Lewis Hine caption: Group of sweepers and doffers in the filling spinning room of Glenallen Mill. The boys were smuggled out of back window during hours by second hand. All work. Smallest boy is Francis Pagnette. Also Henry Smith, Maple Street. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts, September 1911, Lewis Hine.
The task of a doffer was to replace empty bobbins on the spinning machines. There were often long periods of time when they were waiting around for the bobbins to need replacing, so they would either play outside of the mill, or get handed a broom and told to sweep up the cotton lint. As was his custom, Hine would have rounded up these boys quickly in front of his camera, and after taking several pictures, ask their names and ages, and any other information he could pry out of them. In this case, he must have been in a hurry, because he named only two boys, and didn’t clearly point out which ones they were. In a second photo of Henry, he is still not identified.
After examining all the other Hine photos taken in Winchendon, I was able to figure out that Francis Pagnette (actually Paquette) was the second boy from the right, not the smallest boy as Hine stated. So that left me the task of identifying Henry Smith. After locating him in the census records, I found his obituary in the Fitchburg Sentinel archives online, and that led me to a granddaughter who lives near Boston. She told me she knew almost nothing about him, but she was sure she recognized the boy on the far right as him. I eventually found one of his nieces, Margaret Quirk, who lives in Winchendon, and she identified the same boy as Henry. She was very surprised to see the photos.
According to census information and other documents, Henry William Exavia Smith was born in Winchendon on January 2, 1897. He was the third of eight children born to Alfred Smith and Mary (LaPlante) Smith, who apparently came to Winchendon from Quebec in 1896. They had married in 1887. Alfred, who was likely of English or Irish descent, was a pattern maker for the Converse toy company, and later worked at Alaska Freezer, both in Winchendon.
When Henry was photographed at the Glenallan Mill, his mother had been dead almost three years, having succumbed to tuberculosis. In 1910, Henry, his widowed father, and six siblings lived in a house at 254 Maple Street, which they probably rented from the White Brothers, owners of the Glenallan and Spring Village Mills. By 1920, they were living up the road at 318 Maple Street, and Henry was also working for Alaska Freezer.
Henry married Blanche Hebert in 1922, and by 1930, they were renting a house on Cross Street, in South Ashburnham, just down the road from Winchendon. He worked as a painter at the Whitney Chair Factory Company. They had two daughters, Anita and Margaret, both of whom are now deceased. His father, Alfred, died in 1939. Henry also worked for Gem Crib and Cradle Company in Gardner. He died on September 2, 1973, at the age of 76. His wife, Blanche, died in 1987.
I interviewed Margaret Quirk, who was born in 1930, and was 43 years old when her Uncle Henry died 37 years ago. She warned me, “I don’t remember a whole lot about him anymore,” but her recollections indicate that the young boy with the broom, who lost his mother when he was only 11 years old, certainly made the most of his humble beginnings.
“My father was Euclid Smith, and Uncle Henry was his oldest brother. He lived in South Ashburnham. He and his wife, Blanche, bought a home there. My mother and father lived with them for a while before I was born. Uncle Henry worked in a chair factory in Ashburnham. Aunt Blanche didn’t work. She stayed home with her two daughters. She was kind of a nervous person. Uncle Henry would paint a room for her, and she’d change the color two or three times. But he was very patient. He was good-natured. He liked to joke a lot. He used to tease me. He was a real straight guy, a good husband and a good father. And he took good care of his younger brothers and sisters. The whole family looked up to him. He was a great person, very religious, a really good guy.”
No one in his family I talked to had any photographs of him.
Lewis Hine caption: Group of sweepers and doffers in the filling spinning room of Glenallen Mill. The boys were smuggled out of the back window during hours by second hand. All work. Smallest boy is Francis Pagnette. Also Henry Smith. Maple Street. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts, September 1911.
*Story published in 2010.