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Number ii


The Vocational School for Disabled Soldiers

at Rouen, France

Many disabled soldiers on being discharged
from the army find themselves prevented by their
handicap from following their former trade. The
state, realizing that it owes them reparation,
grants them a pension, the amount of which
depends on the severity of their wounds and the
extent to which they are incapacitated for work,
but this pension is, unfortunately, owing to the
many demands on the treasury, never large
enough for their necessities. The state, there-
fore, offers further help in the form of certain
minor government positions, which it reserves
for disabled soldiers. But since there are many
more applicants than positions, the greater
number of men who wish to eke out their pen-
sion in this way can only register on a list of
candidates and then wait months or even years
for their turn.

The pension is insufficient; government posts
are too few. What then can be done to keep
the disabled soldier from dependence or need?
The remedy is to help him back into industry.
If he is unable to practise his former trade, he
must learn a new one which is compatible with
his maimed condition. A former farm laborer,
for example, who on account of the loss of his
leg will never be able to follow the plow again,
can learn to be a tailor, a shoemaker, a basket-
maker, a clockmaker, a hairdresser, or a tin-
smith. A former locksmith, paralyzed in his
right arm, can learn to write with his left hand
and, after receiving some general schooling, can
study accounting and become a bookkeeper,
commercial traveler, or the like. When a dis-
abled soldier has learned a new trade, his earn-
ings in addition to his pension will enable him
to support himself and his family, and he will
enjoy again the cheerfulness which comes from
independence and useful activity.

Moreover, retraining a man to be a productive
workman benefits not only the individual but
the state. After the war France will have to
make a tremendous effort to compete industrially
with her enemies, and her greatest difficulty will
be the shortage of the labor supply. She will
have to utilize every resource, the whole effort
of which every individual is capable; even war
invalids must be utilized to the fullest extent to
which they can be made capable. If they are
not retrained for industry, the nation's output
and its prosperity will be diminished.

Disabled men who are unable to go back to
their former work and who do not learn to do
something else run the danger of being reduced
to appealing to charity or of yielding to the
dangerous suggestions of idleness and misery.
Social justice as well as the interest of the state
demands that they be remade into self-support-
ing members of society. If public measures are
insufficient, private efforts must supplement
them. In recognition of the situation the people
of France have formed into numerous groups
and societies whose purpose is to help the dis-
abled soldier back to a normal life. In order to
attain their end, they can, we believe, employ
no better means, no means more fruitful of
results or of more far-reaching beneficence, than
vocational training.

The project for a vocational school at Rouen
originated with the Departmental Committee
on Technical Instruction of the Seine-Inf^rieure.
In June, 1915, the Committee received a cir-
cular from the Minister of Commerce asking it
to consider the best method of providing trade
training for disabled soldiers. It set to work on
the subject immediately and began to study
the conditions at Rouen with a view to providing
such training. The Committee soon found that


Series i

they had to make a choice between the two pos-
sible methods of providing vocational training:
that which consists in sending out men as appren-
tices to private industrial concerns, and that
which collects them as pupils in a regular voca-
tional school, where there is a workshop for
every trade taught. Either system has its advan-
tages and disadvantages. When apprentices are
placed with private industrial concerns, an in-
finite number of trades are opened to them
without the expense of constructing and equip-
ping workshops. The apprentices, moreover,
can live at home and readapt themselves to a
normal life during their training. They and their
work do not, however, receive adequate super-
vision. They may not be working under good
conditions; they may not be accomplishing their
object of learning a trade; they may be abusing
their liberty. And the cost of providing them
with means for their support during their
apprenticeship may be very heavy. The system
has besides been tried in other places with little
success. After due consideration and in the
belief that the school and workshop method
would ensure systematic instruction, experienced
teachers, and good discipline, the Committee
decided in favor of that method.

