1871: Primary school teacher Elise (Charbonneau) Bouchard

Third in a series about the younger sister of my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

My great, great grandaunt Elise (Charbonneau) Bouchard spent more than a decade as a widow and single mother — and I wondered about her life during that period.

http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/archives/500ans/portail_archives_en/rep_chapitre5/chap5_theme1_doc2_page1.html
The Isles of Montreal as surveyed by French Engineers (1761). Click the image to enlarge, and at lower left of center you will see Ste.-Anne-de-Bellevue, where Elise (Charbonnneau) Bouchard lived and taught primary school in 1871. Her hometown of Ste. Eustache lay just beyond the two brown mountains north of Ste. Anne. Image: Group of Archivists of the City of Montreal

In 1861, at the time of the Canadian census, she lived at the inn operated by her parents — my great, great, great grandparents Louis and Suzanne (Marcille) Charbonneau — in Ste. Eustache, Deux Montagnes, Québec.

A move to Ste. Anne

But what about after that? I decided to see what the 1871 Canadian census might reveal — and found an Elise Bouchard, 33, living in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the western tip of the Island of Montréal, right across the river from Ste. Eustache.

Although her maiden name is omitted, she is the right age to be Elise (Charbonneau) Bouchard — who was 23 at the time of the 1861 Canadian census. And living with her is an Elisa Bouchard, 12, who is the right age to be her oldest daughter — listed as age 2 in the 1861 Canadian census.

Losing little Marie

Sadly, her younger daughter — surviving triplet Marie Bouchard, age 1 in the 1861 Canadian census — was not listed in 1871. I held my breath: Could she have died, too?

I turned again to the Drouin Collection seeking an answer. And there, in the 1862 records for Ste. Eustache, I found a death notice for a C.P. Marie Bouchard, daughter of Olivier Bouchard and Elise Charbonneau.

So poor little Marie lived barely a couple of years longer than her departed brothers — another devastating loss for the widowed Elise (Charbonneau) Bouchard in the span of only two years and a testament within my own family history to the hard lives women faced in the mid 1800s.

Primary school teacher

Yet despite her losses, Elise was still a mother and she must have felt the push to provide for her only remaining child — daughter Elisa Bouchard.

Because by 1871, she was living independently from her parents and working to support herself and her daughter as an institutrise [primary school teacher] — likely a well-regarded career in a growing commercial town like Ste. Anne.

Quite a remarkable turnaround for someone who had to overcome so much. And Elise’s position took care of her housing as well. In the remarks section on the 1871 census form, the enumerator wrote: Elle demeur dans la maison d’ecole. [She lives in the schoolhouse.]

My maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence once told me that women of her generation (born in the early 1900s) generally did not go out and live on their own. They either married or lived with their family of origin — most likely because they lacked independent means of support.

But for the widow Elise (Charbonneau) Bouchard, living with her daughter at the schoolhouse — and earning a living educating the community’s children — appears to have provided a way to for her to start over and live independently as a single mother while creating a home for herself and Elisa.

More on Elise’s schoolhouse duties in the next post.

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