Childhood & Early Life
Fiorello Henry La Guardia was born on December 11, 1882 in New York City’s Greenwich Village to Achille La Guardia and Irene Coen. His father was an Italian and a lapsed Catholic from Cerignola and his mother was an Italian-Jewish woman from Trieste.
He was brought up as an Episcopalian and remained so all his life. During his childhood, his middle name ‘Enrico’ was anglicized to ‘Henry’.
He and his family shifted to Arizona where his father served as a bandmaster in the U.S. Army at Fort Whipple.
He studied in public schools and at the high school in Prescott in Arizona. After his father was discharged as a bandmaster 1898, he stayed in Trieste.
From 1900 to 1903, he worked in the U.S. consulate in Budapest as a clerk and assistant of the U.S. consul general.
From 1903 to 1906, he served in Fiume (at present Rijeka, Croatia) as consular agent.
He completed his graduation from ‘Dwight School’ located at the Upper West Side of New York. He served at the ‘New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Children’.
He was a linguist and was fluent in Italian, Yiddish, French, German, Hungarian and Croatian languages. He served as an interpreter from 1907 to 1910 for the ‘U.S. Bureau of Immigration’ stationed at its Ellis Island immigration office.
In 1910, he completed his graduation from ‘New York University School of Law’ and joined the bar.
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In January 191,5 he became Deputy Attorney General of New York.
On November 7, 1916, he became the first Italian-American Congress member to be elected to the ‘U.S. House of Representatives’.
His tenure in the office of the ‘U.S. House of Representatives’ was short-lived as on August 15, 1917 he was inducted in the Army Air Service of the U.S during World War I. He was promoted as major in command of one of the units of Ca.44 bombers posted at the Italian-Austrian front.
On December 31, 1919, he gave up his seat in Congress. He was chosen to contest as the Republican nominee for the presidential post of ‘New York City Board of Aldermen’ and served in the post from 1920 to 1921.
In 1922, he won a Congress seat from East Harlem and rendered his service in the House till March 3, 1933. As a progressive reformer he railed against immigration quotas and aided labour legislation including the ‘Norris-La Guardia Act’.
In 1929, he lost to Tammany politician, James J. Walker in a bid to become mayor.
He supported the independence movement of Ireland and anti-czarist Russian Revolution but did not support Vladimir Lenin rather approved of American influence for democracy and national independence and for contending autocracy. He supported internationalism and was outspoken in favour of disarmament and peace conferences and also of ‘Inter-Parliamentary Union’ and ‘League of Nations’.
Fiorello Henry La Guardia was a proponent of several progressive issues including removal of American troops from Nicaragua, permitting more immigration, being vocal for the rights of striking miners, minorities, poor farmers and impoverished families. He contended for progressive income taxes, employment insurance for workers who lost their jobs in Great Depression and increased government supervision on Wall Street.
On November 7, 1933, Fiorello Henry La Guardia became the 99th mayor of New York City and was re-elected twice in 1937 and 1941 thus serving the position for twelve years.
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He was a Freemason and a music lover known for his spontaneity organising professional as well as student’s orchestras. He was a member of the music fraternity ‘Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia’. In 1936 he was instrumental in establishing ‘High School of Music & Arts’ (now called the ‘Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts’).
In 1938, he proposed for an improved City Charter and successfully set up ‘New York City Board of Estimate’.
In 1939 ‘Interborough Rapid Transit Company’ was bought by New York City under his supervision thus enabling full public takeover of the subway system.
As mayor he vehemently took actions to control criminal and unethical activities including arresting gangsters and armed bandits, banning sale and possession of artichoke till its price remained inflated and shutting down burlesque theatres.
During the World War II, in 1941 he was appointed by President Roosevelt as the first director of ‘Office of Civilian Defence’, a national agency to combat German air raids.
On March 29, 1946, he became the director general of ‘the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’.
As mayor he supported Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt and agencies of New Deal like PWA, CWA and WPA and in turn received $1.1 billion federal money for New York.
The East River Drive, Triborough Bridge, West Side Highway, LaGuardia Airport and Brooklyn Battery are some of the many developments that took place during his tenure as mayor that transformed the face of New York.
Personal Life & Legacy
On March 8, 1919, he married Thea Almerigotti who was an Istria immigrant. Their daughter Fioretta Thea, born on June 1920, died on May 1921 due to spinal meningitis while his wife Thea Almerigotti died on n November 29, 1921 due to tuberculosis .
He married his former secretary in the congress, Marie Fisher, in 1929. The couple adopted Eric Henry and Jean Marie who was the daughter of Thea Almerigotti’s sister.
On September 20, 1947, he died in his home in Bronx after suffering from pancreatic cancer. He was buried at the ‘Woodlawn Cemetery’ in Bronx.
The ‘United States Postal Service’ issued a 14¢ postage stamp in 1972 in his honour.
‘LaGuardia Airport’, New York, the ‘LaGuardia Community College’, New York and the LaGuardia Street, Tel Aviv, Israel, are some of the many places named after him.
He ranked first in the category of nation’s mayors in the 1993 poll for historians and social scientists.