Early Years

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As Prof. Speranza's tenure was ending, Columbia students founded an Italian club, the Circolo Italiano; Barnard College students founded a counterpart club in 1918. These students were a driving force in the 1920s for the idea of a Casa Italiana. Other support came from Judge John J. Freschi (who helped raise money) and from four members of the Paterno family of real-estate developers (who donated the construction work). Italy's Fascist leader Benito Mussolini expressed enthusiasm, but he promised more than he gave.

Italian Clubs on Campus

A photo from Barnard Yearbook of 1937 showing the Italian club

Barnard's Italian club (pictured above), like the club at Columbia, included students whose parents had immigrated from Italy and settled in Harlem’s Little Italy. 

The Italian "Hero"

Page from the scrapbook of Barnard student Marie Read Smith with a photo of Benito Mussolini under a caption: "My Hero."



Mussolini was a "hero" for Marie Read Smith, a Barnard student who got to meet him when in Italy with scholarship funds from the Casa Italiana and from Barnard. (Smith is in the front row in the photo above, the third person from the left; she was the Vice President of Barnard's Italian club.) 

Students at the Casa Italiana

Group photograph at the Casa Italiana.

Students flocked to the Casa Italiana for club meetings, lectures, and classes.

 Peter Riccio

Photograph of Peter M. Riccio, professor at Columbia University and director of the Casa Italiana from 1957.

Peter Riccio was a first-generation Italian-American student from East Harlem. His 1929 doctoral thesis celebrated Fascism, but in 1940 he declared his loyalty to the United States. He rose to be a Columbia professor and (in 1957) the director of the Casa Italiana.

From Columbia's President

Letter from Nicholas M. Butler, President of Columbia University, to Peter M. Riccio, member of Circolo Italiano; April 5, 1920.

Columbia President Nicholas Butler leaped at the idea of an Italian library on campus, proposed by the Circolo Italiano; in this response to Circolo member Peter Riccio, he proposed to build a whole "Italian House."