Franco Patriotism

Franco Patriotism (PIP #10)

By Louise Peloquin

L’Etoile September 12, 1917

“The Patriotism of the Franco-Americans” (1)

     Miss Yvonne Lemaître, distinguished woman of letters, published a very interesting piece in Bostons Transcript” the other day. “Why François fails to fight” is an analysis, or rather a review, of the recent events, in Canada as well as in New England’s Franco-American centers, since enlistment began in the two countries.

     After having observed… that French-Canadians are enlisted in the United States and the exact opposite in the province of Québec, Miss Lemaître made the effort to obtain information from the exemption bureaux. She observed that Franco-Americans had not even waited for the establishment of obligatory military service to enroll in great number under the Stars and Stripes. And since then, they have eagerly responded to the President’s call.  According to the examination bureau official reports, Franco-Americans who enlisted asked for exemption less than did members of any other ethnic group.

     Miss Lemaître, who took Lowell’s French-language population as a typical example, noticed that we still love France, but that England leaves us cold. She says that Franco-American youth are hardly interested in things from Canada. Their elders, who still receive the “Presse” and the “Patrie” (2) newspapers, attentively follow the events for which they have a passion almost as much as when they lived on the banks of the Saint Laurence.

     Assimilation among United States French-Canadians takes place in steps, with the two extremes, complete assimilation and the “hyphen” in everything with all of its “foreigner” connotation. Between these two opposite poles, exists a wide range.

     Miss Lemaître claims that Franco-American youth born in the United States only read American newspapers. What she means by that, we do not know. Are “American newspapers” only the English-language ones? We tend to think that she was referring to newspapers published in the United States and written either in French or in English. In any case, she is convinced that Americanization is under way in Franco-American centers. She writes, speaking of Franco-American youth: (3) “It has a much larger number who read only American papers, young people born in ‘les États’ (4) and who insist that they are Americans first last and all the time.” Miss Lemaître goes so far as to say that that these young Franco-Americans, Uncle Sam’s adopted sons, are more American that Washington, as the French were “more royalist than the king” and Catholics “more orthodox than the Pope.” She says, a longer period of time was necessary for French-Canadians to arrive at that point than for the Irish, probably because of the language difference and because of the strong French-Canadian attachment to their own schools. But it is obvious that the French-Canadian youth have indeed reached a degree of Americanization and have been called to become a factor (over-energising factor) (5) in the political and general progress of the Franco-American community in the United States.

     “Volunteering and the enlistment have taken a considerable number of French-Canadians from New England due to the group’s high birth rate which remains an honor and differentiates them from their ‘cousins from France.’  (6) Given the large number of children in each family, military-age men are numerous.  A single Lowell family has five enlisted brothers – aged twenty-one, twenty-three, twenty-five, twenty-seven and twenty-nine respectively. And it is fitting to say that not one brought up reasons for exemption. Another family has four military-age sons, and six other families have three. Eight Franco-American families provided the extraordinary number of twenty-seven men.

     A remarkable number of Lowell’s young Franco-Americans are enrolled in the army, the navy and the National Guard…. One National Guard officer expressed himself in these terms: ‘Young Franco-Americans have always been a good addition to the National Guard.’  The young Franco-Americans’ response to the call to arms has been striking.

     Despite the fact that a considerable number were kept home due to family responsibilities, many enrolled in different army corps…. One recruiting officer in Lowell, who had been in charge of enrollment in various other New England cities, showed me a page from his register, on which fifteen of the thirty names were French. He pointed out that young Franco-Americans showed proof of the same eagerness everywhere else.  This page was perhaps an exception: but not a single page was found without many French names.

     The six National Guard companies of Lowell counted one quarter Franco-Americans when they were mobilised…. One company of railway engineer reserves, made up of one hundred and sixty men presently constructing railways in France, was organized by a Lowell Franco-American looking for recruits among his compatriots. They responded in great number. This Franco-American is the company captain. 

