Partner Marie Souvestre

Queer Places:
Les Ruches, 10 Avenue des Carrosses, 77210 Avon, France

Image result for Caroline Dussault 1887As a teacher and companion of Marie Souvestre, Caroline Dussault (June 26, 1833 – July 5, 1887) directed the school of Les Ruches in Avon with the latter, and after their separation in 1883, Caroline Dussaut remained sole director. She died on July 5, 1887, probably from a drug overdose. Her pedagogical action is totally eclipsed by the charismatic Marie.

Caroline Dussaut was Marie's companion for a quarter of a century. Based on the letters that the Breton Guillaume LeJean, close to the family Souvestre, sent to another mutual friend, Charles Alexandre, secretary of Alphonse de Lamartine, the two women probably met in 1859.

Caroline's family had modest origins and it is likely that she had to earn a living and therefore became a teacher. She probably frequented the evening classes at rue Hautefeuille in Paris and it is within this framework that Marie and Caroline crossed each other.

Caroline was born in Sèvres (as indicated on the Avon census) on June 26, 1833, but her parents are from the West . His father, Désiré Dussaut, was a merchant and his mother was Adelaide Séré. When Caroline was born, both were thirty-three years old and already had two children, a daughter Horély or Aurélie born August 8, 1829 and a boy, Charles born in 1831. A new girl, Léontine Modeste came to enlarge the family on June 15, 1836. At the time Désiré became "merchant-clerk" and the family left the home at rue Vaugirard in Sèvres for 142 rue Royale.

Pierre Désiré's family came from the region of Grand-Lucé where his ancestors were weavers or dyers. His father signed the birth certificate dated 19 Fructidor year 8 in Courdemanche, a village on the hillside, on the right bank of the Etangsort.

Adelaide Séré or Séré (as it is sometimes written in the deeds) was born in Le Mans February 5, 1800. She is the daughter of Charles François Séré who, following the French Revolution, occupied the position of concierge at the House of the Bishopric where he lived with Adelaide Chauvin, his wife. At the birth of his daughter he affixed a confident signature which indicates a good ease with practice of writing.

There is no trace of the Dussaut family until 1858 when Charles, the elder brother of Adelaide, got married in Saint-Martin-des-Champs in Indre-et-Loire with a young farmer, Josephine Buron. No signature Dussaut other than those of the groom and his father appear on the act. The Dussaut / Séré couple is separated because Désiré lives in Montoire where he is an insurance agent, a profession also performed by his son, and Madame Dussaut is a merchant in Versailles and has sent her consent.

Caroline Dussaut was a teacher and spent several years in Germany before returning to France.

According to the letters that the Breton Guillaume Le Jean, close to the family Souvestre, sent to another mutual friend, Charles Alexandre, secretary of Alphonse de Lamartine, Caroline and Marie met in 1859. Marie Souvestre calls her 'Lina' in her letters to Jane Strachey. Already at that time Lejean wrote that they had gone to Roscoff on the Brittany coast saying of Caroline: "she thinks she is phthisical" when she probably did not suffer from this pathology. Throughout their life together, Marie alias Julie will look after her partner who suffers from migraines or breathing problems that often prevent them from traveling as they please.

In 1868, Jules Michelet wrote in his journal on June 2 , " Marie Souvestre burns to present us his wife, Miss Dussaut ", lover of whom he knew the existence for several years but he had not had the opportunity to meet her. From this moment the two friends will get along very well with the Michelet couple and become close friends.

It would be with the support of the Minister of Education Victor Duruy, a historian close to the Fourierist ideas but also of Minister Billault, who was the classmate of his father, that Marie engaged in the creation of a school providing high level courses to young girls. Caroline Dussault, holder of the patents necessary for the opening of an educational institution, would have held alone a school in Fontainebleau and then with Marie Souvestre, they opened their boarding school in 1863 in Fontainebleau, 15 place du Marché, not far from Paris and accessible by train. However according to Rebecca Rogers, Victor Duruy "pushes for the creation of secondary courses for girls, whose teaching would be provided only by men" and the boarding school of Les Ruches would be an exception in the French landscape because some of course was provided by both teachers. 

Strong in their success, Marie and Caroline founded Les Ruches in 1865-1866, in Avon, a small town that adjoins Fontainebleau and stretches in length from the station.

