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American Woman, Italian Style

Italian Americana's Best Writings on Women

Carol Albright

Publication Year: 2010

With writings that span more than thirty-five years, American Woman, Italian Style is a rich collection of essays that fleshes out the realities of today's Italian American women and explores the myriad ways they continue to add to the American experience. The status of modern Italian-American women in the United States isnoteworthy: their quiet and continued growth into respected positions in the professional worlds of law and medicine surpasses the success achieved in that of the general population-so too does their educational attainment and income.Contributions include Donna Gabaccia on the oral-to-written history of cookbooks, Carol Helstosky on the Tradition of Invention, an interview with Sandra Gilbert, Paul Levitt's look at Lucy Mancini as a metaphor for the modern world, William Egelman's survey of women's work patterns, and Edvige Giunta on the importance of a selfconscious understanding of memory. There are explorations of Jewish-Italian intermarriages and interpretations of entrepreneurship in Milwaukee. Readers will find challenges to common assumptions and stereotypes, departures from normal samplings, and springboards to further research.American Woman, Italian Style: Italian Americana's Best Writings on Women offers unique insights into issues of gender and ethnicity and is a voice for the less heard and less seen side of the Italian-American experience from immigrant times to the present. Instead of seeking consensus or ideological orthodoxy, this collectionbrings together writers with a wide range of backgrounds, outlooks, ideas, and experiences. It is an impressive postmodern collection for interdisciplinary studies: a book and a look about being and becoming an American.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-12

With the success of Wild Dreams: The Best of ‘‘Italian Americana’’ (Fordham University Press, 2008), we began to think about publishing another ‘‘Best of . . .’’ collection. We again approached Fordham University Press, with which we had developed a strong working relationship. Our first anthology focused on fiction, poetry, and memoir. A second volume, this time about...

Education, Work, and Home Life

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Narratives of Nine Italian-American Women: Childhood, Work, and Marriage

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pp. 15-31

During a period of six months in 1990, I was a participant-observer of some first- and second-generation Italian-American women in New York City. The experience proved to be both rich and rewarding. The thematic content of the life stories of these women, who had lived all of their childhood and adulthood in Little Italy, New York, emerged and unfolded spontaneously during our meetings. Our discussions centered on what these women...

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‘‘Why, It’s Mother’’: The Italian Mothers’ Clubs of New York

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pp. 32-46

It was 1943, wartime, when the Italo-American Women’s Club of Williamsburg staged a homegrown play set in 1938 depicting the then gloomy situation of the first-generation female Italian immigrant.
Their play was entitled Why, It’s Mother. In the first scene, leading lady Mrs. Passarella ruefully hears her grown daughters inform her they’re going...

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Connecting Spheres: Women’s Work and Women’s Lives in Milwaukee’s Italian Third Ward

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pp. 47-56

In 1905 Mary Maglio opened a grocery store on Detroit Street in Milwaukee’s largely Italian Third Ward. She was an immigrant from Sicily and the first Italian-born female grocer in the city. Maglio was followed by many more immigrant women who became proprietors of home-based businesses...

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Education in the Autobiographies of Four Italian Women Immigrants

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pp. 57-77

In 1912, an autobiographical work written by a Russian Jew pointed out the influence of American schools on young immigrants.1 In a highly apologetic tone, Mary Antin maintained that the ‘‘public school has done its best for us foreigners, and for the country, when it has made us into good Americans. I am glad that it is mine to tell how the miracle was wrought in one...

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Traditional Roles and Modern Work Patterns: Italian-American Women in New York City

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pp. 78-86

Traditional Italian society long followed gender-based societal patterns. Male and female roles were clearly delineated and integral to the entire family matrix. Southern Italian folk culture—important because approximately 80 percent of all Italian immigrants to the United States came from southern Italy—was, at least on the surface, patriarchal with men, capa della famiglia...

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Italian Americans, 1990–2000: A Demographic Analysis of National Data

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pp. 87-97

This paper presents a demographic analysis of the Italian-American population. Utilizing data drawn from the 1990 and 2000 censuses, a number of key variables will be analyzed. Among the variables will be age distribution, regional distribution, migration, marital status, educational and occupational variables, and an analysis of income distribution. Several specific family variables also will be examined. The analysis will be twofold: first, changes...

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Italian-Jewish Intermarriage: The Italian-American Spouse

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pp. 98-109

All cultures create rules regarding mate selection. Endogamy, the norm or rule that states one should marry within some social category, is one of the strongest norms in all societies. As Merton (1941) notes, ‘‘in no society is the selection of a marriage partner unregulated and indiscriminate’’ (361). Barron (1972) also asserts the universal power of the norm of endogamy. He...

