History and Mission
Founded by a French religious order, the Augustinians of the Assumption, as a preparatory school and college for men, Assumption College’s original goal was to provide an education for the French-speaking population of New England. Beginning in the mid-1800s, large numbers of French-Canadian immigrants settled in New England to work in the textile mills and at other jobs associated with the industrial revolution. By 1900, Worcester, Massachusetts had 15,300 residents of French-Canadian descent, and these Franco-Americans made up 13 per cent of the city’s population. There were other, even larger Franco-American communities in the nearby towns of Fall River, Lowell, and Holyoke, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The College’s earliest mission was to promote the priesthood as a vocation and preserve French Canadian culture. For the first 50 years of its existence, student enrollment was small, all male, and primarily Franco-American. At its inception, classes were taught in French by French and Belgian priests, and the curriculum remained bilingual until the mid-1950s.
The prominent place of French language, literature, and culture gradually declined at Assumption after World War II. The transition to educating students in English began in 1952, as decreased enrollments led to a separate track for students not interested in the bilingual curriculum. The institutional changes of the 1950s reflected both the growing assimilation of the Franco-American community, as the French language was not being passed to the next generation, and the growing appeal of the College to students of other ethnic groups. In 1960, French ceased to be a requirement for Assumption graduates, and from then on, all courses except French classes were taught in English. Today, although the College (co-educational since 1969) continues to boast a lively French program, the founding tradition of French culture is promoted primarily through the French Institute, established in 1979 as an integral part of Assumption College.
The French Institute was founded by Father Wilfrid J. Dufault, A.A., the late chancellor emeritus of the College, and Dr. Claire Quintal, founding director emerita, in order to preserve the French heritage of Assumption College and of our region. The Institute is both an academic research facility and a center for French cultural activities. Although its main goals are to foster the preservation and study of the records of the history and cultural traditions of French ethnicity on this continent, the name French Institute (Institut français) was chosen for its ability to encompass the entire francophone world. The Institute is the leading place to study material relating to the more than one and a half million French Canadians who immigrated to New England in the 19th and 20th centuries.
As a research center, the French Institute acquires books, documents, and artifacts pertinent to its primary focus: the French presence in North America, with particular emphasis on New England. All aspects of this presence are of interest to us: social, political, cultural, religious, literary, etc. The personal collection of Dr. Claire Quintal formed the early nucleus of the holdings. The donation of their fine library by the Fall River Dominicans greatly enhanced the Institute’s book collection, which had begun to grow with gifts of duplicate books by ACA Assurance (formerly the Association Canado-Américaine) and later the Union St. Jean-Baptiste. From 2003 to 2005, book donations by Dr. Armand Chartier, Mr. Arthur L. Eno, Dr. Gerard Brault and others expanded our library significantly. Documents and artifacts include rich private archives donated by the Jobin-Thibodeau family and by former advisory board president, the late Wilfrid J. Michaud, Jr. In 2004, the Institute’s collection was complemented by the arrival on campus of the Mallet Library of the Union St. Jean-Baptiste, a magnificent collection of Franco-Americana compiled by a successful Franco-American immigrant, Major Edmond Mallet, in the late 19th century.
An active community of scholars engaged in ethnic studies, social history, and linguistic analysis currently utilizes the French Institute collection. Undergraduate students, doctoral candidates, and professional scholars are among these users. Scholarship emerging from study of the Institute collection is of interest and relevance to both specialists and a broader public. As a nation of immigrants, we continue to face issues regarding diversity that can be illuminated through case studies of ethnicity and assimilation.
The French Institute further seeks to promote knowledge and increase awareness of francophone North Americans and francophone questions generally by organizing colloquia and lectures, publishing books, and becoming involved in a variety of cultural projects. The Institute has published conference proceedings on such topics as French-Canadian immigrants to the United States, the Little Canadas of New England, and Franco-American journalism, folklore, education, literature, religion, and women. It has also provided English translations of key texts to make them readily available to non-French speakers. Recent translations include The Beginnings of the Franco-American Colony in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, by Marie Louise Bonier, The Franco-Americans of New England: A History, by Armand Chartier, and the collection Steeples and Smokestacks: The Franco-American Experience in New England, edited by Claire Quintal, now in its second edition.
The French Institute continues to acquire materials within the scope of its mission. The director makes relevant purchases within the limitations of the annual budget. As mentioned above, the Institute also accepts donations from institutions and individuals.
Donations normally consist of publications and archival documents, although artifacts are occasionally included. If the Institute is unable to display or store artifacts properly, they may be offered to the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Long-playing records are not accepted since the D’Alzon Library lacks listening facilities. Publications are examined to weed out duplicata and ensure that they fall within the Institute’s purview.
Any donated work listed in the French Institute or D’Alzon Library catalogue is considered to be a duplicate. Although the D’Alzon collection circulates freely and the Institute collection does not, space constraints prevent the Institute from acquiring books that are already available at Assumption College. A small number of works are already found in both collections; in that case the director reserves the right to deaccession the Institute’s copy.
For the same reasons, the Institute will not duplicate materials found in the Mallet catalogue either. Although the Union St. Jean-Baptiste retains ownership of the Mallet Collection, it is on permanent loan to Assumption College. The Mallet Collection does not circulate.
Out of scope materials are those that do not pertain directly to the Institute’s goal of documenting the French presence in North America, particularly New England. French literature, French history, and French theological writings are considered out of scope unless they deal specifically with North American themes. French Canadian and French Caribbean literature and history are considered relevant; however, they have a lower priority than materials relating to New England.
Duplicates and out of scope materials will be offered to other institutions or individuals, either for sale or free of charge, whenever possible. Remaining materials will be discarded. In the past, such materials have been acquired by the D’Alzon Library, the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine at Orono, the Université Sainte-Anne, and the Librairie Populaire of Manchester, New Hampshire, among others.
Over the years, D’Alzon librarians have catalogued a portion of the Institute’s monograph collection. New books purchased for the French Institute continued to be catalogued by the D’Alzon Library as they come in; however, the current cataloguer is unable to keep up with the large backlog of donations. Processing these volumes is contingent on securing funds to hire a French-speaking cataloguer on a project basis (as was done for the Mallet Collection).
Once books have been catalogued, the next step will be to process archival materials. Preferably the same cataloguer could accomplish this task. If not it would be necessary to hire an archivist on a project basis.
The French Institute Collection does not circulate; however, in the past non-rare materials were allowed to circulate through inter-library loan with the director’s permission. In accordance with the recommendation of our preservation consultant, Rebecca Hatcher of the Northeast Document Conservation Center, this practice has been discontinued.
It should be noted that the Institute’s collection includes a number of Franco-American newspapers from the New England region. Most consist of bound copies and nearly all have been microfilmed. In the past, the Institute permitted scholars to consult the bound copies; however, upon the recommendation of Ms. Hatcher, they are now directed to the microfilm copies available at the American Antiquarian Society or the Boston Public Library.
Researchers must register and present photo identification before they examine materials. In addition to names, the registration form collects researchers’ addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses (allowing them to be contacted if relevant materials are discovered after their visit ends).
The Institute will maintain a record of materials examined by each researcher. On each visit, researchers will complete a reference request form indicating materials consulted.
Researchers should leave all unnecessary papers, books, folders, and personal materials on the floor or on a neighboring chair, rather than on the worktable.
For more information, contact:
P.O. Box 15005
Worcester, MA 01609
Telephone: 508 767-7415
Fax: 508 767-7374