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Giovanni M. Di Silvestro papers

Identifier: IHRC544


The Di Silvestro Order Sons of Italy in America collection (1909-1954) consists of Supreme Convention records (1921-1941), grand lodge records, and non-OSIA materials. Letters and telegrams detail the on-going communications of Di Silvestro during his seven terms as Supreme Venerable. Other documents, including materials of officers and lodges and newspaper clippings, describe the activities of grand lodges. Newspaper clippings describe OSIA banquets, meetings, pilgrimages to Italy, events in Italy, the Ethiopian War, and other events. Other documents concern OSIA resistance to the 1924 immigration law, the Italian World War I debt, Lega Italiana, the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the Dante Orphanage (Concordville, Pa.), and other topics. Early records include those of the Instituto Coloniale Italiana (1907-1913). Also included are Italian-American newspapers.


  • 1909-1954


Language of Materials

Mainly in Italian


Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room, with the exception of files related to the Dante Orphanage of the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge, in boxes 7, 8 and 16.


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.


Giovanni M. Di Silvestro was born in Bussi, Aquila on April 24, 1879. One of five children, he was educated in Italy and taught for three years at the national College of Assisi. He journeyed to the United States in 1903 and joined his older brother Arpino Giuseppe and a sister in Philadelphia. Di Silvestro became a naturalized citizen in 1909. In 1906 he founded and edited the daily paper "La Voce del Popolo." He was a delegate to the First Congress of Italians Living Abroad sponsored by the Instituto Coloniale Italiano in 1908. He composed a booklet on the problems of Italians in the United States and presented this at the Congress, which was held in Milan. In 1911 Di Silvestro organized the first convention of Americans of Italian descent which was attended by 700 delegates in Philadelphia. He was active in many Italian American causes and a frequent speaker at meetings. During World War I he was chairman of the Roman Legion, the Italian branch of the Committee on Public Education, a delegate of the Italian Red Cross for Pennsylvania, vice president of the Foreign Liberty Loan Committee, and was an active four-minute speaker appointed by the government.

In 1910 Giovanni Di Silvestro married Camilla Martino, a native of Campobasso, who was renamed Elizabeth by an American school teacher. The couple reared seven children; Rosalia, John, Arnold, Yolanda (Mrs. Elio Frattaroli) and the twins Gloria and Anita (Mrs. Paul Von Zech). Di Silvestro continued his education, receiving a Masters Degree in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1918 graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Di Silvestro began his career in OSIA by joining the local lodge organized by his brother Arpino Giuseppe, who also was the founder and first Grand Venerable of the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge. Giovanni Di Silvestro was elected Supreme Orator in 1912 and briefly held an unidentified Supreme Lodge office from September 1913 to April 1914. He was the Assistant Supreme Venerable from 1917 to 1921 and began his fourteen year reign as Supreme Venerable in the latter year. During the early 1920s the Order expanded to include approximately 1200 local lodges and some 300,000 members. Eight new grand lodges were chartered between 1922 and 1925. However the golden era of OSIA soon became a time of strife. Di Silvestro favored close relations with Italy and its new leader, Benito Mussolini. He led a series of annual pilgrimages to Italy, had audiences with the King of Italy and Il Duce, and in 1922 entered the Order into a pact with the Lega Italiana, an arm of the Italian government. A faction of the Order felt that this posture was far too political, and sharp divisions characterized teh 1923 Supreme Convention in Providence. Salvatore Cotillo, the Grand Venerable of New York, the largest grand lodge, led the protest which became a full schism. In 1925 he and Fiorello La Guardia led a large number of members out of the Order and formed the Sons of Italy Grand Lodge, Inc. This created a crisis that spread throughout the lodges in all of the country and Canada. The schism only ended with the fall of Mussolini, when the Cotillo faction rejoined OSIA.

Despite the schismatic movement, OSIA continued to function and even managed to form three more grand lodges between 1929 and 1935. The Supreme Lodge continued to stress ties with the motherland via pilgrimages to Italy, student exchanges, and close ties with Italian government representatives in Europe and America. This precipitated a great tragedy for Di Silvestro and his family. In January 1933 a bomb was planted in his house, presumably by ardent anti-fascists, and the explosion injured three of the Di Silvestro children and killed his wife. The Supreme Convention of 1933 was canceled and Di Silvestro ceased his active involvement with OSIA in 1935. He died in 1958.


6 Linear Feet


The collection is divided into series as follows: 1) Biographical, 2) National OSIA, 3) State OSIA, 4) Local OSIA, 5) Non-OSIA, 6) Newsclippings, and 7) Photographs. Approximately 70 percent of the records are in Italian and the remainder in English. The collection covers the period 1907 to 1954, with the bulk of records from the years 1922 to 1933.

The original arrangement of the files at the time of their transfer to the IHRC has been largely maintained. Series and subseries categories were artificially established in processing the materials but drew heavily upon pre-existing groups.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was acquired from Mrs. Yolanda Frattaroli in 1987 and 1988 by John Andreozzi, Sons of Italy Archives Project Coordinator, who processed the documents in July 1988.

Inventory of the Giovanni M. Di Silvestro 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

Contact The Immigration History Research Center Archives Collecting Area