Sometime after Pierre le Moyne, Sieur de Iberville, founded the territory of Louisiane for the French, but before his brother Jean-Baptiste chose a bit of high ground in a crescent of the Mississippi River for the city of New Orleans, a mysterious Frenchman stole into the bayous. His name was Jacque Laurent, and his trade, if one can properly call it a trade, was magique.
Rumors flew among the French, for while Laurent's work was evident on the indistinct symbols burned into trees and in the alligator bones tossed in strange patterns near fire pits Laurent himself never surfaced. The bayous swallowed his footprints, and sooner or later but almost always sooner anyone who tracked Laurent encountered a strange creature carrying a lantern, leading the way into the swamps. Some trackers drowned, some encountered snakes or worse, and eventually nearly everyone abandoned both Laurent and the bayou for the clamor of New Orleans.
Laurent had business in the bayou, though. Magic saturated the Gulf Coast long before his arrival, and he encountered a wide variety of magic practitioners, both indigenous and immigrant: native shamans, Vodou priestesses, Caribe spellcasters. He created a community under the darkness of the cypress trees, a community of magic. Spells were shared, reconstructed, and made more potent, and power accumulated in the waters of the bayou.
Laurent and his most trusted advisors, the Six of Sorcery, met in the shadows and over rather a lot of sweet swamp tea debated how best to preserve the power they had created. After rejecting both raising the dead of the swamps (too messy) and setting the waterways of the bayou alight (pretty, but silly), they decided to found a school of magic dedicated to teaching their jumbled, yet particularly practical brand of magic.
And so they did. The school was originally called Éxchange Magique, and students could be seen, to Laurent's obvious dismay at their visibility, creeping through the bayous both morning and evening, cloaks trailing in the muck. Still, the school succeeded. In fact, the school was such a success that Laurent soon regretted that he'd run so many wizards out of the bayou for offering to grind beetles for Poloma, a Choctaw tribeswoman with a particularly wicked smile.
Over the years, however, the bayou gained other residents. Acadians, driven from Nova Scotia, began to build homes among the cypresses on the water byways. The sound of washboards ran through the trees long into the night, disrupting both astronomy classes and the weekly meetings of the Firefly Transfiguration Club. Poloma in particular was prone to shrieking, "A curse on your cursed children! May they eat cursed crawfish for centuries!" at the top of her lungs.
Laurent and his faculty soon found, however, that Acadians began creeping over to watch their classes from the trees. More and more Muggle students came, ignoring the shouts of their parents from the murk of the bayou to "Get back to fiddle practice!" And finally, one sultry August day, a high-strung wizard named Cubanacan after his homeland snapped, and demanded that the "eyes" stop watching him from the trees. The Cajuns promptly came out, plunked themselves down among the wizards, and the world's first Magical-Muggle school was born.
It must be noted that many of the "Muggle" students were in fact Squibs, or else children of mixed parentage who had not inherited the magical gift. Very rarely were purely Muggle students that is, students of Muggle heritage who had previously had no contact or knowledge of magic admitted to the school. (As it turns out, the hinkypunks kept leading purely Muggle students deeper into the bayou, until Laurent discovered this one day and vehemently put a stop to it. From then on, most of the hinkypunks led purely Muggle students straight home to their mamas.)
Éxchange Magique grew. Laurent presided over the classes like a man possessed, and encouraged his staff to do the same. (The vast majority of his staff, however, thought Laurent was actually possessed by a highly caffeinated spirit and ignored his exhortations completely.) The school added practical classes for its Muggle students, and eventually the Cajuns' nonstop fiddling and washboard strumming gave way to a music class or two.
Laurent died in 1751, from what the mediwizard said was "a lifetime of ingesting vile swamp water," and a nasty battle for succession began, highlighted by the famed Imperius Showdown, during which Poloma and Cubanacan tried to make each other walk into the bayou while some of their students fiddled away. Madam Amèlie D'Arvante, primarily a hoodoo practitioner who dabbled in traditional European wizardry when necessary, eventually prevailed through sheer treachery, and being a rather ambitious sort, moved Éxchange Magique out of the swamps and into New Orleans proper. She renamed the school L'Université des Arts Magiques, using arts classes to cover the true purpose of the school from the public (and since try as she might, her Cajun students would not stop fiddling), and ruled it through a combination of iron fist and truth-telling sorcery. Students were known to use all manner of adhesives to keep their mouths from betraying them when faced with Madam D'Arvante, but nothing worked.
