History of Italian Americans in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia has a historical Italian American population. In 2010, the Philadelphia metropolitan region had the second-largest Italian-American population in the United States with more than 142,000 residents with Italian ancestry, and about 3,100 Italian immigrants. [1]


During the 18th Century Colonial Era of the United States, Italian migrants to Philadelphia came from higher class backgrounds and were considered to be accomplished in business, art, and music.[2] Many early Italian settlements appeared in South Philadelphia. Italian immigrants from this period predominantly originated from towns within Genoa Province, Liguria,[3] including Genoa and Chiavari, while only a small number came from Veneto.[4] Donna J. Di Giacomo, author of Italians in Philadelphia, wrote that the first population was "in much smaller numbers" than the mass immigrant groups of the late 19th Century.[3] At the time many Americans had a positive view of classical culture and their view of Italian immigrants was more positive.[5] Among the immigrants of this first period, Lorenzo Da Ponte, immigrated in 1804, will play a significant role in bringing Italian language and culture in the United States, as well as introducing Italian Opera in America.[6]

In 1819 Silvio Pellico wrote in "Breve soggiorno in Milano di Battistino Barometro" that Italian immigrants were going to Philadelphia.[7] Charles L. Flynn, Jr. of Assumption College stated in his book review of Building Little Italy that the Philadelphia Italian "community" didn't actually form until the 1850s and 1860s, when it achieved enough size to do so. There were 117 Philadelphia residents known to have been born in Italy.[8] By the 1870 census this increased to 517, with 82% of them living in South Philadelphia.[7]

In the end of the 19th Century Italians immigrating to Philadelphia mainly came from peasant villages in the south of Italy and were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.[2] During that era most Italians came to the United States in order to make more money, but the vocational skills they had learned in Italy were not in high demand in the U.S.[9] Immigrants in the later period originated from Abruzzo, Avellino and Salerno in Campania, and Messina in Sicily.[3] The public had a more negative perception of the poorer Italians, especially as the media focused on crimes and bad behavior.[5]


In the community's initial history (circa prior to the 1850s-1860s) about 67% of the residents were male, and about 67% were ages 15–44.[10] The pre-1870 Italian community did not include labor agents.[11] During that period Italians were concentrated in wards 2 through 5 in South Philadelphia.[10]

By the early 20th century the ratio between families with children and male workers decreased.[10]

The Ligurians held leadership roles within the Italian community during the 19th and 20th centuries.[4]


The largest and oldest Italian community is located in South Philadelphia. Other neighborhoods with historical Italian settlements include East Falls, Germantown, and Manayunk. As of 2007 some Italian businesses still operate in Chestnut Hill.[12]

Italians began settling Germantown in 1880.[12] The Italian community in South Philadelphia was, at a later point, reduced in size due to Italians moving to Southern New Jersey and other parts of the Greater Philadelphia area. Italians especially moved to Washington Township.[13] Di Giacomo wrote in 2007 that "the Germantown settlement is 98 percent gone today".[12]


The Italian Market is located in South Philadelphia.[13]

The Philadelphia area has a large number of Italian restaurants.[14]


Historically the Italian newspapers in Philadelphia included La Libera Parola, L'Opinione, and Il Popolo Italiano. The United Presbyterian Church publication was Vita. Ordine Nuovo was the newspaper of the Sons of Italy.[3]


The early Italian immigrants had little desire to be active in political life in either the U.S. or Italy since they focused on their work.[4]


Italians coming to Philadelphia were predominantly Catholic.[3] Di Giacomo wrote "The church was the focal point of neighborhood life. Nearly everything, from baptisms to funerals, played out in or around the church."[12] Some Italians were Protestant. The Protestants included Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals. In South Philadelphia second and third generations of Protestants left at a much quicker rate compared to Catholics of the same generation.[12]

In 1852 St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi in South Philadelphia,[13] the first Italian Catholic parish in the United States, was founded by pre-mass immigration Italians.[3]

In 1898 Southern Italians who felt alienated from the St. Mary's Catholic Church due to their southern background and from the Irish St. Peter's Catholic Church founded the Our Lady of Good Counsel Church (Italian: La Chiesa Nostra Signora del Buon Consiglio). In 1933 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed Our Lady of Good Counsel. Di Giacomo wrote that "The church's constant activity is legendary to this day."[3]

One Italian church, St. Rita of Cascia (in South Philadelphia at Broad and Ellsworth Streets), is now a shrine. Other Italian Catholic churches include King of Peace and St. Nicholas of Tolentine.[3] The Presbyterian church had three Italian churches, with one in South Philadelphia, one in Germantown, and one in Overbrook.[12]


The first Italian mutual aid society, the Società Italiana di Unione e Fratellanza, was organized in 1867.[4]

The Consulate-General of Italy in Philadelphia is located in Center City, Philadelphia.[15]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/italians-and-italy/
  2. ^ a b Juliani, p. 4.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Di Giacomo, p. 8.
  4. ^ a b c d Luconi, Stefano (University of Florence). "Building Little Italy: Philadelphia's Italians before Mass Migration" (Book Review). Italica, 1 April 1999, Vol.76(1), pp. 121–122. CITED: p. 122.
  5. ^ a b Varbero, Richard A. (State University of New York, New Paltz). "Building Little Italy: Philadelphia's Italians before Mass Migration" (Book Review). The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1 July 1999, Vol.123(3), pp. 258–259. CITED: p. 258. "We learn that at first Philadelphians, like much of the English-speaking world, were receptive to the idea of Italy and its culture, visualizing the Italians as symbolic of classical culture. This attitude waned perceptibly as the less attractive features of nineteenth-century migrants emerged and newspapers focused on organ grinders, the exploiters of children, and the instances of violence involving Italians."
  6. ^ Lorenzo Da Ponte residence in Philadelphia
  7. ^ a b Luconi, Stefano (University of Florence). "Building Little Italy: Philadelphia's Italians before Mass Migration" (Book Review). Italica, 1 April 1999, Vol.76(1), pp. 121–122. CITED: p. 121.
  8. ^ Flynn, Charles L. (Assumption College) "Building Little Italy: Philadelphia's Italians Before Mass Migration" (Book Review). Italian Americana, 1 January 2000, Vol.18(1), pp. 110–111. CITED: p. 110.
  9. ^ Di Giacomo, p. 7-8.
  10. ^ a b c Zucchi, John (McGill University). "Richard Juliani, Building Little Italy: Philadelphia's Italians before Mass Migration.(Book review)." Labour/Le Travail, Spring, 2000, Issue 45, p. 327(2). CITED: p. 328.
  11. ^ Gabaccia, Donna R. (University of North Carolina at Charlotte). "Building Little Italy: Philadelphia's Italians before Mass Migration (review)." Journal of Social History, 1999, Vol.33(2), pp. 490–491. CITED: p. 491.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Di Giacomo, p. 9.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Di Giacomo, p. 11.
  14. ^ Sheehan, Jason. "The Best Italian Restaurants in Philadelphia." Philadelphia. June 29, 2012. Retrieved on May 30, 2015.
  15. ^ "Welcome to the web site of the Consulate General of Italy in Philadelphia." Consulate-General of Italy in Philadelphia. Retrieved on February 1, 2009.
  16. ^ "The Lineal Middleweight Champions". The Cyber Boxing Zone Encyclopedia.
  17. ^ a b "Harry Olivieri - Co-creator of the Philly Cheesesteak". The Guardian. 2006-08-21. Retrieved 2015-12-01.


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