Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Pawtucket at its Best

Maybe because I am a grandmother trying to help  and advise and  comfort a teenage grand daughter  who lives far away and I rarely see,  I find that I am thinking a lot about my grandmothers. Jane Conlon and Ida Mowry-- neither of whom I ever met.

Around 1906 when Jane Conlon first came from Ardboe, County Tyrone, Ireland to Cumberland to live in the Ann& Hope Mill Village, she worked in the Ann& Hope Mill as did so many of the new Irish immigrants. One of the experienced workers, from a local Yankee farming family also worked in the mill, helped her and instructed her in her new job and her new life. That teacher was Ida Mowry-- and I sometimes think of the two young women forming a friendship across the divides of origin, and religion and ethnicity. I am grateful for that meeting for reasons that they could not know: for they would share more in the unfolding of time. They would share grand-daughters: me and my sisters, when Jane’s daughter Margaret married Ida’s son Norman. I did not meet either of my grandmothers; for Ida Mowry Jenckes died in the terrible flu epidemic of 1919 and Jane Conlon Coleman died in 1942, but I celebrate those two women and their friendship.

They show  Pawtucket at its best.

Let me leave you with that image of what is possible in Pawtucket. More than  100 years ago in 1906 an experienced and kind American worker turned to a younger and frightened Irish immigrant girl –as they used to say–just off the boat. That woman from the old RI family that had founded Pawtucket befriended and helped the Irish girl, a girl raised on the Banks of Lough Neagh in County Tyrone, whose daily routine, until she left, was lived to the rhythms of fishing and nets and boats and eels, a girl that was frightened by the screeching mill whistle. That girl stood now for the first time in a noisy textile mill with rows of deafening whirling machines, and Ida Mowry reached out to her the hand of friendship and helped her to understand her new world . And 100 years later their grand daughter celebrates them today.

In these troubled and troubling times, where there loom so many causes to despair, I draw hope from that history: the hope that perhaps, this very day in some work place in Pawtucket or the Blackstone Valley a worker turns with compassion and friendship to a scared immigrant and guides her to a new and better life. Who knows--perhaps a century from now in 2106, their grandchild will bless them for it.


Pawtucket has always been the gateway to a new life; this small, important city on the banks of the Blackstone where people come to find places to work and play. When we welcome newcomers and make room for their children and grand children to grow in body, mind and soul, when we safeguard and improve places of work and play, we are building a rich, creative life of work and play– a vision of human possibility much too large to be written on the back of a dollar bill. 

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