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 Deschenes
Additional Commentary: (CN) Claire Norfolk, Lillian’s niece
Date of Interviews: August 22 & August 29, 2015
Location: Deschenes residence, Fall River, Massachusetts
Transcriber: Deborah Mello
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 is unedited and transcribed verbatim from the original recording.
JR: So I want to get started. This is quite a story. She is from a large family and she is 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?
LD: Just …
JR: Did your father and mother come together, or did they come separately?
LD: They came together.
CN: Mémère and Pépère came from Canada and they met here. So, yeah. That is okay.
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.
CN: In what year, do you remember?
CN: 1907, I believe or ‘06.
LD: No 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. So, basically, my grandparents. So my great-grandparents, both of them. The Martins was my great grandmother, my great grandfather’s family.
CN: Yes, without the ‘S,’ and then there were the Deschenes. They immigrated here in the 1890s 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 also came in the 1890s. They came from Quebec, Canada, and the Deschenes came from Rimouski, Canada. They came down separately in the 1890s. They lived, they both lived in the Blessed Sacrament community up in, up there. The church was built in 1902. 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. I don’t know that. 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 worked in the mills.
LD: I don’t think my mother 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, too, of my grandmother, because I have a funny story about that – when my grandmother and grandfather worked in the mills – and then, when the family started to come along, my grandfather said, he said, ‘One day I took her shoes and I wouldn’t let her out of the house, wouldn’t let her go back to work. So that was the end of that.’
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 came here with my great-grandfather for, uh, in the 1890s and they had eight or nine kids that they brought with them. And he died in 1898 from pneumonia or typhoid fever – that’s what it’s called? And, um, my grandmother was a widow after that. So, Pépère was born in 1882, so that was, he was sixteen years old when his dad died. And my great-grandmother’s story is, is that she was a medicine woman in Blessed Sacrament area. She would, she would help all the people who were sick and she would have her home remedies to, um, help the neighborhood and the whole community. Uncle Joe 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. But, anyway.
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.
CN: We have a picture of our great-grandmother somewhere that I could send if that is what you need.
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 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. And then 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 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 directories, and their names are in the directories, and where they worked. So we know that Pépère worked in all those factories, and Pépère had lots of different jobs to support his family here, and moved around a lot, as they had children. Aunt Irene was the first born, she was born in 1907 or 1908. When was her birthday? Do you know? Is it November or December?
LD: Irene was July 3. No, that was my mother’s, July 3.
JR: The same date?
CN: No, it can’t be that. Let’s see, I have everything right here. So, Aunt Irene was born in 1908, July 3. Yup. So, they had gotten married in September of 1907 and Irene was born right away. And, um, then all of the brothers, you know, three boys and then Aunt Dot.
JR: So, Irene was the oldest.
LD: Irene was the oldest, yes.
CN: Followed by Albert, Leo, Henry, Dorille, Lionel, Rita, Alice, Joseph, Marie, Anita, Lillian, Arthur, Theresa, and Grace.
JR: So, Lillian you’re the fourth from the youngest.
LD: The fourth or the third one?
CN: The fourth, because of Theresa.
LD: Theresa, yeah.
JR: 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 worked at Shelburne. Another worked in Har-Lee; and, uh, my brothers worked at Thomas French.
JR: Thomas French?
LD: Thomas French, 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, but my two brothers worked there.
JR: Thomas French, where were they located? I’ll have to look that one up.
LD: On Jepson Street somewhere.
LD: Because it wasn’t too far from me. They used to walk to go work.
CN: And Aunt Dot, Where did she work?
LD: Aunt Dot worked, uh, Anderson Little. 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 worked at Shelburne. Her mother worked at Har-Lee, just like I did. And one of my sisters worked at, uh, Arkwright on Rodman Street.
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.
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 was the oldest one that was in the convent. She was in there about – she died 1945, was it? Yeah, yeah. Then Grace went in.
CN: In 1950-something.
LD: She went in 1950; she came out in 1960.
CN: Ten years, yup.
JR: Where did you all go to school? I mean, you had fifteen.