D'Arvante's tenure at L'Université was tumultuous. The Spanish, technical rulers of the Louisiane territory, were engaged in a power struggle with the predominantly French populace. Less visibly, but no less resolutely, Los Gobernadores, as the Spanish wizarding government was known, slowly began to gain control over L'Université. D'Arvante and her faculty struggled on, defying the Spanish at every turn, and continuing to instruct students in both the arts and the power of magic, until one day the school suffered a tremendous setback. In the same hour, D'Arvante lost her Assistant Headmaster, Pierre Medinici, to a nasty encounter with the Aurodados and several of her best faculty, including slightly batty "Witch Doctor" Jeanne Lachance and perfectly nice Tarot instructor Quentin Morjuet, were caught up in the plot to drive the Spanish governor out, and were hanged as part of the uprising.
D'Arvante promptly turned L'Université over to the Spanish, and wept copious tears on her return to the southern shores of Haiti, where she is said to have retreated into a life of reclusive despair.
Los Gobernadores wasted no time. In 1770, they quickly formed La Comité de la Escuela to govern the school. The Committee were not, regrettably, especially creative, but they were eager to use the school to gain a higher position of influence in the New World. They appointed Luisa Franco Headmistress, and instructed her to "clean the wretched place up at once." Franco's changes caused an uproar in the magical community. She fired every single member of the faculty, except Florian Thibodeau, whom she would have fired as well had she been able to find him in the local drinking hole. She relocated the school's secret entrance from the neutral ground of Canal Street too many rumors of the city actually building the canal one day to an undisclosed location several blocks downriver. Finally, she insisted that her office be redecorated in "a fashion befitting España!"
Despite her slash-and-burn methods, Franco's educational theory was quite sound. She hired many of her new faculty from among the highly educated Créole artisans of the city, and began expanding the curriculum to focus on incorporating magic into the Muggle disciplines of music, art, writing and theater. She turned L'Université into a true university of the arts, dedicated to the ideals of magical and Muggle cooperation and the thought of bringing art and culture to the New World.
Strangely enough, L'Université thrived under Franco. La Comité de la Escuela, of course, was completely useless, waving their wands about vaguely whenever Franco approached them for more funds, but since she generally interpreted the waving to mean "Claro, more money," the school never wanted for resources.
L'Université escaped damage in the fires of 1788, thanks to a cleverly magnified Flame Freeze charm performed by Headmistress Franco. In 1794, however, the Headmistress was in England, conversing with other educators about a possible transatlantic wizarding competition. The school was destroyed, and the students only escaped when Professor Gustafson had had quite enough of the heat and blasted his way out through the basement of a local tavern. La Comité de la Escuela waved their wands about vaguely, and Headmistress Franco asked the students of the Art and Architecture Department to design and rebuild. This resulted in some of the more lovely buildings, such as the Zodico House, designed in the fashion of the stately manor homes of the South. Unfortunately, the period of design and creation also left the Writing Department a sprawling maze of clashing colors and styles from all countries and historical eras. Since then, the Writing Department has had the dubious honor of losing the most students to "accidents"; it is assumed most students or their ghosts are still wandering the halls, attempting to find the exit.
Life in the Spanish-ruled L'Université continued as smoothly as could be expected. During the Great Elf Strike of 1795, the students were expected to cook and clean for themselves and their teachers, of course, but the resulting ten cases of mild poisoning, and two near fatal cases, were somewhat less trouble than expected, and the new and exotic Créole cooking charms were quite popular with the faculty.
Life didn't stay quiet at L'Université for long, however, for in 1803, Napoleon's secret wizarding council convinced him that tricking the Spanish, selling land he didn't own to the Americans and dancing the bolero were something of a good plan. Napoleon's secret wizarding council were clearly somewhat suspect, but rumor has it that they greatly enjoyed the bolero. The result, however, was the Louisiana Purchase, and suddenly New Orleans changed hands again, this time to the Americans.
As New Orleans came under American control, changes were being made to the school. The American Ministry quietly replaced La Comité de la Escuela with the equally creative Executive Council of Educators, and declared, "No more vague wand-waving around here!" New Headmaster Lawrence Davis had the somewhat dubious honor, in 1804, of declaring L'Université open only for students of magical ability. Many factors were taken into account for this decision, although the main one seemed to be, according to the school charter written shortly after, that "the Muggeles have enough schools of Their own, They do not neede to take Places at the onlye Magical one."
