Lifelong Wellesley resident Salvatore (Tory) DeFazio III is Past-President & Honorary Director of the Wellesley Historical Society and a 3rd generation Italian-American. This is the first in a series of reflections about Wellesley’s Italian American community.
Wellesley’s Italian-Americans have a long rich history. The first Italians came to Wellesley in the 1850’s to help Horatio Hollis Hunnewell build his famous Italian Gardens on the shore of Lake Waban. They didn’t stay but with the surge of immigration in the late 19th century many came in waves and began to settle in urban areas. What drew them were the many economic opportunities America offered, its political stability, and freedoms not available in the “old country”. Wellesley’s first recorded settler was Augusto Bergonzoni in the late 1880’s. He was followed by others from northern and southern Italy. Together they represented hard workers, very family oriented, and a great love of their adopted country.
Much has been documented over the years. The most recognizable evidence is the Italo-American Educational Club on Oak Street. Even today many gather to socialize and enjoy an occasional bocce game. The Italo-American Club in Wellesley came about in 1936 when the Italian American Citizens Club and the Italian Civic League joined. The latter’s goal was to “…unite all those of Italian descent residing in Wellesley into a homogenous compact group for the advancement of themselves and the community by promoting civic interest, secure naturalization for those not already citizens, promote welfare and charity among the Italians and foster the glories and traditions of the Italian history and literature.”
Although not as numerous as in the past, Italian-Americans in Wellesley have melded successfully into the town’s fabric forming a strong ethnic representation.
In 1993, World of Wellesley founder, Tere Todesco, credited the contributions of Italian-Americans to the cultural diversity of the town. “The broad-brush overview of how the earliest Italians in town immigrated, settled and helped develop Wellesley provides an understanding of the process, and perhaps a guide to the future.”
Although seemingly hidden, Italian-Americans are appreciated and recognized as never before. The Wellesley Historical Society has featured them in two talks over the years, one by Jane Pirozzolo in February 1977 on “Wellesley’s Italian communities”; and a later talk in October 2019 by author, Stephen Puleo on “The Italians in Boston.”
There are many opportunities to read and learn more about Italian-Americans in Wellesley. Knowledge about our community is important and helps shape an informative and sharing public. Visit other areas in this website.