Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Daniel Robert McClure
During economic and political upheaval in Europe beginning in the late-1910s and dramatically progressing throughout the 1920s, young Italian men emigrated to the United States to earn decent salaries to bring back to their families across the ocean. However, some single men embraced the opportunities of New York City and its diversified neighborhoods. Since xenophobic sanctions forced disenfranchised minorities into confined spaces and immigrants tended to find comfort settling in neighborhoods with well-established ethnic enclaves, this pushed Italian immigrants into the same space as butch lesbians in a counterculture place referred to as Greenwich Village on the west side of Lower Manhattan. Once settled in, those with ties to the original Sicilian Mafia and who intended to institute a new American sector of the criminal enterprise, joined arms with butch lesbians who felt ostracized by their queer community for their conformity to heteronormative-based approaches towards jobs, hobbies, and relationships. This thesis explores the ways the unlikely partnership of the Italian Mafia and butch lesbians transgressed traditional Italian-machismo dynamics, particularly in the way that female masculinity complemented Mafia tradition. Through first-hand accounts, one can see that the alliance revolved around achieving the American Dream—the primary bond between the butches and Italians. While Italian immigrants were criminalized in American society, the butches’ conformity to patriarchal structures severed their ties with femme lesbians and especially openly-radical gay men. In accepting, or rather ignoring, their estrangement from society and closely-affiliated social groups, the butch lesbians and Italian Mafia established a profitable business that spanned the post-World War II era in the most populous city in the country.
Helget, Alison Jean, ""You Wanna Play Rough?": The Unlikely Partnership of the Italian Mafia and Butch Lesbians in Greenwich Village, 1945-1968" (2022). Master's Theses. 3194.
© 2022 Alison Jean Helget