Alida Capistrant was the eleventh of twelve children in a large French-Canadian family in South Hadley, Massachusetts born on July 24,1914. Her parents both immigrated from Québec in 1885. On September 30, 1895 they were married in South Hadley. The Capistrant family rented their home until 1912 when they purchased their first house in South Hadley. Alida had an active social life as a teenager and considered attending college or university, but did not pursue any further education until about 1943, when she studied at the Providence Hospital School of Nursing in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Two years later she married James Perreault and the couple had two children, a daughter, Marcia (Perreault) Matthieu and a son, David James Perreault. They lived in South Hadley until 2003, when they moved to Chandler, Arizona to be near their daughter. Alida Perreault died of complications from Alzheimer's disease on April 7, 2006, and James died in 2008. Both are buried in Saint Rose Cemetery in South Hadley next to Alida's family.
Alida's correspondence during her high school years (1928-1932) reveal a young woman with a substantial network of friends and family. The bulk of the collection consists of letters from several friends, including two potential romantic interests. Letters document daily activities, family happenings, and later Alida's interest in a career as a nurse and her leadership role in the South Hadley Women's Club.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Alida Perreault
Born into a large French-Canadian family on July 24, 1914 in South Hadley, Massachusetts, Alida Rose Capistrant was the eleventh of twelve children. Her mother, Marie Alida Ratté, and father, Theodore Capistrant, each immigrated from Québec in 1885, though from separate towns. Her parents married on September 30, 1895 in South Hadley. The Capistrant family lived in the South Hadley Falls section of town, near the Connecticut River, and census records show the different homes they rented as their family grew. In 1912, the family purchased a house at 1 Warner St, around the corner from Theodore Capistrant's brother George and his family. The Capistrants enjoyed an extended family network of aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived all over New England. Several cousins lived in Biddeford, Maine, an area with a large Québecois community. Other family lived in Holyoke, Worcester, and Vermont. As members of nearby St. Patrick's Church, a Roman Catholic parish, Alida was involved in parish youth activities, including theater productions.
During her high school, Alida maintained a substantial network of friends and family. She exchanged romantic letters with two young men, William McEwan, attending the Williston Academy in Easthampton, Massachusetts, and Freddie Mitkiewicz, serving aboard the U.S.S. Memphis and U.S.S. Whitney in the U.S. Navy. Alida's adolescence was affected by several significant losses. Her older brother Alcide (1910-1928) died two months after breaking his neck in a diving accident at a local swimming hole. Her sister Emma (1902-1929) died the next year after a long illness. In 1933, her mother passed away, and Alida, as the only single daughter, was needed at home to care for her father and brothers.
After high school, she considered attending college or university, but did not pursue any further education until about 1943, when Alida studied at the Providence Hospital School of Nursing in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Around that time, she reviewed enlistment information for the U.S. Nursing Cadet Corps, which was created in 1943 to guarantee a sufficient domestic nursing workforce during World War II. As many nurses were leaving to join the war effort, domestic hospitals were in need of new staff. The first integrated uniformed U.S. Service Corps, the nursing cadets had their education paid for and committed to working for the duration of the war. By 1945, about 80% of the domestic nursing force was part of the Nursing Cadet Corps. It is not clear if Alida actually joined the Corps.
Alida married James G. Perreault, a young man also from South Hadley Falls in 1945. The couple lived at 1 Warner St, with Alida's father, who passed away in 1956. James worked for the National Blank Book Company in Holyoke. Alida served as president of the South Hadley Women's Club from 1953-1955, and remained involved with the club for over 51 years.
Alida and James had two children. Their daughter, Marcia (Perreault) Matthieu, was born in 1946. She attended South Hadley High School, and received a M.A. in Geology. Their son, David James Perreault (1948-1976), died young from aortic valve disease. He was a computer operator for the American Pad & Paper Company of Holyoke and a graduate of Springfield Technical Community College. After retirement, Alida and James were active in the South Hadley Council on Aging, and Alida served on the Board of Directors. The couple lived in South Hadley until 2003, when they moved to Chandler, Arizona near their daughter. Alida died from complications of Alzheimer's disease on April 7, 2006. Her husband James died January 26, 2008. Their graves are in the Saint Rose Cemetery in South Hadley, next to Alida's parents and siblings.
