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Widows in White

Widows in White: Migration and the Transformation of Rural Women, Sicily, 1880-1928

  • Book Info
    Widows in White
    Book Description:

    Tracing the changing notions of female and male in rural Sicily, Linda Reeder examines the lives of rural Sicilian women and the changes that took place as a result of male migration to the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8348-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: The Women of the South
    (pp. 3-16)

    Sutera, a small town in central-western Sicily, clings to the side of Mount San Paolino, a squat, flat-topped mountain. From the main square, bounded by the church and the city hall, the wrinkled hills, scarred by centuries of erosion, seem to stretch out to the edge of the earth. Amidst this vast expanse of land and sky, the houses are built one top of another as if seeking comfort in numbers; they crowd in on the narrow streets and turn their backs on the surrounding countryside. As you stroll through the town in the silence of a late summer afternoon,...

  6. Part I: Rural Women and Transnational Migration

    • Chapter One Blood, Honour, and Belonging: The World of Rural Sicilians
      (pp. 19-54)

      In the harsh June sunlight, in 1889, nineteen-year-old Antonia A. and twenty-six-year-old Giovanni S. celebrated their marriage in the old stone church of S. Agata, overlooking the main square of Sutera, a small village in western Sicily.¹ Their wedding was more than a celebration of love or testimony to the power of parental will. When the priest finished his sermon and the newlyweds walked into the main square as man and wife, surrounded by their parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and godparents, they were stepping into the adult world with all its attendant responsibilities and privileges. They were also...

    • Chapter Two ‘Gone to America’: Migrating Men and Abandoned Women
      (pp. 55-102)

      In late September of 1908, Paolina B. bid farewell to her husband, Rosario M. He and his older brother, Onofrio, were bound for the coal mines of Birmingham, Alabama. Rosario was a seasoned migrant. He first left home in 1906 when he was twenty-four, returning in 1907 to marry Paolina. Now, less than a year after their wedding, he was once again setting out for Alabama, leaving Paolina, eight months pregnant, at home. Paolina’s sister-in-law, Rosaria, was in a roughly similar situation. She and Onofrio had married eight years earlier, and his departure left her with their four children, the...

    • Chapter Three Motherhood, Marriage, and Migration
      (pp. 103-141)

      InLa Donna Italiana, published in 1899, Lodovico Frati described the philosophical and psychological makeup of women according to the most recent scientific studies. Negating women’s ability to reason, while lauding their capacity for affection, he argued that sentiment was Women’s greatest virtue. He went on to write that: ‘women’s love passes through two distinct but coexistent phases: conjugal love and maternal love. In their love for their children women achieve self-sacrifice, and are capable of great acts of heroism. Only in the family, where nature erected woman’s throne, can women as mothers and wives best satisfy their moral dignity,...

    • Chapter Four Fulfilling the Dream: Houses, Land, and Work
      (pp. 142-168)

      By 1910, American money had begun to transfigure the face of rural Italy. Each year, emigrants sent home millions of lire from the Americas. Back home their families used this money to pay off family debts, build new houses, open small businesses, and buy land. By using the money to change where they lived and worked, rural men and women sought to realize the migrant dream.¹ Houses built by these ‘Americans’ were considered the visible symbols of a family’s and a community’s material success and moral improvement. Responding to a survey sent out by the Royal Italian Agricultural Commission, the...

  7. Part II: Shifting Borders, Shifting Identities

    • Chapter Five Sicilian Women and the Italian State
      (pp. 171-201)

      In early January of 1908, Angelo A. stepped off the train at the Sutera station. He had been gone four years, working in the coal mines outside Birmingham, Alabama. In his store-bought suit, starched white collar, and leather shoes, he made a striking picture trudging up the steep, muddy road that led from the station in the valley to the main square. He had left his family as a sharecropper with only a few lire to his name. After four years in drab company towns, scrimping and saving his weekly pay, he was coming home with money in his pockets...

    • Chapter Six Beyond Sutera: Sicilian Women Join the Nation
      (pp. 202-232)

      By 1910 the women of Sutera were going to school and learning to read in greater numbers than ever before. Schooling and literacy did more than redefine the relationship between women and the state: learning to read redrew the boundaries of the world of rural women by integrating them into a distinctly Italian women’s community. Classroom lessons taught girls and women to see their familial duties in terms of national responsibilities. In school texts, marriage and mothering became a woman’s patriotic duty. The authors believed that properly run rural schools should produce girls who were ‘adept in all domestic duties,...

  8. Conclusion: Gender, Migration, and Globalization
    (pp. 233-240)

    In the late 1950s, Ann Cornelisen moved to a small village in Lucania. Despite the difficulties of daily life in a world where the water ran for two hours each day, electricity was erratic, houses were always cold, and luxuries were few, she came to love the place and the people. When she wrote about her experience, she recalled: ‘Life in a Southern Italian village is exclusive of all other life.’ The people lived in insular networks circumscribed by their kin and neighbours, as they struggled to survive in an inhospitable world.¹ From the inside, this sense of isolation is...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 241-298)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 299-316)
  11. Index
    (pp. 317-324)