Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
immigrant, Italian, women, Schenectady, post-war
Immigration has been a topic of extreme interest within American history since its very beginning. From its earliest years, the United States has attracted large numbers of immigrants. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mass immigration commenced often as a result of deteriorating economic conditions in the countries that people left and the promising economic situation in America, where industry developed rapidly and laborers were needed. Italians were one of the largest and most notable of the many groups who emigrated from their homelands in search of opportunity and better lives, and they continued this practice well after the early waves of mass immigration ended with the outbreak of World War II. However, little is heard of the difficulties faced or successes found by these more recent Italian immigrants. The experiences of the Italians who immigrated as part of earlier mass migrations waves have been well documented, especially those of Italian men. Yet, scholarly literature has paid significantly less attention to the experiences of Italian women who immigrated after World War II, and they too are deserving of recognition and study. Focusing on Italian immigrant women of post-World War II Schenectady, this thesis uncovers the hardships endured and the successes achieved prior to immigration, upon arrival in Schenectady, and throughout their childbearing years by examining their roles in the workplace, in the family and in the Schenectady community. Using interviews conducted for the purpose of this research, the thesis follows ten Italian women’s life journeys: from weathering wartime adversities in their homeland through following family members who had already immigrated to settling into Schenectady and its Italian community to working within and outside of the home in order to help support their families and provide the next generation with improved opportunities. From all of these women’s life stories, it is clear that relationships and interactions with other Italian women at work and in the neighborhood played an essential role in these women’s lives in the city. One woman’s journey, that of Vita Serafini, helps portray the general roles filled and experiences typically encountered by Italian immigrant women in the middle of the twentieth century. Through Vita’s account, dreadful experiences with poverty and German military brutality are seen in Italy during World War II. By following Vita’s journey to Schenectady, her reasons for immigration are clear; numerous members of her family were already settled in the area and opportunities were plentiful in Schenectady compared to Italy’s devastated condition. But opportunities were not just handed to her. Vita’s journey demonstrates that continuous work both in and outside of the home was necessary to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle. Her life also shows that despite difficult times back in Italy and as she and her family settled and established a home in Schenectady, she was able to integrate herself into the Italian community and with Italian women who shared similar experiences to find small daily pleasures through socializing. Vita’s interview, along with the nine others that were conducted for this thesis, fills a gap in what is known about post-World War II Italian immigration. Each of the women’s stories confirms the typical path Italian immigrant women of this time period traveled. Because of the gender of the informants selected, a woman’s perspective regarding the Italian immigration experience is seen, shedding light not only on Italian family dynamics and women’s typical roles, but hardships endured and entertainment enjoyed.
DAmbrosio, Lia, "Work All My Life: Italian Immigrant Women's Experiences in Post-World War II Schenectady" (2012). Honors Theses. 794.