FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Women at Work: An Oral History of
in Fall River, Massachusetts
Interview with Marie Lillian Deschesnes
Interviewer: (JR) Joyce B. Rodrigues
Interviewee: (LD) Marie Lillian Deschesnes
Additional Commentary: (CN) Claire Marie (Petrin) Norfolk, Lillian’s niece
Date of Interviews: August 22 & August 29, 2015
Location: Deschesnes residence, Fall River, Massachusetts
Marie Lillian Deschenes was born in Fall River on July 8, 1926.
Lillian, who never married, comes from a family of fifteen: six boys and nine girls. She is twelfth in line. Her story is one of family, church, and work.
Lillian worked a total of forty-six years for two world-class manufacturers in Fall River, Massachusetts. For twenty-six of those years, she was employed in the packing department at the Har-Lee Manufacturing Company, a union shop. “The Har-Lee,” the largest cotton dress manufacturer in the United States, closed in 1957.
She was then similarly employed for twenty years by Louis Hand Inc., also a union shop, and the nation’s largest curtain and drapery manufacturer. In the 1950s and 1960s, Fall River ranked first as a curtain manufacturing city with up to twenty-three manufacturers and sales outlets. She retired in 1988 at the age of sixty-two with a Social Security and ILGWU pension.
Louis Hand, Inc.
Louis Hand, Inc. was located at 847 Pleasant Street in the former Pilgrim Mills. The mill was built in 1911 from red brick and was the first mill in Fall River to be powered entirely by electricity provided from the local grid. It produced cotton cloth.
By 1945, Louis Hand, Inc. had acquired the building and was employing 600 workers. The company changed hands at least two more times between 1979 and 2000. The plant closed in March 2008.
The Deschenes Family and the Catholic Church
Lillian’s father, François Xavier Deschenes, and mother, Albertina (Boursier) Martin, emigrated from Canada to Fall River in 1892 and 1896 respectively. They met in Fall River and were married in the Blessed Sacrament Church in 1907.
In 1888, Blessed Sacrament began as a mission of St. Anne’s Church, the first French-speaking church in Fall River dating from 1869. The church was built in 1902 as a national parish to serve the French-Canadian working population who lived in the south end of Fall River near the Tiverton, Rhode Island, line. The parish had a school and a convent of religious teaching nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph.
As members and attendance later dwindled, Blessed Sacrament held on to celebrate its 100th anniversary with a final Mass on June 2, 2002. The church was later demolished in 2008.
All of the Deschenes children were born at home. They were educated in French-speaking Catholic schools and then went to work to support the family:
…“They quit school and went to work, and that was what you did….We had no choice.”
Their pay was turned over “to the house.” Family members received spending money and lived at home until marriage.
Lillian’s immediate family of fourteen brothers and sisters also included paternal and maternal extended families. Her narrative describes family life: the day-to-day running of the household, the work experiences of her brothers and sisters, her brothers’ service in World War II, and post-war life in Fall River.
Growing up meant plenty of sharing, family entertainment, and family outings. Growing up also meant that older siblings took care of younger siblings. This commitment continued into adult years as Lillian’s older sister, Marie Dorille “Dot”, who had cared for all of her younger brothers and sisters, also cared for their mother who passed away in 1957.
Lillian and two sisters inherited the family home after their father remarried in 1962. Francois Xavier Deschenes passed away in 1972.
Today, Lillian is the matriarch to the next generation of Deschenes family members, and is cared for by her niece and family historian, Claire Marie (Petrin) Norfolk.
Note: This interview has been slightly edited for continuity and readability; in order to preserve the integrity of the conversation, the phraseology remains that of the interviewer and interviewee. Italicized information in square brackets has been added for the purposes of clarification and context.
JR: So, I want to get started. This is quite a story. Lillian lives on Detroit Street [and] is from a large family … from the French community background in Fall River, so there is plenty to talk about. And I am going to start by asking her about her family. How did they come to Fall River? How did your family settle in Fall River? Why did they come to Fall River?
CN: Where did they come from?
LD: They come from Canada.
CN: And why did they come here, what do you think? Why did they come to Fall River?
JR: Did your father [François Xavier Deschenes] and mother [née Albertina Boursier Martin] come together, or did they come separately?
CN: Mémère [grandmother] and Pépère [grandfather] came from Canada and they met here….
JR: So, they, your mother and father, met in Fall River.
JR: And they got married in Fall River?
JR: Where did they get married?
LD: They got married in the Blessed Sacrament Church [Church of the Blessed Sacrament, 2460 South Main Street.]
CN: In what year, do you remember?
LD: [September 23,] 1907.
JR: 1907. And where did they live when they, after they got married? Did they live here on Detroit Street or somewhere else?
LD: No, they lived in …
CN: They lived everywhere … the Martins was my … great grandfather’s family.
CN: Yes, without the ‘S,’ [Jean Baptiste Martin and his second wife, née Philomena Côte, and their children immigrated to Fall River in 1896,] and then there were the Deschenes; they immigrated here in  when my grandfather François Xavier Deschenes was 10 years old, and …
LD: She will know more.
CN: I do, because I have done all the research.
JR: Well, Claire had done the genealogy.
CN: So, that’s why I can give her a background.
JR: There are a lot of details.
CN: A lot of background here. And the Martins … came [to Fall River] in . They came from Acton, Bagot, Quebec, Canada, and the Deschenes came from Rimouski, [Bas-Saint Laurent region, Quebec,] Canada, [in 1892]. They came down separately…. They lived, they both lived in the Blessed Sacrament [Church] community [in the south end of Fall River.] The church was built in 1902. [The cornerstone was laid in 1902; the building was dedicated in 1904]. So, they were there before the church was built. I am thinking there must have been a small community before that. I don’t remember … but they met; how they met, we don’t know. But they must have met in the community.
JR: When they came to Fall River, did they work in the mills?
