Lewis Hine caption: Erenne La Prise, on left, apparently 13 years old, a doffer at Spring Village Mill, said he had been working a year and a half. Als de Gauthier, apparently under 14 (next Erenne) also a doffer at Spring Village Mill. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts, September 1911.
“During the Depression, he worked for the WPA. He used to have to go down every morning to see if he could get work for the day. If he got there early enough, he got a shovel.” -Dorothy Forrest, daughter of Joseph Alcide Gauthier
There’s a cold November rain falling outside of my Massachusetts home, some 60 miles from where these two lint-covered young boys (front row) stood 98 years ago, one looking defiant, the other seemingly unsure of how to look at the camera. Sometimes when I am writing one of these stories on my computer, a snack and a cup of tea at my side, it just boggles my mind to think what our ancestors endured just to survive. One ice cold morning last winter, I took some pictures of this mill, now a street hockey equipment manufacturer, and wondered what it would have been like to work there when Alcide and his family produced denim, mostly for prison uniforms. Then I broke for lunch at my favorite café. Ah, the luxuries of modern America.
This cute boy with the long arms intrigued me. It was obvious that Hine misspelled his name. Nevertheless, I searched the town records for “de Gauthier,” and found only Gauthier – lots of them. But his first name was a mystery. Al? Alfred? What was it? So I looked in the census.
I found an Alsid Gauthier in the 1910 census, 12 years old, living at 43 Pine St. in Winchendon, with his widowed father, August, his uncle and aunt, Joseph and Delghira Gauthier, and a bunch of siblings and cousins. I was certain Alsid was the boy. Here’s why. Let’s assume that the boy told Hine his name was Alcide, a common French-Canadian name, but Hine misspelled it Alside. Later, when the National Child Labor Committee transcribed his notes, they somehow left out the letter “I” in his name. Thus, Als de Gauthier appears in the caption.
It turned out that I was right. In the 1920 census, August Gauthier has remarried, to Emaline, and is living in Barre, Massachusetts with his 11 children, including 22-year-old Alcide, who works as a card hand in a cotton mill. From that point on, Alcide seemed to disappear. I didn’t find him in the 1930 census, nor did his name show up in any official death records. So I tried tracking down his siblings.
One by one, I found obituaries for many of his brothers, but none mentioned Alcide as a survivor. I talked to several of the children of those brothers, but they didn’t even remember Alcide, who would have been their uncle. I figured that he must have died young. Eventually, I found his father’s 1950 death record in the Winchendon town hall, and then his obituary in the Winchendon Courier archives at Beals Memorial Library. It listed Alcide as a survivor, then living in the Worcester County town of Clinton. So I tried some creative research. On the assumption that he got married, I searched the Social Security Death Index for all women named Gauthier who died in Worcester County, and I found a Margaret Gauthier, born in 1904, who died in Clinton in 1986.
So then I returned to the 1930 census and looked up Margaret. There she was in living in Clinton with her husband, Aleade J. Gauthier, who was working at the Lancaster Mills. That was Alcide, of course, his name woefully misspelled by the census taker. I quickly obtained Margaret’s obituary from the Worcester Public Library. It said in part: “Her husband, Joseph Gauthier, died in 1964.” It also mentioned that she was survived by two daughters, both of whom I found immediately, their addresses and phone numbers readily available in the Internet directories. I talked to both daughters, one living near Clinton, the other in Michigan. They told me that their father was called Joseph. They were astonished to see the photos.
Lewis Hine caption: Group of workers going to work at 6:45 A.M. In Spring Village Mill. In this group are Mamie La Barge, Elizabeth and Lumina Demarais, Als de Gauthier, Erena La Prise. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts, September 1911.
When Joseph Alcide Gauthier was photographed three times in 1911, in front of a textile mill in Winchendon Springs, Massachusetts, his father, August, had recently married for the second time. His first wife had died and left him with at least seven living children. By 1930, he had at least 10 living children by his second wife. According to family lore, he had a total of 26 children, 10 by his first wife, and 16 by his second wife. Alcide, as he was called when he was growing up, was the third, born on July 18, 1898, according to his WWI draft registration.
