Alliance Française de San Francisco

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Alliance Française de San Francisco
Type French cultural and language center
Established 1889
Founder Xavier Méfret
President Charles Ségalas
Director Pascal Ledermann
Students 1,500 in 2014
Location San Francisco, United States
Website AFSF


The Alliance Francaise of San Francisco (AFSF) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting greater awareness of the French language and the French-speaking world. The Alliance is not a government agency and does not receive government subsidies, relying on student and membership fees to cover operating costs.

Activities and Services[edit]

Language Classes[edit]

The AFSF offers a range of classes and individual instruction for learning French, from beginners with no previous knowledge of the language to advanced students, both on and off-site. The curriculum used conforms to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Class sizes range from 4 to 12 students and are taught by native speakers. In addition, courses on French history, culture and civilization are regularly offered in French.

Programs for Children and Teens[edit]

The AFSF has created after-school and summer programs for children and started a tutoring program in connection with France's National Center for Distance Education. Partnerships have been formed with a number of San Francisco elementary and high schools.

Film Series[edit]

French-language films are shown most Tuesday evenings in the basement theater; screenings are free.

Art Exhibits[edit]

The atrium of the building regularly features works by local and visiting artists.

Music Festivals[edit]

The AFSF participates each year in the Fete de la Musique global music festival, showcasing a wide variety of musicians in live performance.

AFSF Library[edit]

The AFSF library was founded in the 1870s and is open to the public. Several thousand books for adults and children form the core of the collection, as well as hundreds of DVDs, CDs, and magazines. Members and students have borrowing privileges in addition to access to Culturetheque, an online library. The library also maintains a webpage with a partial catalog and links to resources for language learners.

Testing Center[edit]

The AFSF periodically administers language proficiency exams including the DELF, DALF and TCF in conjunction with the French Ministry of National Education.


In the aftermath of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, France’s image began to decline, while that of Germany was enhanced. To counteract this, a number of prominent French citizens met in Paris in 1883 to create an association promoting French language, culture, and history. The new Alliance Francaise soon became an organization embodying the French Republican ideal of meritocracy.

Birth of the French community in San Francisco[edit]

After the Gold Rush began, San Francisco,grew in population from 800 in 1847 to 23,000 in 1852, while the French population grew to more than 20,000 statewide. Emigration to California was spurred by the government-created Loterie des Lingots d'or, a project to send unwanted individuals to San Francisco as gold seekers. In addition, after the 1851 coup d'état by Napoleon III, many people were exiled to California. In later years, around 120,000 immigrants from Béarn or Basque country arrived in America between 1820 and 1926; many settled in San Francisco Bay Area.

History of the Alliance of San Francisco[edit]

The San Francisco chapter was founded in 1889, supported by the Société Française de Bienfaisance Mutuelle. The Ligue Nationale Française made a donation in the 1890s of 12,000 books, some still held by the organization to this day. The first French classes were held at 414 Mason street; by 1904, the association had 800 members and offered 28 types of classes with 600 students. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed the building’s foundations and many students were killed. In 1910, only 550 students were registered, growing to 700 three years later. The AFSF also developed the Débat Joffre (Joffre Debate) to organize a verbal jousting forum for students from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley, debates which were made independent of the AFSF in 1949. The 1950s was a relatively prosperous period in which new technologies were available, including long-playing records and weekly French movie screenings. Two satellite chapters in Redwood City and Palo Alto were established, and in 1972 the AFSF's executive director developed a "Junior Alliance". The AFSF reached a thousand members and students, maintaining strong links with sister chapters in Berkeley, Saratoga and Monterey. In the 1980s the AFSF joined the Ligue Henri IV, an association created in 1895 by the large Béarnais community in San Francisco. In 1982, the AFSF relocated to a building on Bush Street owned by the Ligue and designed in 1910 by prominent Bay Area architect Willis Polk. In the 1990s and the first years of the current century, the AFSF experienced a substantial increase in membership.

Executives Directors[edit]

  • Alain Marquer 1990–1996
  • Paul Fournel 1996–1999
  • Michel Richard 1999–2002
  • Pascal Ledermann 2002–2004 (acting executive director)
  • Patrick Girard 2004–2005
  • Grégorie Douet-Lasne 2005–2006
  • Peter Dewees 2006–2008
  • Ben Daoudi 2008–2009

The executive director of the AFSF is Pascal Ledermann. Since 2009, he has overseen the creation of educational programs for children, established links with local schools and other cultural organizations, and has increased outreach to the Bay Area’s many diverse communities.

External links[edit]