CHAPTER 1: EARLY LIFE IN FRANCE

Madame Guérin was, in reality, Madamoiselle Anna Alix Boulle.   She was born on the 03 February 1878, in Vallon, Ardèche.  Her parents were Vallon farm-owner Auguste Boulle and his wife Anna Granier.  Anna was their second child, their first daughter.   Anna was from a family of eight children.  Such were the times that three did not reach adulthood.  Upon death, father Auguste was listed as “cultivateur” – as his father had been before him.  (http://releves.free.fr: Relevés Ardéchois: S. Jumas)

Environs de Vallon, Ardèche: vue générale. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Pont d’Ibie, Vallon, Ardèche. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

The Ardèche remains predominately rural today – it is one of the most sparsely populated and most forested departments of France, although tourism now plays a large part in the area’s economy today.   Incidentally, in 1948, the town ‘Vallon’ changed its name to ‘Vallon-Pont-d’Arc’.

Anna was actually born into an Ardèche Protestant family, and not a Roman Catholic one.  It would appear that the Ardèche area is historically known for its Protestant connections.    During the French ‘Wars of Religion’, it is reported that the Ardèche was considered a strategically important location between the Catholic Languedoc and Protestant Geneva & Lyon regions.   The Ardèche region was supported by the powerful Protestant Huguenots and it became a Protestant stronghold.   There were many attacks and battles between 1562 and 1595.   In 1598, the Edict of Nantes gave rights to Protestants.

However, persecutions did not cease because of it and, as a result, many of the Protestants emigrated because of their harsh treatment in the area.  The peace was restored in 1715 but not before many of the Ardèche Protestants had converted to Catholicism and thousands more had fled to Switzerland.   It was not until 1789 (with the creation of the ‘Declaration of Human Rights’ during the French Revolution) that Ardèche Protestants were finally allowed to practice their faith without persecution.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ardèche)

La Mairie, Vallon. Courtesy of Heather Anne Johnson.

La Mairie,  Place de la Résistance, Vallon, Ardèche. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

Vallon, Ardèche, France. Birthplace of Anna Alix Boulle.

Pont d’Arc, Vallon, Ardèche.   Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

This was the environment that Anna and her six siblings were born into.

In May 1892, either on 16th or 19th, Mlle. Anna Alix Boulle took an examination in relation to the awarding of school scholarships – she was 14 years old.  She was, obviously, successful because, on 26 February 1893, ‘The Journal officiel de la République française’ printed the names of those who had been granted a scholarship, following those examinations in May 1892. Anna’s name was within the list and she was awarded a scholarship (of three trimesters) to the upper primary school of Largentière, which was 23 miles north of Vallon.

Here is an attempt at an English translation of the relevant extracts (any correction welcome!), from online pages 1032; 1033; & 1034 [1893] of the JOURNAL OFFICIEL DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE Twenty-fifth year.—No 56 (Official Journal of the French Republic. Laws and Decrees), 26 February 1893 [sic]:

“NOTICES AND COMMUNICATIONS

Ministry of Public Education of Fine Arts and Cults.

Distribution of primary education scholarships during the year 1892. … …

  1. – Scholarships in upper primary schools.

Following the competitions of May 16 and 19, 1892, to which 4,118 aspirants

(2,642 boys and 1,476 girls), 1,797 candidates were declared eligible (1,104 boys and 693 girls).

The available credits allowed the prefects to grant scholarships or fractions of scholarships of various categories to 643 boys and 436 girls. … …

List, by départements and in alphabetical order, of scholarship holders of higher primary education, appointed by the prefects* following the examinations of 16 and 19 May 1892. …

ARDÈCHE … … Boulle (Anna-Alix) born 3 February 1878 in Vallon. The proprietor father in Vallon; 4 children.- internship scholarship of three trimesters, upper primary school of Largentière.”   [*préfet = prefects = a senior official of a French department]

HERE IS THE ORIGINAL FRENCH TEXT:

“AVIS ET COMMUNICATIONS
Ministère de l’instruction publique des beaux-arts et des cultes.
Répartition des bourses d’enseignement primaire supérieur pendant l’année 1892. … …

  1. — Bourses dans les écoles primaries supérieures.

