In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Biddeford History & Heritage Project

Sharing the history of a proud city rising where the water falls

VII. Flow and ebb: the effects of industrial peak & global upheaval (1900-1955)

(Page 3 of 3) Print Version 
Staff of Biddeford High School Olympian, 1924
Staff of Biddeford High School Olympian, 1924

Item Contributed by
McArthur Public Library

During the first decades of the 20th century output was high in terms of people and products, and the busts of 1930's would not hit this area in the same way as many parts of the state and the country. In the urban areas of Maine, ethnic tensions and nativist hatreds rose through the 1920's, and in 1924 the Ku Klux Klan claimed 50,000 members in Maine. One of the most famous legends of Biddeford is when the Klan paraded through Saco and tried to come to Biddeford--the story goes that the Irish blocked the Bradbury Bridge and the French blocked the Main Street Bridge; both groups were well-armed and ready to chase the scoundrels back to Saco at any cost. The Klan turned tail at the sight of the angry Catholic crowds, and it was probably the beginning of the two sides finally overcoming their scant differences.

Ad by Pepperell Mills to recruit women workers, Biddeford, 1943
Ad by Pepperell Mills to recruit women workers, Biddeford, 1943

Item Contributed by
McArthur Public Library

In Biddeford, like the rest of urban Maine, the relief of growing ethnic and cultural tensions finally came about at the onset of World War II and the sudden effluence of work and good wages. All the plants managed to scrape by during the Depression, and when war broke out in 1941 they were all very busy with production of war goods. All the manufacturers were in need of help, and recruited heavily for women workers, both Anglo and Franco.

The introduction of daycare centers so that able-bodied mothers could work even part time to produce for the war effort was groundbreaking. After the end of the war, though, the men returned home to their jobs in the mills and back to regular production. The looming crises of economic collapse, aftermath of war markets and changing business practice would have their impacts in due time.