Italian American Women in Northeast Ohio


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Presented here are biographies of notable Italian American women in Northeast Ohio.  In sharp contrast to the stereotypical Italian American woman often portrayed in the media as having no concerns beyond the domestic realm, these women have made significant contributions and have had a lasting impact on their communities and professions.

Dorothy "Dora" Petti Quagliata 
1914 - 2011

Dorothy Petti Quagliata, or Dora as she was known, contributed immensely to the success of many family businesses not only with her amazing skills and talents, but through hard work, love, and dedication. Dora was the second oldest of eight children born to John and Rose Diamato Petti who immigrated from Matrice, Italy, to Canada. In 1918, the family moved to the Collinwood neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, and opened Petti’s Grocery on Kipling Avenue.

Dora was about 16 years old when her parents decided to take a vacation to Italy. Out of all their children, both older and younger, they chose Dora to run the grocery store in their absence. Dora quit school and immersed herself in the business. She learned all aspects, most notably butchering the meat. This is quite a skill, but especially in those times when the cutting was done by hand.

Dora married milkman Angelo Quagliata in 1936. Eight years later, Dora and Angelo purchased the grocery store and renamed it Quagliata’s Foods of Quality. The entire family, including sons Carl, John, and Fritz, contributed to running the store. The Quagliata’s bought a second, larger store on E. 93rd and Yale in 1957 and called it Angelo’s Sav-Mor. They joined with other small store owners to buy product more economically and compete with the chain stores. The family sold the business in the 1960s.

The family entered the restaurant business in the 1970s with the opening of Quagliata’s White House in Mentor, Ohio. At the White House, Dora made all the desserts and was particularly renowned for her cassata cake. Many other restaurants followed and Dora contributed to these businesses in any way she could. In the commercial oven in her home, Dora baked 300-400 pounds of pizzelles and cookies for the restaurants weekly. She continued to work for and with her family until her death at 97 years old.

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Stella Scarano Zannoni
1918 - 1991

Stella Scarano Zannoni was born in Utica, New York, and came to Cleveland, Ohio, with her family in 1920. She grew up on Cleveland’s West Side near St. Rocco’s Catholic Church. Her family owned and operated Cleveland Imported Groceries and Wines on Clark Avenue, a neighborhood landmark. Stella eventually became co-owner and secretary-treasurer of the business.

In 1978, Stella was appointed honorary consul by the Italian government. Her duties included helping Italian immigrants settle in Cleveland. Understanding the difficulties they faced, Stella went above and beyond with her assistance. She helped them find jobs, homes, and even gave them goods from her grocery store. This selfless desire to help those in need carried over into her work on the Catholic Council of Displaced Persons.

Stella served on numerous boards including the Catholic University’s Italian American Heritage Committee, the National Italian American Foundation, the American National Bank, and the Cleveland Diocese’s Catholic Federation of Community Service. President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the 6th Circuit Judicial Selection Committee in 1977. Stella also served on the parish council of St. John Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio.

Among the many honors Stella received for her service are the Margaret A. Ireland Award from the Women’s City Club of Cleveland, the YMCA Career Woman of Achievement Award, and the Columbian Award of the Federation of Italian American Societies of Cleveland. She was named an honorary citizen of Coreno Ausonio, Italy, and received an Order of Merit from the Republic of Italy. Stella also was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and those of her alma maters, West Technical High School and Notre Dame College. Her most prestigious honor was the designation of the Commandress of the Holy Sepulchre bestowed by Pope John Paul II.


Judge Mary Cacioppo 
1922 - 2015

Those who knew Mary Cacioppo describe her as a fearless leader and a pioneer. Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1923, Cacioppo graduated from Garfield High School and received a BA from Kent State University. She was the only woman in the Akron Law School (now The University of Akron School of Law) graduating class of 1945 and entered a field dominated by men.

Cacioppo’s history is one of firsts. She served as the first woman assistant law director in the city of Akron, first female chief prosecutor, first woman to serve on Akron Board of Zoning Appeals, and first appointed female magistrate to the Summit County Domestic Relations Court. Upon surrendering her seat in 1992 due to age requirements, Cacioppo traveled all over the state trying cases as a visiting judge and hearing appellate cases, including several sessions on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Cacioppo entered politics at age 16 as a junior campaign manager for the late Mary McGowan and later worked for Democratic candidates at the local, state, and national levels. She also made a name for herself by being involved with elections in a different way when she was denied the right to vote because she had kept her name after marriage and was unable to prove marital status. By noon that day the quick-thinking and fast-acting Cacioppo had a ruling that admonished the Board of Elections for not knowing that Ohio law does not require a woman to take her husband’s surname.

While Judge Cacioppo is recognized as a “legend of the law” and a “pioneer” who broke glass ceilings for future female lawyers, the centerpiece of her legacy is kindness, caring and love. She served as a mentor for countless attorneys, always willing to help anyone.

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Mother Angelica 
1923 - 2016

Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, Mother Angelica, was born Rita Antoinette Rizzo on April 20, 1923, in Canton, Ohio. She grew up in a community of Italian immigrant mill workers in southeast Canton, the only child of John and Mae Helen Gianfrancesco Rizzo. Mother Angelica was raised by her mother after her parents divorced.

Mother Angelica’s direction towards service to God arose out of two serious health issues. A miraculous cure in 1941 of a long-standing, painful stomach ailment prompted her to enter the Adoration Monastery of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Cleveland, Ohio. While at the Santa Clara Monastery in Canton, Ohio, in the 1950s, she miraculously regained the ability to walk after suffering a severe injury to her spine. She promised God that should she would walk again, she would create an order in the south. In 1962, Mother Angelica and four other sisters established Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale, Alabama.

