Tag Archives: Mill workers

Lydia and the Mill

Jacques et Gilles work at the mill;

That stands beside the water;

Could be Lowell, could be Lawrence;

Or Nashua, New Hampshire;

Jacques et Gilles, they hate the mill;

But they’ve too many sons and daughters.

(Jccques et Gilles: McGarrigles from Matapaedia Album)

Sulloway Mill, Franklin, NH

Lydia Morrisette, my granddaughter’s 2nd great grandmother on her mom’s side, was a real Americanophile, or so Lydia’s daughter, Irene, told me just the other day. Lydia always raved to Irene about life the US despite the fact she had lived and worked there for a mere seven years in her youth, in Franklin, New Hampshire from 1903 to 1910.

Why do you think your mother loved the United States so much, I asked Irene. After all, work in New England textile mills by most accounts was no picnic, not even at the best of times, what with the long hours, the lack of respect, the bad ventilation and lint and dust flying everywhere, the dangerous machines that could ‘jump’ at any time and the NOISE. Oh, the noise! Let’s not forget the institutionalized racism against French Canadians, often referred to as pea-soupers, or the paternalistic behavior of the French Canadian overseers.

“She liked the independence,” said Irene. “She liked the money.”

So, it seems that Marie-Leonie Ledia Morrisette, like so many other Edwardian women out in the workforce in the big cities of the Western World, valued her independence and enjoyed having an occupation in which she took some pride. After all, the Sulloway Mill up on the hill produced top-of-the-line men and women’s hosiery.

Irene agrees. “They made nice socks,” she says.

Maria-Leonie Lydia (Ledia) Morissette was born in 1889 (with the help of Dr. Harel1) in Ste Gertrude, Becancour, Quebec, a short ferry ride across the St Lawrence to Three Rivers, to farmer Eugene Morrisette and his wife, Clarisse Heon.

In 19032 The Morrisettes and their children, four five girls and two boys, set out to work in Franklin Mills, a smaller, happier sort of industrial town of around 6,000 people on the Miramack River.

Lydia and her sisters on the 1910 US Census. Few French workers made the Census for some reason (including Lydia’s parents) but the 1906 Franklin Annual Report reveals there were many French Canadians in the town. They just weren’t enumerated, perhaps seen as temporary workers. The Morrisette family is on the 1911 Canada census but Eugene and Clarisse and a son and daughter returned to the US.

With four girls and two boys (including a newborn with “muscular atrophy” moving to a mill town where the older children could help support the family was a logical step for a Quebec subsistence farmer.

The 1910 United States Federal census has Lydia, and her two sisters, Antonia and Elivina (Alvina) working in a “hosiery mill” (almost certainly the Sulloway Mill) as helpers/top hand and boarding in Ward 2, up from the river and the mill, with teamster M. Poirier, and his family.

Lydia, as young “Canadiennes” were instructed to do by the community patriarchs (wherever they happened to be living, ceased work in 1910 to marry handsome Quebecker Henry Hamel. Of course, biology likely had its part in this 🙂 The couple moved back to Drummondville, Quebec and raised a large family. Irene, born in 1918 (and the last surviving child, needless to say) is the among the youngest of their brood.

Lydia was the only female member of her strong-willed Morrisette girls to marry. A sister Alvina remained a mill worker in Franklin and two of her sisters became nuns.3

Perhaps because Franklin was a smaller, kinder New England textile down with fewer workers; perhaps because Franklin is where Daniel Webster of dictionary fame was born; perhaps because the Morrisettes lived in Franklin during an era of exponential change, Lydia and her sisters were different from many New England mill workers from Quebec – who usually kept to themselves. The women took pride in integrating and learning English.

Indeed, their one healthy brother, Horace, was of a similar stamp. He stayed in New Hampshire with his parents, Eugene and Clarisse, and his sister Alvina and married an English girl, Mary Murray.

French Canadian child workers at the enormous oppressive Amoskeag Mill in Manchester New Hampshire 1909. LIbrary of Congress. in Franklin NH, at least in boom times, there were Company picnics and baseball games and parades to compensate for the gruelling work in the mills.

1. This is the first time I have seen something like this on the Drouin records. Was the birth difficult?

2. This 1903 date is given on the US Federal Census, shown above and on Eugene Morrisette’s death certificate in 1937.

3, Alvina is listed in the 1930’s as a working as a finisher, which might mean sewing toes and heels into socks or applying chemicals and pressing the socks. Another sister, Antonia, joined a Catholic order back home, but moved to Ontario as she spoke good English. Another sister, Aurore, became a nun in Africa, much to her parents’ displeasure.

325,000 Quebecers left between 1860 and 1900. Just 100,000 between 1900 and 1910 with 40,000 returning. ­ This 2020 YouTube Video from Rhode Island Genealogy Society explains: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyWu46jbauk Country life was very hard for Quebeckers in the Victorian Age. The burgeoning New England textile industry proved most alluring to many farm families. As industry competition increased over the decades, some New England Textile Corporations actively sought out French Canadian workers who, because of their large families who could pool their income, could toil for less money and were less inclined to agitate. French Canadians were also valued for their excellent work ethic.