CN: All, the whole family did. My great-grandfather [Octave Miville Deschenes] worked in the mills.
LD: I don’t think my mother [Mrs. François Xavier Deschenes, née Albertina Boursier Martin] ever worked; my mother never worked as far as I know.
CN: Maybe before they got married?
LD: With fifteen kids, she didn’t have time.
JR: I think that is true….
CN: So, I don’t know, maybe Mémère might have worked before she got married, she might have. That, I bet, is a strong possibility. We don’t know a lot.
JR: Maybe they met in the mills? Because that was often a very common story.
CN: Or at the church, somewhere like that. My great-grandmother [Mrs. Octave Miville Deschenes, née Delvina Charette] came here with my great-grandfather … in , and they had [several] kids that they brought with them. [The children of Octave and Delvina were: Francois Xavier Deschenes; Octave Deschenes, Jr.; Joseph Octave Deschenes; Jean Baptiste Deschenes; Marie Louise Deschenes, later Mrs. Eugene Roussin; Flavie Deschenes; Paul Deschenes; Malvina Deschenes; Adelia Deschenes, later Mrs. Thomas Stephen Heron; Joseph Deschenes; and Martha Deschenes, later Mrs. Garant.] And he [Octave] died [on January 8,] 1898, from … typhoid fever…. And, um, my grandmother was a widow after that. So, Pépère [François Xavier Deschenes] was born in 1882, so … he was sixteen years old when his dad died. And my great-grandmother’s story is, is that she was a medicine woman in [the] Blessed Sacrament area. She would … help all the people who were sick … she would have her home remedies to, um, help the neighborhood and the whole community. Uncle Joe [Joseph Deschenes] was sick one time and his grandmother came to the house and gave him like a half of teaspoon of turpentine, and he was better the next day. So, we are not really sure how that happened.…
JR: Well, you didn’t have a lot of doctors. And I don’t think you had a lot of money go to doctors.
LD: No, no, they – no.
JR: You say she was widowed. Left with how many children?
CN: Well, my grandfather was sixteen, so there must have been younger ones. I am not sure where in the family he falls – if he was the oldest or not – I don’t remember. My guess is that he wasn’t the oldest, but I’d have to look at the dates for that. Anyway.
JR: How did they manage after that? How did they manage to support themselves?
CN: So, all of the kids went to work in the factories. So, Pépère [François Xavier Deschenes] went to work in the factories, and his whole family was there and they are the ones that supported their mother and their apartment. I believe it was an apartment on Last Street. [The widowed Mrs. Deschenes and her family resided at 81 Last Street, Fall River, circa 1902 – 1904; and at 134 Last Street, circa 1905 – 1908. From circa 1909 – 1910, they resided at 519 Summit Street, Fall River.] And then [circa 1911] they moved to  Bay View Street as well. They had a couple of different places where grandmother lived. Um, but anyway, that was way back. So Aunt Lil [the interviewee, Marie Lillian Deschenes] didn’t remember any of that stuff because that’s stuff that I researched. That is stuff I found online, and I looked in all the [Fall River City] Directories, and their names are in the directories, and where they worked. So we know that Pépère [François Xavier Deschenes] worked in all those factories, and … had lots of different jobs to support his family here [after he married], and moved around a lot, as they had [fifteen] children. Aunt Irene [Marie Blanche Irene Deschenes] was the first born, she was born in … 1908…. So, they had gotten married [on] September [23,] 1907 and Irene was born right away. And, um, then all of the brothers, you know, three boys [Joseph Albert Octave Deschenes; Joseph Leo Pierre Deschenes; Joseph Henri Deschenes], and then Aunt Dot [Marie Dorille Rita Deschenes].
JR: So, Irene was the oldest?
LD: Irene was the oldest, yes.
CN: Followed by [Joseph Lionel John Deschenes; Marie Rita Deschenes; Marie Alice Deschenes; Joseph Deschenes; Marie Lillianne Deschenes; Marie Anita Deschenes; Marie Lillian Deschesnes; Joseph Arthur Albert Deschenes; Marie Theresa Deschenes; and Marie Gracella Deschenes].
JR: So, Lillian, you’re the fourth from the youngest. Okay, so your date of birth would be?
LD: July 8, 1926.
JR: Just to get an idea of how the family grew up, can you give me an idea … where they were working when they became of age? You know, as they grew up and as they moved along, what kind of jobs did they have in Fall River?
LD: They had dress shops and curtain factories.
JR: And your sisters and brothers, where did they work?
LD: Well, one sister [Marie Alice Deschenes, later Mrs. Joseph Armande Cote] worked at Shelburne [Shirt Company, Inc., 111 Alden Street, Fall River]. Another [Marie Lillianne Deschenes, later Mrs. George Noel Petrin] worked in Har-Lee [Har-Lee Manufacturing Company, dress manufacturers, 426 Pleasant Street, Fall River], and … my brothers worked at Thomas French.
JR: Thomas French?
LD: Thomas French [& Sons, Ltd., Stevens Street, Fall River,] yeah, that was down there, not too far.
JR: What kind of a company was that?
LD: I don’t know what they did there [cotton goods manufacturers], but my two brothers [Joseph Henri Deschenes, and Joseph Lionel John Deschenes] worked there.
JR: Thomas French, where were they located?
LD: On [Stevens Street] somewhere, because it wasn’t too far from me. They used to walk to go work.
CN: And Aunt Dot [Marie Dorille Rita Deschenes, later Mrs. Joseph Ovila Roy], where did she work?
LD: Aunt Dot worked, uh, Anderson Little [Company Inc., men’s clothing manufacturers, Stevens Street, Fall River]. Anderson Little.
JR: Anderson Little, very good. Do you know what she did there? What kind of work she did at Anderson Little?
LD: She was a cutter.
JR: That is a very demanding, very exacting job; it’s very dangerous, too.
