Marguerite Bourgeoys’s Travel Trunk

This humble suitcase crossed the Atlantic Ocean seven times.

Written by Annick Desmarais

Posted February 16, 2023

This vellum trunk belonged to Marguerite Bourgeoys, one of the great pioneers of New France and a key figure in Canadian history. Bourgeoys, a young teacher trained in the Catholic catechism and a lay member of the Congrégation Notre-Dame in Troyes, France, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1653 at the request of the French military officer and founder of Montreal, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. In this newly-established French settlement, she devoted herself to the education of French and Indigenous children.

Her small trunk is a reflection of both the simplicity of travel in the seventeenth century and the spartan nature of her life and work. Devoted to free education, she founded her first school in a humble stone barn. Her many projects, including the founding of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame in Montreal — the first non-cloistered female religious community in North America — led her to undertake the perilous crossing of the Atlantic seven times, accompanied by her trunk containing both personal effects and essential documents.

In addition to educating children, her religious community engaged in missionary activity and taught practical skills to women of all social conditions. From 1663 to 1673, Bourgeoys and her colleagues welcomed the Filles du Roy — orphaned young women sent to Montreal by King Louis XIV — and helped them in their new roles of finding a husband and founding a home.

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This object resides at the Site historique Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

This article originally appeared in Cinquante Merveilles de nos musées: les plus beaux trésors de la Francophonie Canadienne. The special interest publication was part of Projet Portage, a five-year initiative to connect history lovers in French and English Canada, generously supported by the Molson Foundation.

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