March 22, 1919
Page 21
Practical Problems of Music Students’ Life in Paris During the Ante-Bellum Days

Existence in the Latin Quarter Not So Rosy as Many Believe—The Dangers of Translating American Customs to Living Abroad—The Wild Goose Chase and Where It Leads

IN looking over some old slips and notes jotted down in Paris prior to the war, I extract this, copied from the bulletin board of the American Girls' Club: “For Sale—Household Goods. Whole divan, $1.20; chair (needs paint), 70 cts.; rug (in good repair), $1; dandy chest of drawers, $4; American rocker (one leg broken), $2; kitchen utensils, 50 cts.; American shoes No. 5 new $3.”
This same bulletin no doubt chronicled the sale of the unfortunate objects, with the exception of the shoes, many and many a time, each time a few cents knocked off the price by the conscientious investor. It was such a money-saver for the girls who had to economize and live close to the line else the amount they were to go on could not be stretched out for the prolonged stay. The students represented the various branches of art, voice and piano leading. Information on the bulletin was a great money and time saver for here the girls found what was necessary without losing precious moments from work.
Nearly all the students who occupied rooms or studios got their furnishings from the board. Everyone understood the household goods had been traveling for years, that the crippled beds, chairs, easels and bits of things had had no “steady” since they were bought as investments. Indeed, not in the memory of the oldest American inhabitant in the quarter had some of the furniture been new.
The lame Sommier had often to be boosted up by a box or was in poor sanitary condition, but no one minded a little imperfection like that. As for kitchen utensils, even though grime and grease did stick to the underside, no one was going to see all that but the owner when she was preparing her always hasty meal. It was a case of “Where living begins art leaves off” with her.
It was easy to progress with housekeeping on these lines, and the whole event was looked upon as a huge joke and part of the chase. Your neighbor lived no better than you so there was nothing to condone. The picnicking might have gone on one or several years. It all depended on how long your courage or your cash held out, how long you were willing to rough it, how much of the bohemian life your constitution would stand.
Those Who Succeeded
To those that remained only as long as they said they would and left after getting what they came for, we always heard good reports, for they had reason and strength of character enough to succeed no matter what the surroundings. It was the other large per cent that stuck on accomplishing nothing but years, who lost interest in studies, and when the “stay on” germ was fully matured, all they seemed to care to do was just to live. Maybe it was because they saw no prospect of arriving in a foreign country, maybe they knew they could never sacrifice what was necessary to gain the goal.
Fortunately for these girls and others war came along and shock-shelled them home. Of all those “setters” that were in Paris, many a thorn in the side of the colony, the last left last year when it looked as though war would go on indefinitely.
As a whole the music student did not fritter away her time nor did she fall into slovenly ways. The life with its liberty and independence was adopted by some so that they could arrive at a certain station, but when the girl took the wrong road it was because of powerful influence brought to bear. As for those that fell into pits dug for them, ‘twas a kind of natural sequence to the manner of living adopted and the kind of people they chose to be identified with.
A girl “going it alone” in a foreign country is apt to be criticized no matter who she be, for the strongest cannot stand up against old conventions. It was the student below or in the early twenties whose character was not formed, who, craving the experiences of art life, was most on the tongues of the public, for these young things, full of life and crazy for adventure, refused to conform to any customs save those of their own country—where women are comrades rather than playthings of men, and it was those that had their reputation smutted, sometimes only because of willful indiscretion, sometimes because of falling innocent victims.
There used to be places where the American girls were housed, for philanthropists saw the crying need of such institutions. In spite of warning and advice, Americans would come, and once here self-respect demanded that their older and more monied sisters provide for them. Everything was done for the foreigner and her small means, yet the homes were small, and only an infinitesimal percent could be received as inmates. While the lives inside the walls of the institutions housing the students was above reproach, yet in the end the directors could do no more than feed and room them. Once their pensionnaires left the door they were not responsible for their acts or the kind of company they kept.
After arriving in Paris and looking about, to do as a great number of students did, the newcomer went into a small furnished apartment with another girl. Or if too poor to harbor such an expense, the only thing left for her to do was to rent a room and take meals in one of the little restaurants. A well-ventilated, lighted, heated room did not always come within the bourse of the young woman, so many rented an attic room where there was no elevator, no gas, no nothing, surrounded by servants who worked in the apartments below or probably by waiters in the cafés, or workmen in the little shops of the quarter.
What Living Alone Implies
Such living and environment was all very well for independence of action, and one’s money stretched out amazingly, but living in isolation, the French moral law does not protect such locataires, no matter be they foreign or domestic. A respectable woman is supposed to live with her family or friends and one separating herself from all only merits the reflection and innuendo that is sure to follow.
As for religious matters—But what student wants· to be bothered with religious observances in a place where she is unknown? Almost as soon as she arrived Sunday was lost sight of as a religious feast. Little by little her ideas began to “broaden” in a religious way, and she allowed others as long a rope as she took. When she had finished with the daily vocal or piano drill or when she gave her studio and brushes a good scrubbing, taken a pilgrimage to the bath house for a dip, no doubt she felt that her religious obligations for the week had been fulfilled.
Except in rare examples she was a serious subject, this American ante-bellum student who flew across seas on a wild-goose chase for what lay at her door, and though she may be profited nothing but knowledge of human nature from her sojourn, her experience may be considered by some valuable because it at least opened up the seamy side of life to her, and this is pretty apt to be the case in any place where a man or woman enters a country steeped in hide-bound traditions, and cuts loose from social conventions.
What has become of all these young aspirants and what has become of the professors? The mooted question is, Will the student return to see a new artistic Paris rebuilt? Will she come back to become a member of a new music world, for the old seems to have passed away with the war—that is to say, those that have not settled in America.
[American women were granted the right to vote in the 19th Amendment, ratified on 18 August 1920. In the United Kingdom, in February 1918, the Representation of the People Bill passed, allowing women over the age of 30 and men over the age of 21 to vote. Women have to be married to or a member of the Local Government Register. In July 1928, the Representation of the People Act entitles everyone over the age of 21 to vote. —ed. 2018]


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