Two members of the Committee, M. G.
Fromage and M. R. Lemarchand, wishing to
profit as much as possible from the experience
of others, and believing that they could learn
more in a brief time from first-hand observation
than from lengthy descriptions and abstract
theorizing, paid a visit to Lyons, where two
schools for training war cripples were already
in operation. They brought back a great deal
of valuable information, and as a result the
organization of the Rouen school is largely
based upon that of the Lyons schools. The
Committee are happy to acknowledge their
indebtedness here.

The work of organization proceeded as rapidly
as possible. An administrative committee of
seven members was elected. It was decided
to have both day pupils and boarders. The use
of a building was given to the school by the city
of Rouen, and a second adjoining building was
rented for the shops.

The building given by the city was formerly

a school for girls at 56, rampe Bouvreuil, in a
beautiful part of the city. Many changes and
repairs had to be made to adapt it and the
neighboring building to the purposes for which
they were to be used, but the work was pushed
with great vigor, and in November, five months
after the project was conceived, the school
opened its doors to its first boarder. Beside
the dormitories, dining-rooms, classrooms, and
shops, there are baths, a smoking and recreation
room, and an outdoor courtyard for games, all
freshly painted, well-lighted, well-ventilated,
and scrupulously neat and clean. There were
at first five sleeping halls with ten beds each,
the school having provided for fifty boarders
and one hundred day pupils; but the number
who wished to enter as boarders soon exceeded
the accommodations, and it was necessary to
make enlargements. As there were also more
pupils in bookkeeping and school subjects than
could be accommodated in the classrooms,
another house was hired at 106, rampe Bou-
vreuil, where there is ample space for teach-
ing these subjects and where thirty men can

During the period when the founders of the
school were engaged in the preparatory work of
altering and equipping the buildings, they chose
to act as a private association without any con-
nection with the government, since in this way
they could avoid the delays and formalities of
official red tape. But as soon as the school was
ready to open, they sought to put its finances on
a permanent stable basis by asking the state to
underwrite the enterprise, i.e., to agree to bear
all expenses not covered by the other resources
of the school. The state agreed to this proposal
on condition that the organizers of the school
place it under the control of the departmental or
communal administration or the Rouen Cham-
ber of Commerce, so that some official body
would be responsible for the expenditure and
auditing of its funds. After negotiations in
which the Prefect of the Seine-Inf6rieure played
a helpful part, the organizers asked the Chamber
of Commerce to assume official control. The
Chamber of Commerce accepted the responsi-
bility, confirmed the powers of the Adminis-
trative Committee, and appointed M. Desmonts,

Number ii


vice-president of the Chamber, to represent it
on the Committee.

The Administrative Committee has charge of
the general management of the school. It holds
weekly meetings, and its president, M. G.
Fromage, makes a daily visit to the school to
dispose of current business. In household
problems, concerning board, laundry, nursing,
etc., the Committee has received valuable help
from Mme. Tr6voux, a delegate from the Red
Cross. The administrative staff is small:
M. Breuil is director of instruction; M. Gillot
is financial director and, with Mme. Gillot, has
charge of the housekeeping and other expendi-
tures. A doctor assigned by the medical service
looks after the health of the pupils. The ser-
vants consist of a janitor, a cook, a housemaid,
and a man of all work.

The money for the equipment and running
expenses of the school was collected from many
sources. There were first voluntary gifts, ob-
tained by a public subscription. One of the
earliest acts of the Committee was to address
an appeal to the people of Rouen, to which they
responded and continue to respond most gene-
rously. To the sum obtained by individual
subscriptions have been added grants of money
from the Conseil General of the department, the
Conseil Municipal, and the Chamber of Com-
merce. A large sum has also been contributed
by the Federation nationale d' assistance aux
mutiles, of which M. Harris is president. Any
additional amount needed to cover expenses is
paid by the national government under the con-
ditions stated above.

Another source of income is from the sale of
articles made in the shops. After deducting the
cost of raw materials, the management divides
the rest of the money from this source as a bonus
among the workmen.

