Farms, Factories, and Families

Italian American Women of Connecticut

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. The Historical Roots of Southern Italian Women
2. Italian Women Journey to America
3. Italian Pioneer Women: A New Life in Connecticut
4. From Italy to Connecticut: The Sewing Tradition
5. Midwives and Giving Birth
6. Going to School
7. Betrothal and Marriage
8. Italian American Farming Women
9. Italian American Women Join the Production Lines
10. Italian American Women Raise Their Voices: Empowerment in the Union Movement
11. Women in Italy during WWII
12. While the Boys Were Gone: Italian American Women in Connecticut during WWII
13. Italian American Women Entrepreneurs: Businesses, Mutual Benefit Societies, and Charities
14. Italian American Women’s Success Stories: Education and Careers
15. Finding Her Voice: Italian American Women’s Narratives
Index of Photographs

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 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.


"Riccio certainly is to be lauded for his efforts to capture and preserve these heretofore largely ignored accounts … providing future researchers and scholars the first-person narratives with which to further theorize and philosophize about the human condition—or at least the condition of the twentieth-century Italian American immigrant woman. " — Italian American Review

"Riccio has made an invaluable contribution to the Italian American woman's narrative. The women he interviewed speak in their own voices, unfiltered by the bias that too commonly has marginalized women in history. It is the type of research that dismantles stereotypes and gives women a more visible place in our social order. It is a study that will serve as a resource for broader works about the role of Italian American women throughout the US. " — L'Italo-Americano

"Riccio's book is attractively presented, deceptively so, and could easily be mistaken for a coffee-table book. But for the historian these interviews are a valuable primary source. " — H-Net Reviews (H-SAWH)

"…[a] welcome contribution to Connecticut history shelves. " — Midwest Book Review

"A fascinating study of a group of people largely ignored. " — San Francisco Book Review

"We forget sometimes how physically beautiful a large hardback book can be, yet the orally based Farms, Factories, and Families: Italian American Women of Connecticut reminds us that a lovely coffee table book can be richly historical as well—and deeply moving at the same time. With gorgeous black-and-white photography throughout the text, this narrative is not only thoroughly researched and finely written by Anthony V. Riccio … it is actually quite accessible. " — Act Two Magazine

"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