Even Davis, however, could not ruin L'Université, if only because his entire tenure was "plagued" with pirates. According to the graffiti scratched into the walls of the tunnels below the school, infamous pirate Jean Lafitte used to spend a great deal of time at the school, usually inebriated, shooting his pistol off in the classrooms. What the public didn't realize at the time was that Lafitte, being a rather accomplished wizard himself, was actually keeping the school in funds while the Americans were off fighting the British again. While Headmaster Davis could often be heard mumbling about "that dastardly pirate" and devising increasingly complex methods of driving him off, Lafitte himself could be heard clear to the Mississippi River bellowing about how "those blasted Americans couldn't throw the scurvy redcoats out properly the first time." Of course, this bellowing culminated in Lafitte's manipulation of the British forces in 1814, and his saving Andrew Jackson's "sorry backside" during the river battle. Lafitte's association with L'Université and his generous financial sponsorship, on the other hand, culminated in not only the school's continued success but the competition for supremacy between the school's houses. At the end of each year, he awarded a real piece of pirate gold to each of the students of the winning house. To this day, the school annually awards honorary Pirate Gold (the governing board stopped awarding real gold around 1910 when it was all going to straight to Storyville) to the winning house.
The school experienced a rather quiet period over the next few decades. The faculty shouted down Living Sculpture Professor Davina Dale's desire to build an even larger statute to Andrew Jackson "one larger than that hussy, the Baroness de Pontalba built him" and focused on building its magical arts curriculum. It was during this period that the school focused strongly on research, and turned out eternity portraits, magical weaving, and player pianos in short succession. Later, photography and film joined the curriculum, and L'Université has been credited with the introduction and development of the revolutionary "moving solution", a finely tuned blend of potions and chemicals to give magical photographs their now familiar movement. L'Université, through its wide variety of influences and talented faculty, became the preeminent magical university of the arts.
It was around 1862, while the country was embroiled in the Civil War (and L'Université's students were creating a new sport that seemed to involve throwing exploding beignets at Captain Farragut's troops) that the faculty realized, somewhat to their horror, that L'Université's influence was far greater than previously thought. It seems that the magical artistic power generated by the university had created what Headmaster Tyrone Wallingham called "a creative magnet." Artistic Muggles far and wide visited the Vieux Carré and began throwing rowdy parties. Unfortunately, by this time the "magnet" was too powerful, and the school's faculty just had to cringe as one after the other William Faulkner, Kate Chopin, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams all flocked to the city over the years. They cringed more than that, though, when the rumors of John James Audubon's afternoons painting naked ladies began to surface.
Through the early 1900s, as the French Quarter turned a blind eye to Rampart Street and Storyville, students were so regularly caught and punished for sneaking out after hours to the bordellos for "jass" music that the caretaker, tired of being woken by sheepish knocking, hung a key at the gate spelled so only students could use it, of course. The unlucky student to have imbibed a little too much, and to have forgotten the password, was generally forced to sleep at the gate and face the wrath of the faculty in the morning. Provided the faculty was not sleeping at the gate as well, as in the scandal of 1912, when Potions teacher Madam Cassandra Capporella was found to have spent the evening with several students at the Pink Puffskein Lounge. Madam Capporella reasoned that she was "teaching the kids how to recognize Muggle potions namely whiskey, rum and gin three highly dangerous and potent Muggle concoctions!" Headmaster Wallingham was not impressed with her teaching style, and Madam Capporella was dismissed soon after. She took a job at the famed Sazerac Bar, and continued her lessons in Muggle Potions for many years to come.
L'Université wandered through a rather amazing litany of students during the 1900s, from Buddy Bolden (who frequently woke everyone with his cornet as he stumbled home from Storyville in the wee hours) to Walt Whitman (fond of orating from the tip-top of the school's highest tower), from John James Audubon (and the constant stream of dead birds) to Louis Armstrong (the school got down like nobody's business when he was crowned krewe Zulu's King of Mardi Gras). The school is still the most recognized and innovative magical school of the arts in the world, and frequently turns out revolutionary uses of magic that most of the time produce astounding pieces of art.
The division of the student body will be quite familiar for those who know the European magical school model. The students are divided upon their arrival at the school's secret entrance into four houses, and then take classes and live with the members of their house a family of sorts. Of course, the annual Pirate Gold competition is also conducted by house. The Houses Zodico, Pontalbòn, Lumién, and Bellereve are based on individual arts, and look for the students who display talent or interest in their particular artistic field of study, although sometimes the student does not quite realize she is talented in that particular field.
During Phoenix Rising, L'Université has generously allowed attendees to be Sorted and to spend the weekend of the conference vying for honorary Pirate Gold. The current ruling body, the Board of Creative and Talented Directors, has also allowed the current Headmistress, Madam Victoria Dann, to preside over Phoenix Rising and award the honorary Pirate Gold at the Coda Breakfast.