27-A Widow in Agropoli-Giuseppa Ruocco Muro-What will she do next?


The genealogical research conducted by Anthony Vermandois forms the basis for the exploration of our ancestral families who lived in Agropoli. Anthony presents the vital statistics, marriage banns and immigration data for Southern Italians in the towns of Agropoli, Atripalda, Castellabate, Laureana Cilento, Monte San Giacomo, and Padula.  Please visit Imagines Maiorum to look-up information about families from these towns.

For this posting we have used the Charts of Descent for the Ruocco, Muro and Mazzeo families.




Artwork used in this posting is within the public domain. Links are provided in the Resources section.

Relationship Notes

Chart for Giuseppa Ruocco.

Giuseppa Ruocco Muro was:
–Sammy’s Great Grandmother
–EmilyAnn’s Secong Great Grandmother

1883: A year of Great Change

Pietro Muro died in 1883 at the age of 41. He left behind 5 small children.  Giuseppa waited 4 years before she married again.

Uncle Sammy and I questioned how Giuseppa could remain single for so long. We were unable to locate any resource materials concerning the life of widows in 19th century Southern Italy so we took an informal approach to consider how Giuseppa might have gotten through those 4 years.

The Widow of the Immigrant Italian Community of Dyker Heights 1930s-1960s

The elderly widows we came into contact with as we grew up were born in Italy in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  Uncle Sammy’s childhood and adolescence cover the 1940s through the 1950s.  Mine spans the mid-1950s through the 1960s.

It was possible for us to still see and have contact with the old customs and attitudes that came over from Italy to America. The older men and women may have been physically here in the United States but much of their deeply held religious and social views still contained the influence of late 19th century society back in Italy.

With these memories in mind we considered what influence and forces may have been at work in Giuseppa’s life.

The Traditional Expectation the Community had of a Widow

“Portrait of a Widow”
by Ludovico Carracci c. 1585

A widow was expected to conduct herself with the strictest amount of discipline. She was to wear black for a year after the death of her husband.  After the period of initial mourning was over she was to wear dark colors and dress conservatively.

Her life was to remain centered around her family. She could enjoy her children and grandchildren.  Approved activities included socializing after mass with friends from the congregation.  Membership in rosary societies or prayer groups earned the widow respect.

A woman with grown children who lost her husband later in life usually did not marry again.

The Role of Religion

It was common for homes to have religious artwork in the living room, dining room and bedroom. Paintings of the Last Supper, The Annunciation and especially the Holy Family were part of daily life.  Conversations included Our Lady and Jesus as if they were a part of the family and with us at every moment of the day and night.

Giuseppa may have found comfort in offering a novena for fulfillment of her family’s needs and safety. A novena is a devotion practiced over a number of days, usually 7 to 9 days.  It serves to reinforce an outlook that anticipates an answer in the days, weeks and months ahead.  When practiced with confidence and faith it is also a means of healing since the loss and difficulty of the present is replaced with hope for the future.

A Woman’s Work

In the traditional Italian family the eldest son would care for his widowed mother. She would move into his home and have a room of her own.  She contributed to the household by relieving her daughter-in-law of such domestic chores as cleaning, cooking or watching the children.  When the widow owned a home, often one or two of her married children might be living with her.  The ownership of the house remained in the mother’s possession but her children helped with the house expenses and her upkeep.

Giuseppa’s children were too young to fulfill these roles. If the charity available through the church was not sufficient, she may have gone to work.

“The Center of Attention” by Giovanni Battista Toriglia.
Note in this painting that above the bed hang a portrait of the Virgin Mary and a Holy Water font.

Possible work Giuseppa could have done:

  1.  Wet nurse (her youngest child Nicola was just a year old when Pietro died. She may have nursed another woman’s child from her home.)
  2. Laundress or Presser
  3. House Cleaner
  4. Seamstress
  5. Agricultural Worker

These occupations were acceptable for a widow to do since they fell within the roles traditionally assigned to women.  When women worked in the fields they were never alone.  They had the company of other women they knew and often brought their children along to help with gleaning or small tasks. Uncle Sammy and I discussed which kind of work would be the easiest for Giuseppa to get into. We believe Giuseppa did field work with other women.  Since Pietro had worked as an agricultural laborer the immediate network of friends and relatives could have helped her obtain this kind of work.  Giuseppa’s daughter-in-law, Letizia Scotti (my Great Grandmother) also did this kind of work while her husband was in America making preparations for her arrival.

Nuclear or Extended Family? To marry again or not? 

We have to consider whether Giuseppa and Nicola lived in their own dwelling or as part of his parent’s household.

If they lived with his parents, Giuseppa may have stayed on after Nicola’s death. It would have been better for her children since their Grandparents would watch them if she had to work outside of the home.

