In 1860, native Frenchman Rev. Stephen Frontis began teaching French language to a student as an elective course. This was the first time that a student at Davidson had taken any language that was not classical in nature. Mr. Frontis was not, however, an elected faculty member of the trustees. By June 1874, there was at least one professor, Andrew Dousa Hepburn, who specialized in French, though he also taught Latin. These studies, however, were soon taken over by a Professor Sampson, for Dr. Hepburn specialized more in English literature. By 1900, two full years of French language studies were offered at Davidson.
In 1909, when the college required studies of Latin or Greek for those pursuing A.B. degrees and only two years of two specified foreign languages for those pursuing a B.S. degree, studies in French and German became ever more popular. And, with the arrival or Dr. Thomas Wilson Lingle, Davidson found its first Professor of Modern Languages, thus demonstrating the growing importance and popularity of modern languages at the school.
In the 1920s, demand for modern language courses, particularly ones taught at the higher level, and enrollment in French classes reached 259, an institutional high for the language up to that point. And, in February 1926, the trustees elected Dr. George B. Watts to teach a literature course in French, thus bringing the French to three full time professors equipped to teach the language. Around this same time, in 1920, Davidson students founded a French Honor Society, Le Cercle Francais. By 1922, fourteen members joined the society. Up into the fifties, the romance languages (i.e. French and Spanish) were listed together as a single department in the course catalogue.
Beginning in 1965, Davidson students were offered a chance to study abroad for a year-long program during their junior year at a French University. This program was replaced another program in 1983 in which students studied at the University of Montpellier in France. The Davidson Program in Tours began in 1995, replacing the Montpellier program, and offers students the opportunity to study at a French University and live with a French host family. As of 2014, Davidson students have the option of a major or a minor in French and Francophone Studies, a department of seven professors, and can study abroad in Tours, France for one semester.
Beaty, Mary D. A History of Davidson College. Briarpatch Press, 1988.
“French Language and Literature.” Davidson College Catalog. 1874-2014.
Author: Meredith Pintler ’16
Date: 11 August 2014
Cite as: Pintler, Meredith, “French & Francophone Studies Department” Davidson Encyclopedia, 11 August 2014 < french-francophone-studies-department/>.