Farms, Factories, and Families: Italian American Women of Connecticut

SUNY Press
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Documents the rich history of Italian American working women in Connecticut, including the crucial role they played in union organizing.

Often treated as background figures throughout their history, Italian women of the lower and working classes have always struggled and toiled alongside men, and this did not change following emigration to America. Through numerous oral history narratives, Farms, Factories, and Families documents the rich history of Italian American working women in Connecticut. As farming women, they could keep up with any man. As entrepreneurs, they started successful businesses. They joined men on production lines in Connecticut’s factories and sweatshops, and through the strength of the neighborhood networks they created, they played a crucial role in union organizing. Empowered as foreladies, union officials, and shop stewards, they saved money for future generations of Italian American women to attend college and achieve dreams they themselves could never realize.

The book opens with the voices of elderly Italian American women, who reconstruct daily life in Italy’s southern regions at the turn of the twentieth century. Raised to be caretakers and nurturers of families, these women lived by the culturally claustrophobic dictates of a patriarchal society that offered them few choices. The storytellers of Farms, Factories, and Families reveal the trajectories of immigrant women who arrived in Connecticut with more than dowries in their steam trunks: the ability to face adversity with quiet inner strength, the stamina to work tirelessly from dawn to dusk, the skill to manage the family economy, and adherence to moral principles rooted in the southern Italian code of behavior. Second- and third-generation Italian American women who attended college and achieved professional careers on the wings of their Italian-born mothers and grandmothers have not forgotten their legacy, and though Italian American immigrant women lived by a script they did not write, Farms, Factories, and Families gives them the opportunity to tell their own stories, in their own words.

“Anthony Riccio’s collection of women’s oral histories is an extremely valuable addition to the growing literature regarding Italian American women’s lives. The detail in which these women speak about their work lives as charcoal burners, clay kneaders, cheese makers, union organizers—one had her ribs broken—adds a much needed dimension to an understanding of Italian American women. This volume is filled with thoughtful reflections ranging from Mussolini to issues of social justice. Riccio has unleashed from these women dramatic and sometimes harrowing stories never before heard, or perhaps even imagined.” — Carol Bonomo Albright, Executive Editor of Italian Americana and coeditor of American Woman, Italian Style: Italian-Americana’s Best Writings on Women

“What comes more naturally to the elderly but to reminisce? Riccio helps us eavesdrop on the first-person oral narratives of some of our earliest immigrants. We are grateful to him.” — Luisa Del Giudice, editor of Oral History, Oral Culture, and Italian Americans

“I have long awaited a book like this: a history of Italian American women, in which they themselves are the narrators of their own lives. We hear from women without formal education; women who were workers, migrants, and mothers; women whose stories were often not valued enough to enter into the historical record, much less the archives. This beautifully conceived history is both a testament and a tribute to all working-class and im/migrant families and communities.” — Jennifer Guglielmo, author of Living the Revolution: Italian Women’s Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880–1945
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About the author

Anthony V. Riccio is Stacks Manager at the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. He is the author of The Italian American Experience in New Haven: Images and Oral Histories and Boston’s North End: Images and Recollections of an Italian-American Neighborhood, and the coauthor, with Silvio Suppa, of Cooking with Chef Silvio: Stories and Authentic Recipes from Campania, also published by SUNY Press.
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Additional Information

SUNY Press
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Published on
May 15, 2014
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Biography & Autobiography / Women
History / United States / State & Local / New England (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT)
History / Women
Social Science / Emigration & Immigration
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
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Eligible for Family Library

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 Documents the arc of the Italian American immigrant experience on both sides of the Atlantic.
As a young boy, Anthony V. Riccio listened to his grandparents’ stories of life in the small Italian villages where they had grown up and which they had left in order to emigrate to the United States. In the early 1970s, he traveled to those villages—Alvignano and Sippiciano—and elsewhere in Italy, taking photographs of a way of life that had persisted for centuries and meeting the relatives who had stayed behind. Several years later, he found himself in Boston’s North End, again with camera in hand, photographing an Italian American immigrant neighborhood that was fast succumbing to the forces of gentrification. In a race against time, Riccio photographed the neighborhood and its residents, capturing images of street life, religious festivals, and colorful storefronts along with cellar winemaking sessions, rooftop gardens, and the stark interiors of cold-water flats.

Taken together, the photographs in From Italy to the North End document the arc of the Italian American experience on both sides of the Atlantic. Even as they forged new identities and new communities in the United States, Italian American immigrants kept many of their Old World traditions alive in their New World enclaves. Although elevators have replaced walkups and fancy Italian restaurants and upscale boutiques have replaced mom-and-pop storefronts, the “old neighborhood” and its Italian village roots survive in these photographs of la vita di quotidianità.

“…an intimate pictorial look … Riccio’s curiosity about the past gives us a real gift.” — Network Connecticut

“This is an inside job, Anthony V. Riccio says. That is what gives From Italy to the North End: Photographs, 1972–1982, its palpable warmth … [it] is as much a book of photography as it is a visual history of the Italian and Italian-American experience in one of the most storied neighborhoods in the country.” — Sunday Republican

“Anthony Riccio’s photographs retrace the arc of immigration from ancestral villages in Italy to Boston’s North End, documenting a lost world of an Italian American culture. His images will forever remind Italian Americans of the places their families left behind and the new home they created in America.” — Umberto Mucci, author of We the Italians: Two Flags, One Heart. One Hundred Interviews

“Riccio’s photos magnificently capture daily life of Italians in the South of Italy and in Boston in the 1970s and ’80s. Everyday people and their environment are brought back to life through an intense and moving visual testimony, seasoned with love.” — Margherita Ganeri, Università della Calabria

“Continuing in the tradition of his previous works, Riccio’s photographs in From Italy to the North End immerse us in the colors, textures, spaces, and visages of Italians and Italian Americans at a significant historical moment. In the decade depicted here, Riccio does the important work of representing the transitions and transformations of Italian culture through images and stories of the last wave of Italians to experience immigration from Italy’s villages and cities to the ethnic enclave that Boston’s North End once was.” — Gwen Kordonowy, Boston University

“From Italy to the North End offers us a luminescent and sensuous panorama of Italian American life in the 1970s and ’80s in one of urban America’s most famous ethnic neighborhoods, Boston’s North End, captured by gifted photographer Anthony Riccio in its waning days just before gentrification and displacement changed its character forever. This rich volume is a gift, a precious celebration and visual remembrance of worlds already passed into history.” — Tim Sieber, University of Massachusetts Boston

“From southern Italy’s rural villages to the tenement flats of Boston’s North End, Riccio’s evocative words and images capture the essence of a bygone era. His subjects—many of whom gaze beatifically into the lens of their trusted photo-biographer—have, as the author so aptly notes, their lives mapped on their faces. Thanks to this engaging work, their stories are deftly preserved for our benefit. The exposition of the author’s personal journey further enriches this compelling narrative, which leaves the reader grateful for Riccio’s enduring commitment to the irreplaceable value of roots, tradition, and the quest for something greater than ourselves.” — Jill Deupi, Beaux Arts Director and Chief Curator, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami
A New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller!
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