The Museum of Work & Culture is a wonderful place to bring your students to experience hands-on history. Here is a sampling of some of the themes you can request for your class’s visit to the museum. Please call 401-769-9675 to arrange your trip. Remember to ask about guided Ranger Tours—walking tours of Woonsocket with a National Park Service Ranger.
Union Tour: Students will be led by a docent to each of the six areas: the farmhouse, the mill floor, the “homework” area, the Slater Club, the classroom and the Union Hall. Students may view other areas (see study guide) with their chaperones if time permits (estimated time 1 ½ to 2 hrs). Options for the remainder of the day are the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridors’ walking tour of Woonsocket or a “homework” craft workshop at the MOCW. (“Homework” refers to the work done by immigrant families, including young children, in their homes to survive.) Groups may also choose to play Museum Bingo or Treasure Hunt, supervised by their chaperones.
The Farmhouse: Students will hear about French-Canadian rural life and textile production with a simple machine, the spinning wheel (spinning demonstration upon advance request.) They will also learn the reasons people emigrated from rural Canada.
The Mill Floor: As students enter the mill floor area they will have an opportunity to try their skill at replacing bobbins, racing against the clock. An audio will begin with the sounds of machines and stories from mill workers. Students will learn how production was maintained and the nature of working conditions and wages in the early decades of the 20th century.
The Homework Area: Students will learn about sweatshops, child labor and family duty. They will see how a shoeshine boy did his job and try it themselves. If the school decides on the “homework” craft workshop, students will try other child labor jobs firsthand, (i.e. cigar rolling, stone setting in jewelry, beading and simple garment work.)
The Slater Club: In this area, students will be told that only the docent may sit. After a few minutes of lecture, the students will be asked how they feel about not being allowed to sit. This exercise is to illustrate the story a story that centers on a French industrialist who would not allow workers to sit in his presence. The docent will pose an issue for negotiation between management, labor and ask students to formulate a solution.
The Classroom: Students will listen to the recording of a Catholic priest tell the story of the Sentinelle Affair. A life-like statue of the priest is in a recreated 1929 parochial school classroom. Students may push buttons on their desks to ask questions and prompt answers from the priest.
Union Hall: Shortly after students enter the hall, a friendly, but authoritative voice will bang his gavel and ask everyone to be seated. The film, “Strength in Unity” will begin and tell the story of the Independent Textile Union of Woonsocket (ITU). After the film, the docent will talk about the strength of a spider’s web. The docent will then explain that unions are webs of people, providing strength as long as there was unity.
Going to Work: Students will learn about the many ethnic groups that moved to the Blackstone Valley in the 20th and early 21st centuries. They will read the stories of why men and women left their home countries, such as Poland, Colombia, Vietnam, Italy, and even the American South and what they did and where they lived when they arrived.