André Honnorat, minster of public education and fine arts from January 1920 to January 1921, was the main founder of the Cité internationale universitaire and its president from its creation until February 1948. From 1919, he expressed his wish to create “a place where young people from all countries could, at the age where we form lasting friendships, have contacts that allowed them to get to know and appreciate each other”.
Born in Paris to a family of traders rooted in Lyon, André Honnorate didn’t finish his secondary education due to his father’s financial difficulties and, following his mother’s example, started to work as a journalist. He was the secretary for the writer and politician Henry Fouquier and in 1896 he founded the l’Alliance nationale contre la dépopulation and began a career in public administration.
A Dreyfusard from the very beginning, he launched himself into politics on the lists of the radical democratic left. A representative of the Basses-Alpes from 1910 to 1921, then a senator from 1921 to 1945, registered in the Republican Union, André Honnorat was a social reformer at the origin of several measures that have now become commonplace, the most well-known being the introduction of summer time in France.
With the declaration of war in August of 1914, at the age of 46, he was one of the few parliamentarians to enrol as a volunteer before he was discharged for health reasons.
Passionate about history and concerned about property issues, in 1917 he made a resolution establishing the War Library-museum (today called La contemporaine. Library, archives, museum of contemporary worlds) and then founded the Société d’histoire de la guerre. He was very active and was notably engaged in promoting popular education, hygiene practices, workers’ and farmers’ pensions, the national pension fund and the use of hydraulic energy. In 1919, he wrote a law that bears his name and establised the creation of a sanatorium per department and in 1927 he promoted the law that permits a larger acquisition of French nationality with less importance given to “blood right”. Elsewhere he helped lay the foundations for a family allowance system, providing subsidies to pregnant women and tax relief for large families.
During his brief stint as minister of public education and fine arts, he coordinated two symbolic events: the burial of the Unknown Soldier’s remains under the Arc de Triomphe and the transfer of an urn containing the heart of Gambetta to the Pantheon.
During his long career, André Honnorat had founded, presided or been a member of a large number of organisations and scientific, civil or social associations. The president of the Comité national de défense contre la tuberculose from 1925 and a member of the Pasteur Institute between 1932 and 1934, he was one the promoters of the antituberculotic legislation who participated in the creation of a public health system in France.
During the First World War he worked to support university refugees. Throughout the thirties until the second war he helped the victims of anti-Semitism flee persecution. An extremely eclectic person, he strived to implement his hygienic and social concerns with a firm desire to contribute to France’s international cultural influence. President of the Cité internationale until 1948, he racked up meetings, conferences and international cultural exchanges to find the necessary funds to create new buildings. A tireless traveller, he travelled the world for decades, from Europe to the Americas, from the Middle East to Asia.
After the French defeat in 1940, he was one of the parliamentarians that refused to vote Marshal Pétain full powers. He thus retired from political life and finished his career as a member of the Institut de France, where he was elected in February 1947. His final years were dedicated to the Cité internationale to which he had dedicated thirty years of his life.
Paul Appell was one of the initiators of the Cité internationale universitaire, a famous mathematician, professor and then dean of the Faculté des sciences de Paris, chancellor of the University of Paris, member of the Académie des sciences and also the first president of the Secours national.
Born in Strasbourg in 1855 in Alsace, which would remain French for sixteen more years, a doctor of sciences and passionate about education, Paul Appell is the author of a considerable scientific output. His mathematical work ranges from rational mechanics and projective geometry to complex analysis. In 1889, he won (having tied with Henri Poincaré) the international mathematics competition organised by the King of Sweden and Norway, Oscar II.
Elected as a member of the Académie des sciences in November 1892, the president of the Académie et de l’Institut in 1914, he reached the peak of his career when war broke out. He then participated in founding the Secours national and was its first president. This organisation was created in August 1914, at the suggestion of Albert Kahn, to request subscriptions for the benefits of soldiers and their families, and for civilian populations affected by the war. It was a considerable charity which, under his presidency, sourced up to 65 million francs.
In 1918, he presided over the executive committee of the Association française pour la Société des Nations (AFSDN) which laid the foundations for the future League of Nations. This association pioneered ideas concerning peace and international law, ranging from arms control to the conception of a tribunal between nations, the future International Court of Justice.
