French Institute

French Institute

The French Institute fosters study of the French in North America from the 16th century to today. It is the leading place to find material relating to the many French Canadians who immigrated to New England in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Created in 1979 to honor the French heritage of Assumption University and our region, the French Institute is an academic research center devoted to collecting, arranging, preserving, and making accessible published works, archival documents, and artifacts pertaining to the French in North America. All aspects of the French presence are of interest: historical, linguistic, literary, religious, political, etc.

An active community of researchers ranging from undergraduates to professional scholars uses the French Institute collection. Scholarship emerging from the Institute has relevance both for specialists and a broader public concerned with issues of diversity, ethnicity, and assimilation.

Visit the French Institute

Leslie P. Choquette, Ph.D
Professor of History Côté Professor of French Studies Director of the French Institute

Learn More

  • Founded by a French religious order, the Augustinians of the Assumption, as a preparatory school and college for men, Assumption College’s original goal was to provide an education for 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 textile mills and at other jobs associated with the industrial revolution.  By 1900, Worcester, Massachusetts had 15,300 residents of French-Canadian descent, and these Franco-Americans made up 13 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 and to preserve French-Canadian culture.  For the first 50 years of its existence, student enrollment was small, all male, and primarily Franco-American.  At its inception, classes were taught in French by French and Belgian priests, and the curriculum remained bilingual until the mid-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 growing 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, although the College (co-educational since 1969) continues to boast a lively French program, the founding tradition of French culture is promoted primarily through the French Institute, established in 1979 as an integral part of Assumption College.

    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, in order to honor the memory of the French heritage of Assumption College and our region.  Although its main goals are to foster the preservation and 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 greatly enhanced the Institute’s book collection, which also grew with gifts of duplicate books by ACA Assurance (formerly the Association Canado-Américaine) and the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amérique (now part of Catholic Financial Life).  From 2003 to 2005, book 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 family, 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, a magnificent collection of Franco- and Native-Americana begun by a successful Franco-American immigrant, Major Edmond Mallet, in the late 19th century.  Most recently, the French Institute has welcomed the historical archives of the American province of the Religious of Jesus and Mary as well as the archives of the Association Canado-Américaine.

    During the 1980s and 1990s, the French Institute published conference proceedings on French-Canadian immigrants to the United States, the 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 readily 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 and now in its second edition.

  • Dr. Claire Quintal

    Professor of French and French Civilization at Assumption College for over thirty years and Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Claire Quintal is founding director emerita of the Institut Français,where she wrote, edited and/or translated some fifteen publications, including La femme franco-americaine/The Franco-American Woman, Steeples and Smokestacks: A Collection of Essays on the Franco-American Experience in New England, and two biographies of prominent 19th- century Assumptionists.  A chevalier of France’s Legion of Honor, she is also an officier in its National Order of Merit.  She was among the first group of Americans to be awarded the congressionally sponsored Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1986. More recently she assiduously worked on the creation of the Monument de l’Amitié/Friendship Monument in Quebec, erected on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city and which celebrates the strong cultural and economic ties between Québec and New England. Dr. Quintal has received honorary doctorates from Assumption College, Anna Maria College and St. Michael’s College.

    Rev. Wilfrid J. Dufault, A.A.

    Father Wilfrid was born and grew up in Spencer, Massachusetts and graduated from Assumption Prep and Assumption College. He entered the Assumptionist order in 1929, pronounced his perpetual vows in 1933, and was ordained a priest in 1934. He received a licentiate in theology from the Pontifical Institute “Angelicum” in Rome, and honorary doctorates from Rivier College, Anna Maria College and Assumption College. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor, named Officier then Commandeur in France’s National Order of Merit, and recognized with the Lafayette Award from Worcester’s Harmony Club, the Assumption Prep School Alumni Hall of Fame Award, the President’s Medal from Assumption College, and the Outstanding Achievement Award from Assumption College. With Claire Quintal, Fr. Wilfrid founded the French Institute at Assumption College in 1979.

    At the time of his death in 2004, Father Wilfrid was Chancellor Emeritus of Assumption College. Previously, he had served the college as both president and acting president and professor. For seventeen years, he was the Superior General of the Assumptionist congregation, the first Franco-American to hold that post. During that time, he was a father of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. In later years, Father Wilfrid served as Postulator for the Beatification of Rev. Emmanuel d’Alzon, the founder of the Assumptionists. He also served for many years as a member of Assumption’s Board of Trustees. His devotion and service to both the French Institute and Assumption College are without parallel. A college residence hall, Dufault Hall, bears his name.

