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The strict regulations of female premarital life are noted by Yans-McLaughlin (1943)[1][170]:


“The male family members were responsible for protecting female chastity and a woman’s desirability as a future wife[2][171]; indeed, the family honor stood invested in a girl’s virginity. Usually women did not leave their homes unchaperoned. A woman’s behavior reflected both her moral character and her family’s prestige—brutal vendettas followed insults to her. The strict surveillance continued through the courtship period, so that husband and wife found themselves alone for the first time on their wedding night”[3][172].


Later, Alba (1985)[4][173] was to note:


“The shift in the position of women and the structural forces producing it are most visible in relation to courtship and marriage. The control exercised in southern Italy by parents, and the family generally, over the marriages of their children hinged on greater knowledge of the field of eligibles. But this was a knowledge acquired over many years in a fairly static village, with a stable complement of families, and it largely disappeared in the new setting. Parents who attempted to maintain the same control in an American city placed their daughters in a difficult position, as this plaintive description by one second-generation Italian-American woman reveals: “Our parents think you can just sit home and wait for a man to come asking for your hand—like a small town in Italy”. She added a remedy that made sense only in the American environment, “They don’t realize that here a girl has got to get out and do something about it”[5][174]. Many apparently did do something about it, slipping away without their parents’ knowledge to go to dances or meet men. But still there was a lot of confusion over the proper limits on the behavior of young women. Some were allowed great freedom, others were kept at home as they would have been in southern Italy, and the situations of the majority were in between these two extremes. There were even variations within the same family, as the struggle between the generations was most intense for the oldest daughters, and parental resistance often abated for the younger sisters[6][175]”.


A comparative pattern was noted for Italian Canadians (Icovetta, 1993)[7][176].













Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1][170] Yans-McLaughlin, V. (1943) Family and Community: Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930. Ithaca: CornellUniversity Press

[2][171] Covello, Italo-American School Child, p313 [orig. footnote]

[3][172] Whyte, W. F. (1944) Sicilian Peasant Society, Am Anthropol 46:[p71]; MacDonald, Italy’s Rural Social Structure, p447–8; Covello, p302–7 [orig. footnote]

[4][173] Alba, R. D.(1985) Italian Americans: Into the Twilight of Ethnicity. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

[5][174] Ware, Greenwich Village, p. 182 [orig. footnote]

[6][175] Ibid., p180-8

[7][176] Icovetta, F. (1993) Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto. Montreal; Buffalo: McGill-Queen's University Press