LD: We went to school at St. Jean’s.
JR: All the children went to St. Jean’s?
LD: Yup. And Sister Mary Joseph taught most of my brothers and sisters. Sister Mary Joseph.
JR: She was your favorite teacher?
LD: She taught everybody.
JR: St. Jean’s – let me try to figure that out. That is in back of the Holy Trinity church now? Is that the name? It’s now called Holy Trinity Church.
JR: Very good. Did any of the children go past St. Jeans? Did they move any of your sisters and brothers go to high school?
LD: Yes, one of my sisters went to, uh, down the Flint. St. Mary’s, no, no.
CN: It wasn’t Diman?
JR: I am trying to think, I’m trying to think of the Flint, because that is my neighborhood. In the Flint.
CN: What was that high school, was it the girl high school?
LD: She used to go out for lunch. She used to skip school.
CN: Aunt Grace, oh, she went to Diman, she was downtown at Diman. Wasn’t that where she went?
LD: She went someplace else.
CN: She went to St. Jesus Mary Academy.
LD: Jesus Mary, yes.
CN: She went there, she also went to Diman 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 – all of them together.
JR: I think even in my day, when I was in high school, girls would go to Diman for technical training like that. Very interesting.
CN: Just a little bit of background to that. Aunt Irene who is the oldest in the family, was eighteen when they moved here to 47 Detroit Street. So, prior to that, they lived on Baird Street. So, for eighteen years, the family was transient, but they did stay on Baird Street for quite a while. 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 St. to somewhere else. But my mother, who was tenth born – she was born on Brayton Avenue in 1923, and she was the first baby to come into this house. She, so, she was, that was 1923. All of the babies after that were born in this house. So starting with …
JR: There are only three years between your mother and Aunt Lillian.
CN: Yes, and I’m trying to find out who is between you and my mother. Okay, so Anita, Lillian, Arthur, Theresa, and Grace were all born right there in that bedroom.
JR: All born in this house. Home-delivered. Home-delivery.
CN: Right there. And that is where Aunt Grace died a couple of years ago.
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. She was the one who lived in this house with Aunt Lil and aunt Grace for years since 1960. 1962 when Pépère moved away with Kay to get married. So Aunt, my grandfather, 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.
CN: So, Aunt Grace was born in 1931, so she was still only five. Yeah, so she was one of the babies that – Aunt Dot lived in this house and she would have had tons and tons of information about that. She would have been a wonderful person to know all that about. It’s two generations in a sense, she would have taken us back to that generation.
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 moved in 1923, so you were really on Detroit Street and this house. 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 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.
CN: Across the street was the Perrons’.
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: There you go. So I have to think back about that with my grandmother as well, because one of my uncles used to chop the wood. 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: I remember receiving deliveries of coal, too, so I can go back to that era as well. I can remember the coal truck coming down the street and having a coal delivery. I think at the time we were the last on the street to get coal. Everyone else had gone to gas heat. Now, how about cooking—how did you do your cooking, on that stove?
LD: On that stove, yeah, yeah.
CN: This house has this partition right her, so this house actually ended here at this partition, and that was added on later. That whole section. So, there was no bathroom downstairs, right? Where was the bathroom?
CN: With the old fashioned tub; it’s still up there – cast iron.
JR: Cast iron, with the 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.
CN: Even when you were in school? Did you have to do that? Come home and do that, after school?
LD: No, I don’t remember after school, only remember after work, after we started to work.
JR: How about cooking?
LD: My mother did all the cooking, and one of my sisters.
CN: Aunt Dot?
LD: Aunt Dot, yeah.
CN: Aunt Dot was the second oldest girl, so she’s …
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 down 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 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 in 1938, my mother was fifteen, 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 was the oldest one. She was born in 1914, I believe. She was one of the older sisters and she was like 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, 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.
JR: I recall a little bit about that.
LD: We had coloring books. And chalk.
JR: How about games? My mother talked about dodge ball.
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.
JR: Hopscotch? What about hopscotch?
LD: We played hopscotch, too. We used to play, um …
LD: With a little ball with a …
LD: Yeah, jacks.
