Celebrating the French House at 100

La Maison Française marks a century of creating cultural connections for students and the broader Madison community.

“The House is really all its name implies, for no matter how little or how much we try to learn or how little or how much we speak French, everyone absorbs a certain quantity of the sort of French that is rarely learned on this side of the Atlantic.”

This statement could have come from anyone who has lived at or visited the French House, a nonprofit French-immersion residence run by members of the UW-Madison Department of French and Italian. But, incredibly, it was  written by one of the first residents in the summer of 1918.

“It’s all the things students experience today, 100 years later,” says Andrew Irving, who began directing the French House in 1995 while he was pursuing his PhD in French. “The French House still creates that community.”

When professors Hugh A. Smith and Jeanne Harouel Greenleaf opened the French House in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house, its initial temporary home, they founded the first university francophone residence and cultural center of its kind in the country.

At the time, study abroad was uncommon and teaching placed more emphasis on the written, rather than the spoken, word, so French students rarely had opportunities to immerse themselves in the language. The first residents — 21 American women and three French women, as the French House was for “girls” only at the time — relished the chance to interact entirely in French with each other, fellow students, French professors and Madison Francophiles.

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