Junior Year in France marked its 65th year at Sweet Briar this fall, and remains the longest-running U.S. collegiate study abroad program in Paris. There were 67 co-eds in the first group to study in France in the fall of 1948.
The University of Delaware operated JYF from 1923 to 1939. It suspended the program in 1939, when a group of 42 students had to return from Paris in September due to the outbreak of World War II, according to a history of the program written for Sweet Briar by C. Robert Pace of Syracuse University in 1959. Delaware resumed its Junior Year when the war ended, sending groups to Geneva instead, but ceased after 1947-1948.
Pace’s history corroborates many recollections of Emile Langlois, who served as Sweet Briar’s JYF director from 1984 to 2000. Langlois reports that a Sweet Briar professor of French, Joseph Barker, who’d been a resident director for Delaware in 1934-1935, urged then-president Martha Lucas Pate to take the program.
The transfer was approved in January 1948 after the Institute for International Education gave its approval. Langlois says that other colleges questioned first, if a Sweet Briar program could accept men and second, if it could accept black students, since its charter, drawn in accordance with Virginia law at the time, stated that the College was for whites only.
“To solve this problem, the Junior Year in France became part, not of the College, but of the newly created Sweet Briar Institute (which also included the College),” Langlois wrote in an email.
Pace writes that the JYF program was a pioneering study-abroad model that others emulated. By 1958, the Institute for International Education reported that 110 colleges had initiated organized programs for study abroad. It was significant, he says, because “the Delaware-Sweet Briar program recognized from the beginning … that a United States undergraduate could not easily find in a foreign university an academic experience which would be accepted by his home institution.”
Today, the College also offers Junior Year in Nice, established in 2010 by JYF director Margaret Scouten, along with numerous options in other countries. Every student is encouraged to study abroad, whether through one of Sweet Briar’s programs or through another school.
Scouten will retire in July after serving as JYF director since July 2000. She was previously the founding director of the College’s Office of International Studies, established in 1990, and began teaching French at Sweet Briar in 1983.
In October, Mary Jane Cowles was appointed the new interim director of JYF, beginning July 1, 2014. Cowles is a professor of French at Kenyon College. She is a JYF alumna and has been a member of the JYF Advisory Board Committee for more than 15 years. She directed the Paris program as resident director in 2004-2005.