Table of Contributors    Table of Contents    Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Pape-Carpantier, Marie (1815-78)

Pape-Carpantier, Marie (1815-78) played a major role for nearly three decades in developing a distinctive pedagogy for the French public nursery schools, initially known as salles d'asile and later as écoles maternelles. Born at La Flèche in the Sarthe on September 10, 1815, she was the daughter of a Bonapartist officer killed by Chouans near the end of the Hundred Days. After an elementary school education that ended at age eleven, familial poverty necessitated that she, like her mother, earn money by sewing. In 1834 the town council of La Flèche appointed the mother and daughter to open the town's first salle d'asile, intended for the very young offspring of the working poor. Illness caused Marie to leave the school after four years, and for the next four years she was the paid companion of a widow.

In 1842 Marie Carpantier became the director of the main salle d'asile in Le Mans. The appointment owed much to the fact that she had gone to Le Mans in 1834 to study the functioning of its nursery school, made the acquaintance of M. and Mme. Pape, who had started the school, and become the friend of the Papes' daughter and, later, the fiancée of their son. The author of published poetry (Les Préludes, 1841), she had furthered her knowledge under the tutelage of a town official and former secondary school professor at La Flèche. In 1846 she published Conseils sur la direction des salles d'asile, which won a prize of three thousand from the Académie française in 1847 and also brought her into close contact with an active Protestant philanthropist, Mme Jules Mallet, the wife of a Parisian banker and a major figure on the largely female central commission overseeing the salles d'asile. A longstanding goal of Mme Mallet was the creation of an normal school to train teachers for the salles d'asile, which had begun as charitable institutions and been formally organized by the state in 1837 for children aged two to six. The aunt of Baron Narcisse-Achille de Salvandy, the education minister in 1837-39 and 1845-February 1848, Mme Mallet persuaded her nephew that Carpantier should head the teacher-training school. In the summer of 1847 Carpantier began instructing pupils at a temporary location in the Marais, and in August 1847 Salvandy sent prefects a circular concerning the four-month program in the provisional "maison d'études."

The fall of the July Monarchy in February 1848 initially threatened Carpantier's direction of the fledgling institution. Thus Mme. Mallet met with Hippolyte Carnot, the new education minister, to plead for both the school and its director; and Carpantier sought help from Pierre-Jean de Béranger, the famous chansonnier who had written to her previously about her poetry. Béranger was a friend of Carnot and his two chief officials in the education ministry, Jean Reynaud and Edourd Charton. Carnot's arrête of April 28, 1848 made official the existence of an école normale maternelle, and Carpantier remained its director. In the meantime, Armand Marrast, the mayor of Paris and prefect of the Seine since March 9, 1848, named Carpentier to an education commission meeting at the Hôtel de ville. The appointment to a commission which included such noted figures as Ernest Legouvé was testimony to both Carpentier's expertise and acceptability to republican leaders, although another woman commissioner, Ondine Desbordes-Valmore, did remark that the commission's female minority represented the "conservative party."

Carpantier, unlike Mallet, enthusiastically supported Carnot's renaming of the salles d'asile to écoles maternelles, a name which conferred more dignity than the old label, which, stated Carnot, "offended the dignity of popular sovereignty." Carnot's order also removed the nursery schools from the category of "charitable establishments," their designation in Salvandy's ordinance of 1837 but now deemed inappropriate for an educational institution. Carnot wanted the name école maternelle to conway that the institution provided children with the early education otherwise received from mothers: "the care of the body, the language of sentiment, and exercises intended not to furnish intelligence but only to open it up." Although Carnot hoped that economic progress would one day make mothers's work outside the home unnecessary, he, like Carpantier, recognized the unavoidable necessity of work for many poor women.