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Gender Relations among Italian Americans

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pp. 110-120

In a 1958 book, Edward C. Banfield put forth the theory of the southern Italian social system as an egregious example of ‘‘amoral familism.’’1 The theory is still widely used by social scientists and other writers in influential intellectual circles. Banfield’s view that people in southern Italy had no community or social moralities, only loyalty to their nuclear families’ short-term interests, is often cited or quoted. For example, in the June 1993 issue...

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Food, Recipes, Cookbooks, and Italian-American Life: An Introduction

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pp. 121-122

Scholars have finally begun to take eating and cooking seriously. Many now accept as a starting point the observation of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who in 1825 intoned, ‘‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.’’ The linkages among food, culture, and identity have long occupied small numbers of folklorists and anthropologists. But until recently most...

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The Tradition of Invention: Reading History through La cucina casareccia napoletana

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pp. 123-132

In his introduction to the 1970 reprint of Pellegrino Artusi’s La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, Piero Camporesi argued eloquently for greater recognition of cookbooks as historical artifacts. According to Camporesi, cookbooks have the unique capacity to unify populations on conscious and unconscious, public and private levels. As historical artifacts, cookbooks tell...

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Italian-American Cookbooks: From Oral to Print Culture

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pp. 133-141

What makes a cookbook Italian-American? Not simply its place of origin or language of publication. Numerous books about Italian cooking are published in English in the United States and Canada, but few would agree that this makes them Italian-American; after all, they may be books about cooking in Italy. Perhaps it is the content of the recipes that makes a cookbook...

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Immigrant Kitchens, Community Cookbooks, and Italian-American Life: An Introduction

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p. 142-142

In Part II of this sequence, authors of commercial, community, and self-published cookbooks reflect on their decisions to write about immigrant kitchens and cooking. Catherine Tripalin Murray (author of A Taste of Memories from the Old ‘‘Bush’’) reviews the family roots of her decision to collect recipes. In her case, a desire to know the way of life and the community of...

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A Taste of Memories

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pp. 143-149

Each concrete level leading up to the screen door of Ben DiSalvo’s Market in Madison, Wisconsin, was a challenge. Big steps, little legs, tiny feet. There was no way of knowing back then that each step taken was not only an achievement of sorts for a small child but also a giant step in the right direction. For beyond the door, standing on worn wood flooring and a ceiling...

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The Italian Immigrant Kitchen: A Journey into Identity

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pp. 150-156

If Saddam Hussein had not invaded Kuwait, I may never have gone in search of my ancestry. I was too busy and happy unraveling life in Egypt’s Western Desert. The day my book on the desert and its oases was published, the Kuwait war began. My small publishing venture did not last long after that. Tourism hit bottom in Egypt. After seventeen years, I was forced to...


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Transformation in the Verbal Art of Clementina Todesco

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pp. 159-165

The volume upon which the present discussion is focused comes to us as part of theWayne State University Folklore Archive Study Series. Elizabeth Mathias and Richard Raspa, authors of Italian Folktales in America: The Verbal Art of an Immigrant Woman,1 have centered their study on folk artist Clementina Todesco and have effectively redeemed from oblivion the tales and...

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The Novels of Mari Tomasi

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pp. 166-176

From two published books we are able to learn more about Mari Tomasi’s writings. The first of these books is Vermont Literature: A Sampler, an anthology of regional writing edited by Arthur W. Biddle and Paul A. Eschholz, which includes Miss Tomasi’s short story ‘‘Stone.’’1 The second book is Rose Basile Green’s comprehensive study, The Italian-American Novel: A Document of the Interaction of Two Cultures, which includes a four-page critical...

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Breaking the Silence: An Interview with Tina De Rosa

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pp. 177-201

When Tina De Rosa wrote her novel Paper Fish, the room where she worked was haunted.
Not by ghosts and goblins, but by childhood memories. To write the book, she had to let the emotions that came with those memories rush through her. Once again, she had to feel grief, loneliness, and bewilderment...

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Lucy Mancini: The New Woman

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pp. 202-205

By the end of The Godfather, only one of the three principal women embraces the modern world and therefore truly transcends the mores of the old country: Lucy Mancini. Mamma Corleone, a model of the Sicilian wife, remains untouched by American life. Connie Corleone may have gone to college, but her education does not prevent her from submissively accepting...

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Foodways in Italian-American Narrative

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pp. 206-214

Food is not only fundamental to our survival but also integrally connected with social function and identity. What, how, and where we eat often tells us who we are or who we are not. Food and eating, as Sarah Sceats notes, are ‘‘essential to self-identity and are instrumental in the definition of family, class, and ethnicity’’ (Sceats 2000, 1). Encoded in food and eating practices...

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In Our Ears, a Voice: The Persistence of the Trauma of Immigrationin Blue Italian and Umbertina

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pp. 215-224

Approximately 80 percent of Italian Americans in the United States today can trace their roots to a southern Italian immigrant escaping the poverty and lack of opportunity in his or her own country. Most of the four-and-a-half million Italians arrived in America between 1880 and 1924, with a smaller wave emigrating after World War II. While the economic implications...

