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Finishing school

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A finishing school focuses on teaching young women social graces and upper-class cultural rites as a preparation for entry into society.[1][2][3] The name reflects the fact that it follows ordinary school and is intended to complete a young woman's education by providing classes primarily on deportment, etiquette, and other non-academic subjects. The school may offer an intensive course, or a one-year programme. In the United States, a finishing school is sometimes called a charm school.

Graeme Donald claims that the educational ladies' salons of the late 19th century led to the formal finishing institutions common in Switzerland around that time.[4] At the schools' peak, thousands of wealthy young women were sent to one of the dozens of finishing schools available.[5] A primary goal of such education was to teach students to acquire husbands.[5]

The 1960s marked the decline of the finishing school.[5] This decline can be attributed to the shifting conceptions of women's role in society, to succession issues within the typically family-run schools, and, sometimes, to commercial pressures driven by the high value of the properties that the schools occupied.[5] The 1990s saw a revival of the finishing school, although the business model was radically altered.[5]

By country[edit]


In the early 20th century, Switzerland was known for its private finishing schools. Most operated in the French-speaking cantons near Lake Geneva.[5] The country was favoured by parents and guardians because of its reputation as a healthful environment, its multi-lingual and cosmopolitan aura, and the country's political stability.[5][need quotation to verify]

Notable examples[edit]

The finishing schools that made Switzerland renowned[citation needed] for such institutions included:

Great Britain[edit]

  • In London there were a number of schools in the 20th century including the Cygnet's House,[14] the Monkey Club,[15] St James and Lucie Clayton. The latter two merged in 2005 to become St James and Lucie Clayton College and were joined by a third, Queens (a secretarial college), to become the current Quest Professional, although the curriculum stopped offering any etiquette or protocol training, which was instead absorbed by a former Lucie Clayton tutor, who started The English Manner in 2001, when Lucie Clayton wound up.[16] It is in London's Victoria district and offers business administration courses for students aged 16–25 years old. It is coeducational.
  • Eggleston Hall was located in County Durham and taught young ladies aged 16–20 from the 1960s until the late 1980s.
  • Evendine Court in Malvern began as a small school in the late 19th century teaching young ladies the duties of their families' household staff, by requiring them to complete domestic work themselves. Courses typically lasted six weeks. By 1900, the school had become popular. It extended to several buildings and included a working dairy farm to teach practical farming. During the Second World War it adopted more traditional finishing school subjects for young women unable to travel to Europe. Pupil numbers remained high until the mid-1990s, with a broader curriculum covering cordon bleu cookery, self presentation, and secretarial skills. It closed in 1998.
  • Winkfield Place in Ascot specialised in culinary expertise and moved to a new location in Surrey around 1990 when it joined with Moor Park Finishing School before Moor Park closed in 1998/99. Winkfield Place was founded by women's educator Constance Spry as a flower arranging and domestic science school and had an international reputation. It taught girls across three terms of an academic year with the possibility of studying Le Cordon Bleu courses with Rosemary Hume in a fourth term.

About a decade after these schools had closed, mostly by the end of the 20th century, public relations and image consultancy firms started to appear in London offering largely 1- or 2-day finishing courses and social skills at commercial rate fees which were proportionately far higher that those charged by the schools.[citation needed]

The old finishing schools were stand-alone organizations that lasted 15–50 years and were often family run. Curricula varied between schools based on the proprietor's philosophy, much like the British private school model of the 18th and 19th centuries. Some schools offered some O-level and A-level courses or recognised arts and languages certificates. They sometimes allowed pupils to retake a course they may not have passed at secondary school level. They often taught languages and commercially and/or domestically applicable skills, such as cooking, secretarial and later business studies with the aim of broadening the students horizons from formal schooling education.[citation needed]

United States[edit]

Through much of their history, American finishing schools emphasised social graces and de-emphasised scholarship: society encouraged a polished young lady to hide her intellectual prowess for fear of frightening away suitors.[17] 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.[18]

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 emphasises the rigour of its academics.[19] Likewise, Finch College on Manhattan's Upper East Side was "one of the most famed of U.S. girls' finishing schools", but its last president chose to describe it as a liberal arts college, offering academics as rigorous as Barnard or Bryn Mawr.[20][21] It closed in 1976.

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.[22] Since the 1960s, many of these schools have closed as a result of financial difficulties. These stemmed from changing societal norms, which made it easier for women to pursue academic and professional paths.[23]

In literature[edit]

The Finishing School, a 2004 novel by Scottish author Muriel Spark, concerns 'College Sunrise', a present-day finishing school in Ouchy on the banks of Lake Geneva near Lausanne in Switzerland. Unlike the traditional finishing schools, the one in this novel is mixed-sex.


  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. TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved May 4, 2009.
  3. ^ "finishing school". Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on February 16, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2009.
  4. ^ Donald, Graeme (2009). Lies, Damned Lies and History: a Catalogue of Historical Errors and Misunderstandings. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780752462356. 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. ISBN 9788129121295. Retrieved May 22, 2015.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Gene Tierney". TCM. Time Warner. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  8. ^ Vogel-Misicka, Susan (July 30, 2011). "Foreign families trust Swiss boarding schools". Swissinfo.ch. Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  9. ^ "Princess Diana Biography". Bio. A&E Networks. Archived from the original on May 11, 2015. Retrieved May 22, 2015.
  10. ^ "Childhood and Education". Retrieved October 13, 2017. attended Mon Fertile school in Switzerland
  11. ^ Helm, Sarah (June 4, 2009). A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE. Hachette UK. ISBN 9780748112302. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  12. ^ Pinçon, Michel; Pinõcon-Charlot, Monique (1999). Grand Fortunes: Dynasties of Wealth in France. New York: Algora Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 9781892941183. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
  13. ^ Adams, William Lee (October 31, 2011). "Mind Your Manners: The Secrets of Switzerland's Last Traditional Finishing School". Time. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  14. ^ "Education: Last Bastion". Time. December 8, 1958. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved May 3, 2023.
  15. ^ "Education: The Monkeys". Time. March 2, 1953. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved May 3, 2023.
  16. ^ "About the English Manner".
  17. ^ In 1900 the president of Stamford University, David Starr Jordan, asserted "a college education did not, by itself, disqualify a woman for matrimony."Richard Norton Smith (1997). The Colonel, The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick. Houghton Mifflin Co. pp. 72. ISBN 0-395-53379-1.; see also Burlington Howard Ball (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".
  18. ^ "Flashback Photo: Miss Porter's School Finishes Socialites, Scholars and a First Lady". New England Historical Society. February 15, 2015. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  19. ^ Evgenia Peretz (July 2009). "The Code of Miss Porter's School". Vanityfair.com. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
  20. ^ "Finch & Current Events". Time. March 30, 1942.(describing Finch as a finishing school)
  21. ^ Arenson, Karen W. (January 26, 1997). "Rodney O. Felder Dies at 69; Finch College's Last President". The 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.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Increased opportunities for women reduce need for single sex schools