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#3: St. Mary's, Smallpox and Spare Time

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Sunday, 10 January, 1904 - went to Mass. Em G. arrived that day. came over at night. Emma and Sam, too.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904

Minnie Gamache Diary, Jan. 10-16, 1904

Dómine, exáudi oratiónam meam. (O Lord, hear my prayer.)

Et clamor meus ad te véniat. (And let my cry come unto Thee.)

Dóminus vobíscum. (The Lord be with you.)

Et cum spíritu tuo. (And with your spirit.)

Although they entered the building speaking French, Irish, English, Italian, German and Croatian, the people worshipping at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hermansville this Sunday morning find common comfort in Latin. All the Gamache neighbors are here (Raiches, Paquins, Chenards, Desjardins, Gravels, Rochons, Zimmermans, Carriers, Ayottes). And so are other immigrant Catholic families who have tied their hopes and fortunes to the lumber industry in this Upper Peninsula town. They come from many nations, but worship one God under this roof.

The church building was completed 14 months ago, in November 1902. In 1900, Father Fred Glaser called a meeting in the little red schoolhouse to develop a fund-raising plan. At the time, the parish included 120 families, as well as 250 boarding house men who were single or had left families in the Old Country.

Kyrie, eléison. (Lord, have mercy.)

Kyrie, eléison.

Kyrie, eléison.

Christe, eléison. (Christ, have mercy.)

Christe, eléison.

Christe, eléison.

Kyrie, eléison.

Kyrie, eléison.

Kyrie, eléison.

Brief History of St. Mary's Church

Arthur Kramer, the sales manager for the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co., headed the committee to build the new church. Volunteers went from house to house to gather pledges for monthly donations. Families were asked to contribute one dollar per month and single persons fifty cents. The Company’s chief executive, Dr. George W. Earle, donated the land for the church, a lot 130 x 125 feet on the north end of the village. Two large cash donations also came from Dr. Earle and Mr. Radford, the company superintendent, though neither man was Catholic. When the $2,000 church was blessed and dedicated on December 19, 1902, a debt of $915 still had to be paid. Dr. Earle offered to pay one half, provided the congregation raised the other half.

St. Mary's Church, 1907. A steeple was added in 1910.

Credo in unum Deum. Patrem omnipoténtem, factóren cæli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibílium...

(I believe in one God, The Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible...)

St. Mary’s doesn’t have a resident priest. Father Glaser comes from Spalding about once a month to say Mass at the Hermansville mission church, and also presides over weddings, baptisms and funerals. At St. Bruno’s Church in nearby Nadeau, resident priest Father Sperlein reads the gospel and homily in both English and French each week, catering to the mostly French Canadian population in that town. With so many countries of origin in Hermansville, multilingualism would be impossible at St. Mary’s. Latin, though, is a universal language.

Oráte fratres: ut meum ac vestrum sacrifícium acceptábile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipoténtem...

(Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father almighty...)

French Speakers at the Latin Mass

As he begins the Eucharistic Canon, Father Glaser raises his hands in prayer and then bows profoundly toward the altar, his back turned to the congregation. Minnie looks to her left and sees her three brothers in their Sunday best. To her right, she sees her father, Peter, and her mother, Aurora Gamache. Aurora is holding a rosary and praying silently as the Mass proceeds. She speaks only French, though she moved to the United States 20 years ago. Like most of the immigrant women here, she lives in a community where women still speak their native language and practice the old ways. The men speak English to work or conduct business at the mills and stores. The children must master English to get an education. But the women are still speaking their native languages at home; sending their young children to school with little to no advance knowledge of English.

School…. Minnie's schoolteacher friend will arrive today, and Minnie can hardly wait. Emily Gagnon has been spending time with her family in Marinette, over winter break. She's arriving on the train this afternoon. Life hands you only a few people with whom you feel an instant bond. A friend who understands you, laughs with you, offers a shoulder to cry on. For Minnie, Emily has become such a friend in the short time she’s been here, teaching at the little one-room schoolhouse on the corner.

Luckiest Frenchman in the Village

Later that evening, Emily visits the Gamache home after dropping her trunk at the Paquins’ and spending just enough time there to ensure they don’t feel slighted. By the time she arrives, Emma Beaulieu is also visiting with Minnie and Aurora. Emma and Joseph Beaulieu arrived here in 1902 to establish a farm, and Emma has just announced she is expecting their first child. The women are thrilled and gather around to hug her.

Félicitation Chéri! Congratulations, dear! I pray for a healthy baby and a safe delivery."

“From your mouth to God’s ears,” Emma replies.

Sundays are for visiting. The week’s work is put on hold as family and friends gather in each other's homes, sharing food, drink and fellowship. In the midst of a long, cold winter, these visits provide a bright spot.

Minnie hears a knock at the door. Behind it, she finds Sam Grenier, a laborer in the IXL flooring mill in Hermansville. The Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. invented a process for manufacturing tongue-in-groove maple flooring that can be laid with a tight fit, right from the factory. The flooring was used in the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and lodges in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks. Now orders pour in from around the country and the mill is recruiting all the workers it can find. Hermansville is the second largest community in the county, after the City of Menominee. Trouble is, for every 10 young, marriageable men living and working in Hermansville, there might be only one or two eligible single women.

