Lycée Victor-Schœlcher (1902- )

Ruins of the Lycée Saint-Pierre
Public Domain Image

The Lycée Victor-Schœlcher is a secondary school located in Fort-du-France, Martinique. Initially built in 1902, the Lycée Victor-Schœlcher has served as the foundational home for significant intellectual figures of Caribbean literary, political, and philosophical traditions including Aimé Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, and Frantz Fanon. It is considered the first high school of Martinique.

The school’s name refers to nineteenth-century French abolitionist Victor Schœlcher who played an active role in abolishing slavery within the French mainland and its colonies. Along with the lycée, Schœlcher’s name encompasses the city of Fort-du-France, giving title to libraries, universities, and even a suburb of the island’s capital.

The lycée reflected a process towards secularization of French colonial schooling towards the end of the nineteenth century, moving schooling from rural areas of the island to more populated towns. The establishment of a network of school systems on Martinique granted free access to education for school-aged children even as the move towards cities and townships followed the goals of French supporters of empire, French colonial officials in Martinique, and the Creole elite on the island.

Lycée Victor-Schœlcher underwent a series of relocations, name changes, and renovations during its 100-year history. Initially called the Lycée Saint-Pierre, the school is said to have initially been constructed in the northern town of Saint-Pierre. After the eruption of Montagne Pelée destroyed the school in 1902, it was relocated to the island’s capital of Fort-du-France. The school relocated again within Fort-du-France with the construction of a new building close to the city’s southend in 1937. The lycée is noted for its many renovations since the 1937 and today, Lycée Victor-Schœlcher takes up 18,000 square meters of space in the city and stands out for its architectural modernism.

Lycée Victor-Schœlcher was one of the first stops for intellectual figures such as Aimé Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, Frantz Fanon, and Édouard Glissant. Many of these students of Lycée Victor-Schœlcher have reflected and written on the impact their teachers and peers at the high school made on their intellectual trajectories. Lycée Victor-Schœlcher taught only boys for over seventy years until transitioning into a coeducational institution in 1973.

The school was important enough to Aimé Césaire for him to call for the building’s designation as a national monument in 2007. A decade later, with the school’s deteriorating conditions clearly evident, work to renovate the building began, and after five years of renovation, the school reopened. Lycée Victor-Schœlcher continues to operate as a secondary school.