Between 1880 and 1914, America saw its greatest influx of Italian immigrants. When looking back at this period of mass immigration, the focus is often on the roles played by Italian and their contribution to the American workforce. However, the lives of the women during this period is also very interesting.
Homemakers and Mothers
The role for many married Italian women who immigrated to America was to look after their children and be a good homemaker for their husbands. Due to their new surroundings and changed circumstances, this was difficult for many women.
Married women who did work would often opt for something they could do from home. Typical examples of this are dressmaking, opening a small shop in their home or taking in boarders.
Women who trained as midwives in Italy were attracted to the Italian-American communities where they could continue their work.
The Garment Industry
Young and single women had greater flexibility to work outside the home. One of the most common places for young Italian women to work was in garment factories. This was evident in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 when a large percentage of the 146 women killed were Italian-American.
Adverse Living Conditions
When Italian families first moved to America, they often faced adverse living conditions due to poverty and overcrowding. This was a situation that women had to face in their daily struggle to look after their families.
Despite moving to a new country, Italian women continued with their own cultural traditions and often mixed only with other Italian-Americans in their neighborhood. One of the most important elements of Italian culture for women was family.
By the second and third generations of Italian-Americans, there were greater opportunities for Italian women as they had access to education and society was more accepting of women in the workplace.