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On International Women’s Day I honor my Italian grandfather Luigi Fabiani

Dear Women of the World,

Luigi Fabiani believed in equal opportunity in education for women. I believe we need men as allies in gaining equal rights. Education is a basic right for sons as well as for daughters. Working long hard hours in the dynamite industry and standing up to those who put little value in educating daughters, my grandfather made certain his daughters had the opportunity to attend college.

His earliest memories were his toddler days. His mother Rosa worked at a loom in a large silk factory. Early each morning she carried Luigi on her hip all the way across the city. As she spun the silk, Luigi and his little friends played with dry cocoons under the looms at their mother’s feet. As a young boy in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, Luigi loved attending school. An avid learner, excelling in all subjects, he became a favorite of his teacher. At home with his father, a peasant farmer, Luigi worked the fields of the tenant farm while his two sisters honed domestic skills of weaving, embroidery, lace making and cooking. The sisters were also responsible in bringing water from the well each day to supply the family with precious water for drinking, cooking, washing and laundry. There were many trips to the well.

Luigi thought it unfair that very few girls attended school. Most only attended classes for a few years. When crops were harvested, the girls filled large flat baskets with fruits and vegetables to carry on their heads to the marketplace. After walking over a mile with the heavy baskets, the sisters laid out a clean cloth to display their produce. Returning home, their father collected the lire to pay the family’s share of their tenant dwelling.

Sharing a home with two other families was common practice, but Luigi yearned for a better life and a home of his own. He saw how hard men and women worked with little to show for their efforts. When they seemed to be making progress, the Vatican land owners would send representatives on horseback to collect a large portion of the profits, leaving barely enough for the purchase of seeds and meager supplies for the poor peasants.

In his teen years Luigi was needed in the fields and unwillingly stopped attending school. His teacher visited Mr. Fabiani pleading, “Signore Fabiani, you must send Luigi back to school. He is gifted, intelligent and bright enough to become a doctor.” His father simply replied, “Luigi will not be returning to school, I have two daughters and only one son. I have no choice.”Luigi was heartbroken. An obedient son, he worked the farm helping his family. To keep his dreams alive he also took on a job with Count Saladini, a rich landowner on the outskirts of the city. At the Villa of Count Saladini Pilastri, Luigi’s experience in agriculture was much appreciated. He worked at beekeeping, topiary, winemaking and grafting, saving all he could to realize his dreams. The Count treated Luigi with kindness and their friendship lasted a lifetime.

Luigi fell in love with Giulia Gabrielli a beautiful girl who walked to the well with his sisters. Together, in the shade of the olive trees, the young couple talked of emigrating from Italy to live to America. Luigi vowed to give his children the education he was denied.

World War I interrupted the plans of Luigi and Giulia. After joining the Italian Army, Luigi was captured on his first day of battle. Spending two years as a prisoner of war in Hungary he endured forced labor, food shortages, cold, improper sanitation and lack of health care. Luigi longed for basic human rights. He truly missed his family and his beloved Giulia. His vision for a better future in America kept him alive and gave him something to hope for.

When the war ended, Luigi returned to Ascoli Piceno. He and Giulia married and carried out their plans to emigrate to America where her sister Felicia waited with open arms. With high hopes for a bright future the couple departed their beautiful citta’. Giulia carried her satchel of precious linens she had made in her childhood home. Following their dreams meant leaving family and friends forever. Luigi and Giulia boarded the Duke of Abruzzi with heavy hearts.

The rough journey ended in Gibbstown, New Jersey, where Giulia’s sister welcomed them. Their lives were blessed with three children. Luigi encouraged his son and his daughters to do their best in school and to learn throughout their lives. Daughter Anna graduated high school and told her friends of her college plans. It seemed she was the only girl going to college. One evening a group of men in town paid a visit to the casa of Luigi for a talk. “We heard you are sending Anna to college. You are wasting your money. She will just get married and stay home to raise children!”

Luigi stood his ground and without raising his voice explained, “I immigrated to America so my children can have the opportunity I did not have in Italy. Education is important for both our sons and our daughters. Anna is going to college.”

The men lamented, “Now we’ll have to send our daughters to college too!” Grandpop Luigi was a trendsetter. Following his lead many Gibbstown girls were sent to college. When Anna graduated from Beacom College in Wilmington, Delaware, she worked as a secretary for the Vice President of DuPont Company, where Luigi had worked making dynamite in his first years with the company. There was never a father who showed more pride in a daughter.

Luigi’s daughter Elena was also very bright. She started school speaking only Italian, but graduated with honors winning the English award in 1945. Her high school cap and gown portrait was the focal point of the parlor for many years! Anna was instructed to, “Find a good school for your sister Elena.” With a handful of straight A report cards, Anna and Elena took the bus to Philadelphia and Elena was accepted and enrolled in the business program at Drexel. She took a bus to school each day and loved being part of the Glee Club, with fond memories of singing Handel’s Messiah at The Academy of Music. Elena’s first job was with DuPont Company at Chambers Works and in later years as secretary to Superintendent of Schools in Gibbstown, New Jersey.

Encouraging his daughters to pursue an education, Luigi Fabiani set a precedent. The second and third generations of Fabiani women born in America have careers in science, nursing, education, administration, social work, dressage instruction, teaching the blind, creative writing and publishing. Continuing the standard he set, a fourth generation is currently enrolled in college, fulfilling the dream of their great-great-grandfather Luigi.

I salute my Grandfather Luigi and his vision for equal opportunity for education. He knew firsthand the importance of education as a basic human right for men and for women. By gifting his children with professional careers Luigi lifted economic burdens, creating a promising future for generations to come. We are living his dream!

Mille Grazie Nonno!

Love, Lorraine

Italian Vocabulary:

Signore Fabiani - Mr. Fabiani

citta’ - city

casa - home

Mille Grazie Nonno! - a thousand thanks Grandfather!

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