Sunday, July 1, 2012

Matrilineal Monday - The White Widows Of Italy

Between 1880 and 1920 a mass migration out of Italy cut the population of many towns dramatically. Immigrants left Italy in huge numbers during this period. Approximately one third of those immigrants came to the United States. There were many reasons for this mass migration during this time frame. Crops were failing due to over farming caused by greedy feudal landlords, Phylloxera destroyed many of the vineyards, and a series of many natural disasters and outbreaks of illnesses such as cholera made earning a living and surviving in Italy difficult. Something new began to occur during this time period. It became so common, it was given a name and the wives left behind were called White Widows. Leaving Italy was not as easy task and could be quite expensive. Often men would leave their families for other countries and look for work. Once they found work in the new country, they would obtain proper lodgings for their families and send money for their passage so the family could be reunited in their new country. However, this did not always happen. Sometimes the husband would leave promising to send for his wife and children when he obtained work, and would never be heard from again. The wives that were left behind to feign for themselves and their young children were called white widows. Food and jobs in Italy were scarce during this time. Most of the men that left Italy probably left intending to send for their families. However, once they found work in America, they had to pay rent and eat. Many also had to send some money home for their families to survive. Saving money for ship passage for the family would have been difficult at best. The lucky ones would have found good jobs with opportunity to save but many did not. Other circumstances also lead to men leaving their homeland and families behind also. Many of these men after a period of time gave realizing that the reality of their finances would never allow them to send for their wives and children. Some of these men continued to send money back to their families but for some of these white widows, their husbands were never heard from again.

1 comment:

  1. Since the women left behind were still legally married by Church law, they couldn't remarry. They needed to get a divorce to remarry, not always possible. Therefore, they were "white widows".