    Leslie P. Choquette

    Leslie P. Choquette, Professor of History
    Professor of History (1989)
    L’Institut français Professor of Francophone Cultures
    Director of the French Institute (1999)

    B.A., Radcliffe College; History, 1978
    M.A., Harvard University; History, 1981
    Ph.D., Harvard University; History, 1988
    Ph.D. Thesis Title: “French Emigration to Canada in the 17th and 18th Centuries”

    Sample of Courses Taught

    Undergraduate: History of Western Civilization I and II, Women in Europe, France Since 1789, History of Canada, The North American Indian

    Sample of Publications

    • Choquette, Leslie. Frenchmen into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling of French Canada. Harvard University Press, 1997. Winner of the Alfred Heggoy Book Prize, French Colonial Historical Society, 1998. Translated as De Paysans à Français: modernité et tradition dans le peuplement du Canada français. Les Éditions du Septentrion and Presses de l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2001.
    • Choquette, Leslie. “Ces Amazones du Grand Dieu: Women and Mission in Seventeenth-Century Canada.” French Historical Studies. Spring 1992.
    • Choquette, Leslie. “Degenerate or Degendered? Images of Prostitution and Homosexuality in the French Third Republic.” Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques. Spring 1997. First runner-up for the Audre Lorde Prize, Committee on Lesbian and Gay History, 1998.
    • Choquette, Leslie. “Center and Periphery in French North America.” Eds. Christine Daniels, Jack Greene, and Amy Turner Bushnell. Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the New World, 1500-1820. Routledge, 2002.
    • Choquette, Leslie. “A Colony of Native French Catholics? Protestants in New France in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” Eds. Bertrand Van Ruymbeke and Randy Sparks. Memory and Identity: Minority Survival among the Huguenots in France and the Atlantic Diaspora. University of South Carolina Press, 2003.
  • The French Institute is home to the following resources and collections, archival and otherwise. Researchers are encouraged to revisit this page, as more materials are being processed continually.

    You may find all the content above, and more, at our newly-established Guide to the Collection.

  • The French Institute continues to acquire material within the scope of its mission.  The director makes relevant purchases within the limitations of the annual budget.  The Institute also accepts donations from institutions and individuals.

    Donations normally consist of publications and archival documents, although artifacts are occasionally included.  If the Institute is unable to display or store artifacts properly, they may be offered to the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  Publications are examined to ensure that they fall within the Institute’s purview and to identify duplicata.

    Any donated work listed in the French Institute or d’Alzon Library catalogs is considered to be a duplicate.  Although the d’Alzon collection circulates freely and the Institute collection does not, space constraints prevent the Institute from acquiring books that are already available at Assumption College.

    D’Alzon Library’s collection includes the personal library of Major Edmond Mallet (1842-1907), a Franco-American Civil War veteran from Oswego, N.Y., who served as Inspector General for Indian Affairs under President Grover Cleveland. In 1913, six years after Major Mallet’s death, L’Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amérique, a society dedicated to Franco-Americans and French-Canadian ancestry, acquired the collection. In March 2004, the U.S.J.B., now part of Catholic Financial Life, gifted the collection to Emmanuel d’Alzon Library. Items in the Mallet Collection do not circulate.

    Out-of-scope materials are those that do not pertain directly to the Institute’s goal of documenting the French presence in North America, particularly New England.  Continental French literature, history, and theological writings are considered out-of-scope unless they deal specifically with North American themes.  French-Canadian and French-Caribbean literature and history are considered relevant; however, they have a lower priority than materials relating to New England.

    Duplicates and out-of-scope materials will be offered to other institutions or individuals, either for sale or free of charge, whenever possible.  Remaining materials will be discarded.  In the past, such materials have been acquired by the d’Alzon Library, Brown University, Yale University, the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine at Orono, the Université Sainte-Anne, the French American Genealogical Society, and La Librairie Populaire of Manchester, New Hampshire, among others.

  • Renew your membership in the French Institute today! Your membership provides moral as well as financial support. Each member receives the newsletter Nouvelles.