Vauthier, Louis

MonsieurVAUTHIER1.jpg One of the first people we met when we first returned from Yearling Summer Camp and again took up the business of being educated was Monsieur Vauthier. We had looked forward to meeting him as we had looked forward to throwing back our capes, as one of a yearling’s privileges. During our plebe year we had heard rumors of the presiding deity of yearling French, who visited the section rooms to give dictees, but who was always willing to forego the dictee if enough interesting conversation could be provided by this section. We are not disappointed. From our first meeting, our association with him has been one of the most pleasant we have had throughout the entire year.

Now that the year is nearly ended and returning French sections are dismissed to the call of, “Yea Conge’”, that association is nearly over. And next year, after the Cows have Come Home, we hope that the president plebe class will enjoy Monsieur Vauthier as much as we did.

Meanwhile it might be fitting if something were told of him so we may know better, the man who tried to teach us to speak French.

Monsieur Vauthier was born September 14, 1862, at Fismes, France. There he grew up as any ordinary boy grows up, unworried about what the future held, and unaware of even the existence of West Point.

In spite of a rumor to that effect, Monsieur Vauthier did not fight in that Franco-Prussian war. Since he was but ten years old at that time, he could hardly have been expected to go to war. His military career did not begin until later.

At the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the army and being the then undreamed of career which was to take him far from Fismes and lead him eventually to us at West Point. He began his military service in the Eighth French Artillery, but before he had been long with that organization, he showed himself to be so adept at fencing that he was detached from his regiment and detailed to the Army School of Fencing in Joinville. There he progressed rapidly, rose to the rank of first sergeant and graduated as a master of arms.

Fencing those days was more of an art and less of a sport than it is these days. A great maitre d’armes was as famous and as envied as any poet or actor. And the name of Louis Vauthier did not go long unknown. He began his career as assistant to M. Ayat, a left-handed fencer and one of the most famous masters in Europe. But Louis Vauthier was not content to remain an assistant, even to M. Ayat. In 1890, upon the instigation of friends and in conjunction with M. Fayolle, he opened up his own academy, the Cercle d’escrime de la Madeline. Here his fame, both as a teacher and as a fencer increased very rapidly. Scarcely any reference to fencing failed to mention, “l’ excellent professeur de la Madeline.” His fame spread through Europe and even reached America, and two years after the founding of the Cercle de la Madeline, an event occurred which was to have profound effect on his career.

Fencing had for some time been a popular art in the US. Some of our colleges had teams and in 1892 the New York fencer’s club opened up a new sale d’armes, the finest of its kind in America and one of the largest in the world. In that same year, Mr. S. Montgomery Roosevelt approached monsieur Vauthier and asked him to come to New York as maitre d’armes of the fencer’s club.

At first monsieur Vauthier did not wish to leave Paris, but as Mr. Montgomery grew more and more insistent, he agreed to come to America, naming terms which he thought would discourage the fencer’s club. Much to his surprise, his terms were accepted and in 1893 he arrived in America and took up his duties as maitre of the Fencer’s Club.

For eleven years, monsieur Vauthier was at the Fencer’s. During that time fencing in America increased greatly in popularity and finesse, and some of our fencers achieved considerable fame here and abroad. Fencing also became very popular among the ladies of New York, a fact which created a deep impression along European fencing circles.

It was in 1904 that monsieur Vauthier came to West Point as master of fencing. From then until 1912, while fencing was a major sport here, his teams built up a record which has yet to be surpassed. The cadets, among whom were Dickson and F. E. Williford, dominated the intercollegiates, and, what was of greater importance to the Corps, consistently beat the Navy.

In 1912, fencing, though continued as a four year course of instruction, was dropped as an intercollegiate sport. In this same year monsieur Vauthier became an instructor in the Modern Languages Department, at the same time continuing his duties as Master of Fencing.

Ten years later fencing was retrieved as an intercollegiate sport, and monsieur Vauthier once again had a fencing team to coach. In 1922, the first of our return to intercollegiate competition, West Point scored a decisive victory in the intercollegiates, winning forty-two out of forty-five bouts. In that same year monsieur Vauthier retired as an active fencing coach, handing the reins over to Mr. Dimond, who had been a member of the American seber fencing team in the 1920 Olympics, and who has since continued to produce teams which were always a threat in  intercollegiate competition.

This then, is monsieur Vauthier, Master of Arms. A soldier before he came to West Point, he is now of West Point as much of any of us. An honorary member of the class of 1923, he is an honor not only to that class, but to the entire academy. We of the class of 1936 have known him only in the section room, but from our association we have come to esteem and love him, and we can only hope the feeling he inspires in us is returned by him. Gentlemen, we give you, monsieur Vauthier.


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