Good wages, employment guaranteed

Good wages. Employment guaranteed. These words echoed over and over again in Mary McHugh’s head. And only some domestic experience required. Mary thought that she had quite enough domestic experience, thank you, as she was the only daughter still at home.

It was 1910 and Mary had turned 20 in February.1 Old enough to be married. No prospects in sight. She had been working at the jute factory since she finished school at 14.2 Like her older brother, Thomas McHugh, she immediately got a job in the jute factory as soon as she could. Mary’s mother, Sarah McLaughlin, was happy that Mary was working as Sarah was a widow and still had three children at home. Her husband, Michael McHugh, had died of tuberculosis when Mary’s brother, Francis, was just three months old.3  It had been a struggle for Sarah to make ends meet. Even though Sarah had managed to get a job as a charwoman,4 it was not easy. Sarah was exhausted when she got home, too, and it was up to Mary to help with the housework and cooking for her younger brothers. Mary’s older brother, Thomas, was already married with six children. He helped when he could but he had his own worries.

Mary thought ruefully about her job. She was a jute spinner at the flax mill.5 The mill was noisy and crowded. Mary worked twelve hours a day and it was back-breaking work. The women worked hard in the mills but made less wages than the men. The machines were dangerous. Accidents happened often.6 And then there was mill fever or brown lung. Most people who worked in the mill had a dry cough and sometimes even a fever.7

Mill Workers

Photograph from the BBC8

Mary liked the idea of being a domestic. The hours would be long and she would be on her feet all day but the air would be clean and it would be quiet. But Canada? So far away? All by herself? Could she do it?

These thoughts were the beginning of Mary’s plan to emigrate to Canada. Mary McHugh was my great aunt and she arrived on the S.S. Grampion that sailed from Glasgow and arrived in Quebec City in July 1911.9

In the early 1900s the demand for domestic servants in Canada exceeded the number of young Canadian women willing to do this type of work. Governments, employers, and women’s organizations made a special effort to encourage the immigration of household workers.8 More specifically, British immigrants were considered as desirable immigrants to Canada. As of 1888, steamship agents received a bonus for selling the passage of a female immigrant whose intent was to work as a domestic servant in Canada. This was called the British Bonus and it came into effect by an Order-in-Council on September 27, 1890. Its purpose was to offer an incentive to desirable British immigrants. Often the Canadian employer would pay the fare of the immigrant to the steamship company.10 The emigrating domestic would then have to pay it back out to her employer out of her wages. This meant that the young immigrant woman was already indebted to her employer even before she started working. If she was unhappy with her employment, it made it difficult for her to find a better employment as long as she owed money.11

It is probable that Mary’s fare to Canada was paid by her employer. Beside Mary McHugh’s name on the passenger manifest of the Grampion there is a stamp British Bonus Allowed.

Hopefully Mary enjoyed her employment. She was the first member of the McHugh family to arrive in Montreal in 1911. She was probably delighted when her mother, Sarah, and three brothers, Thomas, Edward and Francis, followed her to Montreal in May 1912. And Thomas’ wife, Elsie Orrock, and their seven children, Ann, Elsie, Sarah, Francis, Mary, Adam, and Thomas arrived in October 1912. Mary married John Mervin Porter in June 1913 and her family would have been there to celebrate with her.

 

Notes and sources:

This poster from the Canadian Museum of History is from a 1926 pamphlet entitled Housework in Canada: duties, wages, conditions and opportunities for household workers but there would have been similar pamphlets advertising for immigrants that may have given Mary the idea.  This pamphlet says that “Canada welcomes men and women of the right type who come to seek their fortune in this broad new land … (people) of good moral character, and in good health, mentally and physically.” You can see this on the Canadian Museum of History web site in the section Advertising in Britain in the 1920s, https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/advertis/ads7-06e.html

Household work

  1. Scotland’s People, Register of Births, Mary Ann McHugh, born February 4, 1890, accessed November 18, 2017.
  2. Wikipedia web site, History of Education in Scotland, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_Scotland, accessed August 17, 2020.
  3. Scotland’s People, Registers of Death, Michael McHugh, died May 16, 1895, accessed November 27, 2017 and Scotland’s People, Registers of Births, Francis McHugh, born February 21, 1895, accessed November 27, 2017.
  4. Scotland’s People, 1911 Census, Sarah McHugh, 1 Tait Lane, Dundee, Scotland, accessed February 15, 2018.
  5. Scotland’s People, 1911 Census, Mary McHugh, 1 Tait Lane, Dundee, Scotland, accessed February 15, 2018.
  6. DD Tours web site, Workers of the mills, September 16, 2014, https://www.ddtours.co.uk/archive/workers-of-the-mills/, accessed August 17, 2020.
  7. com web site, Byssinosis, https://www.healthline.com/health/byssinosis, accessed August 19, 2020.
  8. BBC web site, Tayside and Central Scotland, The history of mills in Dundee, December 2, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/taysideandcentralscotland/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8390000/8390747.stm, accessed August 17, 2020.
  9. Passenger list, S.S. Grampion, July 1911, Glasgow – Quebec City.
  10. British Bonus Paid, British Home Children web site, https://www.britishhomechildren.com/single-post/2014/11/09/British-Bonus-Paid, accessed August 18, 2020
  11. Barber, M.J., Immigrant Domestic Servants in Canada, Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa, 1991, p. 9