Jules Ferry (1832 – 1893)
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Jules Ferry approving the plans for the New Sorbonne
© RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz
Born in Saint-Dié, Jules Ferry, lawyer and politician, great figure of the Republic, was also heavily criticised in his day. Appointed Mayor of Paris after the fall of Napoleon III, he became unpopular due to the food restrictions he imposed on the people of Paris, who were under siege from the Prussian Army, and he ended up fleeing the capital.
He returned as the Deputy for Vosges (1871). Having been Minister Plenipotentiary in Greece under the Thiers government (1872-1873), he returned to the Chamber, where he became one of the leaders of the opposition to the government of the Monarchist Mac-Mahon, who was replaced in January 1879 by the Republican Jules Grévy. Jules Ferry then occupied the posts of Minister for Public Instruction and then President of the Council.
A free-thinker and a Freemason, he created écoles normales primaires to ensure the training of secular teachers and excluded the Church from the Higher Council of Public Instruction (1879-1880). Free education was voted in June 1881, compulsory education (between the ages of 6 and 13) and secularity in March 1882. A school for young girls was founded in Sèvres. Under the two Ferry Ministries, laws on freedom to meet and the freedom of the press were voted in, as was the Waldeck-Rousseau law on the freedom to form unions. But when he became Minister of Foreign Affairs, his colonial expansion policy earned him the hostility of Clemenceau's radical Right. He was forced to resign on 30 March 1885.