LEWISTON — The Franco-American Collection recently received a significant donation of historic photographs and documents dating from the 1890s from the YWCA of Central Maine.

Located at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College, the YWCA’s 40-foot linear collection is the second-largest in the Franco-American Collection, according to archivist Anna Faherty.

“It is a collection of pretty much everything that you can imagine from the history of the YWCA,” she said. “It’s got board meeting minutes, it’s got staff manuals, it’s got scrapbooks, photo albums, and these have to do with both people who were involved at the Y and programs from the Y.”

Faherty said the collection also contains financial ledgers more than 100 years old and hundreds of photo slides. The documents and photos are dated up to the mid-2000s, when many documents began to be stored online, Faherty explained.

“From the beginning, the YWCA has supported immigrant women here in Lewiston,” she said. The YWCA of Central Maine was started in 1878 at a time when Franco-Americans were coming to Lewiston. Many of the early programs specifically served Franco-Americans, some of whom later joined the organization in prominent roles.

A 1940s scrapbook from the YWCA of Central Maine collection was recently given to the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The YWCA is an international nonprofit organization, established in England in 1855 to assist women as they migrated from struggling farms to industrialized cities. By the late 1800s, YWCAs existed throughout New England, where immigrant women could learn English, find safe housing, and get an education, according to a news release.

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YWCA of Central Maine Chief Executive Officer Melanie LaMore Gagnon said the organization has been collecting records and photographs for more than a century. They began working with the Franco-American Collection to organize and move the records in 2020.

“It was really important for us to make it accessible to the community and to really preserve this in a way that could be researched and accessed by the community and not just sit somewhere in someone’s storage box for another hundred years so,” she said. Gagnon added that it was also important to the organization that the documents stay within the Lewiston-Auburn community.

Although the YWCA is not inherently a Franco-American organization, Faherty said the archive believed it was important to take the collection because it relates to the history of immigration in Lewiston.

“Not only is there a thread of connection with Franco-Americans from the beginning, but there’s also a broader connection to the Lewiston immigrant community, which is a community that the YW has continued to serve,” she said.

A photo album from the YWCA was recently given to the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The Franco-American Collection is one of the largest repositories of Franco-American materials in the state of Maine. It contains materials related to the Franco-American experience in Maine, including diaries, French-language newspapers, yearbooks, school notebooks, snowshoe uniforms, military uniforms and fine art.

Earlier this year, the collection created a podcast dedicated to celebrating Franco-American history and culture in Maine. The series contains six episodes.

Archivists are working on an aid to make items in the YWCA collection searchable to assist researchers. Faherty expects it will be completed in January.

“I always find to be fun when people can feel that the archive is relevant to their lives, whether that’s recognizing someone in a picture, or whether they’re donating their items or whatnot,” she said. “But, we want people to know that we have information and they can use it.”

Anyone who is interested in viewing the materials at the Franco-American Collection should call 207-753-6545 or email [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

Scrapbooks from the YWCA collection were recently given to the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal


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