‘Lure of the Spindle’ to celebrate Portuguese immigrants’ story

Black and white group photo of 24 men and women from the middle of the 20th century.
Mill workers from the mid-20th century

Falante Collection

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News Release Date: July 8, 2015

Contact: Phil Lupsiewicz, 978-275-1705

Contact: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944

LOWELL, Mass. – A large cache of historic artifacts recently discovered in the attic of Lowell City Hall has inspired an exhibit that will delve into the culture of Portuguese laborers who arrived in Massachusetts more than 100 years ago to seek a better life.

“The Lure of the Spindle: The Portuguese in Early 20th Century Lowell” will showcase the lives of immigrants at work and play and explore their devotion to their faith, families and neighborhoods. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, is presented by UMass Lowell’s Saab-Pedroso Center for Portuguese Culture and Research with the university’s Center for Lowell History, in partnership with Lowell National Historical Park.

The exhibit will kick off with a free, public reception on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, 115 John St., Lowell and will be on view through Tuesday, Dec. 1. To complement the exhibit, programs and performances focused on Portuguese culture will be held in the coming months at the university and park to enrich the public’s understanding of Portuguese-Americans and their experience in the region since the early 1900s.

“The exhibit explores the similarities and differences between Portuguese immigrants who arrived in southeastern Massachusetts in the 19th century to work in the whaling industry and those who arrived later in Lowell to work in the city’s mills, helping to fuel the American Industrial Revolution,” said Prof. Frank Sousa, director of UMass Lowell’s Saab-Pedroso Center for Portuguese Culture and Research. Established in 2013, the center promotes the languages, literatures and cultures of the Portuguese-speaking world, comprised of more than 230 million people, while advancing the presence and visibility of the Portuguese culture and community throughout the Merrimack Valley.

The exhibit was built around immigration documents including letters, passports, photographs and visas that were recently uncovered inside Lowell City Hall and donated to UMass Lowell. These materials – combined with other historical and contemporary collections of photographs, maps, city records and cultural and religious artifacts – tell the stories of Portuguese laborers and their families, revealing the challenges they faced and the choices they made in the mill city.

“The exhibit is designed for two audiences: for the local Portuguese-American community as a way to bring them together, tell their stories and celebrate their heritage, and for the general public, particularly school groups, to share this rich history with them,” said Martha Mayo, director of the Center for Lowell History.

Arriving in Lowell at the turn of the 20th century, many Portuguese people settled in the city’s Back Central, Chapel Hill and City Hall neighborhoods. In keeping with local regulations, young immigrants were required to remain in school until age 16 and show proof of their age in order to work in the city’s textile mills, a socially progressive concept intended to ensure an educated populace. Many of these Portuguese immigrants worked alongside immigrants from other countries as spinners, weavers and loom mechanics, helping to bring the Appleton, Massachusetts, Merrimack, Tremont and Suffolk mills in Lowell to prominence. By 1907, laborers built St. Anthony of Padua Parish on Lowell’s Central Street, where it became a focal point for the area’s Portuguese community.  

The Boott Cotton Mills Museum is open to the public daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to “The Lure of the Spindle” is free; admission to the entire museum is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors age 62 and older, and $3 for students and youth age 6 to 16. Children age 6 and younger may enter for free.

The exhibit is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life throughout the Commonwealth. Mass Humanities receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Other exhibit partners include the Tsongas Industrial History Center, the Lowell Historical Society and the International Institute of New England, with additional documentation from St. Anthony of Padua Parish and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. For more about the Portuguese-American experience in Lowell, visit the Center for Lowell History'sPortuguese Immigrant Archives.

Last updated: July 10, 2015

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