LD: Al [Joseph Albert Octave Deschenes] worked at Shelburne [Shirt Company, Inc., Fall River.] Her [the interviewee’s niece, Mrs. John Barry Norfolk, née Claire Marie Petrin] mother [Marie Lillianne Deschenes, later Mrs. George Noel Petrin] worked at Har-Lee, just like I did. And one of my sisters [Marie Alice Deschenes, later Mrs. Joseph Armande Cote] worked at, uh, Arkwright [Corporation] on [Lewiston] Street, [Fall River.]
JR: Yes, the Arkwright Mill. Do you remember what she did there? What kind of work she did at the Arkwright?
LD: Some kind of curtains or something.
JR: It was curtains as well?
LD: I think it was curtains. [Chace Mill Curtain Company, Lewiston Street, Fall River, was located in the former Arkwright Mill.]
JR: I know Fall River had quite a number of curtain factories at one point, and also shirt factories. And we’ll go back a second – you were telling me that two of your sisters went into the convent. Tell me about that.
LD: My sister Rita [Marie Rita Deschenes, later Sister Marie Xavier of the order of Sisters of St. Joseph] was the oldest one that was in the convent [St. Thérèse of Lisieux Convent, New Bedford, Massachusetts]. She was in there about – she died [in] 1945 … yeah, yeah. [The cause of death was an ‘acute sore throat with septicemia,’ which was being treated in-house by the Sisters and advanced at an alarming rate; by the time medical attention was sought, it was too late.] Then, Grace [Marie Gracella Deschenes, later Sister Mary Albert of the order of Sisters of St. Joseph] went in. She went in [St. Thérèse of Lisieux Convent in] 1950; she [relinquished her vows] in … 1960.
JR: Where did you all go to school? I mean, you had fifteen.
LD: We went to school at St. Jean’s [Saint Jean Baptiste Parochial School, 65 Stockton Street and 364 Field Street, Fall River].
JR: All the children went to St. Jean’s?
LD: Yup. And Sister Mary Joseph [Order of Sisters of St. Joseph du Puy] taught most of my brothers and sisters. Sister Mary Joseph.
JR: She was your favorite teacher?
LD: She taught everybody.
JR: Very good. Did any of the children go past St. Jean’s? Did they move any of your sisters and brothers go to high school?
LD: Yes, one of my sisters [Marie Gracella Deschenes] went to, uh, down the Flint [section of Fall River]. Jesus Mary [Jesus Marie Academy, 138 St. Joseph Street, Fall River], yes.
CN: She went there, she also went to Diman [Vocational High School, Girl’s Division, 45 Morgan Street, Fall River] one year.
LD: She went to Diman, too. Yeah, yeah.
JR: And what was going on at Diman? I know Diman had power stitching classes.
LD: I don’t know what she did there.
CN: I think that’s what … just a little bit of background to that. Aunt Irene [Marie Blanche Irene Deschenes, later Mrs. Aime Horace Bouchard], who is the oldest in the family, was eighteen when they moved here to 47 Detroit Street [in Fall River]. So, prior to that, they lived [at 145] Baird Street [in Fall River]. So, for eighteen years, the family was transient, but they did stay on Baird Street for quite a while. [The Deschenes family resided on Baird Street from circa 1912 -1920; prior to that, the family resided at 301 Flint Street, Fall River, and 134 Last Street, also in Fall River.] But I don’t know who lived on Baird Street or why they ended up in that house; all I can say is that it’s very, very small. And then they moved from Baird Street to somewhere else. [The Deschenes family moved to 548 Brayton Avenue, Fall River, circa 1921.] But my mother [Marie Lillianne Deschenes, later Mrs. George Noel Petrin], who was [the] tenth born – she was born [at 548] Brayton Avenue in 1923, and she was the first baby to come into this house … all of the babies after that were born in this house.…
JR: All born in this house. Home-delivered. Home-delivery.
CN: Right there. And that is where Aunt Grace [Marie Gracella Deschenes] died a couple of years ago [in 2013].
JR: Did you have a midwife, or did your Mom know what was going on?
LD: No. She knew what was going on.
CN: Someone must have come here; who must have come here to help her? You don’t know who delivered the babies? That’s a very interesting thing.
JR: That is a very interesting question. You think maybe the neighbors knew what was, how to deliver children?
CN: That would be a great question to have asked Aunt Dot [Mrs. Joseph Ovila Roy, née Marie Dorille Rita Deschenes]. She was the one who lived in this house with Aunt Lil [the interviewee] and Aunt Grace [Marie Gracella Deschenes] for years since 1960. 1962 when Pépère [François Xavier Deschenes] moved away with Kay [the widowed Kathleen May O’Neil, née Bean] to get married. So … my grandmother died in 1957, Albertina Martin, who raised all those children in this house. And he remarried five years later, and left the house to Aunt Lil and the rest of the family.
JR: When those children were being born, did you know what was going on or did you have any idea?
LD: No, I was too small, I don’t remember.
JR: So you moved into this house in what year again?
JR: 1923, you have been here …
CN: She was born in 1926.
JR: Born in this house and [the Deschenes family] moved in 1923, so you were really on Detroit Street and this house [all your life]. It must have been kind of a farm area at the time. It’s a little rural, don’t you think, because all of these homes that I see out there [now] are kind of modern homes. They were built later.
CN: How many houses were on this street when you were little?
LD: All these houses weren’t here and there was nobody here. [In 1926, the year of the interviewee’s birth, there were twenty-four residences on Detroit Street; the figure was the same two decades later.]
CN: Across the street [at 48 Detroit Street] was the Perrons’ [Joseph Leo Henri Perron and his wife, née Marie Rose Laura Rochon].
LD: And then a few houses down there. There were houses down there, but no houses past this house.
JR: Did you have electricity?
