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The Italian American Woman's Tenacious Spirit
by Cookie Curci
Much has been written of the Italian male immigrant-- of his intrepid desires and accomplishments. But what of the tenacious Italian woman who came to America in search of success-- her numbers are also strong and many. Between 1901 and 1910, nearly nine million immigrants came to the United States. A large ratio of these immigrants were young Italian women, who bravely left their small towns and villages to follow the shadows of their ancestors, In 1910, both my maternal and fraternal Italian grandmothers were among those dauntless young women who left their little towns and villages to come to America. It took a special kind of bravery for a young woman to leave her home and family and make that voyage of a lifetime. It's that same unifying, inherited, spirit that lives within every Italian American woman-- past, present and future.
My grandmothers, Maria and Isolina, like their peers, had, at their core, a strong belief in their destiny, an adventurous spirit, and a desire to succeed. Their beliefs were simple but deep and abiding. Grandma Maria would often say, "What we become in this world is the result of our personal desires and our thoughts". She was right, of course, what we achieve all starts out with a single thought. What we think, we become. Every Italian woman, who boarded a ship for America, knows this to be true. First the thought, then came her belief in that thought. Wave after wave of Italian women found, within themselves, the courage to seek their dreams, and to leave their homeland to find a better life...a better fate.
In 1889, during the third wave of Italian immigrants, (1870' s-1960) almost twenty years before my grandparent's generation arrived at Ellis Island, the most renowned Italian American woman of the 20th century, Saint Frances Cabrini emigrated here from her native town of San Angelo, Italy. Maria Francesca Cabrini was born July 15, 1850 and at an early age felt her calling. Mother Frances Cabrini, was the first Italian -American saint, she founded 14 American colleges, 98 schools, 28 orphanages, eight hospitals, three training schools, and a score of other institutions with the help of over 4,000 sisters she recruited for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a group she also founded. Mother Cabrini immigrated to the US in 1889 and became a US citizen in 1909. She died in 1917 and was canonized in 1946.
With a similar dedication to her goals, other Italian American women have also climbed the ladder of success to find notoriety in their chosen field. One of the earliest Italian American women to star in her chosen world of politics was Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut. She was the first woman ever-elected governor in her own right. Born in 1919, she was elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1970. According to the Library of Congress, Mrs. Grasso was also the first Italian American -woman elected to Congress. She served until 1975 when she was elected governor of Connecticut.
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