Alliance Française de San Francisco

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Alliance Française de San Francisco
Established 1889
Type French cultural and language center
Students 1,200 in 2011
Location San Francisco, United States
Website AFSF


The Alliance Française of San Francisco is the part of the global Alliance française network, a nonprofit, non-governmental cultural and educational American association, whose mission is to promote and enhance the knowledge and appreciation of French and Francophone culture, to increase the knowledge of French language, and to encourage interaction among French, Francophone and American people, through programs in education and the arts.

History of an Institution[edit]

The shaping of The French Alliance network[edit]

Following the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the prestigious image of France was fading, while Germany experienced a strong recovery of its power. Tired of this contradiction, fifty prominent people met at 215 Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris on July 21, 1883, to create an association promoting French language, culture,and history. The meeting was organized by Paul Cambon, who was the cabinet director of Jules Ferry, the French Prime Minister. Whole aspects of French intellectualism were then presented by politicians, writers and scientists, such as Ernest Lavisse, Armand Colin, Paul Bert, Hippolyte Taine, Ernest Renan, Ferdinand de Lesseps, Jules Verne, and even the famous microbiologist Louis Pasteur.[1]

Thus the French Alliance of Paris was created, and soon became a space where different committees brought the French Republican ideal of meritocracy. All French Alliances must comply with some values such as giving grants to their best students with the aim of introducing France to them to give prizes.[citation needed] During the meeting in 1883, many historians stressed on the importance of conferences and local events as the best ways to increase interest for foreign citizens in the French way of life.[2]

The first Bulletin de l'Alliance Française was edited in April 1884. The French Alliance networks were then under the authority of central committees who drew the main objectives. The first attempts were stressed on the East especially in Nancy thanks to its closeness to the Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine. The strongest promotional activities were therefore in Paris where Armand Colin organized seminars with well-informed journalists to educate teachers on foreign countries customs. He also organised fundraising activities in order to receive books donations. Thereafter, well-known people were involved in the new association. A stage performance took place at the Théâtre du Vaudeville on February 2, 1888, with Sarah Bernhardt. Similarly, Ernest Renan used his gift of gab in a conference linking Nation sentiments, which was then an important feeling among European people, with the goals of the French Alliance. Thanks to their efforts they received the perpetual registration of the French First Lady Cécile Carnot spouse of Sadi Carnot. Many funds were then provided either by editors like Buloz, Grands Magasins[3] such as Le Bon Marché and even thanks to the first subsidies from French government. (ref : Maurice Bruézière, l'Alliance Française, histoire d'une institution, Paris, Hachette, 1983, p. 17–18) The French province areas where experienced a dramatic increase in membership, especially in Southern France and East France where more than 1,200 members were identified in 1885, where the association was created two years earlier. By 1886, the whole country counted 7,000 members and 9,000 in 1887.[4] Thanks to this promising begins, the association gained importance in foreign countries especially in Belgium and Spain. In the United States, the implementation was widely eased by the French community especially by French socialites communities in Eastern Coast, the French Jews in New York City, the French diplomatic community in Washington, D.C., and obviously by the Basque community in San Francisco.

Birth of the French community in San Francisco[edit]

After the Gold Rush in Sacramento by 1847, San Francisco, as an important harbor, experienced a sharp increase of dwellers. The population then increased from 800 in 1847 to 23,000 in 1852. French people who were only three in San Francisco in 1847 were more than 20 000 in whole California by 1852.[5] The reason was twofold. First of all, the French Revolution of 1848 gave more prominence to working people. By 1850, the government created the Loterie des Lingots d'or to send unwanted people to San Francisco as gold seekers. Secondly, after the December 2, 1851, coup d'état by Napoleon III, many French opponents were regarded as "suspicious" because of their political positions and exiled in California. In addition, many immigrants from Béarn or Basque country, 120,000 immigrated to America between 1820 and 1920[6] and settled in San Francisco Bay Area.[7][8][9]

Many associations were formed in the 1850s such as The French Hospital in 1851[10] the Société Française de Bienfaisance Mutuelle was formed the same year to organize a solidarity network, an consular officer worked there since 1850 and the French Catholic church Notre-Dame-des-Victoires was built in 1856.[11]

History of the French Alliance of San Francisco[edit]

The foundation of the Alliance Française de San Francisco (AFSF) in 1889, was an initiative of Xavier Méfret and contributors Jean Roth, Théobalde Gay, Alfred Chaigneau, Albert Arnaud, Emile Marque, Emile Legendre, and whose the first four were French-Americans journalists.[12] The creation was supported by the Société Française de Bienfaisance mutuelle, the French library and the classes took place in a building on 414 Mason Street in San Francisco. The Ligue Nationale Française, supported by Daniel Lévy, made a donation, in 1890s, of 12 000 books, an important proportion remaining nowadays in the current building. By 1890, thanks to a successful beginning a committee implemented while the Federation of French Alliance in the United States is created in 1902.

