Dr. Vincenzo Sellaro, the Italian doctor who founded the Sons of Italy

One of the most significant contributions to improving the reputation of Italians in America was made by Dr. Vincenzo Sellaro, co-founder of the first Italian hospital in America and founder of the Order of Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA). Vincenzo Sellaro was born on April 24, 1868, in Polizzi Generosa, in the province of Palermo, to Giuseppe Sellaro, a shoemaker, and Serafina Polizzotto. After completing his medical studies at the University of Naples in 1895, Sellaro emigrated to the United States in 1897 and opened a private clinic in Little Italy, Manhattan.

Sellaro treated hundreds of Italian immigrants, who were often poorly treated in city hospitals due to the language barrier. To address this issue, Sellaro led a committee of bilingual doctors and founded the Columbus Italian Hospital in 1902, where Italian was spoken. He then joined the American Medical Association, where he conducted research on diabetes and cancer and established a school for midwives under the auspices of the New York Health Council, which was later absorbed by the Bellevue Hospital school.

In 1903, Vincenzo Sellaro married Maria Lignante, originally from Naples, with whom he had three children. The following year, in 1904, he obtained American citizenship and brought his two sisters and two brothers to join him in the United States. His father, who was widowed, also came to New York but returned to Sicily shortly afterward.

Thanks to his experience in founding the Columbus Italian Hospital, Sellaro realized that mutual aid societies in Canada and the United States had given immigrants from small towns the opportunity to adapt to life in large American industrial cities, find work and housing, and learn English. On weekends, these societies organized parties and financially supported the families of sick or indigent people for various causes. In the early 1900s, mutual aid societies were widespread throughout America, and there were over two thousand in New York alone.

In 1904, Sellaro conceived the idea of bringing all Italian Americans together in a single fraternal organization. His project took shape on June 7, 1905, during a meeting at his home, attended by lawyer Antonio Marzullo, pharmacist Ludovico Ferrari, sculptor Giuseppe Carlino, and barbers Pietro Viscardi and Roberto Merlo. Further meetings followed until the establishment of the Order of Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), of which Sellaro became National President.

A golden lion was adopted as the emblem, and the mission was to unite all Italians scattered throughout Canada and the United States into a single family, promote their moral, intellectual, and material improvement, profess mutual aid, and keep Italian culture alive. The primary purpose of the organization was to participate in all causes that could instill in the American public a proper perception of Italians as respectable people and valuable workers. Sellaro drafted the national constitution of the Order and personally outlined its formal management procedures.

Years later, when the United States entered the war, about 28,000 members of the Order of Sons of Italy in America served in the military during World War I, and the organization raised over $5 million in war bonds. The Order also played a crucial role in supporting Italian immigrants during the difficult years of the Great Depression and advocating for their civil and political rights.

Dr. Vincenzo Sellaro devoted his life to promoting the well-being and dignity of Italian immigrants in the United States and improving their image in American society. He died on January 4, 1933, in New York City, leaving behind a legacy of social and cultural accomplishments that continue to benefit Italian Americans to this day.


Il Centro Studi sull'Internazionalizzazione si dedica a promuovere la consapevolezza sull'importanza dell'Internazionalizzazione a livello nazionale e regionale.

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