Napoleon I was ever mindful of the spirit of the Legion of Honor. Whether he was bivouacking during a campaign or at the Tuileries and Saint-Cloud, he was always concerned with the smallest details of the Order and the interests of its members.
Already in 1805 before joining the army to begin the famous campaign that would terminate with the victory at Austerlitz, he had thought of the daughters of Legionnaires and instructed the Council of State to draw up plans for the establishment of three "houses of education" for the education of such girls.
The plan was finalized by the Decree of December 15, 1804, signed at the Palace of Schönbrünn.
The first maison was founded at the end of 1807 in the former residence of the Dukes of Montmorency, the Château d’Ecouen. Madame Campan, former chamber-maid to Marie-Antoinette, had the distinction of being the first superintendent.
The emperor was so satisfied with the way his ideas had been carried out that after visiting Ecouen, he decided on March 24, 1809 to open a second establishment, the Maison Abbaye de Saint Denis, headed by Madame Dubouzet.
In 1810, three establishments were added for orphans.
Today, only two such establishments survive, reserved for the daughters and grand-daughters of Legionnaires: Saint Denis and Les Loges, in the forest of Saint-Germain (Ecouen is now a national museum).
These establishments, modeled on the state lycées, have more than 1,000 students and are in the midst of expansion.
* * * This rapid overview, for all that it is succinct, says enough about the Legion of Honor to show what it has accomplished in the past and still does today.
The Order has existed for nearly 200 years. It has weathered challenges and overcome obstacles because its roots go deep. It has remained both popular and esteemed because it has only one purpose, namely, to enhance the nation’s heritage of glory and honor, civilian and military, in complete disinterest and devotion.
As Thiers once remarked, "Time, which judges institutions, has spoken on the utility and dignity of the Legion of Honor. We should recognize the beauty, depth and innovation in an institution that places on the breast of a simple solider or modest man of learning the same decoration worn by the head of an army, by princes and kings. We should recognize that the institution of an honorific distinction was the most brilliant triumph of equality itself, not the equality that comes from lowering men but the equality that comes from raising them up."