To honor the matriarchs who have continued to inspire and guide us, we have compiled a list of the top five most influential Italian-American women. These women have broken barriers, achieved great success, and paved the way for future generations.
First on our list is Saint Frances Cabrini, who emigrated from Sant’Angelo, Italy, to the United States and founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. She recruited over 4,000 sisters to help her efforts and founded numerous educational and healthcare institutions across the country. She became the first American saint after her canonization in 1946.
Next, we have Angela Bambace, who organized the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) in New York and Maryland in the early 1900s. Despite starting as a worker in a shirtwaist factory, Bambace eventually became the first woman to break through the all-male leadership of the organization by being elected vice president of the ILGWU in 1956.
Catherine De Angelis, M.D., is another trailblazer on our list. She became the first woman editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2000 after putting herself through college and medical school. She also served as Vice Dean at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Geraldine Anne Ferraro is a politician and lawyer who made history as the first woman and first Italian-American vice-presidential candidate on a national party ticket in 1984. She graduated from law school after winning a college scholarship and skipping three grades in high school.
Finally, we have Mary Lou Retton, the first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win the Olympic gold medal in the women’s individual all-around competition at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She was also elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.
It’s worth noting that these women were inspired by other Italian-American women who came before them. For instance, Rosie the Riveter, modeled after Rosie Bonavita, represented the millions of American women who replaced male factory workers during World War II. Maria Teresa Cafarelli de Francisci, who modeled for the Miss Liberty Peace Dollar, was another Italian-American woman who left her mark on history.
Italian-American mothers and grandmothers may have started out as seamstresses, but their hard work and dedication have paved the way for future generations to achieve their dreams. We invite you to share your stories and tell us about the Italian-American women who have influenced your life. Please note that our list is not exhaustive and is intended to inspire further reflection and conversation.