rather baggy long pants, is rather unusual. This is expalined above. Given the nature of the school, great care was taken to dress the children warmly as the school was located high in the mountains. This explains why even the girls wear long trousers. The pants worn by the childreen are actually a sort a simple wool golf trousers (knickers). They were elasticated at the waist and ankles, rather like snowsuit leggings aor ski pajamas. It was the style model worn in mountains by children. There were no creases on the trousers. A French reader tells us that he wore the same style of pabrs in both France and Austria.

Other garmenrs

The children also seem to be wearing slippers. The slipper were considered heathtly than shoes and helped keep the children warm. The children wore them part of the day when inside.


A few years ago, a movie was made on the story of this school. The headmaster adds that the film makers added a little romance. HBC does not know the title of the film or when it was released.

Individual Comments

We have few details on the school, but hopefully some day one of the students will share some of his or her experiences with us.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 1, 2003
Last updated: February 7, 2003