All disbursements are made by the financial
director, who receives an amount corresponding
to his needs from the treasurer of the Committee.
Repair of buildings, cost of raw materials, wages
of servants and staff, heat, light, board, and the
payment to each pupil of a minimum wage of
fifty centimes a day are the principal items of
the budget,

The budget for 1916, providing for one hun-

dred day pupils and fifty boarders, amounts to
149,470 francs. But as the number of boarders
is at present seventy-five, these figures will have
to be revised.

All pupils who enter the school must be com-
pletely cured of their wounds, so that their
instruction will not have to be interrupted by
further medical or surgical treatment, and they
must be either discharged from the army or be
waiting for their discharge. If they are awaiting
their discharge in a convalescent center, they
must obtain permission to attend the school from
the military authorities. It is to be hoped that
convalescent depots for men awaiting discharge
will be, whenever possible, located in towns
where there are training centers, and that the
military authorities will use their influence to
persuade the men to attend the schools as day
pupils. The men are benefited by being occu-
pied during their convalescence, and the school
welcomes non-boarders.

The Rouen school accepts men from any part
of France, but if circumstances should make it
necessary to discriminate, preference would be
shown to men from Normandy.

The number of apprentices who have applied
in the past few months indicates the gradual dis-
appearance of a belief whicH formerly deterred
many men from learning a new trade. This was
the entirely groundless belief that any training
which increased their earning capacity would
produce a corresponding diminution of their
pension. All uncertainty on the subject should
be removed by the provisions of the Rameil Law,
which has already been adopted by the Chamber
of Deputies and will be soon taken up by the
Senate. This law expressly states that "in no
case can the amount of the pension be reduced
because of vocational re-education;" and that
"during the period of re-education if the wounded
man is not receiving his pension, his family will
continue to draw their separation allowance;
if he is receiving his pension, but that pension is
not so large as the allowance for subsistence and
children previously paid the family, the family
can continue to draw the difference."

Disabled men should also cease to fear that the
payment of their pension will be delayed because
of their attendance at a trade school. On the


Series I

contrary, in accordance with the regulations of
the Minister of the Interior concerning re-edu-
cational centers, the pensions of men undergoing
vocational training will be paid before those of
any other class.

Pupils in the Rouen school, therefore, receive
their pension or temporary allowance from the
government under the same conditions as before
they entered, and as was stated above, they re-
ceive an additional sum from the school of at
least fifty centimes a day. They are under no
obligation except to work at the trade they wish
to learn and to conform to the regulations of the

The schedule of hours for the day is as follows :





8:00 to 10:00



15 minutes' rest if desired

10:15 to 12:00



Luncheon, and rest till 1 :30

1:30 to 4:00



15 minutes' rest if desired

4:15 to 5:00


5:00 to 6:30

Elementary school subjects



8:00 to 9:00




Day pupils arrive at 8 a. m. and leave at 6:30
p. m. Their noonday meal is given to them in
the school. Pupils in the manual trades have
every day an hour and a half of instruction in
elementary school subjects, during which time
they practise reading, writing, and arithmetic,
learn to measure surfaces and volumes, to write
a letter to a customer or wholesale dealer, to
make out an invoice or a bill of work, etc.

On Thursday afternoons and Sundays, pupils
are free to go where they choose — married men
may even return to their homes on Saturday
evening and stay until Monday morning — but no
other leaves are granted except on serious
grounds. In general, the rules are so few and so
reasonable that the men keep them very will-
ingly. If any pupil persists in violating the rules,
he is first warned and then expelled.

The school has installed workshops for teach-
ing the trades of shoemaking, tailoring, basketry,
clockmaking, hairdressing, and tinsmithing. It

was guided in its decision to teach these trades
by what seemed to be the best interest of the
pupils, by the possibilities of the buildings at its
disposal, and by the experience of other schools;
but it does not intend that its decision shall be
unalterable. If other trades are asked for by a
sufficient number of apprentices and the re-
sources of the school permit, instruction in them
will be provided.