When Olivia aka Dorothy Strachey recounted her arrival at Les Ruches, the misunderstanding between the two teachers was already shaking the school and dividing the students into two fronts, according to their affinities. She indicated that Caroline Dussaut did not teach. She described the two women as not "distinguishable" in her eyes except that Julie/Marie seemed to her more lively and Cara/Caroline more amiable with a voice "all sweetness and caress", "engaging and affectionate ways". Dorothy described a graceful woman, "pretty and languid" whose medallion on her tomb, work of the sculptor Millet, does not reflect the portrait given by Olivia.

Olivia also mentioned Cara's perpetual poor health, which would have forced her to take care of only the small classes. A capricious woman who imposed on the whole school her moods and worries. Olivia attributed to the voice of the Italian teacher who took place in the heart of Julie the "ill imaginary" side of Cara.

Cara constantly complained and Julie patiently and considerately responded with gentleness and tenderness.

Caroline's mother died in Versailles on November 17, 1878. She lived in a rented house at 10 rue du Vieux Versailles. The death certificate mentioned her as "wife of Désiré Dussault" insurance agent in Montoire Indre-et-Loire. The witnesses are: - Charles Victor Négret, metier-auditor, 36 years old, 10 rue du Vieux Versailles, probably a son-in-law and Paul Meresse, cashier, 23 years old, neighbor. Nanine Souvestre, mother of Marie also resided in Versailles since 1865.

The relationship between the two directors deteriorated and the arrival of new teachers was breaking their relationship. Caroline established a relationship with German-speaking teacher Geisler while Marie Souvestre linked up with Paolina Samaïa, an Italian teacher who will stay with her for the rest of her life.

The acts of separation of the property between Caroline and Marie are signed in 1883 and C. Dussault remains alone at the head of the establishment which always received girls coming from well-to-do families.

The young Daisy whose diary Jean-Marc Rivière published arrived at the school in this period of split and at best will cross Marie Souvestre the time of a few weeks or months.

Caroline Dussault died July 5, 1887 of not known causes, perhaps committed suicide. Could be also a chloral poisoning she used to cure her ailments. The newspapers of the time do not speak on the subject and the archives have burned.

Caroline Dussaut is buried in the cemetery of Avon. Caroline's father is named as her heir and this suggests that Gertie was never officially adopted under French law. One year after his daughter, Pierre Désiré Dussault died June 10, 1888, at Montoire on the Loir (Loir et Cher) in his home on St Laurent Street.

Barbara Caine in her book on the Strachey family repeatedly writes that the Les Ruches school was closed in 1883, just after Dorothy Strachey was a student at Avon in 1882, but in fact the boarding school continued to function under the direction Caroline Dussaut and after her death in 1887, under Mrs Geissler aka Riesener, a German teacher who was allowed to take the direction of the school. Gertie Jones-Dussaut, Caroline's adopted daughter, was only twenty years old at the time and when she had acquired the necessary diplomas, she ensured the continuity of the boarding school until her marriage in 1900.

Gertie is a seven or eight-year-old girl when she is "adopted" by Caroline Dussault. Of English parents and last of a family of nine children, it's not clear how she met the French teacher after the death of her mother. India and Jane Strachey's mediation could be at the source of her adoption. In England the laws of adoption do not arrive until 1926.

Gertie grew up at Les Ruches, with Marie Souvestre and Berthe Papot. In December 1876, Caroline Dussault was worried about a contact with Gertie's father, who had written to her while until then only one older sister of the girl had kept her links with her.

Gertie is well educated like all girls in the school and especially in music. This is a common point with who will be her husband, Leon Brethous-Lafargue. They have a daughter Fabienne Laura Evelyn Caroline Brethous Lafargue born August 24, 1901 at Tourettes Castle, St Severs, Adour Landes.

Fabienne Brethous Lafargue married for the first time with Pedro Vaz of Frederico Carvallaes d'Avilla. After divorcing, she remarried in 1845 with Jack Hillyard and lived in England. She obtained English naturalization on July 17, 1935.


  1. https://ouestfigureshistoriques.wordpress.com/famille-souvestre/caroline-dussaut-1833-1887/