Title

THE WOMEN OF SURVIVANCE: A CASE STUDY OF ETHNIC PERSISTENCE AMONG THE MEMBERS OF FRANCO-AMERICAN WOMEN'S GROUPS IN NEW ENGLAND, 1950-PRESENT

Date of Completion

January 1986

Keywords

Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

To date, the focal point of sociological scholarship on ethnicity has centered on whether or not, and to what extent, ethnic groups in the United States have become "Americanized." Questions concerning the dynamic characteristics of ethnicity and the processes of ethnic continuity have remained virtually unexplored. In addition, women have been generally viewed as society's "tradition keepers." The primary purpose of this dissertation was to explore questions related to the processes of ethnic persistence and, secondarily, to understand the role of women in these processes.^ The procedure for this investigation was to conduct a case study of an ethnic women's organization, La Federation Feminine Franco-Americaine (Fede). This case study of the Fede utilized field work techniques, in-depth interviews and the analysis of archival materials. The objectives of this case study were in brief: (1) to delineate the maintenance activities involved in ethnic persistence; (2) to determine the importance of ethnicity to ethnic group members actively involved in its maintenance; (3) to assess the role of ethnic women in these processes, in order to develop a grounded theory of ethnic persistence.^ The findings suggest three major themes. It was determined that: (1) French language maintenance and usage, (2) consciously organized ethnic maintenance networks, and (3) the leadership of women in ethnic maintenance activities are the primary characteristics of ethnic persistence for the Franco-Americans studied. In this context, ethnic persistence is the consequence of cultural maintenance activities, i.e., language promotion and usage, and structures which promote language maintenance, i.e., a network of ethnic women's organizations. Thus, the empirical evidence obtained points to new questions on the persistence and vitality of ethnicity in American life. It also suggests new questions on the roles of women outside the sphere of domestic life or the paid labor force. In each case the empirical evidence challenges prior assumptions about the dynamics of American ethnic groups and the lives of ethnic women. ^