Woonsocket is a city in Providence County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 41,186 at the 2010 census, making it the sixth largest city in the state. Woonsocket lies directly south of the Massachusetts state line.
The city is the corporate headquarters of CVS Health, a pharmacy services provider. It is home to Landmark Medical Center, St John the Baptist Union, the Museum of Work and Culture and the American-French Genealogical Society.
Before the arrival of European settlers in northern Rhode Island during the 17th century, today's Woonsocket region was inhabited by three Native American tribes—the Nipmucs (Cowesett), Wampanoags, and Narragansetts. In 1661, the English theologian Roger Williams purchased the area from the "Coweset and Nipmucks", and in a letter referred to modern day Woonsocket as "Niswosakit".
Other possible derivations to the name include several Nipmuc geographic names from nearby Massachusetts. These include Woonksechocksett, from Worcester County meaning "fox country", and Wannashowatuckqut, also from Worcester County, meaning "at the fork of the river". Another theory states Woonsocket derives from "thunder mist", in reference to the largest waterfall on the Blackstone River, which lies at the center of the city. Yet another theory proposes that the city was named after Woonsocket Hill in neighboring North Smithfield.
Woonsocket Falls Village was founded in the 1820s. Its fortunes expanded as the Industrial Revolution took root in nearby Pawtucket. With the Blackstone River providing ample water power, the region became a prime location for textile mills. Woonsocket as a town was not established until 1867 when three villages in the town of Cumberland, namely Woonsocket Falls, Social and Jenckesville, officially became the town of Woonsocket. By this time the beginnings of the French Canadian emigration had definitely been felt.
In 1871, three additional industrial villages in Smithfield, Hamlet, Bernon and Globe, were added to the town establishing its present boundaries. Woonsocket was incorporated as city in 1888.
During the Great Depression the local textile industry closed, causing high unemployment. At this point 75 percent of the population was of French-Canadian descent. French-language newspapers were published and sold here, and radio programs and movies shown were also in French. Most conversations in public were also in French. The city's fortunes were revived in World War II, when it became a center of fabric manufacturing for the war effort. In the postwar years, the Woonsocket economy adjusted to a mix of manufacturing, retail, technology and financial services operations. However, in the early 1980s Woonsocket was again plagued by high unemployment rates. In 1980 seventy percent of Woonsocket's population was French-Canadian descent.
Beginning in 1979, Woonsocket became home to Autumnfest, an annual cultural festival that takes place on Columbus Day Weekend, at World War II Veteran's Memorial State Park. It has become one of the city's most popular events.