A Finishing School… what is that?

In the four books of The Resistance Girl Series – In Picardy’s Fields, The Diamond Courier, The Parisian Spy and The Norwegian Assassin – the main female characters all go to Le Manoir, a finishing school on Lake Geneva in Switzerland.

Nowadays the whole concept of sending girls to a finishing schools to learn how to snap up a rich and important husband, seems sexist and out of date. If women need such skills as social courtesy, upper-class manners and knowledge of cultural traditions it would be to prepare them for their own future positions in society not to give extra shine to their husband’s career.

But beware.

In the United States, Australia and even Switzerland finishing school – or Charms Schools, Etiquette School or Grooming Schools as they are also known, are popping up again, but both the curriculum and the only-for-females have changed.

The name ‘Finishing School’, the gender and the aim may have changed but learning how to behave in the best circles is till favored by etiquette lovers and valued in high-profile professions.

Lake Geneva

History

The first Finishing Schools date from the late 1800s, resulting from the needs of the high-class social life at that time. Boys went to boarding school to learn French, Latin, and German and girls went to finishing school. The boarding schools aimed at turning young males into gentlemen and prepare them to take over the family business. Girls had no such careers and were primarily taught etiquette, manners, how to manage the household, and some languages, art and music.

Though the boarding school age for boys varied, the girls attended finishing school from the age of 13 until their (early) marriage. In the course of the 19th century the curriculum changed to generally one-year courses following a secondary education or high school.

Switzerland has traditionally been a favorite country to establish a finishing school because of its location and scenery, lifestyle, political stability, and multilingualism. Girls from all over the world would come there to be prepared for their future.

The two most famous finishing schools that held up Switzerland’s reputation as being ‘the place to be’ were Brilliantmont, founded in 1882, now an international secondary school, and Château Mont-Choisi, which closed in 1995/96. Both were located in Lausanne.

In The Resistance Girl Series I’ve chosen for Le Manoir, also in Lausanne. It had a private beach and students were taken skiing in St Moritz. But I could find very little information about this school and no photos. Apparently, it is now the world headquarters of the multinational food-packaging company Tetra Pak but that looks nothing like the original posh school building. I’ve used this old photo for inspiration.

Idea for Le Manoir

With the rise of feminism in the second half of the 20th century and a call for gender equality, the finishing schools were quickly becoming extinct but they’ve seen a rebirth since the 1990s. They rebranded to high-quality cultural and social institutions.

Today Institut Villa Pierrefeu is the only finishing school left in Switzerland. Males can nowadays also apply to these etiquette schools to learn how to wait on guests, table manners and service, skills on house management, and how to address people adequately. It goes without saying, that such courses come with a huge price tag. It could easily amount to $30,000.

Famous attendants

Le Manoir: British spy Vera Atkins
Institut Alpin Videmanette: Diana, Princess of Wales
Mont Fertile: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
Château Mont-Choisi: Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

Vera Atkins