JR: 1934 – electricity came to Detroit Street? But before that, uh, that would have…
LD: We had lanterns.
JR: Gas lanterns? You think it was gas lanterns? Was it gas or oil?
LD: I think it was gas.
JR: And how did you heat the house?
LD: We used to have an old fashioned stove. We used to put in wood and coal stove.
JR: Did you have a brother who chopped the wood?
LD: We used to buy the wood.
JR: Oh, you bought the wood. Did you have to buy the coal, too? And the coal was delivered to the house, and went down the chute into the cellar?
CN: Where was the chute, do you remember?
LD: Near the window. There.
CN: The basement is still unfinished – it’s a dirt basement.
JR: Now, how about cooking? How did you do your cooking, on that stove?
LD: On that stove, yeah, yeah.
CN: Where was the bathroom?
CN: With the old fashioned tub; it’s still up there – cast iron.
JR: Cast iron, with the [claw] feet, on the tub.
CN: It’s still up there.
JR: So how about marketing, groceries? Did you do any growing of vegetables out in the …
LD: We had a garden. All that was a garden. We had potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn.
JR: And who did all of the gardening work?
LD: My father did.
JR: Your father did it?
LD: When we used to work, we would come in from work and help him out. We would have to go out and take the bugs out of the potatoes.
JR: Was it more brothers? Did the brothers do more than the girls?
LD: No, everybody pitched in. Yeah, yeah.
JR: How about cooking?
LD: My mother did all the cooking, and one of my sisters [Marie Dorille Rita Deschenes, later Mrs. Joseph Ovila Roy].
JR: I can’t, I can’t imagine, I am trying to figure out how you can buy things and cook for fifteen people.
CN: Where else did you get your food from?
LD: There was a place [probably a food assistance program] down [in] the Flint. We used to take a barrow, we used to have to take a barrow …
LD: And walk down the Flint and pick up some food.
JR: Groceries, or was it vegetables?
LD: Groceries, or welfare, I guess you might call it.
JR: Was it during the [Great] Depression?
JR: So that was in the Flint, you had to walk all the way down to the Flint to get that?
JR: That must have taken all day.
LD: That I remember, yeah. Yeah.
CN: In the hurricane [on September 21,] 1938, my mother [Marie Lillianne Deschenes] was fifteen [years old], and she remembers going down there with her mother, and they didn’t know it was the hurricane, and she was walking by the water and her hat flew off; she lost her hat in the wind. But someone came by and offered to take them back here to the house. But they would often go down there weekly to get the food. What kind of food did you get? Must have been like flour and rice, things that you used for cooking.
LD: Flour and rice, bananas, potatoes, yeah.
CN: Aunt Dot [Marie Dorille Rita Deschenes, later Mrs. Joseph Ovila Roy] … was born in 1914, I believe. She was one of the older sisters and she was like [one of] the ones who went to work first. So, she took care of all of her younger brothers and sisters. And after the mom, her mom, my grandmother died [in 1957], she was the caretaker, too, mostly. Always was the responsible one. What did Aunt Dot buy for you, like, when you were little? What did she bring home for you? Did she?
LD: Paper dolls, we had paper dolls when we were kids.
JR: Paper dolls?
LD: Paper dolls. Yeah.
JR: And you could buy those?
LD: We used to buy a book with all paper dolls and we used to cut them up. We used to have pictures of girls and boys and they had clothes that we would put together. We had coloring books, and chalk.
JR: How about games?
LD: Oh, dodge ball, we used to play break a can; put our feet on the can, and walk with the cans.
JR: Walk with the cans on your feet?
LD: Yeah, yeah, we used to smash the cans and walk. That’s what we did when we were kids. We played hopscotch, too. We used to play … um.
LD: With a little ball with a …
LD: Yeah, jacks.
JR: How about chalk? I remember, I remember seeing kids making hopscotch on the sidewalk with chalk.
LD: Yeah, white chalk. Yeah. I still got some of those.
LD: Marbles, yeah, yeah.
JR: Could you do all this playing in the Catholic school? Did they let you play in the Catholic school?
LD: No, when we come home.
JR: What did you do in the Catholic school for recess?
LD: Recess, just play tag. Yeah.
CN: So, like you went to school. When you came home, there wasn’t any TV, clearly, right? So what did you do for entertainment? What did your family do? Did you have a radio?
LD: We used to have a radio.
JR: So, do you remember when you got the radio?
LD: 1920s, I guess. We used to watch Amos and Andy [Amos ‘n Andy, a wildly popular road show set in Harlem, New York, aired 1928 – 1960].
JR: Oh, you listened to Amos and Andy on the radio?
LD: Yeah, and The Lone Ranger, [a popular radio western, aired 1940 – 1957].
JR: On the radio?
LD: We didn’t get no TV – when my folks were living, we never had TV.
JR: I’m trying to think about the 1930s and you were born in 1926, so … you would have only been six years old when [President] Franklin [Delano] Roosevelt was elected [in 1932], because he was well known for speaking on the radio.
LD: Oh yeah, yeah.
CN: Do you remember him talking on the radio?
LD: Yeah, yeah, I think so. Yeah, yeah.
JR: Yeah, he made a great impression on the American people by speaking on the radio. And he was, one of the, well I think he was the first president to take an airplane to the convention, the Democratic Convention in 1932. So, a lot of things were going on. A lot of things were going on during that period of time.
CN: And that brings me to, like, um, so in the 1940s, you had, your brothers. Who went into the service? Into World War II.
JR: That brings you right back to Franklin Roosevelt, would bring you to 1941, when the United States entered the war. What was going on with your brothers?
LD: They were all in the service: my brother Henry [Joseph Henri Deschenes] was in the Army [enlisted January 31, 1944]; my brother Tommy [Joseph Lionel John Deschenes] was in the Army [enlisted November 30, 1942, discharged December 23, 1945]; my brother Joe [Joseph Deschenes] was in the Army; [and] my brother Albert [Joseph Albert Octave Deschenes] was in the Navy [during World War II]. And my brother Pete [Joseph Arthur Albert Deschenes] was in the Army [during the Korean War].