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Mary Caponegro, Prize-Winning American Writer in Rome

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pp. 225-231

Mary Caponegro’s ‘‘Materia Prima’’ (1987) opens in the land that celebrates Thanksgiving on a Thursday in November. Relatives are visiting for a weekly family dinner, and the narrator remarks casually, proverbially, ‘‘when in Rome they did as we did.’’ In 1991 Brooklyn-born Mary Caponegro went to Rome. A prestigious literary prize that cannot be applied for, but...

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Mary di Michele’s Elegies

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pp. 232-239

In her poetry, the Italian-Canadian Mary di Michele explores various issues of marginality, asking questions about the language and forms she must use as a doubly marginal writer, and questions about her audience. As I have argued elsewhere,1 these concerns figure prominently in her confessional poems, where she defines center and margin in terms of her own personal

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Interview with Sandra (Mortola) Gilbert

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pp. 240-249

Sandra M. Gilbert is, with Susan Gubar, the co-author of The Madwoman in the Attic (Yale University Press, 1979), a study of the woman writer and the literary imagination of the nineteenth century, and No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, in 3 volumes, all from Yale University Press: Volume 1, The War of the Words (1988); Volume 2, Sex-changes... (1989); and Volume 3, Letters from the Front (1994). The two also...

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Simona Griffo, Detective Hero: A Series of ‘‘Troublems’’

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pp. 250-259

Crime stories are easy money for professionals, says Ed McBain, chronicler of the 87th precinct:
I always started a P.I. story with a blonde wearing a tight shiny dress. When she crossed her legs, you saw rib-topped silk stockings and garters taut against milky white flesh, boy. Usually, she wanted to find her missing husband or somebody. Usually, the P.I. fell in love with her by the end of the story, but...

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Writing Life, Writing History: Italian-American Women and the Memoir

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pp. 260-268

In the 1990s, the memoir became a prominent and controversial genre on the North American literary scene and, in spite of the attacks of its many detractors, established itself as the genre of the turn of the century. Whether due to its concern with the functions and scopes of memory in constructing a story of the self, its postmodern questioning of the validity of traditional...

Art, Music, and Film

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Concetta Scaravaglione, Italian-American Sculptor

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pp. 271-283

Concetta Scaravaglione (1900–1975), whose career spanned over five decades, was a critically acclaimed American sculptor. She established herself as a major player in the art world early in her career and counted among her admirers and supporters some of the most influential fellow artists, art critics, museum directors, and curators of her time. Among the awards and grants...

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Rosa Ponselle, Incomparable Diva

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pp. 284-299

Baltimore and the Green Spring Valley are a study in contrasts. The city, a port cradling the Patapsco estuary near Chesapeake Bay, is a teeming metropolis housing a third of the state’s population. The surrounding area, by contrast, is a sparsely settled stretch of hills abounding in scenes reminiscent of the Hudson Valley School of painting. Atop one of these hills, in a Mediterranean...

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Nancy Savoca: An Appreciation

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pp. 300-304

Within the context of American cinema, both mainstream Hollywood and independent productions, familiar faces such as Martin Scorsese and new talents like John Turturro and Quentin Tarantino have brought issues of Italian-American ethnicity to the screen. Their films, however, concentrate primarily on male characters and how they come to terms with their ethnic...

Studies about Italian-American Women

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Italian-American Women: A Review Essay

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pp. 307-332

As is true of immigration studies generally,1 surveys of Italian-American life—from scholarly reviews2 to more popular accounts3—have often failed to incorporate women’s experiences extensively. This reflects something other than the paucity of research on Italian immigrant women and their descendants. The 1970s produced a first flowering of research on Italian- American women; research continued...

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Materials from Arno Press: The Italian-American Woman

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pp. 333-336

Arno Press has published an impressive and valuable array of materials on Italian Americans in the United States with its thirty-nine-volume series, The Italian American Experience. The series is as diverse as the community it depicts. It includes the autobiography of Pascal D’Angelo, Son of Italy (1924); the poems of the romantic labor-radical Arturo Giovannitti (with an introduction by Norman Thomas); nine novels varying in literary quality...

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Italian Women in America: Sources for Study

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pp. 337-348

In the period of greatest immigration, from 1830 to 1920, women accounted for approximately one-third of all the Europeans arriving in the United States.1 Because fewer women repatriated, their contribution to permanent immigration is even greater. Yet they are, for the most part, absent from histories of immigrant experiences and from scholarship measuring...


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pp. 349-354


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pp. 355-363

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248933
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823231751
Print-ISBN-10: 0823231755

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Italian American women -- Social life and customs.
  • Italian American women -- Social conditions.
  • Italian American women -- Biography.
  • Italian American women -- Literary collections.
  • Sex role -- United States.
  • Ethnicity -- United States.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
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