Jules Steeg studied theology in Bâle, Strasbourg and Montauban – he then became the very first pastor ever to be appointed in the protestant parish of Libourne (Gironde) from 1859 to 1877. He became progressively more liberal, making his ideas known in many articles and lectures. In 1869, Fernand Buisson, also of liberal views, asked him to be co-founder of a Free Church which he was hoping to set up in Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Steeg had to refuse this offer for health reasons but nonetheless he spent much time and energy spreading democratic and republican ideas. Sadly, as he could not accept any form of religious orthodoxy, he could no longer be a pastor and had to give in his resignation in 1877.
In 1870, Steeg started a republican newspaper in the district of Libourne (where he had sided with the Republic and against the referendum) ; he was elected deputy of the Gironde in 1881 and again in 1885. He took an active part in the setting up of the republican school system, which was non-religious, compulsory, public and free of cost. He worked with Jules Ferry and his old protestant friends Felix Pécaut and Ferdinand Buisson. He acted as spokesman for the proposed law which advocated the repeal of the concordat and also for Jules Ferry’s law introducing non-religious education.
In 1889, he was appointed General Inspector of Primary Schools and director of the Teaching Museum in Paris. At the end of his career he succeeded his friend Ferdinand Buisson as Inspector of studies at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Fontenay aux Roses.
His son Théodore, who was President of the Council of Ministers, wrote in 1937 : “I am almost embarrassed at my own success as a politician when it seems to me that it is my father who should have been honoured in this way, considering the fact that he was far my superior as regards intelligence, talent and sheer willpower.”
- MAYEUR Jean-Marie et HILAIRE Yves-Marie, Dictionnaire du monde religieux dans la France contemporaine, Beauchesne, Paris, 1985-, Tome 9
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