The Alida Perreault Papers consist largely of correspondence sent to Alida throughout her life from family, friends, and romantic interests. The correspondence is entirely personal, save for the letters concerning the South Hadley Women's Club. As Alida was president of the club, those letters are largely formal invitations and responses to other women's clubs in neighboring towns. There is also an extensive selection of greeting cards, sent for Christmas, birthdays, and other holidays over the years. There is a small assortment of newspaper clippings about Alida, as well as other ephemera. One interesting set of correspondence is a selection of literature from prospective universities and colleges, sent in 1932 to Alida as a graduating high school senior. The documents provide insight into the typical opportunities offered to young women at the time.
The collection documents an extended French-Canadian family network that traversed the U.S. and Canada border. Discussions of visits between family and friends reveal information about travel, social visiting patterns, and the role of correspondence in maintaining family ties over long distances. As the collection consists largely of letters from a young woman's adolescence, the content shows language, topics of conversation, and interests of a teenager in the early 1930s. The cards and letters from friends and suitors offer a picture of social norms for young adults.
Letters, notes, and postcards to Alida Capistrant are from friends and family, ranging in date from 1924 to 1941, and contain small, daily moments and conversations that reflect growing up, childhood friendship, and the strength of familial ties. Letters detail the death of Alida's grandmother and her sister Emma, summer boyfriends (i.e. Billy, Everett), Alida's homesickness during an extended vacation, and favorite pastimes.
Esther Fogg is Alida's most prolific correspondent from 1926-1933. A childhood friend from Fairfield, Connecticut, she provides frequent updates on her daily life, sometimes multiple times a week. The letters of Edna and Raymond Grenier, and Aurore A. Nadeau span the years 1930 to 1932, and include several greeting cards. All of the letters are sent from Biddeford, Maine, except for two which are sent from Berthierville, P.Q. A notable item in the collection is an event program written in French from Saint-Joseph College sent by Raymond while he was attending the college.
William McEwan, one of Alida's romantic interests, expresses his desire to see Alida, to receive a photograph of her, and for her to write him long letters. Bill describes his life at the Williston Academy and the school's soccer, track, and basketball teams, as well as an extracurricular soccer team called the Worthington Pumps. He also includes short poems, witty phrases, and frequent mentions of his love for her.
The content of letters from Freddie A. Mitkiewicz, Alida's second romantic interest, focus on his life aboard the USS Memphis, and then the USS Whitney, periodically mentioning the gun exercises the crew practices, and the places he visited, including Panama, the Perlas Islands, Guantanamo Bay and Hawaii. He briefly speculates that he will see armed conflict with Japan, and notes that most of the men on board have similar views. In addition to the Navy, he talks about his feelings for Alida.
Alida Capistrant's contributions to the South Hadley Women's Club, in particular her leadership role as president, are well documented in letters between various women's clubs in Western Massachusetts and invitations to club events.
Other materials include an assortment of greeting cards and newspaper clippings, which shed some light on Alida Capistrant's interests. She was very active socially, from acting in plays, to hosting a girls' bicycle team in her home, to traveling. Her religious loyalty and tolerance in her married years are both evident in the clippings.
A small collection of papers from the Walsh family of Ware, Massachusetts are included in this collection. The connection between the Walsh family letters and the bulk of the collection is unclear. The Walsh family papers are all addressed to a Jane O. Walsh or a Jennie O. Walsh. As these are addressed concurrently and to the same address, it is difficult to tell if Jennie and Jane are the same person or not. The letters are from friends and family as well as from a few businesses and organizations. These materials also include receipts for products including a fur coat (purchased in 1920), New York Life Insurance Company dividend slips from the early 1920s (and one from 1928), and a collection of correspondence from the Tilton Seminary (now Tilton School) of Tilton, New Hampshire. Starting in 1921, Jennie O. Walsh's son Gordon Walsh attended the school as a boarding student. This correspondence includes letters from both the principal of the school and his secretary and are mostly focused on recruiting Gordon to the school in 1921 and his first semester there in late 1921.
Finally, other seemingly unrelated materials include two handwritten real estate deeds for property in Brooklyn dated 1906, several sales letters from the Shepard Stores in Boston, a travel brochure from upstate New York, a religious poem, and several documents.
Acquired from Danielle Kovacs, 2014.
Processed April 2014 by Simmons GSLIS West students: Ines Arrubla, Jen Bolmarcich, Micha Broadnax, Beth Carron, Jason Fuller, Zachary Giroux, Kenny Ramos, Mark Umstot, and Adrienne Zimmerley.
Cite as: Alida Perreault Papers (MS 808). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.