La Providence and Saint-Victor: 2 Establishments to Educate in Martinique in the 18th Century

Time of reading: around 6 minutes 30.
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For the purpose of a historical study, I was looking for documents on the Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes [Brothers of the Christian Schools]. Among the papers, I discovered a prospectus from the Collège de Saint-Victor du Fort-Royal [Fort-de-France] of 1780! A kind of 18th century ad presenting the establishment intended to accommodate young men for their education. And since happiness never comes alone, I found its equivalent for young women with a prospectus from the Maison de la Providence [House of Providence] dated 1768. Today, I am talking to you about education and boarding school « of Martinique’s youth ». It’s a whole program… well, programs, because as you may imagine, not everyone learns the same thing. I suggest that you approach this as comparisons, but before that a brief presentation of the two institutions.

La Providence and Saint-Victor

In 1763, there were about 3578 boys and girls in Creole youth. But in Fort-Royal there were no major institutions to provide his education. Father Charles François, superior of the Capuchins, was well aware of this shortcoming. In the 1760s, he therefore defended the establishment of two schools, one for girls and the other for boys, in order to be able to offer an education that did not require children to be sent to Paris (or for girls to the Ursulines in Saint-Pierre). In 1763, the establishment of Providence opened its doors, followed in 1768 by the Saint-Victor College, which provided instruction for the children of Fort-Royal and the surrounding area.

Providence in its early days consisted of a building and land, a courtyard and a garden, enclosed by a wall. It was located between Sainte-Elizabeth and du Fossé Streets, on the current site of the former Courthouse. Saint-Victor occupied the land along Sainte Elizabeth street, in the area of the current courthouse and the former town hall (now Théâtre Aimé Césaire).

Detail of a map of Fort-Royal [Fort-de-France] 1784

Studies at Providence and Saint-Victor

On the girl side, the leaflet quickly sets the tone in its section on education « It is not the education of girls as it is of boys, boys must be educated in the Sciences relating to the state where providence calls them, either for the military state, or for commerce or for business, instead of the girls usually destined in these colonies to become mothers and housewives, need more the virtues that enable them to fulfil the duties of this state, than the knowledge that would become at least useless to them ». The introduction has the merit of being clear; it justifies different teachings: it is not knowledge that matters for these future ladies, but virtues!

So the girls would certainly learn reading, writing and arithmetic. But that’s where the common core with the boys’ program ends. In addition to this teaching base, they also have a holy and profane history. The second part of the program must « train them in piety, docility* & honesty », and the third part « accustom them to work and the economy »; all of this forms the « three essential parts for a girl to ensure her own happiness, & that of a family ». That’s it; it’s a syllabus that reminds us how much gender is about education and whether it gives you a place in society, whether it suits you or not!

Plan and elevation of the old collège Saint-Victor, 1826

On the boy’s side, the leaflet did not mention girls; it began by focusing on studies that were « the most useful, & similar to the ordinary destination of children in these colonies ». The program was organized over 5 years. It aimed to « enable students to take a state, & even to enter the Corps, either Military, Artillery, Engineer or Navy ».

In addition to the common ground with the girls of reading, writing and arithmetic, there was also the ability to keep financial records and to control foreign exchange.
In a second stage: geography, hydrography, history and « all parts of Mathematics and Drawing, according to the Authors prescribed for the examination of the students in the different Corporations ». Finally, English language learning is offered in view of the proximity of the English possessions and the « trade links with America ».
The lessons planned for boys were therefore very pragmatic, future students must be able to survey the land, understand and produce civil and military architecture in their colonies. Finally, let us not forget religious teaching: « In addition, the Catechism is carefully repeated in all classes, & every evening there is a general conference on the main duties of Religion and society ».

The boarding school at Providence and Saint-Victor

Admission age
For girls’ pensions: « Residents are only received from the age of six to twelve: experience has shown that above this age, they cannot comply with the rules of the boarding school or follow the course of instruction, which becomes detrimental to others and tires teachers to teach them in particular ».
Boys are received from 8 to 13 years old because « below they are too embarrassing & above they can’t bend to the rules »… ah the painful adolescence.

For young girls, the wish for a uniform was indicated, but it was not yet in use in 1768 « in order not to disturb the parents, they were simply prescribed white clothing » for the holidays, Sundays and days of ceremony. Nevertheless, Rennard’s article in 1944 states that girls wore « clothes in Indian on Siamese and striped in red and blue » for ordinary days in children’s dresses with belts up to 8 years old and beyond in English dresses without ornaments.
Parents on the girl side are reminded that « since adjustments must be related to clothing, they are asked to keep it simple enough so that they do not give their children too early a taste for luxury and worldliness ».

tanlistwa-habillement-collège-saint-victor-fort-royal-1780For boys, it is specified that all the residents are in uniform; the clothing for the holidays is « blue camelot, colet & red ornaments, white jackets & panties & for the working days a blue and white striped ticker jacket, with a large panty that goes down to the bottom of the fat leg, hair in tail, & a small white hat in the shape of a driver’s cap ».

Count 660 livres per year for the boys’ pension. To this must be added 124 livres, including the cost of laundry (66 l.), the surgeon (15 l.), the nurse (6 l.), the wigmaker (25 l.) and the maintenance of the common room and its equipment (12 l.)
For girls, 400 livres per year are requested and 99 livres for other expenses; laundering is more expensive (71 l.), but the maintenance of the common room is less (6 l.) and there is no wig maker planned.
For all, it is still necessary to provide supplies – both for boarding and teaching – and depending on the case, dance, music and weapons courses are possible for an additional fee.

After about thirty years of existence, Providence and Saint-Victor had 80 girls (in 1788) and 138 boys (in 1790). Nevertheless, both establishments were closed during the French Revolution, both because of it and because of the management difficulties that existed before it.

tanlistwa-rennard-1944-éducation-martinique-XVII-XVIII-sièclesAnd did you know these two 18th century schools? If you have a few minutes of additional (French) reading ahead of you, you can read this 1944 article by Father Rennard on, which looks at the history of the School of Providence and gives a lot of details

*Docility is this notion that, regardless of historical and cultural distance, has the power to upset me. It is generally used to describe the right attitude expected of a group. This is recurrent in situations of discrimination. The dominant, presupposing his superiority, postulates as a principle that slaves, freed slaves, or as here, women must be docile to be « good » people, in other words, they must be willing to submit and obey.

ANOM, Plan directeur de la ville et du Fort Royal de la Martinique. 1784.
ANOM, Prospectus du collège de Saint-Victor du Fort-Royal. Imprimé. 1 p. ([1780])
ANOM, Plan et élévation de l’ancien collège S[ain]t-Victor maintenant hospice de charité au Fort-Royal. 1er mai 1826.

(French) Archives
on : Rennard, Joseph, Les écoles à la Martinique au XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle, Fort-de-France : [s.n.]. 1944. Article extrait de la revue « Martinique », n°4, 4ème trimestre 1944, p. 200-206
on ANOM :
Prospectus du collège de Saint-Victor du Fort-Royal. Imprimé. 1 p. ([1780])
in Archives territoriales de Martinique : Prospectus du pensionnat de  la Maison de la Providence… 1768. 1mi15

(French) Bibliography
Cahier du patrimoine, Fort-de-France dans les années 30 II, 1992.
Delinde (Henry), Éducation et instruction en Martinique (1635-1830), France, L’harmattan, 2006.
Jos (Joseph) dir., La Terre des gens sans terre, petite histoire de l’école à la Martinique (1636-1982), France, L’Harmattan, 2003.

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