JR: How many is that? Were they drafted or they enlist?
LD: They must have been drafted.
JR: How many is that now that was there in the war?
LD: Four. [Henry, Tommy, Joe, and Albert, were in World War II; Pete was in the Korean War.]
JR: Did you know where they were assigned? Did you know what part of the world they were in? Were they able to tell you anything about where they served?
LD: I had a brother, Joe [Joseph Deschenes], that was in Germany, and I don’t know where the others were.
CN: He was in Germany; he was in the Battle of the Bulge [the Ardennes: Belgium, Luxembourg, December 16, 1944 – January 25, 1945]; he also went to the Philippines. He was wounded in, um, one of the fights, was brought back to the tent – and this was in Germany – he got shot in the leg. He didn’t feel it at first, looked down, saw the blood. Got brought back to the tent. They were going to send him home, and he refused to go. He went back onto the lines. He wanted to stay in it and fight for our country, and, um, that is what we know about Uncle Joe.
JR: Did all of these brothers make it back?
LD: Yes, they all came back.
JR: Your mother must have been very worried about them.
LD: Oh, yeah.
JR: Did she write a lot of letters to them?
LD: Yes, she used to write to them, yeah. And they would write back to her.
JR: What do you remember about the war? I’m thinking about rationing. Did you have to sacrifice during the war?
LD: Well …
JR: It was the same in this house? You know, the same kind of food? The same kind of things that you were doing [before the war]?
LD: We always had the same, yeah. We used to have American Chop Suey, and on a Friday, of course, was fish. Fish every Friday, yeah. [Devout Roman Catholics traditionally abstained from eating warm-blooded meat on Fridays as a penance imposed by the Church to commemorate the day of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.]
CN: So what was a meal like, what would your mom put out on the table for supper?
LD: Um …
CN: Potatoes and …
LD: Potatoes, and hamburg, and American Chop Suey once in a while.
JR: That was a lot of cooking.
CN: Did you have … pancakes in the morning or at night for supper?
CN: What about French toast?
LD: French toast for supper.
JR: How about French meat pie?
LD: My mother made pies.
JR: Was your mother pretty good at that? Because that is a delicacy, that’s the French meat pie recipes, it’s very famous.
LD: Yes, we used to have meat pies [tourtiere].
CN: Did Mémère make pies, like blueberry pies or anything like that from the garden? Did she? You don’t remember?
LD: No, no.
CN: Do you remember … any drills at school that you did in case of, because of the war? Did you have to have a drill, a fire drill or like an air [raid] drill?
LD: We used to have fire drills. I remember that.
CN: Yeah, so Aunt Lil, [the interviewee, Marie Lillian Deschenes] you were telling me the other day that it was the end of the war, and what did you do? When you heard about the end of the war? What did you do?
LD: I went dancing downtown …
JR: Where, where did you go dancing?
LD: On South Main Street …
JR: Where did you go on South Main? Tell me, was it a restaurant or a dance hall?
LD: No, it was just in the street. In the street, yeah, yeah.
CN: And then you said when it was the end of the war you did go down; you remember going down there when … they surrendered, or when it was the end of the war?
LD: I remember going downtown, yeah, with my sisters, we used to go downtown. Just that, this one time, I guess. It was on South Main Street, and everybody was dancing in the street. [Victory in Europe Day, aka V-E Day, May 11, 1945.]
JR: Dancing in the streets, that’s good. Speaking of dancing, did you go dancing as a teenager? Was that an activity that girls in your family were able to do?
LD: We used to go dancing at Lincoln Park [Ballroom, State Road, Westport, Massachusetts].
JR: How did you get to Lincoln Park?
LD: We took the bus.
JR: The bus from downtown?
LD: Yeah, yes.
JR: And this is when you were a teenager?
LD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JR: Okay, so let me figure this one out. What years would that be?
CN: So ‘42 is when she graduated [from eighth grade at Saint Jean Baptiste Parochial School, Fall River.]
JR: Something like 1942 to ‘46, you were taking buses to Lincoln Park? I think there were a lot of service men up there.
LD: Yeah, that’s, I used to go dancing with my niece [Marie Lauretta Deschenes, daughter of her brother, Joseph Albert Octave Deschenes, and his wife, née Marie Bermande Lemieux] out there in Lincoln Park.
JR: So you met a lot of boys?
LD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JR: I can see you had a lot of fun at Lincoln Park.
LD: Yeah, it was nice….
CN: And then you went to New York City one time, right? In your twenties. Yeah, in her twenties.
LD: Went to New York City, [to] Times Square. I went there with my niece [Marie Loretta Deschenes], and we were supposed to go on a radio, we were supposed to go on the TV … the following day, but we were at the Times Square for so long, that when we got back we fell asleep. We were supposed to go on TV at ten o’clock, but we woke up at eleven o’clock.
JR: What program was that going to be? You were supposed to be on television.
LD: I forgot what, what program we were supposed to be on. But we were going to be interviewed on TV.
JR: Did you do a lot of other traveling? Have you traveled quite a bit?
LD: When we were kids, I used to, uh, we used to travel a lot together, on vacation, the whole family with my mother and father. We used to go to New Hampshire all the time. Then with my other sister [Marie Alice Deschenes] and [her] husband [Joseph Armande Cote], we used to go to New York [City] quite a bit, too.
JR: How about Cape Cod, [Massachusetts]? I know that was a …
LD: Cape Cod – we went there a few times.
JR: It’s a familiar place for us.
CN: And Uncle Armande used to take you to Boston. What did you do in Boston when you went to Boston?
LD: We used to go to the park. And go drinking.
