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MacJannet Legacy

About Donald and Charlotte MacJannet

The exceptional environment of the Priory enables Tufts University to perpetuate the tradition of international exchange established by the MacJannets. Tufts offers academic programs for high school and college students during the month of May, June and July and to students of all ages interested in the culture, language and history of the region. The European Center also serves as an international meeting site, hosting conferences and seminars attended by participants from every corner of the globe.

A native New Englander, Donald MacJannet did not initially seem destined to be the friend and educator of world leaders, nor the donor of an ancient priory. The son of a fiery fundamentalist Scottish-born minister, Donald was orphaned at age 15 and his mother incapacitated by illness. MacJannet and his sister moved to Medford, MA, to live with a friend of the family, but she was a widow of modest means. MacJannet became the sole support of not only his younger sister, but also of the woman and her son.

MacJannet attended Tufts, partly on scholarship, and partly through his own propensity for earning his keep, working after school as a church janitor and cookware salesman. MacJannet thrived at Tufts, and in many ways, the college became his family. He won a varsity letter for track, sang in the glee club, and took up languages – French, German, and Latin. When he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1916 with a degree in French literature, his classmates bestowed on him a rare distinction, voting him both Class Day and Commencement Orator.

MacJannet had an insatiable desire to teach, and in 1924, after stints at the St. Albans School in Washington, DC, military service as a pilot in World War I and study at the Sorbonne, he founded his first school, the MacJannet School for Young Americans, just outside Paris. The following year he opened a second school in St. Cloud. He also acquired a piece of land on Lake Annecy in Haute Savoie where he opened the MacJannet Camps – Camp L’Aiglon for boys and Camp Alouette for girls. Camps such as these were then virtually unknown outside America.

MacJannet met and married German-born Charlotte Blensdorf in 1932. Prior to their meeting, Charlotte had started her own school of eurythmics in Sweden after World War I. Eurythmics is a discipline which stresses training in rhythm, music and movement. After hearing Charlotte talk about her school, MacJannet invited her to see his own philosophy of education in operation at his camps, one that placed emphasis on individual achievement, the pursuit of individual interest, tolerance, teamwork and mutual respect. Two months later, the MacJannets were married.

The confluence of philosophies made for a successful camp environment. They were devoted to young people and during World War II the MacJannets fled Europe only after securing the safety of their campers, returning in 1952 and continuing to operate the camps until 1964.

The Purchase of the Priory

In 1958, Charlotte, looking for a facility where she could teach her movement classes, heard that the Priory was up for auction, and the couple managed to secure the property. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, the MacJannets used the Priory to house educational sessions on eurythmics, as well as concerts and ecumenical conferences. Their promotion of international learning specifically extended to Tufts when they set up an endowment for an exchange program with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

After his 80th birthday, Donald MacJannet began to think of the future of the Priory. Because of his strong allegiance to Tufts, he dreamed of seeing it as part of Tufts’ educational mission. On May 27, 1979, French Prime Minister Raymond Barre and a small group of academic, business and government figures joined Tufts President Jean Mayer in inaugurating the Tufts Center for European Studies. The 30-room masonry and stone structure, situated on an acre and a half of lawns and gardens overlooking Lake Annecy, prompted Mayer to emphasize Tufts’ “special responsibility… to be imaginative and wise stewards of this historic and beautiful building, and of the tradition it represents.” Seymour Simches, then the John Wade Professor of Modern Languages, was named administrative director of the Center. Professor Emeritus John Gibson, founder of the Tufts International Relations program, and historian Pierre-Henri Laurent envisioned a modest four-week academic program with classes in history and international relations, combined with field trips to Geneva.

For Laurent, the Talloires program offered three selling points: exposure to a culture and its language, close study of international issues, and, unlike most conventional study abroad programs, community building and relations. One big plus was, and still is, Geneva. Frequent trips to diverse international agencies – from the United States Embassy to international organizations, such as the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, and the International Labor Organization, among others – expose students to the very heart of international diplomacy.

Thanks to Donald MacJannet’s gift, the Tufts University European Center now serves not only Tufts undergraduates, but also college students, high school students, alumni, and professionals from around the world. It also carries on the MacJannets’ love for the Priory, for France, for Europe, and especially for fostering a sense of international community.

To read more about the MacJannets and their legacy, please visit the Tufts University Library Archives. To learn more about the MacJannet Foundation, which was created to ensure the future of the MacJannet legacy, please visit http://www.macjannet.org.