Having a daughter-in-law who worked ensured that there would be at least some money coming into the household. The loss of Pietro’s income would be mitigated somewhat.

We think that Giuseppa decided to take her time before remarrying. She may not have wanted anymore children or marriage to a widower at mid-life who had several small children in need of a mother.

Another possibility is that there weren’t any suitable marriage prospects. Widowers may have been looking for a younger woman to bear them children and would not so readily take on a woman at mid-life with 5 children.

The best of all solutions: A practical marriage

In 1887, Giuseppa married Vincenzo Mazzeo. At this time his daughter Filomena was 10 years old.  Vincenzo was 54 years old.

We think this marriage was based on practicality. Giuseppa and Vincenzo may have wanted companionship as well as the presence of both a mother and father figure in their children’s lives.  There is also the economic benefit that came with the marriage if Vincenzo had a home or earned a steady wage.  Anthony’s research results for Vincenzo are limited to his first and second marriages.  We do not know his profession.  We also do not have any information about his first wife, Pasqualina Dentre, except that she was the mother of Filomena Mazzeo.

A widower with a ten year old daughter may not have been a problem for Giuseppa.  Filomena would be old enough to help with household chores and watch the younger children.  We felt sad to discover that she died at the age of 20 years in 1897.  No further information is available at ImaginesMaiorum.

Later Life

Giuseppa lived long enough to see her youngest son Nicola Muro marry Letizia Scotti in 1909. Nicola and Letizia’s daughter, also named Giuseppa, was born later that year.

Vincenzo passed away in 1908. Giuseppa lived 6 more years.  In that time she saw Nicola, Letizia and baby Giuseppa leave Agropoli to make a new life in America.  We do not think she saw them anymore after that.

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, May 31st, 2015 11:30 a.m. to Noon

Uncle Sammy’s paternal Aunt Filomena D’Agosto was widowed before he was born. Her husband Giuseppe passed away in the early 1940s.  Filomena lived in their home for the rest of her life.  She always dressed conservatively and remained close to her daughters.  One of Filomena’s great enjoyments were the Sunday afternoons when she received visitors at her home.

Filomena’s youngest daughter Emilia remained with her mother and took care of her. When Filomena passed away Emilia, her daughter Annie and Annie’s children continued to live in the same home for many years.

I remembered three widows who lived on the block where I grew up in Dyker Heights during the late 1950s and all through the 1960s. All three observed the customs of dressing modestly and in dark colors.  They attended church regularly.  One owned a two family house over which she retained ownership after her husband passed away.  Her son and daughter lived in the house with her.  She remained close to home and helped watch her grandchildren.

Next door to my family lived a widow who also owned her own home. She lived completely on her own and kept a beautiful home.  Her daughters visited for holidays and house cleaning days.  I remember weekends where the house was a flurry of activity while they cleaned the rooms, changed curtains, or washed windows.

The third widow on our block was very sharp witted. Unlike the other two widows on our block she was very outspoken about the changing demographics in our neighborhood.  She didn’t care for the families moving in from Red Hook and downtown Brooklyn.  Even though they were also Italian-American, they brought with them ways she did not consider middle class such as sitting on their stoops without a proper chair or turning on the fire hydrant to cool off during the summer.  To everyone’s surprise, she returned to Italy after selling the house.

By the mid-late 1970s I saw less and less of this type of a widow living in the community. People began moving away and families became more spread out in terms of location.  Soon it was not unusual to hear a woman talk about getting back into the workforce after her husband died.  Some widows travelled with friends they met at the Senior Citizens Center.  Their world was expanding beyond the traditional focus of church and family.  Some even got remarried as the 1980s began.  The traditions of the ancestral country gradually became a part of the past.  Women now had more choices and they were moving forward into the world of fuller opportunities that were beginning to open up.

Recommended Reading

The following article was located online on June 2, 2015. It offers an easy-to-read overview of women’s rights in Italy from the post-Unification period to the modern day.  Special consideration is given to the acts of violence committed towards women in the name of honor and purity.

“Women in Different Global Contexts-Culture   Gender   Violence”
Ed. by Jolanta Mackowicz and Ewa Pajak-Wazna
The social and legal status o women in Italy between the XIX and XXI centuries
by Sylwia Skuza



Painting: Portrait of a Widow, oil on canvas painting by Ludovico Carracci (Lodovico Carracci), c. 1585, Dayton Art Institute
Date circa 1585
Author Ludovico Carracci (Lodovico Carracci)
Wikimedia Commons


Painting: “The Center of Attention” by Giovanni Battista Toriglia
All images public domain from the site http://cuinine.com/art
“The Center of Attention” may be viewed at


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