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The Charming Life of the Haitian Elite and A Pictorial History of the Haitian Bourgeoisie Part 2

Written by Kat with 7 Comments

The time has come for us to revisit the charming life of the Haitian elite and middle class.

Let us continue, pupils.

While Port-au-Prince was considered the center of Haiti, the country’s other major cities like Cap Haitian, Jacmel, Jeremie had their own elites, movers and shakers. Historian Jean-Guy Elie contends that in Jacmel, the Vavals, Casteras, the Fraenkels, the Madsens, were among the most prominent families. In Petit-Goave, the Acras, the Assoulis, were the leaders of that town’s elite, according to property records.

In Jeremie, the Drouins and the Villedrouins, Hudicourts, the Wadestrandt; In Cap Haitian, the Jihas, the Lespinasses, the Poitevins, the Laroches, and other assorted families were considered le crème de la crème of Haitian society according to the historian Bernadin.
louis borno-elite

President Louis Borno and the distinguished members of Haiti’s Congress in the summer of 1922. Borno was a lawyer before becoming head of state.

The Haitian elite were in a world of their own, even in seemingly trivial matters. Of 1930s Haiti, African American anthropologist and student of Haitian dance Katherine Dunham would write:

“Haitians of the middle and upper class operated at that time on hospitality codes more French than American. At home, wives and daughters were seldom in evidence to visitors, remaining inside, from where they peeked through wooden shutters at husbands and sons entertaining on the veranda.


Many of the members of the Haitian elite such as industrialist Louis Dejoie seen here in his office in Port-au-Prince in 1957, often inherited their fortune.


National Geographic correspondent Harriet Chalmers captured this photo of the backyard of a Haitian senator in 1916.


Maison Madsen, the to-go variety store of the Haitian middle class.


Twice—once in the late 1910s and in the early 1920s, Jean-Price Mars put the Haitian elite on blast with the publication of his book La Vocation de L’élite, and Ainsi Parla L’oncle.


Haiti’s then-president Dumarsais Estimé and his wife Lucienne Heurtelou at an official ceremony in Jacmel in the early 1950s. Estimé was practically a success story in Haitian elite society. Born in astonishing poverty, he moved to Port-au-Prince from the small town of Verettes, and thanks to the financial help of an uncle on his father’s side of the family, he attended law school, and even married into one of Haiti’s most highly-esteemed families the Heurtelous.


Here’s the lovely couple again, this time with First Lady Estimé receiving a bouquet of flowers from a visiting U.S. official.


Collège St Martial, one of Haiti’s oldest educational institutions. Presidents, senators, moguls, and other future leaders have all passed through its doors.


Haiti in the 1980s, at the height of elite decadence. Jean-Claude Duvalier with First Lady Michèle Duvalier and mother-in-law Simone Ovide Duvalier outside the steps of Haiti’s National Palace.


Wealthy families married into wealthy families. Poor women could be mistresses and side chicks, but wifey? No! Oh, the very thought!


And speaking of wifeys, let us turn back a few centuries. Elizabeth Fernande Auguste Mangonès would later become the , Haiti’s celebrated architect and sculptor.

Photos: Various Sources; Corbis/Bettman

7 comments on “The Charming Life of the Haitian Elite and A Pictorial History of the Haitian Bourgeoisie Part 2”

  1. Very interesting. One comment, however, about the quote from Katherine Dunham. The women that she mentions — who otherwise led very active social lives –did not come to greet her or participate in the gatherings probably because of her lifestyle, then considered disreputable in those circles.

  2. This is a fascinating tour de force excursion through a Haiti no one who isn’t Haitian has the slightest concept of! I’m hooked! I am loving the splendid old photographs and slightly irreverent but excellent writing!
    Would like to know more about Katherine Dunham’s life there!? As an African American I was extremely interested and mystified by her “Expatriate Adventure” in Haiti as I’ve heard her life there somewhat jealously referred to…

    1. Expatriate adventure, indeed. The fact that Ms. Dunham went to Haiti to study dance and brought everything she learned back to the United States with her, no doubt demonstrates that Haitian influence on American (US) choreography is more vast than most people probably imagine.

  3. The Institution Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, like College Saint-Martial, also produced and educated the sons of the Haitian elite : Mevs, Madsen, Brandt,Malval etc sent their sons to be educated there and graduate with the Baccalaureat d etudes secondaires classiques (Latin for at least four years) during the late fifties and very early sixties of the twentieth century.

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