JR: Oh. Did I hear that? I don’t know if I heard that.
CN: And what else, go ahead.
LD: I’m not going to tell about that. No, no, no.
JR: Okay, I guess we hit a story. We hit a story she don’t want to tell us about.
CN: Something that she doesn’t want to be put in the papers.
JR: We will let that one go.
LD: Yeah, yeah. [She is referring to the so-called Combat Zone in Boston, Massachusetts, known in its heyday during the 1940s – 1950s for its suggestive burlesque shows and jazz clubs.]
JR: I am going to ask you to just kind of conclude a little bit, because we have so much family and so many things to talk about, that I think, um, I will come back…. And then we will talk about the work years … we’re looking at the work years in Fall River and the kinds of manufacturing companies that made this city famous again.
LD: Yeah, uh-huh.
JR: I mean the [cotton] mills were [mostly] gone by the ‘20s, but all of the [needle trade] factories came in, in the ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s….
LD: I worked in two shops, though. I worked in Har-Lee [Manufacturing Company, dress manufacturers, 425 Pleasant Street, Fall River] and Louis Hand [Inc., sash curtain manufacturers, 847 Pleasant Street, Fall River.]
JR: Louis Hand and … Louis Hand at the time was curtains. Was it always curtains at Louis Hand?
LD: Yes. Yup.
CN: And Aunt Grace [Marie Gracella Deschenes] worked there with you, when she left [the convent].
JR: Let’s leave it at that – when I come back, we’re going to be talking about working at Har-Lee…. Thank you so much, Lillian. Thank you, Claire.
CN: You’re welcome.
Interview resumes August 29, 2015
JR: So let me … get started with, um, graduating from school. What school was that? What school did you graduate from?
LD: St. Jean de Baptiste [Saint Jean Baptiste Parochial School, Fall River, in 1942]
JR: St. Jean Baptiste, okay. And when you graduated, did you have any idea what you were going to do as a – as a career?
LD: No, I knew that I had to go to work to help the family, so.
JR: Was there any idea that, in your, in your own mind, what you would like to do?
LD: No, I … I just went to work, that was it; I went to work. I enjoyed my job. It was a nice job.
JR: So, how did you get, how did you get into that factory? How did you get that job?
LD: I went down to apply. The following week I started to work.
JR: Now, at what factory was that?
JR: That was the Har-Lee.
LD: Yes, on Pleasant Street.
JR: On Pleasant Street.
JR: Can you describe that factory? I heard it was quite big. I heard it had something like two thousand employees.
LD: It was a big place, yeah. What can I say?
JR: Well, where about did you work? And what were you doing?
LD: I was a packer. I was packing dresses, putting them in a box, and put the cover on a box. And we would put them on a conveyer belt, and ship it; someone was at the other end, to pick it up.
JR: Okay, so the dresses came down a conveyer belt.
LD: Yup, and we packed them in a box.
JR: Did you have to fold them?
LD: We had to fold them and put them in a box.
JR: So, when they came down the belt, were they flat on the belt or hanging up?
LD: They were flat, it was, uh.
JR: And you had to fold them.
JR: And then you put them in. How many in a box?
LD: Just one in each box.
JR: One in each box.
JR: How many did you have to do per day? Or per hour?
CN: Were you on piecework or were you on …
LD: On timework. On timework – everything was timework.
CN: So you had to do so many every hour?
LD: No, we just kept on going, whatever we did.
CN: So, um, where did the dresses come from?
LD: Oh, I don’t know.
CN: Another floor?
LD: The second floor.
CN: And what did they do up there? It must have been, that must have been …
LD: It was the sewing, I guess.
JR: But did you get any training at Har-Lee? Or how did you learn this job?
LD: No, I didn’t need no training because it was easy to do.
JR: Well the, the sewers, I think the machine operators had to be trained. I know I was reading about a training school on Pleasant Street that prepared women to work at Har-Lee on the sewing machines…. So, you know there were places in Fall River at the time that would train young women, you know, for jobs in the, in the factories.
CN: I remember one thing my Mom [Mrs. George Noel Petrin, née Marie Lillianne Deschenes] saying about being a sewer, because we used to shop at Arlan’s [of Fall River, department store, 440 Rodman Street.]. We used to go there. I remember when I graduated from eighth grade [from St. Mary’s Cathedral School, 468 Spring Street, Fall River, in 1972], we went to Cherry & Webb [Company, women’s clothing & misses’ clothing, 139-149 South Main Street, Fall River] to look at dresses – after we had gone to Arlan’s. We went to Arlan’s and we picked out my dress, and bought it, and then we went to Cherry & Webb, and my Mom said, ‘Claire, come look’, and it was the same dress that I had bought at Arlan’s, but it was twice as much money.
JR: In Cherry & Webb.
CN: Yeah, and she said … I remember her telling me this, that the clothes that went to Arlan’s were seconds – something was wrong with it or it had the wrong size tag on it. She said sometimes the dresses, when she was sewing, they would run out of labels for a dress. If it was like a size, say the dress was really a size ten, well, they couldn’t put a size twelve label on it; they would have to go down a size to size eight. And all of those dresses would have eight on it, and they would be seconds. So then you went to Arlan’s and took your dress. I am pretty sure that’s the way it was; it could have been the other way around. I’m not sure now – I’m doubting myself. Maybe, if it was a ten, they went up to a twelve, I don’t remember. But they would send all the, um, and so there was really nothing wrong with the dress, it was just a different label, a different size, and therefore it was called a second. And they would sell those at Arlan’s or Kerr Mill [Bargain Center, department store, 18 Martine Street, Fall River] or Globe Mills [Discount Department Store, 460 Globe Street, Fall River].
JR: I remember all of that kind of thing, too. My mother was at the Shelburne [Shirt Company, Inc., 111 Alden Street, Fall River] and seconds there might have been maybe an imperfection in the fabric. It wasn’t going to sell in a top store, so they would put that in the factory store, and call it as a second.