The first French classes opened in 1894 and in 1904, the association listed 800 members, 28 types of classes were offered followed by 600 students. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed the buildings foundations and many students were killed in the damage. In 1910, only 550 students were registered, three years later they were 700. To support their efforts, the Ministère des Affaires Etrangères donated 4,000 francs. The First World War decreased the interest in French culture in the United States but the 1920s experienced a strong interest in the French culture among American elite. Meanwhile, The AFSF developed the so-called Débat Joffre (Joffre Debate) to organize a verbal jousting opposing students from Stanford University and from Berkeley University, debates removed from the AFSF program in 1949.[13]

The 1950s appears to be a prosperous period during which teachers staff was more informed with the Anglo-Saxon culture. Furthermore, many technical progress were made: LP records usage, French movie projections per week and so on. A United States general secretary was named in the 1950s to handle the demands Alliances Françaises. Meanwhile, Mrs Thomson, as a dedicated executive director, provided numerous funds. The AFSF's committee implemented two subsidiaries, in Redwood City, California, and in Palo Alto, California, and in 1972 the AFSF's executive director develop a "Junior Alliance". A thousand students and members were counted in the AFSF and the links with the Alliance Française of Berkeley, Saratoga and Monterey were tight.[14]

In the 1980s The Alliance Française of San Francisco joined the Ligue Henri-IV, an association created in 1895 by the huge Béarnais community in San Francisco. While the AFSF had it headquarter in Mason Street, the executive directors decided to move in 1982 to Bush Street thanks to an agreement with the Ligue Henri IV that was then the building owner, a building designed in 1910 by Willis Polk, a prominent San Franciscan architect.[15] In the 1990s and 2000s (decade) the AFSF experienced a dramatic increase of membership with a peak of 2000[16] students in early 2008. By 2011, after the financial crisis, the AFSF experiended a positive changed in it membership.

Executives Directors[edit]

  • Alain Marquel 1990–1996
  • Paul Fournel 1996–1999
  • Michel Richard 1999–2002
  • Acting ED Pascal Ledermann 2002–2004
  • Patrick Girard 2004–2005
  • Grégorie Douet-Lasne 2005–2006
  • Peter Dewees 2006–2008
  • Ben Daoudi 2008–2009
  • Pascal Ledermann since 2009

As current director of the AFSF, Pascal Ledermann has opened the Alliance Française de San Francisco to the diverse communities of the San Francisco Bay Area.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Bruézière, Maurice (1983). L'Alliance Française, histoire d'une institution. Paris: Hachette. pp. 10–11. 
  2. ^ Bruézière, Maurice (1983). Alliance Française, Histoire d'une Institution. Paris: Hachette. pp. 16–17. 
  3. ^ Bruézière, Maurice (1983). L'Alliance Française, histoire d'une institution. Paris: Hachette. pp. 16–17. 
  4. ^ Bruézière, Maurice (1983). L'Alliance Française, histoire d'une institution. Paris: Hachette. p. 19. 
  5. ^ "Léon Lemonnier , La ruée vers l'or en Californie". 
  6. ^ Philippe Rygiel, Natacha Lillo. Rapports sociaux de sexe et immigration: mondes atlantiques XIXe-XXe siècles. 
  7. ^ Mars, Amaury (1898). Les Pyrénées et la Californie. San Francisco: J. Thauzy & Co. p. 239. 
  8. ^ Chalmers, Claudine (2007). French in San Francisco. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing. p. 113. 
  9. ^ Lafaye, Olivier (1978). L'immigration des Béarnais à San Francisco, Californie. Bordeaux: Université de Bordeaux. 
  10. ^ "History of French Hospital". 
  11. ^ Siffert, Etienne (2007). Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, a history. San Francisco: Private. 
  12. ^ Mars, Amaury (1898). Des Pyrénées à la Californie. San Francisco: J. Thauzy & Co. pp. 292–293. 
  13. ^ Bruézière, Maurice (1983). Alliance Française, histoire d'une institution. Paris: Hachette. p. 179. 
  14. ^ Bruézière, Maurice (1983). Alliance Française, histoire d'une institution. Paris: Hachette. 
  15. ^ Serres, Edward (1995). La Ligue Henri-IV, son histoire. San Francisco: Private Collection. p. 12. 
  16. ^ Alain Marquer, Madié Diakité (2000). Alliance 2000. Paris: Alliance Française. p. 90.