By the time of the 1870 U.S. census, French Canadians Timothée and Marguerite (Chicoine) Adam, both fifty-four years old, had lived in America for approximately five years. Along with their children, who ranged in age from toddlerhood to young adulthood, they had settled among fellow French-speaking immigrants in Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts. Their neighborhood, Indian Orchard, boasted a booming cotton mill on the banks of the Chicopee River. This would certainly have been a different environment than they had been accustomed to in the quiet village of Saint-Pie, Quebec where, for the first twenty-five years of their marriage, Timothée had been a farmer and Marguerite had raised more than a dozen children in their humble home. Their move from rural to comparatively urban was certain to have been full of adjustments, but what may be the most striking about their lives in the year 1870 is the impressive number of people with whom they shared one roof: twenty-eight, to be exact.
Their household had grown substantially from their first appearance in the Massachusetts state census in 1865; then, Timothée, who was employed at the mill, headed a household that numbered thirteen, including ten children and one boarder. In 1870, the twenty eight residents, all related, were in fact divided among four households within a single dwelling unit, presumably a tenement block. First recorded was the household headed by Timothée and Marguerite Adam themselves, which included nine of their children—those nine ranging in age from twenty-two down to three. Then came the households of three of their married daughters. The household of Leon and Julienne (Adam) Gay was first; they were the parents of one child. The household of Joseph and Marie (Adam) Noel and their five children was next, and last was that of Jean Baptiste and Marguerite (Adam) Gendreau and their five children.
Although Timothée himself was without an occupation at this time, and Marguerite kept house, nine other members of the combined households worked at the mill. Four of those nine millworkers were under the age of sixteen: Jean Adam was fourteen, Elisa Adam was twelve, Jean Gendreau was twelve, and Euclide Gendreau was eleven. Six children between the ages of six and eleven were at school, and six children between the ages of one and four were at home in the care of their mothers.
Many of Timothée and Marguerite’s children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren would spend the decades to come employed in the Indian Orchard mill. It was not an easy life; in the years following the 1870 census, several members of the family would succumb to tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses common among millworkers of the day, who often worked in dismal conditions with poor ventilation and were plagued by both communicable diseases and cotton lint.
Notably, at least two of the couple’s great-grandchildren appear to have been photographed by famed muckraker Lewis Hine, who documented the plight of child laborers in the early twentieth century and whose work was instrumental in child labor reform. Clarence Noel, fifteen, grandson of Timothée and Marguerite’s daughter Marie (Adam) Noel, and Alfred Gendreau, thirteen, grandson of their daughter Marguerite (Adam) Gendreau, were both photographed outside their workplace in September of 1911. Clarence, Hine noted, worked as a doffer and said that he had “made seven dollars last week.” Alfred, who posed with another boy, was said to “work in Mr. Baker’s room, Indian Orchard Mill.”
These boys were not by any means among the youngest of the child laborers that Hine photographed, nor did they work in the most arduous conditions, but still their images are striking. In their knickers and caps, both slight of build, Clarence and Alfred look every bit like schoolboys, although the mill—to which four generations of their family had now been tied—loomed large in the background. Their school days behind them, it was time for the boys to work to support their families.
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