CN: Yup, and a lot of times, there was really not, you know, it was something you couldn’t see. Maybe the hem was unfinished. Or, yeah.
JR: So, how many years were you at Har-Lee, Lillian?
LD: About twenty years.
JR: And did you stay in the packing department?
LD: Yeah, the same place all the time.
CN: In the same job? You had the same job?
LD: Yeah, for twenty years.
JR: Did they ever want to move you around?
CN: How many other people were with you doing that job?
LD: Oh, quite a few. There was a lot of people.
CN: The same job.
JR: Were you standing up?
LD: Standing up. Yeah.
CN: When did you get a break?
LD: Only at twelve o’clock when it was time for lunch, we had a half hour break.
JR: Did you get a break in the morning for restroom?
JR: How did you get a break to go to the restroom? Could you do that in the morning?
LD: Oh, I could go to the restroom, yes.
JR: How did you do that? How did you get off the, um?
LD: Someone would take my place so I could go.
JR: Someone would take your place and was there a floor lady?
LD: Yes, it was, but I don’t remember her name.
JR: You don’t have to remember her name. But I guess you had to alert the floor lady before you were leaving.
LD: Oh, yeah. When we left our post, we had to tell her that we were going.
JR: And then she could find a backup.
CN: No cigarette breaks. They didn’t have cigarette breaks.
LD: I don’t think so.
CN: You never smoked cigarettes anyway, did you?
LD: Nope, nope.
JR: Okay, so how long was this? When did you start at Har-Lee and when did you leave?
LD: I was sixteen [years old, in 1942]. I left at twenty-six, I guess.
JR: Okay, so sixteen plus twenty years would be thirty-six. I think you were about thirty-six, maybe?
LD: Um, I was there. I was one place for twenty years, and the other place twenty-six years, at Louis Hand. Twenty-six years. Or vice versa. I am not sure now.
JR: Okay. So when you left Har-Lee.
CN: Yup, she’s right.
JR: When you went to that place [Louis-Hand, Inc.]
LD: They [Har-Lee Manufacturing Company] closed down [in 1957].
JR: They were closing down. What happened then? How did you find out that things were not working out there?
LD: They just told us that the place was going to close down.
JR: Did they give you a timeline as to when it was going to close?
LD: No. I can’t say too much. I don’t remember.
CN: Did you wait until it closed down to go to Louis Hand?
CN: And did a lot of those other people, do you remember anyone else going with you to Louis Hand?
LD: There were a few people that went to Louis Hand with us.
JR: Now, Louis Hand obviously was hiring, and is that what they told you? To go to Louis Hand? Har-Lee told you that?
LD: Yeah, I don’t know, unemployment.
JR: The unemployment office?
CN: So, Aunt Grace [Marie Gracella Deschenes] started to work, did she start working at the same time?
LD: No, she started to work after, a few years after me.
CN: After you were already at Louis Hand?
CN: So, what did she do before that? Do you remember what she did before she worked at Louis Hand? You don’t remember? So, that is interesting.
LD: She was in the convent. When she came out [in 1960], that is when she went to Louis Hand.
JR: That was a big change [for you], because you are going from dresses to curtains.
LD: Curtains, yeah, yeah.
JR: So when you got to Louis Hand, were you also in the packing department?
LD: Louis Hand, I was an, an order picker, which means they had bins, and we had to go in a bin and pick up so many curtains and put them in a box. Then we drive the, we have a truck – a hand truck to push it, and we put so many curtains on there, and then we go to one place, and we drop it off there. And they would pack it.
JR: So, when you were picking …
LD: In other words, I was an order picker, it’s coming back to me now. I used to pick curtains and I used to, there were all these guys over here checking. We used to give these curtains to these guys and they used to check them out. And a guy that would check them, and after they checked the curtains that we picked, they’d give them to a packer, and the packer would pack them, and then they went out.
JR: So the floor lady or the supervisor would give you a list.
LD: And then we take it from there …
CN: So, that was your job down there. And Aunt Grace was on the second floor, right?
LD: No, she was on the same floor with me – Grace went down to the first floor after … we all worked the office downstairs.
CN: Aunt Grace worked in the office?
LD: Aunt Grace worked in one office, and I was in the other office. Yeah, because there was a girl who came downstairs to give us some papers or something. So she came to my office first. Then she went to the other office. So, no, she went to Grace first, then she came back to me. She says, ‘What are you doing here? I just saw you in the other office.’ Because we looked alike, you know? She thought she was seeing double. My sister was there and I was there, different office.
JR: How did she end up in the office?
LD: Well, the same thing as me. How did I end up in the office? Eventually they put me in the office.
JR: What were you doing in the office?
LD: In the office, I was giving out the work. I had a machine … and I had a machine that was giving out the work. My table, my desk was here, and the window was here. I gave out the work, and when they come back, I’d have to write down how long it took them to do it.
JR: It sounds like you would like that job, handing out the work. Did you like to do that?
LD: Yeah, that was a nice job. I enjoyed it.
JR: Did it pay more?
LD: No, a couple of dollars more, not much.
JR: And your sister was doing the same thing?
LD: She was doing something different. She worked in the office, but then there was kind of a conveyor belt. And when there was so much, so much work on the conveyor belt, she had to go out there. She would leave the office. That was her job to go out there and take care of the, whatever it was she was doing then.
JR: When did you retire?
LD: I retired at sixty-two.
JR: At age sixty-two. What year, what year was that? Do you recall what year that was?
CN: So, one of the interesting things is, she worked at Louis Hand, but there were so many nieces and nephews …
JR: In the same factory.
CN: That Aunt Lil [the interviewee] would get …
LD: I get the work to them.
CN: So my whole family, my brother [Ronald Arthur Petrin], my sister [Diane Marie Petrin], I …
LD: The four of them.