He was named the chancellor of the Académie de Paris in 1920 upon the death of Lucien Poincaré. He was distinguished by his attention to living conditions and to students’ material difficulties. Thanks to the funding from the banker David David-Weill, who would also be involved in the creation of the Cité internationale universitaire, he was at the origin of the first university restaurant, rue Pierre Curie, opened at the end of the war.
He was also engaged in several fronts: social justice, the promotion of research and international solidarity. Several organisations and social aides were founded under his aegis: popular meals, unemployment loans, nurseries. In order to encourage research, he established a scientific research assistance fund which would pave the way for the future National Centre for Scientific Research [CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique)]. Without forgetting his commitment to Dreyfus, Appell was one of the signatories for the Manifesto of intellectuals that appeared in L’Aurore in January 1898, then stepped in as an expert for the revision of the trial in 1906. An ardent patriot, he saluted in his memoires, under the title Souvenirs d’un alsacien, the return of Alsace to France in 1918.
A prosperous industrialist at the head of the the oil company which, in 1922, would become Pétroles Jupiter and then Shell-France, Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe wanted to devote his fortune to “a lasting work”. Like André Honnorat and Paul Appell, he worked to consolidate peace by working for young students. He also offered ten million gold francs to construct “clean and spacious” lodging intended to house students in good and hygienic conditions. The Cité internationale universitaire’s first residence was the Fondation Émile et Louise Deutsch de la Meurthe which opened its doors in 1925.
Coming from a modest Jewish family in Lorraine, Émile Deutsch was born in La Vilette, a commune in the Ile-de-France region. An emblematic representative of the new bourgeoisie affairs at the end of the 19th century, he transformed his father’s small vegetable oil refinery and became, in cooperation with his brother, one of the precursors of the prosperous French oil industry, with an international influence.
Thanks to matrimonial connections, the Deutsch family integrated into the high Parisian society and extended their surname to include the suffix “de la Meurthe”. The family’s attachment to republican values was expressed in grand philanthropic actions. Whilst his brother Henry, a music lover and automobile and aviation pioneer, subsidised musical and aeronautical institutions, Émile preferred to support educational projects. Notably, in 1915 he participated in the creation of a company caring for Israeli orphans, whose mission was to forge cross-Atlantic relations and raise the awareness of rich American donors. For Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe: “to help our students is to help France”, as he wrote in a letter to the chancellor Paul Appell. And it’s to the latter that he proposed a donation for the construction of ample and green housing, according to the hygienist ideas that were spreading at the time, and designed to accommodate 350 “unfortunate” students at the University of Paris. The chancellor put him in contact with André Honnorat, the minister of public education and the fine arts and, one year after the donation pledge in January 1923, the donation certificate was signed.
Jean Branet began a career in prefectural administration before joining the Ministry of Finance. A state councillor, he collaborated with André Honnorat on the creation and management of the Cité universitaire. He was particularly concerned with the administrative and legal composition of the Fondation national for the development of the Cité universitaire de Paris, for which he wrote the statutes, conventions and the first donation certificates. He was the true administrator of the Cité in the 1930s, becoming the first secretary general in 1925 and the vice-president at the end of the 1940s.
Born in a commune in the department of Gers in the Occitaine region, the law graduate Jean Branet was the Vendée prefect from 1905 to 1907, then an honorary prefect for the Seine and director general of customs at the Ministry of Finance in 1911. A state councillor, he took leave of public duty and embraced a career in the private sector. President of the Chambre syndicale de l’industrie du pétrole, he was also the president of the Pétroles Jupiter board of directors, the company born of the merger between the house of Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe and Royal Dutch Shell.
In 1916, Jean Branet was one of the founders of the Fondation Odilon Lannelongue, named after his uncle, the reputed surgeon and professor in the Paris faculty of medicine. This institute, still active in Vances, aimed to offer medical assistance to everyone and to be at the forefront of scientific progress. It is within this that the doctor Emile Roux, director of the Institut Pasteur, organised a school to train hygienists, notably fighting against tuberculosis, and that the doctor Albert Calmette created a vaccination centre.
Following the example of the Fondation Lannelongue, Jean Branet proposed using the same novel legal style for the Cité universitaire. The foundation aimed to seek funding from foreign governments and French and foreign benefactors. In addition, the originality of this legal construction was based on three levels : the foundation, the convention that linked it to the Université de Paris and the buildings enjoying a certain autonomy.
