Edward Francis Gallivan: Irish American Mill Worker

Jamie H. Eves

Artifacts like this 50-year pocket watch awarded by the American Thread Company (1898-1985) in Willimantic, CT, to employee Edward F. Gallivan (c. 1868-1959), tell stories. The watch tells two stories, actually. The first is that companies like ATCO often presented employees with awards, plaques, and even watches for many years of faithful service or for exemplary attendance. Such awards cost the Company little but were appreciated by the workers, for who does not like to told that they are appreciated — even if a raise in wages might have been a better token.
The second story is the story of the man who received the watch, Edward Francis Gallivan, as his story is the story of Connecticut mill towns. Gallivan was born in 1868, according to the form he filled out in 1917 for the World War I Military Census, only a few years after the American Civil War — or in 1869 or 1870, according to the U.S. Census. He was born in Willimantic, CT and lived his whole life there. His parents and all but one of his six brothers and sisters, though, had been born in Ireland, possibly in County Kerry. John and Honora Galivan, Gallivan, or Galvin — like other immigrants learning a new language, their name ended up being spelled several different ways — came to America sometime between 1860 and 1865, during the Civil War. According to the Census, their primary language was “Irish” (Gaelic), not English — which means that John would have Americanized his first name from Sean. With them came twins Daniel and John, Jr.; Mary; Bridget; and Murty. Lizzie and Edward were born in America. John, Sr. was a laborer. Honora “kept home.” All the children worked. In 1880, Daniel was a tinsmith, and John, Jr., Mary, and Bridget worked in one of Willimantic’s several cotton mills. Murty was a laborer like his father, while 15-year-old Lizzie and 10-year-old Edward worked in a silk mill. All the children could read and write English, but going to work at an early age meant they only had grade-school educations. Their wages not only helped the family survive, it also spared Honora, their mother, from paid labor and permitted her to keep the family home. They lived at No. 9 Hookers Lane. In fact, the textile mill city of Willimantic had no street officially named Hookers Lane, but an 1897 map shows a “right of way” (a narrow alley) running between Main and Meadow Streets not far from Seth Hooker’s grand railroad hotel. The map shows two small residential structures tucked mid-block along the alley. It is likely that the Irish immigrant Gallivan family lived in one of them. It was very much the low rent district.
By 1891, the family had moved to 49 Winter Street, near the railroad tracks. Edward, now around 20, “boarded” at his parents’ home, and had already moved on from the silk mill to the Willimantic Linen Company, which became the American Thread Company in 1898. By 1896, Edward had moved in with his older brother John, Jr., one door down from his parents at 53 Winter Street. The move seems to have been necessitated by Edward’s marriage to Catherine (or Katherine) Murphy, another Irish American. Unsurprisingly, the family was Roman Catholic. (They are buried in Willimantic’s St. Joseph’s Cemetery.) The next year, in 1897, Catherine gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Norene. A second child, a son named Freeman, was born in 1900, but sadly passed away only 14 years later in 1914.
Like other members of the Gallivan family, Edward continued to work at American Thread. Over the years, he worked a number of different jobs, most of them unskilled: spool turner, janitor, weigher, section hand, guide setter, and watchman. He became a watchman in 1936, when he was 68, 67, or 66. His last year of work was 1944, when he was 76, 75, or 74. It was a long life, full of toil. Along the way he and Catherine moved out of his brother’s home and into a rental of their own at 20 Meadow Street, not too far from Hookers Lane, and now a parking lot, bulldozed during the 1970s for urban renewal. He and Catherine lost their son in 1914, and Catherine died in the 1920s, only in her 50s. Around 1920, Norene got married, to Walter R. Young, a shipping clerk at American Thread. Norene and Walter lived at first with Edward and Catherine, but then moved into a small, single-family home at 44 Hayden Street. After Catherine died, Edward moved in with his daughter and son-in-law. Norene and Walter had no children. One-by-one, Edward’s many brothers and sisters died or moved away. Like Edward, his brother Murty (who died in 1937) is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
The person who donated the watch to the Mill Museum found it among her late parents’ possessions. She hypothesizes that her parents may have known Edward Gallivan or his daughter Norene (who passed away in 2012, still at 44 Hayden Street), who — with nobody else to whom to give it — passed it along to friends. However it got to us, the Museum is glad to have it, for it tells a story, a story of poor Irish immigrants who spoke Gaelic, of their children who left school early to toil in textile mills, of a lifetime of hard work and humble homes, of too-early deaths, of a mill that dominated a city for more than a century, of an heirloom, of years of living in tenements, and of a daughter who owned her home.
Detail from an 1897 street map of Willimantic, CT. The right of way that may have been Hooker's Lane connected Main and Meadow Streets and ran parallel to Bank Street. The Seth Hooker Hotel is the large brick building on the corner of Main and Bank Streets. Yellow-colored building were made of wood; pink structures were brick. Structures with "x's" on the roofs were barns, garages, and other similar buildings. The map seems to show a small house on the right of way, probably #9 Hooker's Lane. 20 Meadow Street is also on the map.
49 Winter Street