There is no fixed length of time for an appren-
ticeship in the different trades. Pupils are not
supposed to stay a certain number of weeks, but
until they have become good workmen. It is,
therefore, left to the foreman in each shop to say
when the apprentices under him have become
proficient enough to dispense with further in-

The shoemaking section was the first one to be
opened and has still the greatest number of
pupils. Its popularity is probably due to the
fact that men who have learned shoemaking can
always return to their native place and follow
their trade there with a reasonable expectation
of success. A shoemaker is as useful in the small
village as in the large city. It is, moreover, not a
fatiguing occupation, and it is open to almost all
disabled men who have two good hands. A few
men in this section have partially lost the use
of one arm, but the majority are crippled in
the legs.

For foreman of this section the school was for-
tunate to secure a man who combined teaching
experience with a practical knowledge of the
trade. He is M. Desmettres, formerly a teacher
in the vocational school at Tourcoing and now a
refugee at Rouen. M. Desmettres' method of
teaching is based on the rational principle of
proceeding from the simple to the complex, from
the easy to the more difficult. His pupils learn
first to make a heavy thread out of silk and wax;
they next practise stitches in scraps of waste
leather ; and from that pass to building up heels
and sewing or nailing soles. After some practice
in this sort of work a man can earn fair wages as
a repairer, but he is always urged to continue his
apprenticeship and learn to make new shoes. His
course will be really finished when he can take
measurements, build up a last, and make ortho-
pedic shoes.

Number ii


In tailoring there is a shortage of workmen
owing to the large number of Germans and
Austrians employed before the war, and the
trade, therefore, offers openings for disabled
men. It is also an agreeable trade, clean, not
very fatiguing, and fairly remunerative; and
like shoemaking it can be practised in any part
of the country and often in a man's own house.
It is a suitable trade for a man with an injured
or amputated leg, and should not be ruled out for
those who have a partially disabled hand or arm.
One of the best apprentice tailors in the Rouen
school has lost half of his left hand.

In organizing and equipping the tailoring shop
the Committee received valuable aid from the
tailors' union of Rouen. The union realized that
a school for training workmen in their trade
claimed their interest and cooperation aside from
humanitarian reasons, and they have supplied
the school with equipment and material and a
competent and faithful foreman. The foreman,
M. Wedel, begins by teaching his pupils to make
collars, revers, linings, and pockets, and to use
the pressing iron and the sewing machine. Next
he puts them to work on blouses and jackets,
and when they have become proficient in this
work, they can find a position if they wish. It is
to their advantage, however, to continue until
they can qualify as cutters or assemblers, when
they can obtain much better positions and

Local conditions made it advisable to teach
basketry in Rouen. The great spinning and
weaving factories of the city use a great many
willow baskets to contain their raw materials and
their finished products and subject them to such
strains that they must be frequently repaired and
replaced. Dairying and fruitgrowing, which are
important industries of the surrounding country,
also call for a large number of willow baskets, in
which butter, cheese, and fruit may be packed
for shipping to England. In addition to these
special demands of local industry there is the
usual demand from bakers, confectioners, laun-
dries, etc. Since basketmaking can be taught in
a short time and does not demand great exer-
tions, it is a suitable trade for war invalids. Men
can work at it sitting down as they do at tailoring
and shoemaking; a wound in the leg will not

hinder them, but they must have complete use of
their two hands.

M. Goulet, the foreman, who has had experi-
ence in teaching basketry, is peculiarly suited
for the position. His pupils first make the
bottom of a round basket and then the body of
the basket, learning close weaving before the
more difficult open work. When they can make
round baskets, they pass to oval ones, and lastly
to square ones. Then they take up repairing.

A workman who is content to do only repairing
can earn up to five francs a day, but if he con-
tinues his apprenticeship until he can construct
a complete basket, and is master of his craft, he
can at piece work easily earn from six to seven
francs a day. Apprentices in the school shops
have more work than they can do in filling com-
missions for the cloth mills and butter merchants
of the city.

