As soon as Egypt reorganizes its social scene for travelers, I plan to spend time in the Copt quarter of Cairo, at the Monastery of the Franciscans, the Chateau des Chandrelles (Assai-el-Chom) and the Hospital d’Abou Zabel.
These places are associated with the 19th century French pre-socialist group known as the Saint-Simonians. They bear this name in honor of the philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon who promoted the original idea of constructing the Suez Canal in the 18th century, along with other socially progressive concepts.
During the period 1832-1836, Suzanne Volquin (portrait at right) and several other women Saint-Simonians left France with St. Simonian men to work in Cairo and the environs, where they taught and nursed the local citizens. The composer Felician David was part of the community. The group was decimated by a cholera outbreaks during the 1830s and many of them were buried in the Copt quarter of Cairo. Suzanne Volquin traveled to Russia to teach mid-wifery there. She eventually emigrated to the United States of America.
Some of the French group stayed on or returned to work with de Ferdinand de Lesseps when he took over the Suez Canal project based in Ismailia and Port Said, places I hope to visit.As many of the group members came from banking families, they later participated in structuring early funding for the canal.
My purpose is spending time in Cairo and on various historic areas related to the construction of the Suez Canal will be to explore the history and to finish my manuscript about the French women and their work to establish a clinic and school for mid-wives.