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Grace Billotti Spinelli papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: IHRC2483


Papers (1928-1929) of Grace Billotti Spinelli include a typescript of memoirs (in English); papers and reports relating to the International Institute, including a 1934 report relating to the foreign-born in New Jersey; text of a lecture given by Edward Corsi in 1931; and a scrapbook with clippings on Spinelli, her activities, and the YWCA.


  • Creation: 1928-1929


Language of Materials

English and Italian


Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.


This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law. For further information regarding the copyright, please contact the IHRCA.


Grace Billotti Spinelli [Mrs. Marcos](ca. 1907) was born in the Province of Enna, Italy, and came to the United States in 1917. She was the Italian nationality worker at the Jersey City International Institute, and ran for mayor of Jersey City in 1940. She was associated with the YWCA for much of her life, and became industrial secretary of the Passaic, New Jersey, YWCA in 1946. Marcos Spinelli, a Brazilian of Tuscan background, became a well-known writer in the United States.

The following questions and responses come from the autobiographies obtained through the Finnish American Family History Project. Each immigrant was asked to provide answers to the listed questions. Most biographies are in English; some are in the immigrant's native language.

1. Country of origin? Grace Billoti Spinelli was born in Calascibetta, a province of Enna, Sicily.

2. Occupation in native country? Spinelli's father was in the building trade.

3. Reason for immigration? The family was convinced to emigrate by a travel agent who mentioned that Spinelli's father might be drafted. If he were drafted, the family would lose their heavily mortgaged home. Spinelli's mother especially wanted to go to America and convinced her husband. The family hesitated to make the sea voyage for fear of submarines, but a group of actors convinced them to go to America.

4. Date of immigration? Spinelli emigrated in 1916.

5. Did the author repatriate or remain in the U.S.? Spinelli visited her former residence in Italy. Her father later returned to Italy, where he died. Spinelli's mother returned to the U.S. after her husband's death. One uncle returned to Italy due to his disenchantment with America, particularly Chicago Illinois.

6. State(s) and city(s) of settlement in the U.S.? The family settled in Baltimore, Maryland.

7. Occupation(s) in the U.S.? Spinelli became a social worker. As a volunteer for Traveler's Aid, she helped the survivors of the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria, which sank in 1956.

8. Political affiliations in the U.S.? (also ethnic affiliations?) No information.

9. Labor or occupational affiliations in the U.S.? In the building trade workers were paid hourly. Bad weather meant a loss in pay. Spinelli's father believed in the labor movement, but felt they should work for a guaranteed annual wage. Her father sometimes felt saddened by the impersonal labor system in the U.S. and the emphasis on quantity, not quality.

10. Information on family life?-nuclear and/or extended family? Spinelli travelled to the U.S. with her parents. Her brother had remained in Italy. He later joined the family in the U.S. Spinelli's parents never learned English so she was the spokesman for the family.

11. Information on courtship or gender roles? Engaged couples were required to have chaperones. One woman couldn't marry, because she was seen talking to a man without an escort. Dating was frowned upon. Girls were especially guarded. A wife was the responsibility of her husband. A woman who was involved with another man could be murdered by her husband. In Italy, Spinelli's mother did not work outside the home. In the U.S., both parents worked. Household chores were shared. As in Italy, Spinelli's father did all of the grocery shopping. When Spinelli's brother arrived he took the role of guarding his sister. He checked every hook she read and had to see a movie first before she saw it He did not allow her to read the newspaper, but she arranged to get a newspaper at the cigar store. Her brother escorted her to school dances. Her brother allowed her more freedom as he became Americanized. She married and, with her husband, visited Italy.

12. Information on the wider ethnic community? Their community was Italian.

13. Experiences with discrimination or political persecution? Her uncle worked in Chicago, Illinois, as a tailor. He wanted to send as much money as possible to relatives, so he ignored labor strikes. As a result he was beaten several times. Spinelli's father had a beard, but the family they stayed with said he should have his beard shaved, because with a beard he could be mistaken for a Jew. Spinelli's foreignness was admired, not criticized, in school, so she never felt her foreign background was a hindrance. She only felt embarrassed once, when a classmate referred to Sicily as having the Mafia.

14. Any other outstanding features worthy of notice? Sicilians tended to distrust any type of government. They believed the cholera epidemic of 1910 and the flu epidemic in 1918 were caused by the government. Italians turned to communism because they thought it could relieve their poverty. Spinelli mentioned the strict class segregation on shiplines and inadequate service for Americans going to Europe. Spinelli travelled in Italy and commented on the lifestyle of Italians. When she first arrived in the U.S. as a child, she was surprised about the poverty of American homes. She had thought of America as the land of plenty. She also discussed the family tradition of having wine at every meal and blamed the Anglo-Saxon tradition for the American attitude toward wine. She mentioned the effect of climate on the choice of beverage in various countries. Despite a lack of money, the family attended the opera.

15. Any account of the immigration process, voyage, Ellis Island inspection? 0388 Grace Billoti Spinelli. [Autobiography in English.] 119pp. Immigration laws at the time were nonrestrictive. Before boarding, vaccinations were required. Her parents were vaccinated, but Spinelli refused. The travel agent arranged with the doctor to have a false statement about the vaccination. With war restrictions, passports examinations and lifeboat drills occurred every day. Living in close quarters made everyone emotional. Everyone wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. They arrived in New York City on Christmas Day. Food had been scarce on the trip so for Christmas Day their meal consisted of sandwiches sold on the pier. Medical examinations were given aboard the ship and in New York City. Spinelli's hand had been scratched by a cat and her father's hands were scarred by work. They covered their hands, feeling they might be rejected during the medical examinations.


2.5 linear inches

Inventory of the Grace Billotti Spinelli papers.
IHRC Archives
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding Aid in English

Collecting Area Details

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