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.
Events in Italy 1910-1912
Our first thought as we read the report on the heat wave in Europe during the summer of 1911 was: “Thank God Letizia and little Josie left when they did!” Although life in America would be difficult and the U.S. was not immune to outbreaks of cholera, the overall quality of life here was vastly better. With a steady job, adequate housing, access to fresh food and life in a rural setting the Nicola and his family were removed from the ongoing strife and poverty that had dogged the Southern Italians for decades after the Risorgimento was successful.
• During the Summer of 1911 a record breaking heat wave swept through Europe. Infant mortality rose 6 per cent and early childhood mortality around 10 per cent in comparison with past years.
• In the period between 1800 and the post WWII years, the Summer of 1911 was one of the hottest on record.
• In Italy the hottest temperatures throughout the country were recorded in August of 1911.
• A fresh outbreak of Cholera started in the summer of 1910 and continued through the Summer of 1911.
o 805 deaths from cholera were reported in 1910. All of these deaths occurred in Southern Italy.
• There was also an outbreak of smallpox.
• The main victims were infants and young children.
• The Italian officials underreported the number of deaths so as to not upset tourists. A well known example of such under reporting took place in Naples.
• The outbreak of the Balkan War in 1912 coincided with another increase of cholera throughout Europe.
Special Note about local newspapers in Pennsylvania
Please see the Discussion section for our comments about the news sources used and why we used them.
The European Cholera Epidemic of 1911 as covered by a small town newspaper in Honesdale, Pennsylvania
According to an article in the July 26, 1911 edition of “The Citizen”, a Honesdale, Pennsylvania newspaper, there was progress in keeping the United States safe against a nationwide outbreak of cholera. In the summer of 1911 the threat still existed but public awareness was raised to understand the causes and precautions needed. The article also goes into steps the federal government was undertaking to stop the spread of cholera when it was discovered that immigrants at ports of arrival were carrying the disease.
Thanks to research we learned that cholera was carried by infected persons. The illness came into the country by immigrants who were already infected. This necessitated quarantine at the port of entry. The article goes on to encourage understanding of the advances in treatment for cholera and smallpox that were available.
Americans were urged to stay level headed and well informed. The stress caused by fear and ignorance, the artice urged, are enough to lower resistance and make anyone susceptible to catching the illness.
Recommendations for the care of babies during summer from a small town Pennsylvania newspaper in 1912
We found another article from the “The Citizen” dated July 19, 1912. It summarizes a government bulletin that was available advising mothers on the proper care of their baby during the Summer. Some highlights of the bulletin were:
• Infant mortality is highest in summer.
o Gastro-intestinal illness increases.
• Babies need clean clothing and shade from the sun.
• Babies can go outdoors but must stay in the shade.
• Rooms must be well ventilated even at night.
• Food must be fresh and if possible mothers should continue breast feeding in the summer. Do not wean the baby then.
• A baby can be bathed in cool water 2x a day or more.
• Make sure baby also has fresh cool water to drink.
The bulletin published by the Dept. of Public Health & Charities. It shows that there was outreach to raise public awareness on this topic by the media and the government.
Nick, Letizia and Josie in Wilmerding: What their first winter in Pennsylvania was like
These statistics come from a report published in 1913 and represent an average for the entire state of Pennsylvania. Please see the Resources section for the link.
• Winter of 1912-1913 (Oct. 1912-Mar. 1913)
o Mean Temperature 39.5 degrees F
o Lowest Temperature 4 degrees F
o Total snowfall 22 inches
o Days on which snow fell 44
The change in climate and geography would be a challenge for the family as would the expense of fuel for a stove to keep the house warm.
Postcards from Old Agropoli, Late 19th – Early 20th Centuries
Via Piave, Agropoli.
Old Agropoli, below the Byzantine Gate.
Postcards from Wilmerding, Late 19th – Early 20th Centuries
Postcard showing a bird’s eye view of Wilmerding, PA, 1897. The largest buildings in the center are make up the Westinghouse Air Brake Company.
Westinghouse Airbrake Company General Office, Wilmerding, PA. Early 1900s.
Station Street, Wilmerding, Pennsylvania in 1900. Station Street ran along the back of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company’s factory.
Public School, Wilmerding, PA.
Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, July 19, 2015 11 – 11:30 a.m.
Uncle Sammy informed me that Honesdale is a small town in the Poconos. It is not close to Wilmerding but the news articles from “The Citizen” are of value because they inform us of what actions were being taken at the federal level in regards to the issues of immigration and the cholera epidemic. They also offer an insight into how the media informed the public.
