On the Inside Looking Out: My America, a Voice from Italian Harlem’s Past…

Asked if she liked America, an Italian homeworker replied in 1911: “Not much, not much. In my country, people cook out-of doors, do the wash out-of-doors, tailor out-of-doors, make macaroni out-of-doors. And my people laugh, laugh all the time. In America, is “sopra, sopra!” [up, up, with a gesture of going upstairs]. Many people, one house; work, work all the time. Good money but no good air.” 

Source: Elizabeth C. Watson, “Home Work in the Tenements,” Survey, 25 (1910), 772

In hindsight, perhaps, the above statement could have been spoken by the hard-working Italian woman portrayed in this iconic, social journalistic photo. Her name was Mary Mauro. Mary lived in Italian East Harlem, in a 5 story “old-law” walk-up tenement, along with her family in 1911. By some “synchronistic serendipity,” Mary was one of the “homeworkers” chosen by sociologist and photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, to be portrayed in his photographic documentary series, on immigrants in the United States… in this particular case, child labor and tenement homework. In December of 1911, Mary lived at 309 East 110th Street, adjacent to the Metropolitan Gas Light Company’s massive twin gas tanks. (Predecessor of Consolidated Edison.) Coincidentally, for my family history research, My paternal great grandmother, Maria Altieri, her husband, Andrea, and their 5 children lived in the same building, later on in time, during the 1920’s. It’s highly possible that this woman is the grandmother-in-law of my father’s first cousin, Kiki Aiello Mauro, as her husband, Louie Mauro hailed from this Italian enclave. (Note to self: I really need to ask my Aiello cousins if there is a connection here.) 🙂

Upshot: The old adage, “snap a picture, it lasts longer!”, is so true in Mary Mauro’s case, as she and her family are forever etched in the virtual superhighway of our existence! Thank you, Mr. Lewis Wickes Hine! God Bless our ancestral heritage…God Bless America!

New York. December 1911. “5 p.m. Mrs. Mary Mauro, 309 E. 110th St., 2nd floor. Family works on feathers (sewing them together for use as a hat trimming). Make $2.25 a week. In vacation two or three times as much. Victoria, 8 yrs. Angelina 10 yrs. (a neighbor). Frorandi 10 yrs. Maggie 11 yrs. All work except two boys against wall. Father is street cleaner and has steady job. Girls work until 7 or 8 p.m. Once Maggie worked until 10 p.m.”

New York. December 1911. “5 p.m. Mrs. Mary Mauro, 309 E. 110th St., 2nd floor. Family works on feathers (sewing them together for use as a hat trimming). Make $2.25 a week. In vacation two or three times as much. Victoria, 8 yrs. Angelina 10 yrs. (a neighbor). Frorandi 10 yrs. Maggie 11 yrs. All work except two boys against wall. Father is street cleaner and has steady job. Girls work until 7 or 8 p.m. Once Maggie worked until 10 p.m.”

mauro-family-1911-color.png zeldave2014 wp (2)Colored photo source: https://zeldave2014.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/mauro-family-1911-color.png

309 East 110th Street- March 29th 2015

Note: 309 East 110th Street, East Harlem. (309’s “stoop” is on the far right of this photo.) The gas tanks are long gone. I believe they were taken down in the 1970’s. Photo by Angela Puco

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One Comment on “On the Inside Looking Out: My America, a Voice from Italian Harlem’s Past…”

  1. I grew up at 434 East 118 Steet, between first and pleasant Ave.


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