This American women’s civil rights icon was Italian?

Nov 19, 2020

Can you claim Italian citizenship if you or any of your direct ancestors were born by an Italian woman before 1948?

This article is written by Marco Mazzeschi and contributed to our publication on

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Rosie the Riveter” is the name of a fictional character who came to symbolize the millions of real women who filled America’s factories during World War II. In later years, Rosie also became an iconic American image in the fight to broaden women’s civil rights (1)

The artist Norman Rockwell is generally credited with creating one of the first Rosie’s images.The image appeared on the cover of the May 29th, 1943 edition of the Saturday Evening Post but became famous only after the Kansas City Star newspaper ran images of Rockwell’s Rosie alongside Michelangelo’s Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. (2)

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The most popular Rosie was however created in 1942 by the artist Howard Miller. The poster “We can do it!” was commissioned by Westinghouse Company to motivate employees but became one of the most iconic images of the 20th century after being associated, during the eighties, with women liberation and other causes. Miller’s poster became also a commemorative stamp in 1999.

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But who was Rosie the Riveter?

Who inspired the artists and who is the real Rosie? A skim through American National Biography shows that there are multiple women who could lay claim to the Rosie crown. (3)

One of them is surely Rosina Bonavita, daughter of Italian immigrants, who worked as a riveter at the General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division in North Tarrytown, New York.

Rosina was 21 when she first landed in the national spotlight, America was at war and her fiancè was serving in the Pacific. In June 1943, she and her partner set a speed record in building a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber.

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Rosina Bonavita (left) and Jenny Florio (right)

A New York Sun headline read:

“Rosie and Jennie set Rivet Record.”

Her life was never the same. President Franklin D. Roosevelt later sent her a commendation letter. Her image in the ad conveys her dedication and her ability to get the job done.

Can Rosie’s descendants obtain Italian citizenship? YES

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Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash

Italian citizenship law is based upon the principle of jure sanguinis (blood right), so any child born of Italian parents is also an Italian citizen. However, under the 1912 Italian Citizenship law, only men were able to transfer their Italian lineage to children, while women could hold but not pass citizenship to their descendants.

Accordingly, anyone born before January 1, 1948 and who has only a female ancestor cannot automatically obtain Italian citizenship.

Why January 1, 1948?

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The principles of gender equality were laid down only on January 1, 1948 when the Italian Constitution entered into force. From this date onward, also women can pass on citizenship to their children.

Is it still possible to obtain citizenship? YES

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The gender equality principle set forth by the Constitution is not retroactive, therefore children born to an Italian mother before 1948 are not automatically Italian.

Fortunately the Supreme Court intervened in 2009 and established that it is unconstitutional to discriminate between women and men even in citizenship matters (Judgment no. 4466/2009).

All descendants born anytime from an Italian parent, irrespective of the gender, are Italian citizens by birth right. The Court’s decision is however not binding for the Italian Consulates (for this, it would necessary a new law) and if you fall in the “1948 cases” and you file an application for citizenship, Consulates will reject your application.

What can you do if you think you could be eligible?

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The only option left is to file a lawsuit before the Civil Court of Rome against the Italian Ministry of Interior. If your eligibility is confirmed and supported by all necessary documents, the chances of winning the suit are almost 100%. In most cases, in fact, the Ministry does not challenge the claim and the Court, after reviewing all certificates, will issue a favourable decsion and grant citizenship.

Can you file also a “family action”? YES

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Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Yes, if you have siblings (also minors) that want to obtain citizenship and their eligibility is confirmed and proved, it is possible to file a cumulative action. This would substantially reduce the legal fees and associated costs.

Do you think you may qualify for Italian citizenship? Mazzeschi SRL, an Italian firm specialized in immigration and citizenship, can help you in this journey together with My Italian Family, an American agency specialized in assisting Italian citizenship applicants in the U.S.


(1) Jack Doyle, Pop History Dig, March 5. 2020

(2) Marcy Kennedy Knight, Saturday Evening Post, July 1, 2013

(3) Rosemary Counter, Vanity Fair, May 7, 2015


The information provided on this article (i) does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; (ii) are for general informational purposes only and may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information (iii) this website may contain links to other third-party websites. Such links are only for the convenience of the reader; (iv) readers should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.

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