Angelo J. Farnocchia came to the United States from Pedona, Italy, in December of 1909. By 1911, he was clerking for Richmond confectioner Achille Cipriani. By the time of the Great War, Farnocchia had his own confectionary establishment under the name of A. Farnocchia & Co. A few years later, in 1921, he married Pia Dalle Mura, whose family ran a candy and cigar shop, at Richmond St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Farnocchia was part of a huge wave of Italian immigrants to America between 1880 and 1920. While Virginia had seen Italian immigration as far back as the colonial period, the commonwealth’s Italian population was not large until this late-nineteenth century influx. As was frequently the case, and often still is, as family and neighbors settled in a community, they invited others to join them, creating small enclaves with regional ties.
Like most immigrant groups, especially those who do not speak English as a first language, Italian immigrants in Richmond looked to their fellow expats for support and guidance. Out of this idea of mutual support came the organization of fraternal societies, many of which offered their dues-paying members modest sick and death benefits. The Italian Beneficial and Social Society organized in Richmond in March 1871, and became a powerful force in the local Italian community. By 1913, the society had broken ground on Colombo Hall, a three-story club building at Broad and Allison Streets.
Vincenzo Sellaro, M.D., and five other Italian immigrants founded the Order Sons of Italy in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City in 1905. Individual chapters of the national organization, known as lodges, proliferated across the country. Richmond’s Loggia Giuseppe Verdi No. 315 Ordine Figli D’Italia (Order Sons of Italy, Giuseppe Verdi Lodge, No. 315) and its ladies’ auxiliary the Loggia Regina Margherita No. 1014 formed in 1915. At some point, Angelo Farnocchia joined the Lodge No. 315, so that when he died in July of 1926, Mrs. Farnocchia expected a death benefit from the organization. When she did not receive it, in June of 1927, she filed a civil suit in Richmond’s Court of Law and Equity for $100 (approximately $1,600 in 2022).
Unlike chancery causes, law cases are notoriously short on details, however, filed with the various subpoenas and warrants are copies of the Costituzione Fondamentale e Leggi Generali (Fundamental Constitution and General Laws) of the Supreme Lodge of the Order Sons of Italy and regulation books for the Verdi Lodge and its auxiliary. Based on some of the underlined portions in some of the text in these booklets, the fraternal organization seemed to be implying that Farnocchia was in arrears for dues and so was not due a death benefit. One such underlined passage reads:
“Il fratello arretrato di tre mesi nei pagamenti mensili cade nella morosita e quindi non ha diritto alla parola al voto ne al sussidio.”
Which translates as: “The brother who is three months in arrears in monthly payments falls into the default and therefore has no right to speak to vote or to subsidy.”
Another possible factor in the lawsuit over the benefit could have been the 1928 withdraw of Richmond’s three Italian fraternal orders from the national organization. Some unspecified dispute and a perceived “high-handed response” caused the Richmond lodges to form their own independent order.
Whatever the reason for the denied benefit, Mrs. Farnocchia supplied evidence in the form of cancelled checks and a dues card, presumably to indicate payment and membership in good standing. The jury sided with the widow and awarded her the $100.
Farnocchia & Co. continued to operate at 800 East Broad Street (now the address of the Library of Virginia) until 1929. Mrs. Farnocchia remarried around 1931 to Nicholas Achilles Valdrighi, owner of the M & M Restaurant. She died in 1981.
The Giuseppe Verdi Lodge No. 315 of the Order Sons of Italy in America (the 1928 rift was mended at some point) still operates today with the goals “to keep alive the cultural attachments to the traditions of the land of our ancestors,” as well as to promote civic education, support charitable and humanitarian endeavors, and encourage active participation in the community.
“Ballo Societa Italiana” Undated image of Italian Society Ball. Image courtesy of We the Italians. https://www.wetheitalians.com/interviews/story-italians-who-arrived-richmond-virginia