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Two Societies in 1868

There existed in 1868 two Franco-American societies in Lowell. One, the “Canadian French Institute of Lowell” was mainly cultural and educational and included a night school. The other, political, was interested in fostering the independence of Canada by peaceful means. Therefore, a need existed for a mutual benefit society to group the immigrants and give them protection in case of sickness, death or injustice. In July, the pastor called a meeting of his principal parishioners and suggested the founding of a benevolent association. His project met with success and in January 1869, the Saint Jean Baptiste Benevolent Society of Lowell was formed. The society flourished and before its dissolution during World War I, it had distributed thousands of dollars to the sick and the widowed. In 1870, another such society was formed, “Union Saint Joseph.” Until the turn of the century, it was the most influential French organization in the city. In 1888, the society erected at 265 Dutton Street at a cost of $20,000, the Union Saint Joseph building where most of the French societies had their hall and meeting rooms.

Strikes in Lowell were relatively rare, work was abundant and the labor laws permitted children to work in the mills thus giving a considerable revenue to families of eight or nine children.

The French-Canadians showed a particular aptitude for weaving and textile work. In 1881 in the Merrimack mill’s “fancy work” section where 175 women worked on special and difficult fabrics, 150 were French.

Consequently immigration increased, in 1872 there were 3,700 Franco-Americans in Lowell, but by 1881 there were 10,000. Father Garin, as a result enlarged St. Joseph’s church twice, once in 1873 and again in 1881, when the church reached its present day proportions. This was not the first nor the last of his building projects. From 1871 to 1877 he had directed the construction of Immaculate Conception church.

By 1881, the Franco-Americans of Lowell had become well organized and an important part of the community. At the St. Jean Baptiste celebration that year, the mayor and his council passed in revue a parade of 2,000 persons with numerous floats and 150 carriages representing every profession and commercial occupation from doctor to blacksmith. Soon the need for a school where the faith and the French language could be taught became pressing. In December, the city opened under the direction of J. H. Guillet, the first Franco-American lawyer of Lowell, free French night schools at the Common Street school. The first night more than 400 children enrolled. Years later, these night courses could employ up to 30 French speaking teachers, and during their existence would provide hundreds of Lowell men and women with a high school education.

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