Mother Angelica began videotaping a Catholic teaching series for the local CBS affiliate in the mid-1970s. Soon, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Television began broadcasting her program. After a dispute with the local CBS affiliate, she began building her own cable channel. The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was launched on August 15, 1981 and today is the largest religious media network in the world transmitting programming 24 hours a day to more than 230 million homes in 144 countries and territories on more than 4, 800 cable systems, wireless cable, direct broadcasting satellite, low power TV and individual satellite users.

In 2001, Mother Angelica suffered from a series of strokes which ultimately caused her to retire from hosting the popular program “Mother Angelica Live” and other programming for EWTN. In 2009, Mother Angelica and Deacon Bill Steltemeier, then chairman of EWTN’s board of governors, received the papal medal Pro Ecclessia et Pontifice (For the Church and The Pontiff) from Pope Benedict XVI for distinguished service to the Catholic Church.


Madeline DeSantis Iosue 
1926 - 1999

Madeline DeSantis Iosue was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 26, 1926, and graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1945. Her parents were Columbo and Augusta Cimoroni DeSantis. Columbo immigrated to Cleveland in 1913 from Barate, Italy. In 1928, he founded the C. DeSantis Paint Manufacturing Co. Madeline joined the family business in 1946 as a secretary. While her father expected her to strictly handle the company’s office operations, Madeline’s fascination with the production aspect of the business took her elsewhere. During her father’s absences, she would venture onto the shop floor to learn how to mix paint. By the 1960s, Madeline was mixing and shading custom paints. She was known to have an unusual ability to match colors.

Following the death of Columbo DeSantis in 1970, Augusta DeSantis was officially named president of the firm. However, Madeline and her sister Virginia DeSantis actually oversaw most aspects of business operations. Madeline managed the plant operations and Virginia administered the office. After Augusta’s death in 1989, Madeline formally assumed the presidency of the company.

In 1956, Madeline married Pat (Pasquale) Iosue. While the two never had any children, they had many dogs and cats. Madeline expressed her deep love for animals, which she inherited from her mother, through another one of her creative sides, writing. She wrote and published a book in 1978, Spooky Speaks, about her favorite poodle, Spooky. The story is presented as a first-person account told by the dog.

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Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze 
1971 -

It has been Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze’s mission to treat everyone who enters the court with compassion and respect. She specializes in family issues, divorces, and domestic violence (among others), looking at every case to provide creative solutions that are in the best interest of the family overall. Judge Leslie has built on those ideals and integrated her experience as a registered nurse to serve the citizens of Cuyahoga County as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations.

Judge Leslie is well-versed in the legal system, continuing the path that her family began in public office. The Celebrezze family, who emigrated from Potenza, Italy, began serving the citizens of Ohio in 1928. Frank D. Celebrezze was a Cleveland Municipal Court Judge and his brother, Anthony, served as Mayor of Cleveland and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Frank Celebrezze was the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court and served with his brother James, on that Court. Judge Leslie is the daughter of James and the first female Celebrezze to hold an elected office.

Prior to her election to the Domestic Relations Court, Judge Leslie served as magistrate in the Cleveland Municipal Court, presiding over a variety of cases. She considers it a great privilege to serve in this way and has accepted this responsibility with the dedication that judicial office demands. In addition, she has researched and edited the Ohio Domestic Violence Law Handbook yearly since 2005.

Judge Leslie was admitted to the bar in 1999. She is a graduate of Kent State University and The University of Akron School of Law. She is a member of the Ohio Women’s Bar Association, and a trustee of the Justinian Forum.

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Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus 
Founded 1894

The Order of Oblate Sisters is a Pontifical Institute of religious women founded in Grottaferrata, Italy, on February 2, 1894, by Venerable Mother Teresa Casini, who will be beatified by Pope Francis on October 31, 2016. There are 300 sisters worldwide in Italy, the United States, Brazil, Africa, India, and Peru. In the United States, they are only in the diocese of Youngstown. Their charism is promoting and supporting holiness of priests. They accomplish this through prayer and supporting priests as teachers in schools, as pastoral ministers in parishes, and by operating retirement homes for priests.

The history of the order in the United States began in 1946 when two sisters with family in Youngstown visited the area seeking funds to rebuild their war-ravaged motherhouse in Italy. Bishop James A. McFadden of the newly established Diocese of Youngstown asked if the sisters would bring the order to Youngstown. In 1949, 10 more sisters came from Italy and founded the order. They began to serve the priests and people in the village of McDonald, Ohio. The Sisters first taught at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. By 1955, the Oblate Sisters were given permission to purchase a 19 acre property on which stood an Old English Tutor Mansion. Today this structure is Villa Maria Teresa, the Regional Convent and formation house.

In subsequent years the Oblate Sisters established a preschool and kindergarten on their Regional Convent grounds. They also taught in elementary schools. The Sisters continue to teach catechism in several Youngstown Diocese Parish Religious Education programs, serve in parishes in various capacities and staff two priest retirement homes. The Sisters come from many different ethnic backgrounds. Each Sister enriches all with her own cultural gifts and traditions. Along with the American born Sisters are Sisters from Italy, Nigeria, and India.


Western Reserve Historical Society is the oldest cultural institution in Northeast Ohio, the region's largest American history research center, and one of the leading genealogical research centers in the nation.

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