Skip to main content

Léonie Villard journal

Identifier: MS 0026

Scope and Contents

Transcription of a diary kept from 1940 to 1944 by an educated, middle-class woman living in Lyon and Oussiat, France. The journal begins with Maréchal Pétain's declaration of the "armistice" with Germany and ends with the liberation of Lyon by the Allies. Most of Villard's entries concern the everyday life of herself, her brother and her friends. The entries are a mixture of factual statements, such as the current cost of butter; opinions, such as the thrill of hearing de Gaulle speak over the B.B.C.; and reports of rumors. Although her life is centered on Lyon and her summer "bungalow" in the more rural Oussiat, there are frequent mentions of War news from outside France, particularly from North Africa and the rest of Europe. Many of the entries for 1942 and 1943 concern food-- its escalating cost, its unavailability (especially the lack of meat, sugar & salt), and the effects of malnutrition. Rationing food is described as one of the tactics employed by the Germans to keep the French subdued; the other principal tactics mentioned being propaganda and killing or imprisonment. Other topics repeatly mentioned are fuel shortages, forced conscription, the Resistance, the black market, and the political situation under the Vichy government. Occasional mention is made of the persecution of French Jews, with an increasing number of references in 1944. Her journal shows an awareness of how the reactions of the Germans in Lyon reflected the changing fortunes of Germany as the War progressed. Villard's descriptions of everyday life include celebrating Christmas, visiting friends, meeting students, going to the doctor, shopping and household chores.


  • Creation: 1940 June-1944 September

Conditions Governing Access


Biographical Note

Professor and critic of English and American literature. First woman in France to hold a chair of literature at a French university. Received honorary D.Litt. from Mount Holyoke College in 1937.


1 folders (106 leaves ; 28 cm.)

Language of Materials



Villard, Léonie; professor at the Université de Lyon, Lyon France. Mount Holyoke College faculty member, 1937 and 1950-1951. This journal details the political and socio-economic conditions in World War II France contrasting life in the city of Lyon and the nearby countryside. There are only 8 entries for 1941 with none between July 7 and Dec. 26, 1941.

Summary of Journal

Mlle. Villard, who taught at the university in Lyons, France, probably in the field of English, started a war diary on June 17, 1940 "in my blue note book", and continued it until September 21, 1944. It seems likely the diary was handwritten, and then typed by Mlle. Villard, at which time she made corrections in ink. The Mount Holyoke Archives has the typed version of 106 pages in its collection.

Mlle. Villard's first entry in her wartime journal on June 17,1940 described the situation in Lyons, France, as "an avalanche sweeping us out of known mental and moral landmarks." They were days of "misery, shame, horror." Residents were ordered to leave Lyons in case Petain's request for an armistice was not granted. Under the guidance of her good friend, Lili, she and her brother, with whom she lived, joined the stream of refugees fleeing south. (Most of those mentioned in the journal are identified only by an initial.) The armistice was granted and she was back home in her flat on July 2.

That summer of 1940 and several succeeding summers were spent in Oussiat at the bungalow which she had built only the year before. It proved a great blessing for it was accessible by train and she could have a garden there and raise vegetables. She took along her portable wireless set which she had purchased in September so that she could hear BBC broadcasts.

The German presence in Vichy France was restrained at first but by November food shortages were apparent and the screw was tightening. In March 1941 she wrote that only rutabaga and Jerusalem artichokes were available in the market, but by the end of the year even they were gone. Coal and cooking gas were scarce, rations cut.

The Allied landing at Dieppe in August 1942 was a bitter blow for it made clear the difficulties of an Allied landing and destroyed hopes for a release in the near future. By 1943 German pressure was growing; there were house searches, arrests, imprisonments, and young men were being deported to Germany to work in the factories. Mlle. Villard's radio was a "great comfort" and she became a reliable source of information to her friends and neighbors. She secretly distributed any English papers which fell into her hands as well as Resistance tracts. The Sicily landing in July 1943 was good news but in September she wrote "starvation for all, deportation for many" sums up the conditions.

In 1944 she moved into the hallway in her flat because of the strict blackout. Jews were being persecuted, the university was closed, there were German reprisals, and by early May Allied bombs were falling, prior to the Normandy landing. Even as Paris was liberated, conditions in Lyons worsened - indiscriminate German shooting and looting. By September, however, DeGaulle was in Lyons amid great rejoicing.

Mlle. Villard took great pains to record as accurately as possible the events and conditions of the time and to sort out fact from rumor and second-hand reports. The journal effectively portrays the misery of civilians in Vichy France for four long years. The German grip grew tighter as the war progressed and although the Resistance Movement grew stronger, the terror for civilians grew too. Mlle. Villard survived the war but her brother did not; he died in December 1942.

CR Ludwig

December 1998

Journal, 1940 June 17-1944 Sept. 21
Finding Aid
Edited Full Draft
© 2004
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Encoding funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA