William Francis Dowd (1899-1984)

Grandfather of Spouse

As we prepare to close out this year of 2018, I feel it appropriate to recognize that this is the centennial of the end of World War I, also referred to as The Great War. William Francis Dowd was one of  the many who answered the call from the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. We are fortunate that he did not make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, as so many did, and he lived a long life raising his family in the Merrimack Valley. This is what we know of the story of William Francis Dowd.

William was born on May 6, 1899 to immigrant parents, William Francis Dowd and Theresa Welch Dowd. William and his twin sister were appropriately named for their parents.  Little Theresa lived only a short life and died of Pertussis in September of the same year. With 3-year-old Margaret and 2-year-old Nellie to care for in addition to baby William, it is difficult to imagine how William and Theresa, who had only been married for 3 years, were able to grieve this loss.

1900 – 1910: The first census record of William in 1900 shows him as young 1-year-old “Willie” living with his parents and sisters in a rental property on Kidder street in Lowell. In 1910 the Dowd family has moved to Floyd Street. His father was a Teamster working in a coal yard. His older sister, 14-year-old Margaret, worked as a Dober in a local cotton mill. Their neighborhood was mix of Irish, English and French Canadian immigrants and first generation citizens, which was typical for the era. July of 1910 was the year of a record-setting heat wave in Lowell, when temperatures hovered around 100 degrees and no rain fell to cool things down. William and his sisters may have been among the many children running behind the fire trucks during their twice daily runs around the city neighborhoods to water down the streets and outsides of the buildings. Did his mother, Theresa, have him carry lunch to his father and sister at work as many did during the era. Maybe there money for ice cream at one of the local soda fountains to help cool down, or a trip to the river or beach for a cooling swim. A total of 41 people died during the summer heat wave that year.

1910-1920: In 1914 the First World War broke out in Europe and the US entered the fight in 1918. Young William was not yet 18 when he joined the Army and was assigned as a musician in the Headquarters Company of the 55th Artillery out of Boston. William and his fellow soldiers made their way to the port in New York City where they  set sail for Europe on the Mauretania. Although the Mauretania was designed, built and served as a luxury ocean liner in England before the war. It was retrofitted and used to transport troops from England and Canada and finally the U.S. during the war. From New York, the troops landed in England before pushing onto French soil.  During their first weeks in France, the troops of the 55th were billeted near the French town of Clermont Ferrand where they were taught to perfect their skills in one of the U.S. military training camps.  Once training was complete, the 55th pushed inland and eventually engaged the enemy. As with other troops, the 55th initially served to assist the French and English in their campaigns. General Pershing felt strongly that the military bands were important to both encourage the troops and to be ambassadors to the local populations so the musicians played in town squares, worship and funeral services as well as for local schools and orphanages. When the 55th came under fire from bombings, the band members were given “different instruments” and assisted the fighting troops by cutting lumber and digging what the French called abri (shelters) to hide from the bombing. I picture this as “The Fox Hole”. It was near Arcis le Ponsart on August 18, 1918 that William was wounded in a shelling incident. The incident did receive mention by the ship records during the return of the troops after Armistice. Fortunately, his wounds were considered to be “slight”. Upon arriving home aboard the Cretic Brest, William completed his tour of duty with his company at Fort Warren on Georges Island in Boston, Massachusetts and appears on the US Census of 1920. He was discharged on March 20, 1920.

FE463621-EB7A-4B6F-866E-5E4B9133B74FOn February 8, 1920 William married Mary Agnes Rutkowski, daughter of Andrew and Antoinette (Antonia) Rutkowski. Mary had immigrated to Lowell from Russian Lithuania with her family in 1907 when she was about 6 years old. It is interesting to note that William lists his occupation as musician on his certificate of marriage.



The priest officiating was listed as Stanislaus Kuegas of 155 Rogers Street. This was the site of the Saint Joseph Lithuanian Catholic Church started in 1911. The church closed in 2008 but the building still stands as an apartment and the cornerstone is visible.

William and Mary started their family, lived and worked in Lowell for the next several years. In the City Directory of 1925, William is shown running a restaurant at 515 and 559 Lawrence Street. His father William is shown at the same restaurant in 1926. In 1929 William is working as a salesman for Ostreicher and Dowd Advertising. He is living at 129 Central.

1930:  The 1930 census shows William and Mary with family having moved to West Street.  William worked as a sewing machine salesman while Mary was at home with the children. Their remaining two children were born in the early to mid 1930s. In the City Directories William is employed as a a sales manager on Essex Street in Lawrence as well as proprietor of the Cross Street Filling Station in Methuen. The family lived at 114 Cross Street Methuen.

1940-1950: The 1940 Census finds William and family remaining on Cross street.  William is unable to work while his wife, Mary is listed in the restaurant business. Their older children and one boarder counted as new workers. His wife, Mary,  died on August 7, 1947 at their home on 114 Cross Street.

1950: The decade of the 1950s would have been brought further sorrow to William as he lost his father in 1954 and his sister Margaret in 1956. His remaining sister, Nellie, died in 1971.

1980: In 1981 William lost his daughter, Margaret.

In 1983 he lived in Lawrence, Mass.  During his retirement he spent his winters in Florida with his daughter.

William Francis Dowd died January 19, 1984 in Florida at the age of 84. We are still searching for the site of his burial.



Lowell Sun Newspaper, August 6, 1947 edition

“The 55th Artillery C.A.C.” Frederick Cutler Morse

Census Records of the U.S. Government

Marriage Records of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

City Directories of Lowell, Lawrence and Methuen, Massachusetts


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