CN: And my brother Roger [Arthur Petrin] all worked at Louis Hand in the summer, because she would be there, and she would get us a job for the summer.
JR: There you go, so you didn’t have a resume, you didn’t have to write a resume.
CN: And Cousin Louise [Louise Pineau, daughter of Mrs. Joseph Pineau, née Marie Anita Deschenes] was there.
CN: So, there was a lot of our Bouchard cousins [the children of Mrs. Aime Horace Bouchard, née Marie Blanche Irene Deschenes] that worked there, right? Years and years. So it’s, like, it was a way of life.
JR: Yes, it certainly was …
CN: For our family. Because our family, that was what they did, you know? They quit school and went to work, and that was what you did.
LD: We had no choice.
JR: How did you manage your paycheck?
LD: I gave all my money to my mother.
JR: All your money went to the house?
LD: Yeah. And we didn’t get too much spending money.
JR: So, you got an allowance after that? You got spending money?
LD: Not too much. She couldn’t afford it.
JR: Did it ever increase as you got older and did you ask or need more money?
LD: As I got older, I got more. I got more spending money. And when my mother died [in 1957], it was the same thing; I gave my pays to my sister [Marie Dorille Rita Deschenes]. I gave all my paycheck, and she would give me spending money. But then I would get a little bit more spending money.
JR: So, at that point you were sharing the expenses in the house?
JR: After your mother died and you had your sister living here.
LD: Yeah, there were three of us living here [Marie Dorille Rita Deschenes; the interviewee; and Marie Gracella Deschenes].
JR: Three sisters were living here, and you were sharing the expenses.
JR: I am going to jump ahead a little bit and ask you about unions, because the unions were important in Fall River, and I think I will go back to Har-Lee. Do you remember joining the union?
LD: ILGW [International Ladies Garment Workers Union, Local 178, Garment Workers Square, 38 Third Street, Fall River.]
JR: Was there a recruiting for that? Or were they, did they expect you to join the union? How did that happen?
LD: We had to join the union.
JR: To work at Har-Lee you had to join the union?
JR: Now when you went to Louis Hand …
LD: Louis Hand, the same union. Yeah.
CN: You had no choice? You had to do it?
LD: Yeah. Everybody joined that union. Every worker.
JR: So, fortunately, you had, when you retired you had Social Security, and you had ILGW.
JR: That was good, that came in handy.
LD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It wasn’t too much though, I was on timework a lot of time. I didn’t make too much money.
JR: I think that was true of a lot of factories in Fall River. I think if you weren’t on piecework then you had minimum wage. Were there any strikes at Har-Lee or Louis Hand? Any strikes for higher wages?
LD: No, not that I remember.
JR: Did you get laid off from time to time?
LD: No, no, I was lucky.
JR: It was always steady work?
LD: Yup, $40 a week.
CN: So, that’s really good. Never had to worry about losing your job….
JR: How about ILGW, I recall that they had a health center on Troy Street in back of what is today [the] City Hall. Were you able to go to that health center?
LD: I never went there, no.
JR: That was part of your union benefits, you could go there if you needed to. I still have to go through some of the technology questions … about the period of time that you were living in. When did you … get your radio? The first radio?
LD: Our first radio? I don’t know.
JR: Your mother and father would have been still living.
JR: And they bought the radio maybe?
CN: I will think it’s in the [nineteen] thirties because they didn’t have electric, but it could have run on battery, huh?
JR: I’m not sure. I heard that the first ones were, I remember those, but like crystal radios, I think they were almost like wireless. But I’m not sure how the first ones operated. I would think you would need electric.
CN: Yeah, so they got electric here in 1934.
JR: And how about television?
JR: When did television come?
LD: We didn’t have television when my father was living. [He died in 1972.]
CN: So, not when my grandmother was alive … she died in 1957, so that means they didn’t have television until after that.
JR: How about the telephone?
LD: Telephone, we got a telephone in before 1950, telephone.
CN: Where was the telephone?
LD: It was in the parlor.
JR: You probably had a four-party line?
LD: Oh, we did, yeah. We kept because of the little woman [Rose Cabral, wife of David F. Cabral] who lived on the corner [at 92 Detroit Street.] She used to be talking on the phone all the time my mother was on the phone, because when she hung up, she used to call me. She was on the phone and that woman kept interrupting her on the phone all the time. So, you [were] on the phone and someone else is on the phone with you.
CN: Listening to your conversation.
CN: Why don’t you tell them about the card playing? That was a big thing for the family and it always has been.
LD: We play cards every Sunday.
CN: That is for entertainment. So, go ahead and tell them about that.
LD: We used to play … we played bingo for peppermints.
CN: And what about the, there was another one – there was another game. Michigan Rummy?
LD: Michigan Rummy, yeah.
CN: But you used to play cards with all of your brothers and sisters for entertainment.
LD: We used to play cards all the time [when] my mother and father were living. We used to play cards all the time.
CN: It was always cards around this table, and, on New Year’s Day, the women stayed here and the men went upstairs.
LD: The men gambled upstairs. Now we are just down to my sister [Mrs. Joseph Pineau, née Marie Anita Deschenes] and I on a Sunday. I have her over for dinner.
JR: Someone told me, too, that if you play cards it really keeps your mind sharp. So you don’t have to worry about that, Lillian.
LD: I play solitaire a lot, too. So, thank goodness for cards and for TV.
CN: And so family has always been important, family has always been important. So …
LD: And I don’t want too much …
JR: I am going to finish with that, I feel we have plenty to work with. And I thank you so much …
LD: I wasn’t that much help, but, hey.
JR: No, it was wonderful. It just gives you an idea of what family life was like in Fall River and that’s so important, because it’s disappeared, Lillian. You know? It really has disappeared, family life is very different today.
LD: Yeah, oh yeah, yeah. There is no more family now.