French Schools: Institution St Jacques

Figure 1.--We have not yet been able to identify this school. Here we see the school in 1934. We are nmot sure just what this group was.  

A reader has provided us several images of from the Institution St Jacques in France. We have little definitive information on the school. We believe it is a boarding school, although we are not sure about this. As we have several images over several decades, the collection provides a fascinating insight into trends in French schools over time. There does not appear to have been a school uniform, but suits seem to have been required. Usually the boys wear dark short pants suits and kneesocks.

The School

The name of the school was the Institution St Jacques. Here we are unsure why the school was called an "institution" rather than a ecle or college. We do not know how common it was to call a school an institution or what the term connotates. We do know that it was a private Catholic school. At the time almost all private schgools were Catholic. Several images from the school demonstrate to the Catholic association of the school. We see the boys with religious banners (figure 1) as well as doing First Communiin and taking trips to Catholic shrines like Lourdes. It also appears to have been a boarding school, although we are not yet sure about that. I am not sure when the school was founded. We have no information about its early operations, but note that the school was functioning in the late 19th century. We do not know where the school was located.

School Uniform

The school did not have a formal uniform. We have noted military-styled uniforms at French schools in the 19th century and early 20th century. This does not seem to have been the case at the Institution St. Jacques. For the most part in the first half of the 20th century the boys seem to have worn dark suits. The younger boys mostly wear short pants suits with kneesocks. We think the school may have had a dress code rquiring suits. We do not know just how specific the dress code was, such as rquiring dark-colored suits or short pants for the younger boys. One HBC reader requires that there was no such requirement and the boys' suits simply reflect the prevailing current fashions. Here we just do not know, all we have to go on are the photographic images.


As we have several images over several decades, the collection provides a fascinating insight into clothing trends in French schools over time.

The 1910s

The 1920s

The 1930s

We have several images of the school in the 1930s. Here we see a group of boys in 1934 (figure 1). I'm not sure just what this group is. The boys look all about the same age so perhaps it was a class group. We note another photograph with the boys on a field trip to Loudres. Usually the boys wear dark short pants suits and kneesocks. We see some boys in light-colored suits, presumably grey, so the dress code seems rather flexible.

The 1940s

We note images from the school in the 1940s. The boys mostly wear short pants suits. Many are dark suits, but we note light-colored suits as well. The suits appear to have been required, because almost all of the boys wear them. Some boys wear them with ties, other boys wear open collar shirts. We note one or two boys without suits. It is not clear to us if this is just the normal vagaries of school life or if it means that the boys were not requited to wear suits. We rather think thart there probably was a requirement. We note that the younger boys all appear to wear short pants suits. Many but not all of the older boys wear long pants suits.

Scout Troop

The school had a Scout troop. We are not sure when it was founded. Only a small part of the school seems to have participated.We have an image from 1934. We know little about it, but note that their were both Cubs and Scouts. The Scouts wore the wide-brimmed hat and the Cubs the standard peaked caps.

World War II

One interesting question concerning schools like this is what occurred at the school during World War II. After the fall of France (June 1940), the collaborationist Vichy Government searched for an expination for the collapse of the French Army. Vichy's answer was traitors which were essentially defined as Jews, Freemasons, Socialists, Communists, and other "foreign elements". BVichy's answer was a kind of national resurgence with Catholocism at its roots. We wonder to what extent Catholic schools like this was influenced by the Vichy program. We also note that many schools like this hit Jews from the NAZIs and Vichy Milece. This was hauntingly depicted in the French film "Au Revoir les Infantes", based on the directors own experiences as a school boy during the German occupation. It would be fascinating to know what transpired at this school during the War. Unfortunately we have no information as to what occurred at the Institution St. Jacques.

Reader Comments

A reader writes, "I don't know the name of the school, but it looks representative of Catholic Schools in France. Since the passage of the Waldeck-Rousseau Law (about 1905), public schools were prohibited from teaching religion. But many Catholic parents decided on fee-paying private schools which were allowed to teach religion. Here you can see a priest who was the teacher. In France, there is no uniform (it is seen as contrary to liberty or equality). Here kids are dressed as usually they are everyday."


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Created: 10:46 PM 10/28/2004
Last updated: 1:40 PM 10/29/2004