JR: Bolo bat. I think I remember bolo bat, you hit back and forth. 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.
CN: Do you remember any …
JR: So, do you remember when you got the radio?
LD: 1920s, I guess.
CN: You always remember.
LD: We used to watch Amos and Andy.
JR: Oh, you listened to Amos and Andy on the radio?
LD: Yeah, and The Lone Ranger.
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 Franklin Roosevelt was elected, 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 was in the Army; my brother Tommy in the Army; my brother Joe was in the Army; my brother Albert was in the Navy. And my brother Pete was in the Army. Pete was in the Army. Yeah, he was in the Army. So it was only Albert in the Navy.
CN: So, they were all in the same war. They all were in the war together, right?
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.
JR: Four in the war.
CN: Uncle Pete was younger so he probably was.
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, 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. And it was written. That was written in the newspaper. He was in the Battle of the Bulge; he also went to the Philippines. He was wounded in, umm, 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. Uncle Tommy was …
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: Yeah, because, no computers then. No telephones to call overseas.
LD: Not like these days, yeah.
JR: Yeah, now, today, the service men can stay in touch with telephones and computers. Skype; they can talk to their families through the computer. So, it was, it was a very lonely period of time. What do you remember about the war? I’m thinking about rationing. Did you have to sacrifice during the war?
JR: It was the same in this house? You know, the same kind of food? The same kind of things that you were doing?
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.
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, like, 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? We are talking the French.
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.
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: Because you were about, I’m thinking you were about sixteen at the time. You must have just been leaving, um, your school, and like you graduated from school, 1942, we were in the war at that time. Do you remember anything, 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 drill?
LD: We used to have fire drills. I remember that.
CN: Yeah, so Aunt Lil, 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. I used to go dancing downtown. You remember that?
JR: Where, where did you go dancing?
LD: On South Main Street. We used to go dancing.
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 the, when we, 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.
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.
JR: Oh, now we’re getting there, now we are going.
LD: Yeah, we used to go dancing at Lincoln Park.
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 …
CN: Probably when she started working. Probably.
JR: Okay, so let me figure this one out. What years would that be?
CN: So ‘42 is when she graduated.
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 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 …
JR: A lot of memories of Lincoln Park.
LD: Yup, yup.
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 Time Square. I went there with my niece, and we were supposed to go on a radio, we were supposed to go on the TV on the following day, but we were at the Time 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: Would it have been NBC?
LD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I remember that. Yeah. That was something.
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 and my husband, we used to go to New York quite a bit, too.
JR: How about Cape Cod? 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 Armand 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 we 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.
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 because we are hitting about an hour at this point, don’t you think Claire? And, um, I was going to come back on next Saturday because Claire is coming on Saturday, right? You come every Saturday? And then we can finish talking about the family, and then we’re going to be scanning these photos. And then we will talk about the work years, because that is really what the historical society is looking at – 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 mills were gone by the ‘20s, but all of the factories came in, in the ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s, and that’s what really …
LD: I worked in two shops, though. I worked in Har-Lee and Louis Hand.
JR: Louis Hand, and that was Louis Hand at the time was curtains. Was it always curtains at Louis Hand?
LD: Yes. Yup.
CN: And Aunt Grace worked there with you, when she left.
JR: Let’s leave it at that – when I come back, we’re going to be talking about working at Har-Lee, and I have some information about that from other interviews. Har-Lee was very, very big, and there was a lot of people working at Har-Lee. And also at the curtain shop, and I’ve got some photographs, too. And I think I have one of Louis Hand. So, I’m going to bring that with me, and see if you can identify any of those people in the picture.
LD: Oh, yeah, yeah.
JR: Thank you so much, Lillian. Thank you, Claire.
CN: You’re welcome.
LD: She knows more about it than I do.
Interview resumes August 29, 2015
JR: This is the twenty-ninth of August.
JR: So let me, let me get started with, um, graduating from school. What school was that? What school did you graduate from?
LD: St. Jean de Baptiste.
JR: St. Jean de 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 did, no. 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. I can’t help you too much because I don’t remember.
