The YWCA Central Maine has donated roughly 32 linear feet of archival material — including photographs, early 20th century scrapbooks and YWCA papers — to the Franco-American Collection based at the Lewiston-Auburn Campus of the University of Southern Maine.
This donation adds to our knowledge and analysis of local immigration history and the expanding role of women. The YWCA is an international nonprofit organization, established in England in 1855 to assist women as they migrated from struggling farms to industrializing cities. By the late 1800’s, YWCAs existed throughout New England, where immigrant women could learn English, find safe housing, and get an education. YWCA Central Maine was established in Lewiston in 1878.
The current mission statement of the YWCA is to eliminate racism and empower women and girls. In the Lewiston-Auburn area of Maine, a large wave of immigration came from the French speaking communities of Canada, who arrived to work in the factories. More recent immigrants, fleeing war and genocide in parts of Africa, are now an integral part of the local community and YWCA’s current programing.
“We are excited about this partnership with USM Franco-American Collection as we preserve the history of the YWCA,” said YWCA Central Maine Executive Director, Melanie LaMore Gagnon. “This donation will allow our archives to be researched and accessible to the public with the hopes of sharing the stories of the women and girls in the Lewiston-Auburn community for generations to come.”
The Franco-American Collection began at Saint Dominic High School in Lewiston in 1972. After the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College was established in 1988, the Collection was transferred to the university. Today, the Collection is one of the largest repositories of Franco-American materials in the state of Maine. The Collection contains materials related to the Franco-American experience in Maine, including items such as diaries, French-language newspapers, yearbooks, school notebooks, snowshoe uniforms, military uniforms and fine art.
The mission of the Franco-American Collection is to preserve and promote Franco-American history and culture in Maine. The Collection meets that mission with community outreach and events, educational programming, research assistance, and working with individuals and organizations, such as the YWCA, to acquire important historical documentation of Maine and especially of Lewiston.
The Collection’s archivist, Anna Faherty, is excited for this opportunity to partner with a local organization such as the YWCA, she said.
“I’m glad that the Collection has been able to partner with the YWCA on this project to not only preserve their archival materials, but catalog them and make them accessible,” Faherty said. “This collection is full of interesting and important information that I look forward to sharing with the public.”
An open house will be scheduled at USM Franco-American Collection at a later date to view the YWCA archives.