I never expected to find much information about my great-grandfather’s sister, Mathilde Bruneau. I knew her name, dates, the fact she had a twin brother and that she never married. That was all. Then when searching Newspapers.com, Mathilde, born on a farm in southern Quebec appeared on the social page of the Fall River, Massachusetts Daily Herald. It was reported that she had been visiting her brother Aimé Bruneau and then returned to her teaching duties at the Rhode Island Institute for the Deaf in Providence, Rhode Island, only twenty miles from her brother’s home.
Mrs. Mary Ann Lippitt founded the school in 1876. Her daughter Jeanie became deaf after a bout of scarlet fever so her mother taught her daughter to speak and read lips, as no schools for the deaf existed at that time. Mary Ann’s husband Henry Lippitt was the Governor of Rhode Island and had political influence, so he persuaded the state to take over the operation of the school. In 1893 the school moved to a large new building which could hold 60 students. This might have been the time Mathilde began teaching there. The school is still operating today.
I don’t know how Mathilde ended up teaching deaf students. Did she answer a newspaper ad while visiting her brother? Before teaching the deaf, Mathilde had been a French teacher in New York City along with her sister Virginie. Virginie didn’t stay there but returned to Quebec to marry.
Mathilde had not yet moved to Rhode Island 1887 when the social page reported on an earlier visit to her brother Aimé, in Fall River. I don’t know where Mathilde obtained her teaching credentials as I haven’t found records of her training. Her sister Virginie attended McGill Normal School. Did Mathilde begin her teaching career in Montreal before moving to New York?
Mathilde was one of thirteen children of Barnabé Bruneau and Sophie Marie Prudhomme, born in St-Constant, Quebec, south of Montreal, in 1844. She had a twin brother Napoleon, one of very few twins in my family tree. In the 1871 Canadian census, she was listed as living with her parents in St-Constant (and two years older than her twin brother), so she was at least 27 when she moved to New York City. Napoleon stayed on the farm but he also had a career as a veterinarian and a Justice of the Peace.
Although some of her siblings became American citizens, it seems she never did. After Mathilde retired from teaching, she moved back to Quebec. She maintained her independence and didn’t live with her twin brother in St-Constant or even with one of her sisters, instead she was a lodger in John Dooley’s house on Bordeaux Street in Montreal.
She appeared again in a newspaper in April 1912, “Miss Matilda Bruneau 68, 1149 Bordeaux St. fell on the sidewalk corner of Mary Ann and Erables last night and broke her left leg. She was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital” reported the Montreal Gazette. The weather the day before, Easter Sunday, had been very rainy and well above freezing so an icy sidewalk probably wasn’t the cause of her fall.
She died only four months later. PerhapsHer her leg never healed. I didn’t find a death certificate or cause of death, just a certificate of burial signed by two of her sisters. Marie Mathilde Prud’homme Bruneau was buried with her parents in the Baptist cemetery in Grande-Ligne, Quebec.
Rhode Island School for the Deaf https://rideaf.ri.gov/AboutUs/index.php
Mabel Hubbard, who later became the wife of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell was deaf and also taught by Mrs. Lippitt. Jeanie Lippitt later went to Dr. Bell for voice training lessons. Dr. Bell had to discontinue these lessons to devote himself full-time to the development of the talking machine.
Fall River Daily Herald June 30 1898, Page 7. Newspapers.com accessed Jan 12, 2023. Miss M P (Prudhomme) Bruneau was an instructor at RI School of the Deaf.
The Providence News February 21, 1893 Newspapers.com accessed Feb 17, 2023. A new school building was dedicated. 35 pupils enrolled with a capacity for 60.
In the 1911 Canadian census, Matilde was living on Bordeaux Street in the Maisonneuve district of Montreal as a lodger with a Mr John Dooley and his family.
Fell and Broke Leg: Montreal Gazette April 8, 1912, page 3. Newspapers.com accessed Jan 23, 2023.
Her sisters Virginie and Sophie signed her burial record. There is no cause of death April 15, 1912.
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Mary, I truly enjoyed the portraits.