Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study explores a history of the Italian immigrants in the New Orleans area between the years 1880-1910. It traces their reasons for coming to the United States, the difficulties faced in assimilation, along with their social, religious, intellectual, political and economic developments. First- and second-generation Italians were personally interviewed in depth, and surveys were given to approximately 186 persons of various Italian societies throughout the defined geographical area. Both the content and the source of respondents' opinions are investigated and explored to discover what correlation existed between the written and the oral explanations. In most respects, no significant differences developed. A chronic economic problem existed in Southern Italy, prompting large numbers of people to emigrate. The state of Louisiana, in cooperation with steamship lines and important sugar cane planters, took advantage of the situation and attempted to gain the Italians as workers. Although Italians constituted the largest ethnic group to come to Louisiana during the period, the figures initially did not reflect the impact made on the economic life of the New Orleans area. Once here the immigrants accepted any menial task in an effort to better their position. Eventually some immigrants proved successful and moved into profitable businesses, such as wholesale fruit and vegetable dealerships, furniture and hotel ownerships, and real estate development. Although not all of the Italians who landed in New Orleans remained in the city, those who did slowly developed into a large segment of the business community. Language difficulties posed some barriers, but schools, mutual aid societies, and night school classes moved to equalize this difficulty. Initially the immigrants were not accepted by their American counterparts, but through hard work, persistence, and the ability to compromise without loss of identity, they won the respect of their fellow Americans. By 1910, the New Orleans business community realized that the Italians were a group which had moved from the lowest of socio-economic positions to one of respect, wealth, and importance.