     One company of the State Guard is exclusively made up of ‘French boys’ (6) whose captain is also one.  They are over 31 years old and, because of their family obligations, would not have been accepted in the regular army.  Some Franco-Americans received their officer’s certificates after following courses in Plattsburg, N.Y.”

     In short, this part of Miss Lemaître’s study on the patriotism of  Franco-Americans was summarized in the “Globe” of Boston and has made the rounds of the French-language press in the United States.

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  1.  Article translated by Louise Peloquin.
  2. Quotation in English in the article.
  3. The States.
  4. “Over-energizing factor” is between parentheses in the article.
  5. Between quotation marks in the article.
  6. In English and between quotation marks in the article.

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A bit about Yvonne Lemaître

Born in Pierreville Québec, Yvonne Lemaître came to the United States at the age of ten and attended public schools. Her education was exclusively in English.

Lemaître claimed she wrote mediocre French. Her polished pieces prove the contrary. She had the talent and the rare merit to teach herself the language and came to master all of its stylistic difficulties. She said she owed her linguistic prowess to reading and studying the best French authors. Her proficiency in both French and in English served her well during her career.

Her debut in journalism took place at L’Etoile in 1902. Her widely-appreciated chronicles were often reproduced in other newspapers.

In 1904, she joined the editorial staff of Lowell’s Courrier-Citizen.

In 1905, she traveled to Europe and sojourned in Paris for some time. She also travelled through Germany and Holland. While abroad, she sent accounts of her experiences to the Courrier-Citizen.

In 1908, she visited England and Scotland and sent her travel memoirs to the same newspaper. Upon her return, she started writing French pieces again.

After seven years at the service of the Courrier-Citizen, she resigned to focus on writing English literary reviews and analyses for publications including the New Yorker and the Smart Set.

In May 1911, she settled in Paris as correspondent for large American newspapers such as the Boston Transcript.

     When she left the City of Lights, Lemaître was widely appreciated as a newspaper woman and writer. Lowell’s Sunday Telegram published the following about her:

“In the departure of Yvonne Lemaître for the field of foreign labor, Lowell’s journalism loses its most brilliant light.”

Mr. Madden, editor-in-chief of the Courrier-Citizen, wrote:

“The readers of the Courrier-Citizen, as well as the newspaper’s personnel, will have reason to regret the departure of Miss Yvonne Lemaître. Miss Lemaître, who intends to settle in Paris, was a regular collaborator in our columns for many years, firstly in charge of Franco-American news then contributing many captivating articles on French literature and on topics of art. It is a pleasure to recognize the editors’ appreciation for her admirable work – an appreciation wholly shared by all of the readers of the Courrier-Citizen.”

3 Responses to Franco Patriotism

  1. Peter Richards says:

    Assimilation is one of the most interesting aspects of immigration history. Based on my very long ago research, I think it was a multi-generation process for most Francos in Lowell. Language was key to survivance and was emphasized by the leading Franco elements in the city. The comparison to the Irish is interesting but my proposed explanation for persistence among the Francos was the proximity of their homeland. My impression was that return to Quebec for visits of varying length which I believe was quite common reenforced language and culture(and as an aside, I think you can see that among immigrant groups in history). As to volunteering for service, it was one way of proving to the dominant culture that you were a loyal American, perhaps especially relevant to a group once referred to as the “Chinese of the east”.

  2. Suzanne Beebe says:

    Louise, this is historical recovery and presentation at its best: interesting, informative, and thought-provoking. You’re in possession of a gold mine with your grandfather’s newspaper L’Etoile. Keep extracting all these wonderful nuggets of Franco Americana. You’re helping keep Lowell’s Franco memory alive.

  3. Charles Gargiulo says:

    Louise never ceases to amaze me. Her accounts of Lowell and its Franco-American history help me learn so much about my mother’s side of the family’s heritage. I wish my mom was still here so she could read Louise’s articles with me. Thank you Louise for presenting this history and Dick for publishing it.

    For anyone who missed it when it appeared on this blog, do yourself a favor and search on this site for Louise’s brilliant 60 piece serialization, “Boarding School Blues” of her coming of age in Lowell’s Franco-American community

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