Philipp Anton von Segesser
From 1867 onwards, Philipp Anton von Segesser (1817-1888) lived in a grand house in Inseli, which at that time was a separate island in the Lake of Lucerne.
He is one of the most interesting figures in the history of the canton of Lucerne. He came from a leading family in the area, and was an influential politician for many years. He championed conservativism in Lucerne and was a canny advocate of Catholic interests in the culture wars. For many years he played a leading role in the government of Lucerne and represented the canton in the Federal Council for forty years. He is highly regarded as a historian, who also worked as a political writer and journalist.
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The name ‘Inseli’ is a reminder of the island that was originally off the mainland. From 1867 onwards, this island was home to Philipp Anton von Segesser (1817-1888), one of the most interesting personalities to have come from the Canton of Lucerne. Future generations know him, above all, as the politician who shaped conservative Lucerne for 40 years, as National Councillor, Grand Councillor and Government Councillor. Segesser gave the Catholic losers of the ‘Sonderbund’ war a voice and in the ‘culture war’ that followed, he proved to be a prudent advocate of Catholic interests. Surprisingly topical are the reflections of this equally committed and critical Catholic on the relationship of the Church to the modern state and to liberal society. In professional circles, Segesser also enjoys a high reputation as a historian. In particular, he set standards with his work ‘Rechtsgeschichte der Stadt und Republik Luzern’ (Legal History of the City and Republic of Lucerne) (1850-1858).
Following his interest, the young patrician supplemented his legal studies and attended history lectures by Leopold von Ranke and Jules Michelet, among others. Segesser, who owed Lucerne's Teaching Institution for much of his own inspiration, would have liked to have returned to the Lyceum as a history professor in 1841. The idea was not absurd. The chair of history was vacant, and the Lucerne authorities had already appointed talented students directly from the university to the teaching post on several occasions. But in 1841, a year of legislative revision, the constellation was unfavourable – the new conservative government appointed Segesser not as a professor of history, but as a council writer. In 1844, the professorship of history was given to a cleric from Zug; he had convinced the Education Council with a sermon that he had delivered at the slaughterhouse on the Gubel. Even later Segesser's path to the school also remained blocked: for the liberals, who had again taken over power in 1848, this former civil servant of the ‘Sonderbund’ government, who had quickly distinguished himself as a champion of the conservative opposition, was not eligible for election.
After a conservative election victory in 1871, Segesser became the leading spirit of the Lucerne government. However, due to his unconventional ideas he often remained isolated. This was the case during the reform of the higher education system in 1872/73. As President of the Board of Education, he proposed combining Lucerne's school tradition with the requirements of the technical age. This meant extending the ‘Realschule’, which was an in-between amalgamation that served as both a commercial school and as a preparation for the Federal Institute of Technology. He also proposed integrating the Realschule into the humanistic Gymnasium. In this way, Segesser not only wanted to give secondary school pupils a broader education, but also to introduce grammar school pupils to the natural sciences. The two year Lyceum, an heirloom of the Jesuit school, was to offer both directions a ‘resting place’, a place where, in Segesser’s words “the youthful spirit, in the recapitulation and philosophical penetration of what has been learned so far, gathers and strengthens itself and gains that independence of judgement and those higher points of view which give higher consecration to professional studies’. High-spirited as his vision was in defying the trend towards the useful, he was equally narrow in his focus on the male sex. One searches Segesser's proposals in vain for any suggestion to give girls access to high school education. There is not even a concrete proposal for the further development of the girl’s school, the school at which his aunt had once taught as an Ursuline and later as a secular teacher. When it comes to the education of girls, Segesser was no more far-sighted than others, no more headstrong or even particularly conservative – rather, he remained within what was then taken for granted across party lines in Lucerne's education policy.