Lewis Hine caption: Family of Adrienne Pagnette: The three standing in front row are Adrienne, Anna and Francis. Adrienne, an adolescent French Illiterate. Speaks almost no English. Is probably 14 or 15. Doffs on top floor spinning room of Glenallen Mill. Anna, said she was 12 years old and helped older sister in Mill. Been at it all summer. She stands next Adrienne. Francis, has regular job doffing. Says he is 15 but Mr. Hine Doubted it. Family consists of 17 members, 8 or 10 of them in the mill; almost every one of them illiterate. Stooping, reaching and pushing heavy boxes is bad for young girl adolescent. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts.
Lewis Hine caption: Adrienne Pagnette, an adolescent French illiterate, speaks almost no English. Is probably 14 or 15. Doffs on top floor spinning room in Glenallen Mill. Her brother Francis has a regular job doffing. Said he is 15 but Mr. Hine doubted it. Her sister Anna said she was 12 years old and helped older sister in Glenallen Mill. Been at it all summer. Stooping, reaching and pushing heavy boxes is bad for young girls adolescent. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts, September 1911.
From the 1840s to the 1930s, nearly a million French Canadians left their homes and crossed the border into New England, mostly to work in the textile mills. Many were farmers whose livelihood was being threatened by a decrease in fertile land, which was slowly being swallowed up by industrial expansion. There were textile mills in Canada, but wages were lower than those paid by US companies. Many of the families planned to stay only long enough to raise the money to pay off their debts or to buy a farm back in Canada. Consequently, about half of the immigrants returned to their homeland after a few years, including, apparently, this family.
During their short time in Winchendon, they became a tiny part of the town’s history, and were immortalized by Lewis Hine’s camera. In the picture above, taken on a sunny Sunday in September, the family looks proud, all decked out in their nicest clothes, and seemingly unfazed by the struggles they must have already endured just to get there from Quebec. But without the caption, we might think they are a happy, relatively prosperous family living in a large farmhouse in a storied colonial town. In other photos however, the children stare at us from their mill environment, sometimes half-smiling, but always looking weary.
After searching through the census records on the Internet, the town directories in Winchendon’s library, and the birth, marriage and death records at the town clerk’s office, I determined that this family was named Paquet (Paquette in some records). According to the 1910 census, the household consisted of Benoit (father), Hermine (mother) and 12 children, including Adrienne, Anna and Francis, who are identified in several other photos. The census taker incorrectly spelled the father’s name Barvil Paguet. The family reported a total of 13 living children and three others who had died. At that time, they were living at 62 Glenallan Street, just a short walk from the Glenallan Mill.
I also found the family in the 1901 Canada census, living in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Quebec. According to Canada marriage records, Benoit and Hermine married in 1884. And according to immigration records, they entered the United States through Swanton, Vermont, in 1909, their destination given as Winchendon. The Paquets appear in the 1911 Winchendon directory, but in no subsequent directories.
After the 1910 census, the only record of this family I could find was the obituary for Benoit Paquet, who died in Quebec on April 28, 1925, at the age of about 64. So without any further records, we must assume that this family found their way back to Canada, and never returned to the US.
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.
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.
Lewis Hine caption: Group of Workers in Glenallen Mill, including Adrienne Pagnette, Annie Dugas, Francis Pagnette, Anatole Gernon, apparently 11 or 12 years old, doffs on top floor spinning room of the above mill. Speaks no English. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts.
*Story published in 2009.