A la suite des concours des 16 et 19 mai 1892, auxquels se sont présentés 4,118 aspirants
(2,642 garçons et 1,476 filles), 1,797 candidats ont été déclarés admissibles (1,104 garçons et 693 filles).

Les crédits disponibles ont permis aux préfets d’accorder des bourses ou fractions de bourses de diverses catégories à 643 garçons et à 436 filles. … …

Liste, par départements et par ordre alphabétique, des boursiers et boursières d’enseignement primaire supérieur, nommés parles préfets à la suite des concours des 16 et 19 mai 1892.  …

ARDÈCHE … … Boulle (Anna-Alix) née le 3 février 1878 à Vallon. Le père propriéaire à Vallon ; 4 enfants.— Trois quarts de bourse d’internat, école primaire supérieure de Largentière.”

L’École Supérieure Madame Guérin studied here as a child. École Supérieure de Jeunes Filles, Largentière, Ardèche. Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

L’École Supérieure Madame Guérin studied here as a child.
École Supérieure de Jeunes Filles, Largentière, Ardèche.
Courtesy/© of Heather Anne Johnson.

The school no longer stands.  The local hospital stands on the site now – Hôpital Local Intercommunal Rocher-Largentière, Avenue des Marronniers, 07110 Largentière.

According to family-lore, Anna was so brave and dynamic that she could dive off the Pont du Gard Roman Aqueduct into the River Gardon. Apparently, she dived on one occasion for a film – in the place of a famous French actress.  It would be good if this family story could be verified one day.

On Saturday 06 November 1897, at the age of 19, Anna married one 26 year old Cuban-born French National Paul Rabanit in Vallon.   According to their marriage record, neither Anna nor Paul had jobs (“Profession: sans”).

Paul was probably privately funded by his father. The Rabanit family was a wealthy one from Les Vans, just over 17 miles to the east of Vallon. Paul’s father had a law degree and he owned land.  Paul’s father, Joseph Emile Polydore Rabanit, had the reputation of being a “globetrotter” because he travelled abroad so often.

Usually known as Polydore, he set up a home in Santiago de Cuba. Paul’s mother was Cuban-born Laurestine (née Savine).  Paul was born on 23 September 1871, he was the first of eight children. All the children were French nationals by birth and, after mother Laurestine died on 16 June 1886, Polydore and his children permanently made their home together in Les Vans.

Polydore may have taken Paul and a brother to live with family in France seven years prior, and returned to Cuba alone. All three were found arriving in New York on 28 May 1879, from “Cienfuegos, St. Jago” Cuba on ‘SS Carondelet’, en route to France.  It may have just been for a visit though.

Soon after the marriage (possibly Spring 1898), the newly-weds travelled to the French-ruled island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa.  The journey to Madagascar would have been by sea via the Suez Canal, on a Messageries Maritimes ship. The newly-weds would have set sail from the port of Marseilles – probably, then, an over-land journey of 105 miles from Vallon.  At that time, ports-of-call en route would have been: Port Said – Djibouti – Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) -Tamatave (Toamasina). The ship would have then gone on to St Denis de la Reunion (an island in the Indian Ocean, to the east of Madagascar. Later in life, Anna would describe the three week voyage during one of her lectures about Madagascar.

‘Bassin de la Joliette’, Marseille & the Messageries Maritimes mail-ship ‘Le Natal’. ‘Le Natal’ was one of the company’s ships that ran the Marseille – Madagascar route. Courtesy/© of Philippe Ramona http://www.messageries-maritimes.org/natal.htm

‘Bassin de la Joliette’, Marseilles & the Messageries Maritimes mail-ship ‘Le Natal’. ‘Le Natal’ was one of the company’s ships that ran the Marseille – Madagascar route. Certainly, Anna was found as a passenger on this ship in 1905 – from Marseilles, into Tamatave.  Image courtesy/© of Philippe Ramona  http://www.messageries-maritimes.org/natal.htm


Next Chapter:

CHAPTER 2:  TEACHING IN MADAGASCAR