Franco-Americans of Salem: Tell Your Family’s Story!
By Elizabeth Blood, Department of Foreign Languages
The French program and the American Studies program at Salem State are teaming up to begin an oral history project on Salem’s Franco-American history. Although Salem today is most well-known for its Halloween festivities, witch trials, and famous American literary figures, it is also a city that has welcomed several waves of immigrants who shape the city’s economic and social life and who bring cultural and linguistic diversity to its streets.
One of the most important groups to populate the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were French-Canadian immigrants who came to work in area textile mills and leather and shoe factories. In the first decades of the 20th century, French-Canadian immigrants from Quebec and their Franco-American children made up 20% of the city’s population, a significant percentage compared to other French-Canadian destinations in New England, and Salem was one of a handful of Massachusetts cities dubbed a “Petit Canada” or “Little Canada.”
As they did in cities like Lowell, Worcester, Fall River and Woonsocket, the French-Canadians of Salem built churches and schools, started businesses and opened shops, created credit unions, newspapers, and social clubs. They became teachers, policemen, firemen, tradesmen, business people, professionals and politicians. They held on to French-Canadian traditions while beginning new traditions in their Franco-American families. They changed the city just as they themselves were changed by it.
This oral history project aims to collect the stories of Franco-Americans and their ancestors who adopted the city of Salem as their new home, focusing particularly on the relationship between the geography of the city of Salem and the concept of Franco-American identity. If you are of Franco-American ancestry, or if you have a Franco-American parent or grandparent who immigrated to or was raised in Salem, and are interested in participating in this project, please contact Dr. Elizabeth Blood (email@example.com) or Dr. Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Oral history interviews may be conducted in English or French and will be used to create a Franco-American walking tour of Salem, in addition to academic research articles about Salem’s Franco-American past.