The Alsatian School first opened in 1871, in the Latin Quarter in Paris, with one single elementary class. With a newly appointed board, the school got properly organised in 1874 and started offering an ambitious and more modern curriculum than the one offered by the regular public high schools (suppression of exercises in Latin verse, creation of science and experimental science majors). In 1879, 200 students attended the Alsatian School and took the final high school exam, the Baccalaureate, with high-rating success.
The School earned general recognition under Jean-Théodore Beck's leadership from 1890 to 1921. This Alsatian pastor, who had retreated to Paris, first came to the School to teach German. When he was appointed headmaster, he set himself the goal "to turn the School into a place where students would reach intellectual and moral maturity, while asking for the parents' involvement, whatever be their political or religious backgrounds (which was new in secondary education). Above all their sons must abhor that which demeans man and love that which elevates the mind, for the sake of the family and for the honour of France" (une oeuvre d'affranchissement intellectuel et moral, avec, (fait tout à fait nouveau dans le cadre de l'enseignement secondaire), la collaboration des parents appartenant à toutes les tendances politiques et religieuses, mais désirant avant tout que leurs fils aient l'horreur de ce qui abaisse et l'amour de ce qui élève, et cela pour la dignité de la famille et l'honneur de la France).
In 1891, the Minister of Public Education, Paul Bert, accurately summed up what was, and still remains, the role of the School within the general system of education : "you are the valuable helpers of the university and carry out experiments that it cannot make itself".
André Gide described his school years at the Alsatian School in his book "Si le grain ne meurt".