No. 236.
Mr. Marsh to Mr. Fish.

No. 429.]

Sir: The recent suppression of several charity-schools established at Rome by Mrs. Gould and by Mr. Van Meter, citizens of the United States, having excited much attention in Europe, and having been a [Page 518] subject of dissension in the Italian Parliament, I think it my duty to put you in possession of the facts, so far as they have come to my knowledge. I ought to premise that I have not seen Mr. Van Meter since his arrival at Rome, and that he has made no communication to the legation, except a verbal inquiry as to the extent of the rights secured by treaty to American citizens in Italy—a point on which he appears to have been misinformed; and, further, that nothing has passed between me and the Italian government in relation to either of the cases. In 1870, Mrs. Gould established, and has since conducted at Rome, a charity-school for children of both sexes, which at the period of its suppression, about a week since, numbered upward of a hundred pupils. Not being familiar with the requirements of the Italian law, Mrs. Gould did not ask permission of the authorities before opening her school, nor have all her teachers, either Catholic or Protestant, been provided with certificates of qualification as required by law. These irregularities were, however, not noticed by the government, and as the school was evidently a highly useful institution, and its management has been in all respects judicious, it was approved and encouraged by many prominent citizens of Rome, both private and official, including the predecessor of the present minister of public instruction and the syndic or mayor of the city. There were, indeed, certain hostile influences in action, but they produced little impression upon the authorities or upon public opinion at Rome, and I am persuaded that the school would have gone on indefinitely without interruption or objection but for difficulties growing out of the establishment of the schools of Mr. Van Meter, which in the opinion of the authorities required their intervention.

About the close of October, 1872, Mr. Van Meter arrived at Rome, and soon after opened four charity-schools in different parts of the city, one near the Vatican, which have been numerously attended, and, so far as I know, well conducted. Being, as I am informed, under the impression that American citizens in Italy were legally entitled to the enjoyment of all the rights and liberties possessed by Italian citizens in the United States, Mr. Van Meter did not think it necessary to apply to the authorities tor permission to open the schools, or to secure in every case the aid of licensed teachers. His operations, whether from the scale on which they were carried on, from the choice of localities for some of the schools, or from some other acts of his on which I have no definite information, excited the jealousy of persons opposed to movements of this nature, and it was represented to the municipal government that, in at least one instance, the school-room was confined, uncomfortable, and unhealthy; that children of the two sexes were instructed together after the age when the law required them to be separated in school, and that Mr. Van Meter had not complied with any of the provisions of the law in respect to the establishment of public schools.

An officer was sent to inspect these schools, and upon his report substantially confirming these statements, the municipal government ordered them all to be closed.

A further objection, applicable also in Mrs. Gould’s case, was started, namely, that the responsible conductor of a public school must be an Italian citizen, and as, upon the whole, no legal distinction could be made between Mrs. Gould’s school and those under Mr. Van Meter’s superintendence, an order of suspension has been issued as against her institution also.

Mrs. Gould and, I believe, Mr. Van Meter disclaim any views of religious proselytism, though both, I understand, make reading the Bible [Page 519] a part of the lessons, and Mrs. Gould at least employs Catholic as well as Protestant teachers.

On the other hand, none of the public authorities, royal or municipal, object to either of the schools on religious grounds, and they declare that a want of conformity to the law is the sole motive for the suppression of the schools, and that if the legal regulations are complied with permission will at once be given for re-opening them all. I believe all official persons concerned in the case have acted in good faith, and in conformity with the principles of religious toleration so long happily proposed and practiced by Italy. I can discover, therefore, no cause of complaint against any measures thus far adopted by the public authorities.

I have, &c.,