According to census and town records, and his newspaper obituary, August Gauthier was born in Canada on November 19, 1872, the son of Gideon Gauthier and Clarice Thibeault. He entered the United States about 1886, and moved to Winchendon about 1890. He married Emma LaPierre in about 1893. After she died in Winchendon on August 13, 1906, August and three of his children, including Alcide, moved in with his brother, Joseph, who lived at 43 Pine Street, in Winchendon. August was a weaver at the Springs Mill.
On April 30, 1910, he married Emeline Dargy. In the 1920 census, August, Emeline, Alcide and 10 other children are listed as living in the White Valley section of Barre, Massachusetts, about 30 miles south of Winchendon. August was a loom fixer, and Alcide a card hand, likely at the Barre Wool Company. Eventually, August returned to Winchendon with his family. He retired from the Springs Mill in 1937, and died on October, 15, 1950, at the age of 77. He was living at 17 Mill Circle, next to the mill.
Sometime before 1930, Alcide moved to Clinton, Massachusetts (35 miles from Winchendon), marrying Margaret Kerrigan in 1928. They had two daughters, Mary (in 1932) and Dorothy (1933). Alcide, by that time known as Joseph, continued working in factories. He died on October 6, 1964, at the age of 66. His wife died in 1986, at the age of 83.
Edited interview with Dorothy Forrest (DF), daughter of Joseph Alcide Gauthier. Interview conducted by Joe Manning (JM) on February 4, 2009.
JM: When were you born?
JM: Where you living at that time?
DF: 17 Oak Court, in Clinton.
JM: Where was your father working at the time you were born?
DF: During the Depression, he worked for the WPA. He used to have to go down every morning to see if he could get work for the day. If he got there early enough, he got a shovel.
JM: That must have been a tough time for your family.
DF: I remember that it was 12 cents for a loaf of bread, and we had trouble getting up enough money for it. My mother had us looking all over the house for a few extra pennies.
JM: Was your mother working at all then?
DF: No. She stayed home and raised the children. She went to work when we got older. She worked in a bakery shop, making all kind of pastries.
JM: When did you get married?
DF: 1953, in Clinton. A few years later, my husband got an invitation to become a plant manager out here in Port Huron Michigan, so we moved. There were no jobs in Clinton.
JM: Did you go to college?
DF: No, but I finished high school.
JM: Do you have children?
DF: Yes, two girls and one boy.
JM: Your husband told me that your father had several jobs over his lifetime. At one time, he was a material handler, moving stuff from station to station in the shipping and receiving department for a company called Van Brode Cereals, in Clinton. Then he went to Ray-O-Vac, a battery company, also in Clinton. He also worked in a woolen mill in Hudson. But he never had his own car, so he always had to rely on taking the bus or getting a ride with somebody.
DF: That’s right. Sometimes the bus driver wouldn’t charge him because he was riding every day. He always wanted a car, but my mother wouldn’t get one. He had to walk a good mile to get the groceries. It was hard work carrying the bundles home. He would say to my mother, ‘Mother, someday I’m gonna get me a car.’ But he never owned a car. He worked hard and didn’t have much in life.
JM: What did you think of the photos of your father?
DF: I think they are beautiful. I had never seen a picture of him that young.
JM: Did you know that he had lived in Winchendon?
DF: Yes. He had one brother in Winchendon that he liked. His name was Arthur. My husband and I took him up to there a couple of times to see him.
JM: Did your father have a nickname?
DF: They used to call him Babe.
JM: Did he speak French?
DF: He used to sing me a little song in French. I remember that he was so tired when he came home from work. He just wanted to get in his rocking chair and go to sleep, so he didn’t have too much time for us. But on weekends, he used to take us to the movies a lot, at the Strand. And then we’d have an ice cream sundae next door, at Sanford’s Drugstore (Wheeler & Sanford). One time, he was getting off the bus, and my mother sent me down to the store to get some apples. It was a rainy day, and my bag of apples got wet and busted, and the apples were all over the street. My father was just coming by at that moment, and I was standing there crying. He picked the apples up in his jacket and took me home.
*Story published in 2009.