The multiple roles of women educators as cross-cultural intermediaries in the realm of language, literacy, dress, employment, and social action are examined in the hybrid Muslim-Jewish culture of Tunisia. Educated in Paris, the women served as catalysts of change at the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) School for Girls in Tunis for the students, parents, and the community. Sources are based on the correspondence of the women educators, supplemented by that of their male colleagues at the School for Boys. The pioneering initiatives of the women in education, apprenticeships, health, and post-graduate voluntary associations, were closely followed by the Director of Public Education for the schools of the French Protectorate and by the French patroness of the first Muslim School for Girls in Tunis. The model of female secular education advocated by the Alliance, with its emphasis on academic skills and productivity, set important precedents for similar ventures by other religious and ethnic communities.
Discussion of female educators and the education of females in the AIU School for Girls is intertwined with the themes of the “civilizing mission,” the educator-mother, and colonialism in an emerging modernity. Parallels are drawn to the education of girls in Muslim Tunisia, France, or other regions, as appropriate. Evidence has revealed that the work of the women educators extended beyond the classroom to the local community. The goal of the teachers was to form a new role for women in the private realm of the household and the public place of employment. The Middle East and North Africa continue to be confronted by these issues today, as first recognized by the women educators of the Alliance more than a century ago.