Madame Eugénie Luce (1804-1882)

Luce Ben Aben School of Arab Embroidery, Algiers, c. 1899. Luce Ben Aben School of Arab Embroidery, Algiers, c. 1899.

Madame Eugénie Luce (1804-1882) was a French teacher who established the first French/Arab school for Muslim girls in Algiers (Algeria) in 1845. Particular attention was paid in the school to embroidery. It is often stated that she was a widow, but in reality it would appear that she had left her husband because of domestic abuse. In order to support her children, she became a governess and moved to Algiers, probably in 1834.

In 1845 she started a small school for Arab girls, which at first had only a few students, but the numbers soon grew to about thirty. The curriculum included Arabic, arithmetic, embroidery, French, geography and sewing. The school was forced to close on 1 January 1846 due to a lack of financial support from the local French government, who helped with schools for Arab boys, but they were not interested in the education of girls. According to various accounts, Madame Luce sold her possessions, including her gold thimble, and with the funds she went to Paris to solicit help from the central government.

According to one account she saw Napoleon III, while other reports indicate she met with officials in the Ministry of War who were responsible for the colonial rule in Algeria. It would seem that at first she had no success, but eventually she was given 3000 francs, plus a small state pension. Luce then returned to Algiers and in June 1846 her school was reopened. It would appear that Madame Luce received help from various French notables in Algeria, including the Curé of Algiers, Count Eugène Guyot and others. In January 1847 the French government formally agreed to support the school and from that moment onwards it became a success.

What seems to have impressed many Europeans at the time was her liberal attitude towards the religious education of girls within the school’s curriculum: "....... sewing of all kinds, reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography; she does not interfere with the religious views of her scholars. The Jewish girls pray after their fashion, the Mussulmans have the Koran read to them, the Christians read the Bible and their devotional works. Some of Madam Luce's pupils have already done her credit. One of the most worthily-earned prizes at the late Paris Exhibition was bestowed on a deaf and dumb Arab girl, who was educated by Madame Luce, for samples of embroidery."

By 1858 she had over 120 pupils, whose ages ranged from about four to seventeen. The school continued to thrive and produce skilled embroideresses. It would appear, for instance, that in the London Exhibition of 1862 various embroideries were on display entitled the ‘ouvroir Musulman’ that was worked by a school for Arab orphan girls, namely, Madame Luce’s school. Their embroidery was also shown in the Algerian Pavilion of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition, at Chicago. The school continued under Madame Luce’s daughter and later her granddaughter, Madame Luce Ben-Aben.


  • Anon, Harper’s Weekly, 4 December 1858, p. 773.
  • Bodichon, Barbara and Eugène Bodichon (1858). 'Algeria considered as a winter residence for the English,' London: English Woman’s Journal.
  • Davies, Edward William Lewis (1858). Algeries in 1857: Its Accessibility, Climate, and Resources described with especial reference to English Invalids, London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, pp. 37-39, 99-102.
  • Parkes, Bessie Rayner (1866). Vignettes: Twelve Biographical Sketches, London and New York: Alexander Strahan.
  • Rogers, Rebecca (2013). A Frenchwoman's Imperial Story: Madame Luce in Nineteenth-Century Algeria, Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 1 July 2016).


Last modified on Sunday, 19 March 2017 18:41