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. And this is going way back, this is before, I think, even, Diman for Girls. 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 saying about being a sewer, because we used to shop at Arlan’s. We used to go there. I remember when I graduated from eighth grade, we went to Cherry & Webb 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, when, and I, 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 or Globe Mills.
JR: I remember all of that kind of thing, too. My mother was at the Shelburne 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.
LD: 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. 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.
LD: They closed down.
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: Okay, so Aunt Lil, if you were working there and they told you the place was going to close down, did you wait until it closed down to go to Louis Hand?
CN: You did?
CN: And did a lot of those other people, do you remember anyone else going with you to Louise 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 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, that is when she went to Louis Hand.
JR: That was a big change, 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 like, uh, 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: They went out. Now, when you pick curtains, what were you looking for? What kind of curtains are you looking for?
LD: We would have a list to show us where to go.
JR: In other words, all of these curtains were all the same? Are they all white curtains? Draperies?
LD: They were all different kinds, all different colors. They had white, they had beige, and …
JR: So what, when you are picking them, are you trying to match them up?
LD: Let me see, now, when I was a picker.
CN: Were they already in a box? They were already in the box?
LD: They were already in a box, and let’s say that the bins were here and the curtains were there. We would take our, we had a list of what curtains to take, and we put them on our truck, and then when we had so many on our truck, and we pushed them to that checker.
JR: So the floor lady or the supervisor would give you a list.
LD: And then we take it from there, and there …
CN: The other guys would inspect them? To make sure that it was …
JR: The inspection process, because curtains can snag. You can get into trouble with curtains. And, you know they’re not going to sell. They would be on the second bin somewhere.
CN: And uh, um, so, that is interesting. 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 …
CN: No, I think she stayed upstairs. She must have went to the bottom floor.
LD: No, 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, I was, ah, 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 would get …
LD: I get the work to them.
CN: So my whole family, my brother, my sister, I …
LD: The four of them.
CN: And my brother Roger 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 was there.
CN: So, there was a lot of our Bouchard cousins that worked there, right? Years and years. So it’s, like, it was a way of life.
JR: Yes, it certainly was. 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 it was the same thing. I gave my pays to my sister. 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.
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?
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?
CN: Wow, that’s interesting.
LD: 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. When did Louis Hand close? Do we know when it shut down?
JR: No, we don’t, but we will find it out. How about ILGW, I recall that they had a health center on Troy St- in back of what is today City Hall? Were you able to go to that health center?
LD: I never went there, no.
JR: Right in back of City Hall, that building that is now vacant; that was an ILGW health center.
LD: Yeah, I remember that.
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 that I have at the end about the period of time that you were living in. When did you, uh, get your radio? The first radio?
LD: Our first radio? I don’t know.
JR: Your mother and father would’ve been still living.
JR: And they bought the radio maybe?
CN: I will think it’s in the 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.
CN: ‘34, that’s when you got electricity. So, she probably, you must have been young – seven or eight.
LD: Yes, I was born in ‘26. I was only, yeah.
JR: And how about television?
CN: Yeah, tell us about that.
JR: When did television come?
LD: We didn’t have television when my father was living.
CN: So, not when my grandmother was alive. So, she died in 1957, so that means they didn’t have television until after that.
JR: Television came in after 1957.
CN: Interesting, huh.
JR: How about the telephone?
LD: Telephone, we got a telephone in before 1950, telephone.
CN: Where was the telephone? 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 who lived on the corner. 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 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, um, we used to play,
CN: Pitch? Bingo?
LD: 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. My mother and father were living. We used to play cards all the time.
JR: A lot of families do board games now too. That was popular then.
CN: For the kids, but for the adults …
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.
JR: That is a very good tradition.
LD: Now, we are just down to my sister 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, so I have everything delivered to me. My medicine comes here.
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.
JR: Okay, I am going to wrap this up and we will be still chatting after I turn this off and I, again, I want to thank you. We have plenty to work with and have plenty of insight into family life in Fall River. Thank you, Lillian, and thank, thank you, Claire.