The evolution of ethnicity: Connecticut's Italians, 1900--1940

Date of Completion

January 2000


History, United States|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




Between 1900 and 1940, Italians immigrated to Connecticut in large numbers. More than 80,000 of them and more than 140,000 of their children lived in the state by 1940. They primarily settled in Connecticut's five principal cities of Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, and Waterbury, where they experienced frequent economic instability, nativism, and exclusion from politics and institutionalized religion. At best, they were considered different and at worst dangerous. Their detractors lumped them together as Italian without recognition of regional differences. ^ In response to a hostile and unstable climate, they forged a national identity, which enabled them to accommodate to the environment. The second generation in particular related with non-Italians by taking part in the American political process and Connecticut's educational system. As they acculturated, they retained and reshaped elements of their parents' culture. They joined Italian associations, built Italian churches, made Italian an important foreign language in the public school system, and embraced Italian figures such as Christopher Columbus and Benito Mussolini. By 1940, Connecticut Italians became American and Italian, a phenomenon that also occurred elsewhere in the United States. ^ This dissertation consists of nine chapters, each dealing with a critical facet of the shaping of an Italian-American identity, such as the rise of Italian associations, the effects of the World War I era, the development of political consciousness, the impact of Fascism in Italy, and the consequences of the Great Depression. Though conditions varied in each city, all five followed the same pattern of Italians forging an ethnic identity. ^ This work has examined Connecticut-based Italian language newspapers extensively, as well as English-language newspapers, city directories, W.P.A. records, W.PA. interviews and other oral histories, census data, and state court records to show the steady evolution of an Italian-American identity among these immigrants and in particular their children. ^