What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Identities

Why We French Canadians Are Neither French nor Canadian

An Intimate Family History of New England's Franco-Americans

T. Pariseau Ladies’ Outfitter, one of many businesses created and owned by Franco-Americans in Manchester. Photo by Ulric Bourgeois, 1915.

By Robert B. Perreault

Whenever my family visits Québec, people other than our relatives are surprised to hear Americans—even our grandchildren, ages five and six—speak fluent French. They’re amazed to learn that French is our mother tongue and that we also speak English without a French accent. Likewise, if we leave our native New Hampshire to travel elsewhere in the United States, we get blank stares upon mentioning that we’re Franco-Americans from New England.

“Franco-American, as in canned spaghetti?” some ask.

I roll my eyes and …

Identities

When Burlap Underwear Was Fashionable

From the Mid-1800s Onward, an Ethic of Thrift and Ingenuity Was Woven Into American Clothing

Patterns were often classics that would not quickly be out of style and could accommodate different sizes. Image courtesy of the Commercial Pattern Archive.

By Joy Spanabel Emery

In 1928, when President Calvin Coolidge visited Chicago, the ladies of a Presbyterian church presented him with a set of pajamas made from flour sacks dyed lavender and finished with silk frogs and pearl buttons in appreciation of his program on economy and thrift.

It seems surprising now, but once the use of cloth feed bags for clothing and household items was a part of mainstream rural American culture—related to a long practice of utilizing all resources that is deeply …

Identities

The Boulevard Diner still operates on its original site—since 1937—in Worcester, Mass. This photograph dates from 1979, but the diner remains unchanged today. Photo by Richard J. S. Gutman.

Driving north on Route 95 through Connecticut, I noticed a billboard advertising a local diner. Its immense letters …