Finishing school

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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.[1][2][3] 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.

Graeme Donald claims that the educational ladies' salons of the late 1800s led to the formal finishing institutions evidenced in Switzerland around that time.[4] At their peak, thousands of wealthy young women were sent to the dozens of finishing schools available.[5] A primary goal was to teach students to acquire husbands.[5]

The 1960s marked the decline of the finishing school.[5] 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.[5] The 1990s saw a revival of the finishing school, albeit the business model has been radically altered.[5]

In Switzerland[edit]

Switzerland was known for its private finishing schools. Most resided in the French-speaking cantons near Lake Geneva.[5] The country was favoured because of its reputation as a healthful environment, its multilinguality and cosmopolitan aura and the region's political stability.[5]

Notable examples[edit]

The finishing schools that made Switzerland renowned[citation needed] 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.

In the United States[edit]

See also: Women's college

Through much of their history US finishing schools emphasized education in the social graces and de-emphasized scholarship: society encouraged a polished young lady to hide her intellectual prowess for fear of frightening away suitors.[13] 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.[14]

Today with a new cultural climate and a different attitude to the role of women, the situation has reversed: Miss Porter's School downplays its origins as a finishing school, and emphasizes the rigor of its academics.[15] Finch College on Manhattan's Upper East Side was "one of the most famed of U.S. girls' finishing schools," but it's last President chose to describe it as a liberal arts college offering academics as rigorous as Barnard or Bryn Mawr.[16][17]

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, that were once known for preparing their female students for marriage.[18] 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.[19]


  1. ^ Joan Perkin (January 1, 1995). Victorian Women. New York University Press. pp. 27–28. ISBN 978-0-8147-6625-5. 
  2. ^ "finishing school". Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  3. ^ "finishing school". Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  4. ^ Donald, Graeme (2009). Lies, Damned Lies and History: a Catalogue of Historical Errors and Misunderstandings. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. p. 48. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Simonian, Haig. "Charm academy: Switzerland's last finishing school". Financial Times. Pearson. 
  6. ^ 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 May 22, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Gene Tierney". TCM. Time Warner. Retrieved May 21, 2015. 
  8. ^ Vogel-Misicka, Susan (July 30, 2011). "Foreign families trust Swiss boarding schools". Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Princess Diana Biography". Bio. A&E Networks. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  10. ^ Helm, Sarah (June 4, 2009). A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE. Hachette UK. Retrieved May 27, 2015. 
  11. ^ Pinçon, Michel; Pinõcon-Charlot, Monique (1999). Grand Fortunes: Dynasties of Wealth in France. New York: Algora Publishing. p. 85. Retrieved May 27, 2015. 
  12. ^ Adams, William Lee (October 31, 2011). "Mind Your Manners: The Secrets of Switzerland's Last Traditional Finishing School". Time Magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2015. 
  13. ^ Burlington Howard Ball (August 12, 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".
  14. ^ "Flashback Photo: Miss Porter's School Finishes Socialites, Scholars and a First Lady". New England Historical Society. February 15, 2015. Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  15. ^ Evgenia Peretz (July 2009). "The Code of Miss Porter's School". Retrieved April 23, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Finch & Current Events". Time Magazine. 30 March 1942.  (describing Finch as a finishing school)
  17. ^ Arenson, Karen W. (January 26, 1997). "Rodney O. Felder Dies at 69; Finch College's Last President". New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2014. Finch was founded in 1900 as a two-year finishing school for women. Dr. Felder and others at the school maintained, however, that it had become as academically demanding as Barnard, Bryn Mawr and other colleges. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ Increased opportunities for women reduce need for single sex schools

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