I have not been able to locate any news publications, past or present, that were published within Wilmerding. The modern day news organizations for nearby towns like McKeesport, North Versailles and Pitcairn do not have archives that go back to the early 20th century. Uncle Sammy and I agreed that:
• We will search for newspapers at the county level (Allegheny County) and within Pittsburgh and the surrounding area.
• News coverage on a statewide basis is also a good source of information.
• Newspaper coverage of events during the time in which the Muro family became established in America will tune us in to the mood of the time and the challenges the family faced.
• Another focus for google searches will be the Westinghouse Air Break Company (WAB Co.). We think there had to be some form of publication the company sponsored or produced that informed the citizens of Wilmerding about what was happening in the town. For example, the WAB Co. created the main park in town, a band that performed in the park, and the first radio station that broadcasted the performance of the band. There had to have been bulletins or newsletters used to disseminate this information to the residents. It would also have served as a means to promote the company and attract new workers.
Since there was a network of relatives and paesanos existing in Wilmerding Nick and Letizia had adequate opportunities for socializing and a support network. We think the following factors presented them a challenge during the early years in America:
• getting used to the cold winters
• obtaining adequate clothing to keep themselves warm
• meeting the expense of fuel
• finding substitutes for the foods they preferred
• adapting the traditional cuisine they favored to what was available locally
My Personal Reaction
I cried after putting this posting together. Comparing photo postcards of Station street and the public school with the images of Agropoli drove a message home to me. Josie was going to have living conditions and an education her parents never could have offered her if they remained in Agropoli. Her chances to grow up healthy and advance her position in life were also part of the future that awaited. She was being offered opportunities Nick and Letizia never had. How she would use those opportunities were part of the process of becoming an American.
Grandma Josie was an amazing woman who stayed abreast of the times and changes in our society. She maintained those traditions and values from her parents which created her strength of character. She also progressed with the times and welcomed developments that improved the lives of all the American people. My Grandmother never looked back when things got rough. She never reminisced about the so-called “good old days” in Italy or Wilmerding. She always told me, “I have to get up and go to work tomorrow.” This was her way of saying that we must each continue to do our appointed job each day so that society keeps advancing. We do the right thing for ourselves and our country if we stay focused and keep a flexible, positive outlook in mind. The part of Wilmerding where she grew up had a varied population of immigrants from other parts of Europe. She always emphasized how people worked to get along with each other. Since most neighbors worked at WAB Co. it was in one’s best interest to be courteous and show respect for each other.
The Heat-Wave of 1911. A Largely Ignored Trend Reversal in the Italian and Spanish Transition, Pages 147 – 178
Pennsylvania Weather for Winter 1912-1913
Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station
By Pennsylvania State College. Agricultural Experiment Station
How to Care for Babies-Advice from 1912
Library of Congress
Chronicling of America
The Citizen, Honesdale, PA
“How to care for Babies in summer”
July 19, 1912, page 4
“No Danger of Cholera Invasion of This Country”
The Library of Congress
The Citizen, (Honesdale, PA)
July 26, 1911, pg. 7
Italian Immigrants in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
“Italians in Pennsylvania”
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
“Rural Roads, City Streets: Italians in Pennsylvania”
Photos and Postcards of Wilmerding-Library of Congress
All LOC images are in the Public Domain.
Bird’s Eye View of Wilmerding, 1897
Public Domain-Library of Congress
Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 1897. Drawn by T. M. Fowler.
Fowler, T. M. 1842-1922. (Thaddeus Mortimer)
Morrisville, Pa., T. M. Fowler & James B. Moyer 
Perspective map not drawn to scale.
Reference: LC Panoramic maps (2nd ed.), 874
Indexed for points of interest.
G3824.W74A3 1897 .F6
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. 20540-4650 USA
General offices-Westinghouse Air-Brake Company-circa 1905
Library of Congress
Title: General offices, the Westinghouse Air-Brake Co., Wilmerding, Pa.
Detroit Publishing Co. , copyright claimant
Detroit Publishing Co. , publisher
Date Created/Published: c1905.
Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 8 x 10 in.
Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-det-4a12749 (digital file from original)
Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Call Number: LC-D4-18674 <P&P> [P&P]
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Postcards and Magic Lantern Slide of Agropoli 1900s
Old Agropoli-Magic Lantern Slide
Postcards of Wilmerding 1900s from FamilyOldPhotos.com
Postcard Station street in Wilmerding, 1900
Postcard Public School in Wilmerding, 1900s