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A finishing school is a school for young women, that focuses on teaching social graces and upper class cultural rites as a preparation for entry into society. The name reflects that it follows on from ordinary school and is intended to complete the education, with classes primarily on deportment and etiquette, with academic subjects secondary. It may consist of an intensive course, or a one-year programme. In the United States it is sometimes called a charm school.
In Tsarist Russia it was known as the Institute for Noblewomen.
Graeme Donald claims that the educational ladies' salons of the late 1800s led to the formal finishing institutions evidenced in Switzerland around that time. At their peak, thousands of wealthy young women were sent to the dozens of finishing schools available. A primary goal was to teach students to acquire husbands.
The 1960s marked the decline of the finishing school. This can be attributed to succession issues within the typically family-run schools and commercial pressures driven by the shifting conceptions of women's role in society and the high value of the properties the schools occupied. The 1990s saw a revival of the finishing school, albeit the business model has been radically altered.
Switzerland was known for its private finishing schools. Most resided in the French-speaking cantons near Lake Geneva. The country was favoured because of its reputation as a healthful environment, its multilinguality and cosmopolitan aura and the region's political stability.
The finishing schools that made Switzerland renowned for such institutions were Brilliantmont, founded in 1882, now an international secondary school, and Château Mont-Choisi, founded in 1885, which closed in 1995 or 1996. Both were in Lausanne.
- The Maharani of Jaipur studied at Brillantmont. In her memoir, she claimed the time to be a happy one, in which she wrote letters to her later husband and pursued skiing and other sports. Actress Gene Tierney also attended Brillantmont, speaking only French and holidaying with fellow students in Norway and England.
- Château Mont-Choisi was attended by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, as well as Princess Elena of Romania, Monique Lhuillier, actress Kitty Carlisle, Saudi scholar Mai Yamani and New York socialite Fabiola Beracasa-Beckman.
- Institut Alpin Videmanette in Rougemont was attended by Diana, Princess of Wales, Tiggy Legge-Bourke and Tamara Mellon. Diana was sent to Alpin Videmanette by her father after failing all her O-Levels. She had met the Prince of Wales that year.
- Mon Fertile, in Tolochenaz, educated the Duchess of Cornwall and Ingrid Detter de Lupis Frankopan.
- Queen Anne-Marie of Greece attended Institut Le Mesnil.
- Institut Château Beau-Cedre was in Clarens and closed in 2002. Queen Elizabeth briefly entertained the thought of sending Princess Anne to Château Beau-Cedre, but elected not to. The school building was on the bank of Lac Leman. A favored servant was a kindly Spanish woman nicknamed Paca. In January and February, students were taken to Crans-sur-Sierre to ski.
- Vieux Chalet in Château-d’Œx was a finishing school run by the parents of the current owner.
- Le Manoir, in Lausanne, educated British spy Vera Atkins and a sister of the first King of the Albanians. It had a private beach and students were taken skiing in St Moritz.
- The last remaining traditional Swiss finishing school is Institut Villa Pierrefeu, in Glion, which was founded in 1954. It still exists thanks to a constantly updated curriculum.
In the United States
Through much of their history US finishing schools emphasized education in the social graces and de-emphasized scholarship: a sexist society encouraged a polished young lady to hide her intellectual prowess for fear of frightening away suitors. For instance Miss Porter's School in 1843 advertised itself as Miss Porter's Finishing School for Young Ladies—even though its founder was a noted scholar offering a rigorous curriculum that educated the illustrious classicist Edith Hamilton. Today the situation has reversed: Miss Porter's School downplays its origins as a finishing school, and emphasizes the rigor of its academics.
The term finishing school is occasionally used, or misused, in American parlance to refer to certain small women's colleges, primarily on the East Coast, known for preparing their female students for marriage. Since the 1960s, many of these schools have closed as a result of financial difficulties stemming from changing societal norms making it easier for women to pursue academic and professional paths not open to previous generations.
- Joan Perkin (1 January 1995). Victorian Women. New York University Press. pp. 27–28. ISBN 978-0-8147-6625-5.
- "finishing school". Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
- "finishing school". Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
- Donald, Graeme (2009). Lies, Damned Lies and History: a Catalogue of Historical Errors and Misunderstandings. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. p. 48. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- Simonian, Haig. "Charm academy: Switzerland's last finishing school". Financial Times. Pearson.
- Gayatri, Her Highness Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur; Rama Rau, Santha (1976). A Princess Remembers: the Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur. New Delhi: Rupa & Co. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- "Gene Tierney". TCM. Time Warner. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
- Vogel-Misicka, Susan (30 Jul 2011). "Foreign families trust Swiss boarding schools". Swissinfo.ch. Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
- "Princess Diana Biography". Bio. A&E Networks. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- Helm, Sarah (4 Jun 2009). A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE. Hachette UK. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- Pinçon, Michel; Pinõcon-Charlot, Monique (1999). Grand Fortunes: Dynasties of Wealth in France. New York: Algora Publishing. p. 85. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- Adams, William Lee (31 Oct 2011). "Mind Your Manners: The Secrets of Switzerland's Last Traditional Finishing School". Time Magazine. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
- Burlington Howard Ball (12 August 1996). Hugo L. Black : Cold Steel Warrior. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-0-19-536018-9. "[Hugo Black was] a traditional southern sexist male who believed...that women should not go out of their way to read the classics. Instead they should go to finishing school and prepare themselves for the rewarding, nurturing role of wife and mother...[H]e wanted [his daughter Jo Jo] to go to Sweet Briar College because, according to him, scholarship should never play too big a role in a woman's life”.
- "Flashback Photo: Miss Porter's School Finishes Socialites, Scholars and a First Lady". New England Historical Society. February 15, 2015. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
- Evgenia Peretz (July 2009). "The Code of Miss Porter's School". Vanityfair.com. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
- Penelope Green (April 23, 2015). "The Independent Women of Sweet Briar". The New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
[The 20th Century was] an era marked by conflicting cultures: one that was still defined by hostess houses, white gloves and the 'ring before spring' doctrine that cast women’s colleges as mere finishing schools, and one with a commitment to educating women for roles far from the home.
- Increased opportunities for women reduce need for single sex schools
- Christina Mazza (March 4, 2015). "Sweet Briar College to close: Are women's colleges still relevant?". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
- Darlene Superville (June 1, 2001). "US Women’s Colleges Hit Hard". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
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