David David-Weill, a banker and financier, had donated millions of gold francs to the Cité universitaire for which he was also the first treasurer and vice-president from its creation until his passing. An avenue running through the estate bears his name in homage.
Born in San Francisco to a rich Jewish family from Lorraine, David David-Weill returned to France aged thirteen. After having frequented the Lycée Condorcet de Paris, where he was classmates with Marcel Proust for philosophy, he followed legal studies. A graduate in Science Po, he joined the Lazard bank, a Franco-American enterprise cofounded by his father, as a managing partner. Between 1934 and 1936 he was regent for the Bank of France.
He was a volunteer in the First World War from the outbreak of the conflict first as lieutenant and then captain for the Railways and stops.
A book lover, passionate about and a collector of art, he directed the national museums between 1932 and 1940 and in 1934 he was elected to the Académie des beaux-arts. His philanthropy led him to make several donations to museums: the Louvre, the Carnavalet museum, Musée Guimet or the Union centrale des arts décoratifs (known today as MAD), for which he was also vice-president from 1923. The president and member of multiple cultural institutions, such as the Conseil des amis de Versailles, the Amis de la Bibliothèque Forney, the Conseil du Musée Rodin or the Société des amis de la bibliothèque d’art et d’archéologie Jacques Doucet (the current library of the Institut national d’histoire de l’art-INHA). He also has a legacy at numerous universities such as in New York, Leyde, Hamburg, Honolulu or Stockholm; with libraries such as the Musée de l’homme or the national library of France; philanthropic institutions: orphanages, hospitals, council flats, antituberculotic dispensaries and rehabilitation workshops for those injured in the war.
David David-Weill, who financed the first student restaurant, rue Pierre et Marie Curie, that was desired by the councillor Paul Appell at the end of the war, made the first donation that would allow for the creation of the Fondation national for the development of the Cité universitaire de Paris, the legal foundation for the evolution of the project.
The consulting architect for the Foundation, Lucien Bechmann was charged with designing the plan for the Cité and giving it a “city-garden” character by combining built-up areas, walkways and sports grounds.
Lucien Adolphe Bechmann was the consulting architect for the estate in the fifties. Notably, he was the architect for the Fondation Émile et Louise Deutsch de la Meurthe, the Cité internationale’s first building. The son of a chief engineer for bridges and roadways, Georges Bechmann (1848-1927), Lucien Adolphe Bechmann was born on the 25th of July 1880 in Paris. Admitted to the National School of Fine Arts de Paris in 1989, he continued his studies at the Laloux workshop and graduated in 1905.
The first architect of the Cité
After the First World War, Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe entrusted him, in cooperation with Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, then Léon Azéma, with the plan for the Cité universitaire. He completed the first group of pavilions, those of the Fondation Émile et Louise Deutsch de la Meurthe. Lucien Bechmann chose, using his own expression, a brick building in a regionalist style that was comparable to the architecture of British colleges. Critics reproached him for adopting the Oxford style for a French foundation, which he both accepted and rejected, stating that he was inspired by France from the Middle Ages adding: “It’s the eternal history: what is invented, what is born with us, is neither understood or appreciated. The foreigner seizes it. And latter we see our child return and do not recognise them”.
The consulting architect to the Cité
Alongside his achievements, Lucien Bechmann was the consultant architect for the estate for thirty years (1923-1953). At the beginning of the thirties, Lucien Bechmann designed six successive projects for the construction of the future Maison international, the building for the Cité’s shared facilities. The benefactor John D. Rockefeller, who financed the building, insisted upon American enterprises and an American architect, J. F. Larson. Lucien Bechmann withdrew so as to not compromise the operation and remained as the consulting architect. However, he constructed the two entry pavilions in his own name. After the Second World War, he was charged with reconstructing the pavilions that were damaged as a result of the five years of occupation and also to construct the Victor Lyon pavilion (1950).
The Cité internationale is now undergoing a new and significant phase of development. By 2025, 100 years after its creation, it will be home to 10 new houses and will modernise all its services. Find out more about this new stage in the campus’ evolution.
To find out more about the history of the Cité internationale, its architecture and its development, visit our Heritage Centre. Permanent exhibitions, thematic tours and innovative digital media will take you through time and space to discover this exceptional place.