The International Lyceum Club of Switzerland is the oldest cultural association for women in the country. Its foundation on 28th November 1912 is the achievement of 77 women who decided to associate themselves with the Lyceum Club of London (which was founded in 1904). With its wide-ranging and inter-disciplinary orientation the club soon becomes a hive of creativity in such areas as the arts, literature, music, the sciences and social activities. Thanks to the talents of its members the club is always at the forefront of current movements and ideas and tries to incorporate both traditional and modernist views. Over time the club forges its own identity and expands to other parts of Switzerland, initially from the west to the north and east, and later also to the south.

In order to justify a registered office, the Geneva members join forces with interested women from the cantons of Waadt and Berne. The articles of incorporation drawn up by the club’s own lawyer and member, Marguerite Cramer, explicitly make reference to the convergence of cultures between the German-speaking and French-speaking parts of Switzerland. Furthermore it is stated that “the Lyceum can only attain its goal if the members cultivate the moral virtues of friendship, benevolence and mutual trust. Such spiritual and intellectual development is our goal and should serve as a tie between the groups of our Swiss Lyceum and the foreign Lyceum Clubs (London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Brussels, Berlin, New York and Athens).” From 1918 onwards, nine more clubs are founded in the French-speaking, German-speaking and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland.

The Lyceum Club is a novelty for the women of the Belle-Epoque. They command a sound basic knowledge in literary and/or scientific areas, imparted to them through dedicated teachers, which they expand via visits abroad. Some of the women have studied at university, the academy of music, the academy of fine arts or arts college, and they in turn start schools for embroidery, lace-making or pottery where the motifs of the local art is adapted to the style of the time.

Although the Lyceum originates from the urban setting it stays in touch with the native soil. At the beginning of the 1920s various clubs have gardening groups. In the period between the two World Wars, a time when many Lyceins are toiling their own land, this becomes economically especially useful. The professions of gardeners and landscape artists become more open to women.

In 1935 the central office of the International Association of the Lyceum Clubs takes up its headquarters in Switzerland. The role of the first two presidents of the club, Blanche Robert and Edmée Sprecher-Robert, mother and daughter, is of eminent importance for the continuation of the club at the Swiss and also the international level. During the period 1915 to 1965 numerous congresses and conferences take place under their presidencies. The club grows and prospers.

Progressively, different cultures develop within the clubs, reflecting the respective literary and artistic characteristics of the country. Topics such as the protection of the homeland and the concomitant idealisation of the countryside, the mountains and the hardworking population enjoy increasing popularity. At the same time the Lyceins have a certain amount of sympathy for Helvetism and the quest for the historic roots of community awareness. In the 1930s the Swiss Federal Council counteracts the propaganda of the surrounding countries by formulating its own cultural policy. The Lyceum Club is consulted for the founding of the Forum Helveticum and the Foundation Pro Helvetia. The Lyceins benchmark their culture against that of their homeland, which draws its purpose from intellectual defence, in marked contrast to that of the neighbouring countries. The dread of assimilation, ‘Anschluss’, incursion and war forces them to choose the “Swiss Way” without compromising their international obligations.

During the Second World War the Lyceins help to alleviate suffering. They arrange for the construction of a house for Polish children in the Pestalozzi village. They send food parcels and consumer goods to women in Greece and Finland and after the war, they accommodate 43 Dutch women for convalescent leave in their homes.

At the 14th Annual General Meeting of the International Central Bureau (27th – 30th May 1956) in Berne, the Swiss Federal Councillor Max Petitpierre underlines the contribution of the Lyceum Club to the “fostering of mutual understanding and the preservation of the intellectual and moral interests of the country”. In the decades that follow, the Lyceum Club is increasingly confronted with the upsurge of mass culture. How can it preserve its importance amid the numerous cultural offerings?

The Lyceum is proud of its heritage: during the past one hundred years it was able to organise more than 12’000 cultural events, thereby contributing – discretely and reliably – to the boom of cultural activities in the most important Swiss cities, which it continues to do with unfailing commitment to this day.