Carpantier's direction of the école normale maternelle made her a highly visible educator and, according to sympathetic biographers, aroused the jealousy of "enemies" who branded her irreligious, politically radical, and immoral in her private life. During the conservative reaction after the June Days and especially after the fall of Carnot on July 5, 1848, such attacks seriously threatened Carpantier's position. Her religious critics focused on her statement in the Conseils, "take lessons from nature," and ignored the bishop of Le Mans' endorsement of the Conseils which, like her later volumes, contained no antireligious passages. Although Carpantier was careful about statements in published work, her friend Ondine Desbordes-Valmore shed additional light on her religious views. Daughter of the famous poetess Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Ondine wrote that she and Carpantier were among the few women in 1848 in a position to promote female education and regeneration of the old through the young. Troubled that Carpantier did not ground her educational views in Christian doctrine, Ondine told her that she judged her "Christian by heart' if not "by the intellect." Héléne Helt believed that the circumstances of her father's death caused Carpantier to shun the devout Catholicism of the Chouans. Carpantier's professional survival in later 1848 depended upon the backing of several individuals: Mme. Mallet, to whom she gratefully dedicated Enseignement pratique dans les écoles maternelles in November 1849, thereby bringing on the charge that she had Protestant sympathies; Jean-Jacques Rapet, an inspector of primary education; the scientist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire; Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, a member of the Constituent Assembly's education commission, and Victor Cousin, the noted philosopher. Although Enseignement pratique quickly appeared on the Index, the intervention of a cardinal and a bishop secured its removal. With the cooperation of allies in the education ministry, Carpantier fired a hostile bursar at the normal school who had been sabotaging her efforts. Marriage in August 1849 to Captain Léon Pape, recently transferred to the Paris gendarmerie, ended a ten-year engagement and silenced critics of Carpantier's private life.

After 1849 Carpentier continued to direct the école normale maternelle until 1874. The institution always attracted a larger percentage of lay women then nuns, despite the fact that a majority of nursery school directors were nuns. In 1852 the école normale was retitled the Cours pratique des salles d'asile, a change demanded by the school's supervisory commission because Bonapartists judged the normal schools for men to be tainted by political radicalism. The old name salles d'asile replaced écoles maternelles, the latter designation to be readopted in 1881 as part of Jules Ferry's secularizing reforms for the Third Republic. In October 1874, by which time Pape-Carpantier had helped educate about a thousand five hundred nursery school teachers, an education minister of the "moral order" fired her. Some newspapers cited her lack of religion to explain the dismissal, but other Catholic leaders and the wife of President MacMahon secured her rehabilitation. In January 1875 she retained the title of inspector (déléguée générale), first received in 1868, but did not regain direction of the Cours pratique. She died in July 31, 1878. The Cours pratique, subsequently renamed in her honor, was abolished in 1891 because the new republican normal schools for women made it unnecessary. Ferdinand Buisson, director of primary education from 1879 to 1896, credited Pape-Carpantier with developing a "French method" for nursery schools, a method making prominent the leçon de choses, her name for the use of objects to introduce children to physical, intellectual, and moral aspect of their environment.

Linda L. Clark


Ambriére, Francis Le Siécle des Valmores: Marceline Desbordes- Valmore et les siens 2 vols. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1987.

Carnot, Hyppolyte. Le Ministère de l'instruction publique et des cultes depuis le 25 février jusqu'au 5 juillet 1848. Paris: Bagnerre, 1848.

Carnot, Paul. Hippolyte Carnot et le ministère de l'instruction publique de la Deuxième République. Paris: Presses universitaires, 1948.

Dupin de Saint-André, Mme. Mme. Pape-Carpantier. Paris: Fischbacher, 1894.

Gossot, E. Madame Marie Pape-Carpantier, sa vie et son oeuvre 2d ed. Paris: Hachette, 1894.

Loubens, Emile and Richard, M. Madame Pape-Carpantier, sa vie et ses ouvrages. Paris: Duval, 1879.

Pape-Carpantier, Marie. Conseils sur la direction des salles d'asile 3d ed. Paris: Hachette, 1856 (1st ed., 1846).

._______Enseignement pratique dans les écoles maternelles ou premières leçons à donner aux petits enfants Paris: Hachette, 1849.

Table of Contributors    Table of Contents    Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

jgc revised this file ( on October 24, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

©1998, 2004 James Chastain.