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
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.