Nicola Muro travelled to and from America during the period 1900 to about 1909. He networked with friends and relatives from his hometown of Agropoli to secure employment and familiarize himself with the best place to settle prior to his marriage in 1909. On August 9, 1912 Nicola’s wife Letizia and daughter Giuseppina landed in New York. They then travelled to Wilmerding, Pennsylvania where a new life awaited them with Nicola.
For this posting we focused on the conditions in Italy and Pennsylvania during the period 1911-1912. This informal overview gave us some insights into the circumstances that were in play during the time the family decided to immigrate. Although this was an informal process we gleaned enough information to better appreciate the willingness the family had to make a new home for themselves in America.
We have pulled information from a wide variety of sources since each one vividly conveys the mood and impression of what was going on in Italy and America at the time. This is followed by our discussion notes that include our insights from this week’s readings.
Nicola and Letizia Muro were Sammy’s maternal Grandparents and EmilyAnn’s Great-Grandparents.
Giuseppina Muro married Sabato Serrapede in 1930. She was Sammy’s Mom and EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother.
Americanization of the Italian birth Names
Beginning in this posting, we will start calling our family members by the names they used in America. We believe it is in keeping with the new life and identity they made here. These are also the names everyone knew them by.
Nicola became Nick Muro.
Giuseppina (a/k/a Giuseppa in Italy) was always known as Josie after coming to the U.S.
Overview – Italians in Pennsylvania
• The earliest Italian immigrants to Pennsylvania came from Northern Italy in the late 17th-early 18th centuries. Many settled in the Philadelphia area.
o The Northern Italian immigrants were well-educated and from the middle and upper classes.
• In the 1860s, Americans supported the struggle of the Risorgimento movement in Italy. The Risorgimento, under such leaders as Giuseppe Garibaldi, sought the unification of Italy into one nation. America was in the midst of the Civil War at this time and understood the spirit Garibaldi represented.
• After Unification, Southern Italians were worse off than before. The new Italian government favored the industrialized North. As a result immigration from Southern Italy to the U.S. increased after 1870.
• The Southern Italian immigrants followed a different pattern of settlement than the Northern Italians. Some did go to Philadelphia to work or live. But many more headed to Pittsburgh and the smaller industrial towns in the Pittsburgh area.
• The social identity and culture of Italian immigrants were defined by the town in Italy from which they came.
o If many immigrants from the same town settled in an area they could become a self-sustaining “Little Italy” in a bigger city.
o In the smaller industrial towns there might be some isolation which heightened the feeling of separation from mainstream American life.
o The smaller towns also had a diverse mix of other Europeans. Unless the Italian immigrant had family or paesani from the same village living close by they would have a more difficult time adjusting.
• Italian immigrants in big cities and small towns banded together to form fraternal societies. They offered a limited form of life insurance, health insurance, death benefits and job search assistance.
o In time the members of these mutual aid societies joined forces with organized labor as more Italian immigrants went to work in the factories where labor organizing took place.
• The Catholic Church was another important part of the Italian immigrant’s life.
o The Italian immigrants did not want to worship at churches where Catholic Irish priests ministered due to the cultural and linguistic differences.
o This led to establishment of parishes focused on the needs of the immigrants. These were called nationality parishes.
• In an effort to help Italians form their own unique identity in America, the fraternal societies organized celebrations commemorating the feast days honoring patron saints of the hometown where the immigrants came from.
o There were also parades honoring notable Italians such as Christopher Columbus as a means to foster cultural pride and a positive image of the emerging Italian-American.
• Of all Italian immigrants who came to Pennsylvania during the period 1870-1914 71% settled in the small towns rather than the large cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
o These smaller towns were called company towns because they grew around a factory or mine that was the main source employment.
• Italian immigrants avoided programs run by outside organizations that offered assistance accompanied by efforts to “Americanize” them. They turned instead to family, paesani and the fraternal societies within their own communities.
We will see some of these factors at work as we begin our journey into the early years of the Muro family when they settled in Wilmerding, PA.