After the shop moved from the Butler Exchange to its location at 514 Broadway, A. & L. Tirocchi employed an average of 12 to 16 workers every year. Surviving shop records do not reveal much information about the workers as individuals, but it is clear that in general these girls and women fit what was by the 1910s a dominant pattern for women of the European immigrant families. They generally left school early to help support their families, and most of them worked only until they married. A few stayed on until their first children were born. Many of the women were friends and neighbors, perhaps even kin, because the Tirocchis relied on word-of-mouth and personal introductions to find their workers. Most of the workforce came from the Italian neighborhoods in the Pocasset section of Providence where the Tirocchi sisters lived when they first came to town. Interrelated families, mostly from Southern Italy, lived there, and most of the Tirocchi employees were second-generation Americans.

Of the 39 names that can be traced through the shop's records, eight can be placed in a "career" category because they appeared in the employee books over at least a ten-year span. By contrast, the remaining workers all appear to have worked for the Tirocchis for less than three years. The result was a divided work force with a relatively stable long-term component and a larger, more transient group of shorter-term employees.

The dressmaking business was definitely seasonal, with demand highest in the spring and fall. The shop typically closed for six to eight weeks in the summer and sometimes for a few weeks in February and March, as well. Some workforce changes were seasonal, as new workers often appeared in the fall to replace those who seem to have disappeared during the summer break. But there were constant comings and goings; the longest period in one time book in which the labor force remained constant was seven weeks.

Once they were hired, the girls bonded quickly, It was a small workshop and Anna and Laura created a family atmosphere for them. They talked as they worked, becoming fast friends and becoming involved in each other’s lives. Conversation was easy since much of the work was done by hand. The workers generally ate lunch together in the third floor dining room when St. Mary’s church bell tolled noon, and sometimes went for walks during their lunch break. They talked of their own lives and no doubt speculated about the lives of the women for whom they were creating such splendid garments. They socialized, became godmothers to each other’s children, and later worked together as they sewed in their homes.

Most of the workers were Catholic and many attended the same church, sharing these other cultural experiences and values. They undoubtedly took delight in each other’s romances and marriages. Mary Riccitelli’s husband recounted how the girls would flock to the windows and call his name as he blew his horn on the way to work when he was courting Mary. Anna and Laura Tirocchi made a gift of a wedding gown made in the shop to each of their girls who married. All the shop’s workers lovingly worked on these gowns, making the dresses a present from each of them, as well.

The workers even took vacations together. During the summer break, Anna Tirocchi went to her house in Narragansett and invited the workers to come for a week - in essence a form of paid vacation. The girls stayed in an apartment over the garage and cooked their meals in a log cabin attached to the main house. Beatrice Cella, Laura’s daughter, eagerly anticipated the arrival of the girls for their week of vacation each year, for "then the fun begins" she wrote in a letter one summer. Surviving snapshots show spirited young women in bathing suits thoroughly enjoying themselves during this break.

Emily Valcarenghi noted that relationships among the workers were so close that even though they were not blood kin, "we were all related when we lived there." As a niece, she did live at 514 Broadway, but it must have felt like a second home to the other girls as well. Mary Traverso, who worked only three years as an apprentice, maintained close contacts with the more experienced workers in the shop, socializing and remaining friendly "until they all died."

Sewing was not just a part of the worker’s wage-earning lives, but an important part of their family lives, as well. Mary Riccitelli, her husband reported, "went on sewing because she loved it; she loved to create; she loved making things." Mary Traverso also sewed "tailor-made" clothes for her daughter and continued to make wedding gowns, having picked up the skill of beading that she never learned at the Tirocchis’ shop. Emily Valcarenghi spoke with pride of the finely finished snowsuits she made for her daughters. Mary Riccitelli Basilico also continued to make wedding gowns during the evenings, assisted by Mary Traverso and Grace Venagro, and her husband would drive the friends home afterward.

Lino Picolo married a tailor in 1929, the same year she worked for the Tirocchis. In all likelihood, she later worked alongside her husband in his shop. Anna Del Matto, who never married, later worked as a seamstress for Topal-Carlson and Jean’s Inc. Her work for these firms would have been altering ready-to-wear garments rather than making custom clothing, but these were exclusive shops and she would have been working on quality garments as well as serving a clientele very like that of the Tirocchis. Mary Traverso, who went from the Tirocchis to free-lance sewing, subsequently worked for a downtown dressmaker for about twelve years. Sometime before 1935, Patricia Scalera opened her own custom dress shop on a side street not far from the Tirocchis. Apparently the Tirocchis did not regard this move with disfavor because Laura’s son reported that she was "of great assistance" in taking on some of the Tirocchi clients after the business closed.

The Tirocchi workers led lives typical of their class, time, and place, which included devotion to family, Church, and friends. The details of their lives are lost. But the remaining evidence supposes that all of these women were special individuals to begin with or they would not have passed muster for employment by Anna Tirocchi. Their time with her touched their lives and affected their later choices in ways that can only be imagined.

[ printable version ]

  The Family
  The Business
  The Clients
  The Workers
      Who They Were
      What They Did
      Their Pay




Employee records and other shop papers are a rare find, and help to give us a more complete picture of the Tirocchi dressmakers shop.