#AtoZ Stay Home! Wear a Mask! “W” is for WOONSOCKET

It seemed appropriate this year to feature a theme that kept me close to home, so I give you my A to Z within the small acreage that is Rhode Island. I tried to be creative (you’ll see!) but I hope you learn something about Little Rhody, too. Whether you’ve lived here all your life, grew up within the boundaries, or have never set foot on one of our many beaches, come along for a virtual tour.

Photo by Martha Reynolds

Bienvenue! We are in Woonsocket today, and while it might be a good exercise for me to write this post en français, I’d need to use the French-Canadian version of French to be authentic.

Photo by Martha Reynolds

Before the European settlers arrived in Rhode Island, specifically northern Rhode Island, in the 17th century, the area known today as Woonsocket was inhabited by three Native American tribes: the Nipmuc, the Wampanoag, and the Narragansett.

So where did the name Woonsocket come from? It’s likely derived from another Native word, maybe ‘woonksechocksett,’ meaning ‘fox country,’ or ‘wannashowtuckqut,’ meaning ‘at the fork in the river.’

As the Industrial Revolution expanded along the banks of the Blackstone River, textile mills were built from Pawtucket to Woonsocket. In 1831, Edward Harris built his first textile mill in Woonsocket. But the actual town of Woonsocket wasn’t established until 1867, when three villages in the area (Woonsocket Falls, Social, and Jenckesville) officially became Woonsocket. Three more industrial villages were added in 1871 (Hamlet, Bernon, and Globe), and Woonsocket incorporated as a city in 1888.

Photo by Martha Reynolds

The influx of immigrants to the mills, primarily from Quebec and other areas of French-speaking Canada, bloomed the city. By 1913, Woonsocket had the sixth-largest population of French or French-Canadian foreign nationals in the country. By the Great Depression in 1929, ethnic French Canadians comprised 75 percent of the city’s population. There were newspapers in French, radio programs, and if you strolled down Main Street, you’d likely hear French spoken.

The Depression had hurt the textile mills, but business revived at the outbreak of World War II. Woonsocket became a center of fabric manufacturing, for military uniforms and parachutes. If you’re in the area, the Museum of Work and Culture is well worth your time. https://www.rihs.org/locations/museum-of-work-culture/

15 thoughts on “#AtoZ Stay Home! Wear a Mask! “W” is for WOONSOCKET

  1. I had to take several detours around Blackstone this morning and drove through Woonsocket. I went by some old mills that may still make uniforms for the military. I was just thinking I should go to the museum of Work and Culture….Great idea M! “Throw me down the stairs….the hockey stick!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Martha, I am really enjoying this. I think this would make a great book about RI. As a tourist or as a person growing up there. Places of history to see. ❤️😘 On Tue, Apr 27, 2021 at 3:00 AM Martha Reynolds Writes wrote:

    > Martha Reynolds posted: ” It seemed appropriate this year to feature a > theme that kept me close to home, so I give you my A to Z within the small > acreage that is Rhode Island. I tried to be creative (you’ll see!) but I > hope you learn something about Little Rhody, too. Whether you” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Canadian French was my first language. I come from Central Falls, sometimes jokingly referred to as “Woonsocket South.” My Dad, who passed away in 1984, often slipped by into French, especially when speaking with my Mom’s sister. By the time that Mom died in 2016, her French was almost gone.

    I don’t believe that there are a lot of French-Canadians left in Central Falls, but I would venture a guess that, though a large influx of other immigrants are now an intimate part of Woonsocket, there are many French-Canadians who still speak the language. Some of my grammar school and high school classmates, who still live nearby, often use French, even on their facebook posts. As for myself, I can read it well enough, though speaking takes some thought. Interestingly, in 1995 my Mom and I took a trip to Quebec for a weekend. By the end of our time there, my French was coming back. It’s still buried in my mind; I think that if I were immersed it would re-emerge.

    Thanks for this strong trip down memory lane.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Connie, I naively thought that my high school and college French would work well with the French-speaking people of Woonsocket. Not necessarily! Just as I had adopted the dialect of the Swiss-French when I lived in Switzerland, when I traveled to France that year, I was mistaken for “une Suisesse.”


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