Founded by a French religious order, the Augustinians of the Assumption, as a preparatory school and college for men, Assumption College originally provided French education to the French-speaking population of New England. Beginning in the mid-1800s, large numbers of French-Canadian immigrants settled in New England to work in the region’s expanding industrial economy. By 1900, Worcester, Massachusetts had 15,300 residents of French-Canadian descent, and these Franco-Americans made up thirteen per cent of the city’s population. There were other, even larger Franco-American communities in the nearby towns of Fall River, Lowell, and Holyoke, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The College’s earliest mission was to promote the priesthood as a vocation while preserving French-Canadian culture. Initially, classes were taught in French by French and Belgian priests, and the curriculum remained bilingual until the 1950s.
The prominent place of French language, literature, and culture gradually declined at Assumption after World War II. The transition to educating students in English began in 1952, as decreased enrollments led to a separate track for students not interested in the bilingual curriculum. The institutional changes of the 1950s reflected both the assimilation of the Franco-American community, as the French language was not being passed to the next generation, and the growing appeal of the College to students of other ethnic groups. In 1960, French ceased to be a requirement for Assumption graduates, and from then on, all courses except French classes were taught in English. Today, the founding tradition of French culture at the College (co-educational since 1969) is promoted primarily through the French Institute, established in 1979 as an integral part of Assumption.
The French Institute was founded by Father Wilfrid J. Dufault, A.A., the late chancellor emeritus of the College, and Dr. Claire Quintal, founding director emerita, to commemorate the French heritage of Assumption College and our region. Although its main goal is to foster the study of French ethnicity on this continent, the name French Institute (Institut français) was chosen for its ability to encompass the entire francophone world.
The personal collection of Dr. Claire Quintal formed the early nucleus of the French Institute holdings. The donation of their fine library by the Fall River Dominicans enhanced the Institute’s book collection, which also grew through gifts by the Association Canado-Américaine and the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amérique (now part of Catholic Financial Life). In the 21st century, donations by Dr. Armand Chartier, Judge Arthur L. Eno, Dr. Gerard Brault, and others expanded our library significantly. Documents and artifacts include rich private archives donated by the Jobin-Thibodeau, Harpin-Sansoucy, and Hus Lemoine families, the estate of Dr. Paul Chassé, and the late Wilfrid J. Michaud, Jr. In 2004, the Institute’s collection was complemented by the arrival on campus of the Mallet Library of the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amérique (USJB), a magnificent collection of Franco- and Native-Americana begun by a successful Franco-American immigrant, Major Edmond Mallet, in the late 19th century. The French Institute also houses historical archives of the American Province of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, Worcester’s four original French-Canadian parishes, and the Association Canado-Américaine.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the French Institute published conference proceedings on French-Canadian immigrants to the United States, Little Canadas of New England, and Franco-American journalism, folklore, education, literature, religion, and women. It also provided English translations of several key texts to make them available to non-French speakers, including The Beginnings of the Franco-American Colony in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, by Marie-Louise Bonier, The Franco-Americans of New England: A History, by Dr. Armand Chartier, and the collection Steeples and Smokestacks: The Franco-American Experience in New England, edited by Dr. Claire Quintal.
The French Institute follows the academic calendar of Assumption University. Exceptions to our regular hours may be found here.
For reasons of preservation, French Institute collection materials do not circulate; however, non-rare materials are allowed to circulate through the d’Alzon Library or inter-library loan with the director’s permission.
It should be noted that the Institute’s collection includes a number of Franco-American newspapers from the New England region. Most consist of bound copies and nearly all have been microfilmed. To preserve the bound volumes, the Institute encourages scholars to consult the microfilm copies whenever they are available, for example, at the American Antiquarian Society or the Boston Public Library.