Living the Revolution: Italian Women's Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880-1945

Living the Revolution: Italian Women's Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880-1945

Living the Revolution: Italian Women's Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880-1945

Living the Revolution: Italian Women's Resistance and Radicalism in New York City, 1880-1945

Synopsis

Italians were the largest group of immigrants to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, and hundreds of thousands led and participated in some of the period's most volatile labor strikes. Yet until now, Italian women's political activism and cultures of resistance have been largely invisible. In Living the Revolution, Jennifer Guglielmo brings to life the Italian working-class women who helped shape the vibrant, transnational, radical political culture that expanded into the emerging industrial union movement.
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Guglielmo imaginatively documents the activism of two generations of New York and New Jersey women who worked in the needle and textile trades. She explores the complex and distinctive ways immigrant women and their American-born daughters drew on Italian traditions of protest to form new urban female networks of everyday resistance and political activism. And she shows how their commitment to revolutionary and transnational social movements diminished as they became white working-class Americans. The rise of fascism, the Red Scare, and the deprivations of the Great Depression led many to embrace nationalism and racism, ironically to try to meet the same desires for economic justice and dignity that had inspired their enthusiasm for anarchism, socialism, and communism.

Excerpt

At the close of the nineteenth century, a visionary movement began to take shape in the New York–New Jersey area. It was led by those on the margins: impoverished, semiliterate, Italian immigrant women who worked in the many sweatshops and mills scattered across the urban- industrial landscape. Inspired by dreams of international working- class solidarity, they came together to leave their mark on the historical record. in venues ranging from newspapers and pamphlets, to theatrical performances, festivals, and community- wide meetings, they exposed the exploitation they experienced as low- wage workers within the expanding capitalist world system. They made visible their daily struggles with family members, bosses, priests, labor leaders, politicians, and the ladies in “perfumed drawing- rooms.” They organized alongside men but also on their own, in women’s groups—what they called gruppi femminili di propaganda. Such groups first formed in New York City and across the Hudson River, in Paterson and Hoboken, within the anarchist movement. They quickly spread to Philadelphia, Boston, New Haven, Chicago, and the mining communities of Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Because the network of groups reflected patterns of Italian labor migration and political exile, they also extended across oceans, to connect with similar groups in Buenos Aires, Paris, Milan, Rome, and beyond.

Out of this diasporic working- class movement, a cast of characters emerges: Maria Roda, Maria Barbieri, Ninfa Baronio, Ernestina Cravello, and Angela Bambace are just some of the dozens of women whose stories are chronicled here. Each devoted her life to radical political movements because revolutionary activism generated a sense of hope in the face of despair. Such activism opened their lives to a rich intellectual and cultural milieu, in which to form new kinds of relationships and develop their own ideas about capitalism, nationalism, racism, colonialism, militarism, religion, feminism, socialism, anarchism, and love. Each . . .

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