In the workshop for clock and watchmaking
all the equipment and the services of the fore-
man, M. Huot, were supplied by the clock and
watchmakers' union. It would seem as if only
men with two good hands and very supple
fingers could expect to learn a trade which re-
quires such fine work and the delicate handling
of such minute pieces of machinery, but experi-
ence has shown in this as in many other cases
that one cannot generalize about what trades are
open to the various grades of disabilities. One
man in the section has only a limited use of his
arms, and another has no use of his right hand,
all the fingers and the thumb being paralyzed;
yet both are making satisfactory progress.
When a man has the will to succeed, he will often
develop an ingenuity in using tools that makes up
for his disability.

A clock or watchmaker must go through a
fairly long apprenticeship. He must begin by
learning to use a file and lathe. The next step is
to make simple parts of clocks and the tools of
the craft; then to practise the use of his tools
until he acquires the technique of his trade.
When he arrives at the point where he under-
stands the mechanism of a clock and can be re-
lied on to discover and remedy its defects, he can
earn five francs a day. When he has acquired
the same knowledge of a watch, he can earn seven
francs a day. The school does not teach him how



Series X

to repair elaborate chronographs and antique
works, an understanding of which would make
him a specialist in his line, but it gives him the
necessary groundwork for acquiring such know-

The section for hairdressers and wigmakers
has also received aid from the union of workers
in the trade. M. Lemasson-Cuverville, vice-
president of the union, has lent a beautiful wax
bust of a woman with hair dressed in the latest
style, and placed on view some of his wonderful
creations in hair pieces — beautifully waved
bangs, airy puffs, and golden chignons — ^which
are models for the apprentices and temptations
to the ladies who visit the workrooms. The
union has also supplied drying stoves, carding
tables, and other implements for work, and the
foreman, M. Marchand.

M. Lemasson-Cuverville has drawn up a pro-
gram of apprenticeship for his trade, which we
would insert here entire if space allowed. He be-
gins by speaking of the advantages of the trade
for disabled men. It does not require great
physical exertion; most of its operations can be
carried on in a seated position; it involves no
danger. To become a good workman a man
needs only to wish to be one and to be capable of
attentive, systematic, and painstaking effort.
There are many openings now in the industry
as a large amount of hair goods were formerly
imported from Germany. Even since the out-
break of the war there have been attempts to
send in German goods over the Swiss frontier.
M. Lemasson-Cuverville says that he himself,
acting as a customs expert, recently refused ad-
mission to one million francs' worth of band

He next takes up the different steps in hair
work and explains in detail how hair is sorted ac-
cording to length and shade, then cleaned, and
then curled, when it is ready to be used in hair
pieces. Next he treats of the two classes of hair
workers: those who come in contact with their
customers in taking measurements and matching
shades, and those who in the workroom make the
piece as ordered. Workmen trained in the school
will usually be of the second class, but those of
special aptitude can advance into the first class.
All apprentices must learn to arrange the hair

in bands and curls, to make a lifelike wig by
fastening the hair in a tulle foundation, and to
put a wave in a finished hair piece.

Before the war a hairworker could usually
earn from six to ten francs a day according to his

Owing to a delay in obtaining the equipment,
the tinsmiths' shop was opened only a few weeks
ago, but it is now running smoothly under M.
Th^bault as foreman. The trade is an interesting
and fairly easy one and can be followed almost
anywhere. In a village a tinsmith is always
needed to repair pipes, roofs, pots and pans,
lighting fixtures, dairy utensils, and agricultural
implements. In the city he can obtain a good
position in a repair shop or in a tinware factory.
Or a man who has a little capital and can pur-
chase the necessary outfit and materials can turn


Online LibraryJ BreuilThe Vocational school for diabled soldiers at Rouen, France → online text (page 1 of 2)