100 Years of Women at Sciences Po

When SciencesPo first opened its doors to women it did so with hesitation.

First, a quick overview of the history of women at Sciences Po.

1919: The First Female Students

47 years after its creation (1872) Sciences Po finally opens its doors to female students – though timidly at first. 

1931: The Same Conditions for All

In 1931, men are required to have obtained the baccalaureate – a condition that previously had only applied to women.

1960s: Battles and Revolutions

The student mobilization of 68 and an opening of research centers to female faculty shifts the lines of gender equality at the school.

1999: 51% women

The Class of 1999-2000 marks a turning point: for the first time, the number of female students (51%) surpasses that of male students. 

2010 – Today: The Time of Equality?

Since 2010, an active policy has been in place to promote gender equality within Sciences Po. In 2013, Frédéric Mion is appointed the new Director of Sciences Po, and appoints women to strategic positions (Research Department, General Secretary, etc.) A Gender Equality Officer position is created, along with the establishment of a Sexual Harassment Monitoring Unit.

At this year’s graduation ceremony SciencesPo, celebrated 100 years of women at our school. Yet, to say that women freely entered the doors in 1919 would be an overstatement.  When, after 47 years of existence, the École libre des sciences politiques enrolled its first female students, it did so with hesitation. Indeed, Emile Boutmy recommended that women ought to be admitted, but only after “a careful and discrete investigation” to ward off “loose women whose sole aim would be to seduce sons of good families who make up the majority of our students, and curious women who would attend in the same way one does a pleasure party.” This timidity took the form of a special requirement applied to women only; they had to have obtained the baccalaureate. In fact, it wasn’t until 1931 that École libre des sciences politiques would require the same of men. By 1920, six women walked the halls of our school. Two were Serbian, one Danish, one Palestinian, one French, and one Canadian. 

Though the proportion of women studying at the school grew slowly into the thirties, female students still represented less than 10% of students in 1939. It wasn’t until after the War that the “question of women” came up again. Historian Marie Scot notes that the Board of Directors reflected widely different points of view: some feared “an invasion”, others asked whether the school could “restrict their numbers”. Fortunately, a majority disagreed on the basis that women could not be limited to specific requirements as they already “had the vote”. Still, Women were limited to the “general track” for so-called “disinterested” students and the “international track”. The more admired tracks such as “Public Service” and “Economics and Finance” were off limits.  

On the professional side, women were gravely underrepresented as well. Professor of International Law Suzanne Bastid became the first and only woman in 1941 to teach a core lecture until 1968, when Hélène Carrère d’Encausse was appointed. Between 1973 and 1995, only around 10 women were lecturers of core lectures. Yet, despite very few women from the lecture halls, The 1960s helped shift the lines of gender equality at the research centers. The two research centers of Sciences Po, – the Centre for International Research (CERI) and the Centre for Political Research (CEVIPOF) – began to welcome many women researchers, like Janine Mossuz-Lavau at the CEVIPOF and Hélène Carrère d’Encausse at the CERI. Later others like Michèle Cotta, Nicole Racine, Odile Rudelle, Janine Mossuz-Lavau, Colette Ysmal and Marie-France Toine would join Sciences Po’s research departments. 

The student mobilizations of 1968 gave women at Sciences Po gave female students a voice at Sciences Po. A commission of the Student Council was created to address the “grievances of female students”. Women actively participated in the “revolution” by filing motions and participating in debates. But the student council remained very masculine. For the first time, the new student council established in 1969 included student members, but still only few female students: from 1969 to 1970, they made up only 18 out of 167 students elected.

By 1975, women represented 30 % of the student body. Through the next twenty-five years they would grow gradually until – 81 years after the first women passed the gate at Rue Saint-Guillaume – women came to represent 51 % of the student body in 1999. Today, female students account for x and in 2018, two lecture halls on the Paris campus renamed after two female alumni: Simone Veil and Jeannie de Clarens. 

Thanks to the work by Sylvaine Detchemendy and the historian Marie Scot, we have gained a historical understanding of women at Sciences Po. This article summarized just some of their recent insights. 

This article is adapted from a post which first appeared on SciencesPo’s website.

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