Je suis the luckiest Frenchman in the village!” Sam exclaims when he sees not just Minnie, but Emily and Emma in the Gamache living room. Of course, he expects Emily is far out of his league with her teaching certificate and Emma is already married. Nevertheless, he welcomes the opportunity to spend time with the fairer sex, rather than the rough and crude millworkers he sees for 60-plus hours each week.

“Oh, Sam, you are a clown,” Minnie tells him.

Mademoiselle Gamache, je suis désolé. I am sorry. I was just so overwhelmed at seeing you three beautiful ladies here together. It’s more than this poor Frenchman can take.”

Quarantines and Vaccines

“Well, have a seat, you poor Frenchman. We were just talking with Emily about school this past fall, and the smallpox outbreak,” Minnie says.

“Oh, I know all about that,” says Sam. “Some of the men in my boarding house caught the pox. They were sent to the Pest House. Maybe I should find another place to sleep, eh?”

“During last year's outbreak, we were told to read a letter to all the schoolchildren,” said Emily, “telling them that they wouldn’t be allowed in the classroom unless they were vaccinated.”

“Owing to the prevalence of smallpox about us, it is unsafe for children who have never been vaccinated to attend school. Under these conditions, it would be right to prohibit such children from attending. We do not like to do this, but we advise all who have not been vaccinated to have it done at once. Teachers can give them a slip ‘to Dr. Campbell — vaccinate free.’ If there are any who object going there, send home.”

--From "The Old School," published by IXL Historical Museum

“That’s not right,” says Emma. “You never know what they put in those vaccines. It should be up to the parents whether they want to get their children vaccinated.”

“That’s what some parents told us,” said Emily. “Some even took their children out of school. The French parents were some of the biggest objectors.”

Smallpox Troubles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1890s. Source: Library of Congress

“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Sam. “Some of the Frenchmen in the boarding house hid in the cellar or a closet when the health inspector came by, so no one saw the rash on their face and neck. Who can blame them? You can’t earn a paycheck sitting in the Pest House for two weeks.”

“Quarantines and forced vaccinations are harsh, but so is smallpox,” said Emily. “I feel safer knowing the children in my care have the vaccine. The men who came home from the camps for Christmas are sure to bring back all kinds of pestilence, and it will end up in my classroom.”

Minnie agrees. “Mon Dieu, it’s the 20th century. We’ve had the smallpox vaccine for 100 years. There’s no logical reason to refuse it.”

Ladies' Days of Leisure

Tuesday, 12 January, 1904 - went to call on Ms. P. & Em. had a lot of fun
Friday, 15 January, 1904 - went to call on Ms. P. & Em. had a lot of fun. Em come over, slept here.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904

Emily is renting a room from Edward and Armelia Paquin, whose farm is a just short walk from the one-room schoolhouse. Emily teaches kindergarten through fifth grade there, with some students entering school speaking only the French they learned at home. The main school in Hermansville provides instruction from kindergarten up to 9th grade in four classrooms. Farm children attend the three outlying country schools: one in Cunard where the Swedes live, one in Frenchtown, and the former logging camp-turned-school where Emily teaches.

“That school will be tres froid when you arrive on Monday after being empty the last few weeks,” said Mrs. Paquin.

“I know. You should see the little ones in the morning gathering around the wood stove after they walk to school,” said Emily. “I have to confess that I huddle near the fire, too, until it warms up the room.”

“I told Del to make sure the school has plenty of firewood. I'll send him down there early on Monday to start the fire for you,” Mrs. Paquin says. “I’ve noticed he’s been keeping Minnie’s fire burning, so why not yours?”

“Mrs. Paquin!" Minnie exclaims. "Del and I spent one day here at your home last week, and hardly left your sight."

“Except when you climbed into the hayloft in the barn. What were you looking for up there, eh?”

Rien. Nothing,” Minnie replied, to gales of laughter from Mrs. Paquin and Emily.

Saturday, 16 January, 1904 - Emily over all day. slept, played cards

“Fifteen-two, fifteen-four, and a run of eight makes 12,” said Minnie, moving her marker 12 spaces on the cribbage board for an easy victory.

"Je suis battu. I’m beaten again,” said Emily, folding her cards in disgust after their fifth game.

Finally together alone, Minnie and Emily spend the day catching up and playing card games. Minnie shares what happened with Ernest over the New Year holiday and how she and Henry Caron danced all night at the Chenard and Raiche homes. But her mind lately has been on Del Paquin.

“Del? He's a sweet boy, for sure. But he doesn’t seem your type,” Emily says.

“I know,” says Minnie. “I’m not sure I want anything serious. I'm kind of tired of looking for the 'right man.' Why should I be looking for a husband, if it's just to meet everyone's expectations?”

“You know the old saying, ‘Matches are made in heaven.’ If God wants you to marry, he will send the right companion. You certainly have plenty to choose from in this town.”

“Oh, sure. Like finding a needle in a haystack,” Minnie says. “I think maybe I should be a working girl, and find a way to get into business for myself.”

