Sunday, February 6, 2011

What I am Reading this Week: Gendered Passages by Yukari Takai OR Cohoes, New York versus Lowell, Massachusetts: Where would you go if you were crossing the 49th parallel looking for work?

The AMAZON description: Gendered Passages is the first full-length book devoted to the gendered analysis of the lives of French-Canadian migrants in early-twentieth-century Lowell, Massachusetts. It explores the ingenious and, at times, painful ways in which French-Canadian women, men, and children adjusted to the challenges of moving to, and settling in, that industrial city.  Yukari Takai uncovers the multitude of cross-border journeys of Lowell-bound French Canadians, the centrality of their family networks, and the ways in which the ideology of the family wage and the socioeconomic realities in Québec and New England shaped migrants lives on both sides of the border. Takai argues that French-Canadian husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters harboured complex interpersonal dynamics whereby differing and, at times, conflicting interests had to be negotiated in not necessarily equal terms, but in accordance with each members power and authority within the family and, by extension, larger society.
Drawing on extensive historical research including archival records, collections of oral histories, newspapers, and contemporary observations in both English and French, Gendered Passagescontributes to the re-reading of French-Canadian migration, which constitutes a fundamental part of North American history.

Cohoes, New York versus Lowell, Massachusetts:  Where would you go if you were crossing the 49th parallel looking for work?

In the first chapter, "To the Wrong Side of the Border", Takai describes the predominate regions of Québec sending emigrants to Lowell, Massachusetts in the early twentieth century were Lanaudière and  Maurice.  Although hardly a stressed point in Takai's thesis, I find it very interesting.  Lowell attracted French Canadians from Lanaudière and Maurice while, it would appear to me, Cohoes, smaller in size and manufacturing in the  early 20th century, was attracting French Canadians from Montérégie and parts of the Richelieu Valley.  Perhaps it was easier for Montérégie emigrants to make the trip directly south on the railroad into Cohoes.   The Guertin (Yetto)), Bissonnette, Beauvais, St. Hilaire, Chaput, all came from the Richelieu Valley.  The Rivet and the LaCasse families were exceptions.  Instead of heading to Lowell like the majority of emigrants from Joliette and Lanaudiére, Maxime Rivet and Dedace LaCasse with their respective wives and children, headed to Cohoes at the end of the 19th century.  Why did they come to Cohoes, New York instead of Lowell, Massachusetts?  It's a perplexing question and cannot be easily solved.  Did Maxime Rivet and/or Dedace LaCasse have prior relatives in Cohoes who wrote home and told them about the opportunities?  Were there active recruiters from Cohoes in Joliette seeking manpower and womanpower for the mills? Although the answer isn't apparent at this time, perhaps someday my research will answer this question.

New York Central Railroad Station in Cohoes: Where thousands of
French Canadians Disembarked to work in the Cohoes Textile Mills

Another view from the south of the New York Central Station

Meanwhile, reading Gendered Passages, encourages me to consider the crossing from Lanaudiére to Cohoes, instead of Lowell, may have more to do with the women.  Marie Lord and Marie Louise Mireault, respective wives of Maxime Rivet and Dedace LaCasse, may hold the key to solving this little mystery.

Related Links:

Yukari Takai: Author Profile


  1. Hello,

    I enjoyed reading your comparison of Cohoes and Lowell. The geography of the Montérégie and parts of the Richelieu Valley vs. the Mauricie and Lanaudière and the roles of women might have been very important for migrants to decide where to go.
    By the way, the title of Yukari Takai's book is "Gendered Passages" and not "Engendered ..." A small correction should be in order.

    Yours sincerely,
    Chloé Tee

  2. Thanks for catching my error and reading my blog!