Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
William DeWitt Netz
The population of Rhode Island is a composite of various nationalities which immigrated into the state in the period 1840-1914. Beginning with the large influx of Irish in the 1840 1s and l850's, the characteristics of' the population began to change, for the foreign born in the period 1860-1900 were increasing four times faster than the native born. Following the Irish, the French Canadians migrated into Rhode Island in the period 1865-1910. During the latter part of the French Canadian movement, the Portugese and the Italians added their strength to the foreign born population living in Rhode Island.
'l'his study is primarily concerned with the French Canadian movement into Rhode Island and the political, social, and economic development of the group within the state in the period 1865-1910. Their immigration into Rhode Island, however, was not separate from the general immigration into New England. The most important reason for the migration into the state was the extensive opportunity for employment in the flourishing textile mills. As a group they had little hesitation over leaving their own established society across the boundary, because farming, which was the basis of their economy, was less profitable by 1865 and held little inducement for them to stay.
Following the Civil War, the French Canadians came into Rhode Island in large numbers, totaling 34,087 by 1910. Approximately 41,000 came in every five years in the period 1865-1910. In some communities, they supplanted the Irish and the native Yankees as the dominant group.
Although their movement into New England caused little excitement,they were frequently resented by the laboring class who felt that the new immigrants with their large families and low standard of living were taking their jobs for lower wages and reducing their living standard in general. However, they were welcomed. by the manufacturing employers who were seeking an abundant supply of cheap labor, and by businessmen who found them to be among their best customers of the latest goods.
The French Canadians in New England faced problems of acculturation which were almost non- existent in Canada. Fearing assimilation into the general population, the French Canadians successfully established their own institutions such as churches, schools , societies, and newspapers. They thus sought, and with some marked success, to create in New England a society patterned after the one existing in Canada.
Doiron, Gerald Joseph, "The French Canadian Migration Into Rhode Island" (1959). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1809.