“Oh, Min, that sounds grand. You are certainly clever enough. But what would your mother say about that?”

The two young women talk late into the night about their hopes and dreams, falling asleep between sentences in the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday, 17 January - Em here all day. went home with Ed at night.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904

School starts again tomorrow, but Emily is not in a hurry to get ready for her first day back in the classroom. As it gets darker, Ed Paquin Jr. stops by after visiting the Raiches' house across the road, and offers to walk Emily back to the Paquins'. Minnie kisses Emily goodbye, and they promise to see each other again next weekend.

"Au revoir! Until we meet again..."


Notes & Further Reading

Disclaimer: While the diary entries above are real, the stories I've created to illustrate Minnie's life are fictional. They are based on my research into the history of the time and the characters, but should not be taken literally. I welcome your corrections and alternate interpretations.

Identities: Since Minnie rarely uses last names, I’ve had to make educated guesses on who the characters are in her diary. For example, the “Ed” on January 17 could be Edward Paquin Sr., Edward Paquin Jr. or Minnie's brother Edmund. My best guess is Ed Jr. I've identified the likely identities of "Emma and Sam" based on a search of Census records for 1900 and 1910. Emma and Joseph Beaulieu immigrated to Hermansville in 1902. Their first daughter, Odelie, was born July 4, 1904. Samuel Grenier arrived in Hermansville with his family in 1888, when he was about 10 years old. In December 1905, he married Georgiana Chenard.

NMU Interviews with Hermansville Pioneers: For an interesting look at life in early Hermansville and throughout the Upper Peninsula, check out the Northern Michigan University oral history project.

  • This 1982 recorded interview with Flossie Dani of Hermansville relays how Flossie met and married her Italian husband and joined the Italian commuinity, though she was French Canadian. Flossie, born in 1907, was the daughter of Sam Grenier, the “luckiest Frenchman” who shows up at Minnie’s house on January 10. In the interview, she mentions having to quit school to go to work when she was 14, though she doesn't mention it was soon after her mother died.

  • In this interview transcript, John Rodman, a Croatian immigrant to Hermansville who married a French Canadian, talks about learning English, working in the mill, animosity among different ethnic groups, and life in general.

  • In this transcript, Mary. K. Miketinac of Hermansville also discusses the Croatian community, buying fabric for clothing, weddings, the company housing and store, and the Catholic Church.

St. Mary’s Church: I drew information on St. Mary’s Church from a 1925 history by Charles M. Case, “Hermansville from the Beginning." The booklet includes a more recent chapter on the “History of St. Mary’s Catholic Church” by Rose Schultz. The booklet was published by the IXL Museum, Hermansville, Mich., in 2001.

Latin Mass: If you’re not old enough to remember the Tridentine (or Latin) Mass, this YouTube video will give you an idea of what the service was like, though St. Mary’s music would have been simpler. I drew the Tridentine Mass quotations from In 1903, the Catholic Mass was a very passive affair. The priest said the Mass with his back to the congregation and altar boys provided the responses. The Congregation was silent, only joining in the Leonine prayers at the end of the service. Census records show most of the women in the French-Canadian community did not speak English in 1900, though many of them had been in the United States for 15, 20 or more years.

Hermansville Schools: I drew information on the history of Hermansville schools from “The Old School,” a publication of IXL Historical Museum in Hermansville. I’m not entirely sure how many children went to the one-room schoolhouse and how many grades it contained. I'm pretty sure that Emily taught in the school east of the Ed Paquin Sr.'s home, since she was living with them while teaching. Ed's home is adjacent to the "Cheese Factory" in the sketch at right, which is based on 1912 platbook records.

Smallpox: In 1903, Hermansville schools really did require children to be vaccinated for smallpox. In addition to IXL Museum accounts, I drew some historical facts from The Marquette Mining Journal, which recently looked back at the 1903 smallpox epidemic in the Copper Country. Like Houghton County, Hermansville also had a “pest house” where people with contagious diseases were quarantined. According to a 1903 report, smallpox in the Copper Country was most prevalent among foreign laborers: Finns, Poles, Swedes, French-Canadians and Italians.

“These foreigners increased the difficulties of the health authorities in every way possible in stamping out the contagion by hiding their cases, not reporting, and their frequent intermingling. In a Finnish locality of Calumet a house to house investigation resulted in finding a large number of cases, some hiding in cellars, others in attics and closets. The whole district was quarantined and all cases moved to the hospital. … The Canadian French gave us the same trouble by not reporting their cases and not being afraid of the disease, they would rather shield a case than have it dragged off to the pest house.”

-- Dr. W. H. Matchette, Report to Michigan State Board of Health, 1903

On the recommendation of health authorities in the 1800s, states and local governments began requiring vaccinations to halt the smallpox virus. After a backlash, some states began to prohibit compulsory vaccinations, including Minnesota in 1903. Twenty years later, a more deadly form of smallpox entered the United States from Canada, and came in contact with the unvaccinated populations in Minnesota. Within 20 months, more than 4,000 cases and 500 deaths were reported there. In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that public health authorities could require vaccinations to protect the greater good.

It just goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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