When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, city streets all over the United States were filled with riots as people were deeply affected by the loss of such a strong leader, outraged by the violence sweeping the nation, and fearful of its consequences. In Hartford, Mayor Antonina Uccello helped city residents find peace and comfort in a troubled time. “Mayor Ann,” as she was known, quelled demonstrations and spent the night visiting with residents in the street, connecting with her constituents and helping to ease the pain and confusion surrounding Dr. King’s loss. As the first woman in Connecticut to be elected mayor of a municipality, Uccello’s career in Hartford politics blended leadership and care for the city’s people, earning her much respect.
Antonina Uccello was born and raised in Hartford, Conn., and was the second of five daughters in a closely-knit Italian family. Always hardworking, Uccello graduated with honors from both Weavers High School and St. Joseph College. Her interest in politics led her to pursue graduate work in American government at Trinity College and at the University of Connecticut Law School. Uccello taught high school history before entering the business world, working in a variety of management positions at G. Fox & Company, Hartford’s leading department store. It was during this time, working in close quarters with Beatrice Fox Auerbach, that Uccello’s dreams began moving in the direction of politics. Auerbach was one of Uccello’s biggest supporters, encouraging her to pursue political office. When Republican Uccello ran successfully for a seat on the Democratically-controlled Hartford City Council in 1963, Auerbach even predicted, “Dear, you’re going to be mayor of the city one day.”
During her time on the City Council, Uccello chaired several key committees and quickly rose through the political ranks. By 1967, she was ready to run for mayor. In an upset victory over Hartford’s incumbent mayor George Kinsella, Uccello became not only the first woman mayor of any Connecticut municipality, but also Hartford’s first Republican mayor since World War II. She was also the only female to head a major U.S. city during the turbulent Civil Rights era. Uccello’s inaugural address promised a liberal social agenda combined with fiscal conservatism. Her many proposals included legislation protecting children from lead poisoning, creating low- and moderate-income housing in and outside the city, and establishing an Info-Mobile to travel the city with news of jobs and services. Uccello received national attention for her leadership and in a 1970 poll, 81 percent of the Greater Hartford public approved of her job performance. She was even voted Connecticut's second most favorite political personality after Senator Abraham Ribicoff.
In 1970, Uccello considered running for a seat in the U.S. Senate and for Connecticut’s governorship but, at the urging of President Nixon and Vice President Agnew, opted for a bid for the 1st Congressional seat. The race was close, but Uccello lost to Democrat William Cotter. Uccello then went to Washington as Director of the newly-created Office of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Transportation, thus becoming one of the highest-ranking women in the Nixon administration. In 1975, she was selected to deliver the keynote address at the First International Conference on Public Transport and the People in Paris, France.
Antonina Uccello returned home to Connecticut in 1979 to tend to family matters and work in her family’s insurance business. She has remained active locally as a trustee of numerous organizations including Hartford Hospital, the Hartford Boys' and Girls’ Club, and the American Association of University Women. She has also served as President of the Hartford Public Library Board. She holds an honorary doctorate from St. Joseph College and has received the Amita Award in Government and the Salvation Army Leadership Award. In 2008, Ann Uccello Street in Hartford was named in her honor.
During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times
The Cold War in the 1950s between the Soviet Union and the United States produced fear of domestic subversion. The McCarthy Era purged suspected Communists from government, the entertainment industry, and universities, and labeled gays and lesbians as un-American security risks. General anxiety contributed to a popular conception of the family as a source of social stability, and reinforced traditional notions of women’s place at home. In 1963, Betty Friedan called this promise of fulfillment through the domestic arts the “feminine mystique,” and advocated instead that women seek personal careers.
For two decades, a burgeoning economy and a growing consumer culture had expanded the availability of jobs for women. Notable was the increase in the workforce of married women, especially middle-class white women and educated women, though they were viewed in the media as working less for a career than to assist their families with needed income or desirable amenities for the home.
Some working-class women in labor unions challenged traditional cultural norms, such as the United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers who achieved non-discrimination clauses in local contracts. Middle-class women moderated their interest in women’s issues, promoting instead advancement through the League of Women Voters, YWCA, and the American Association of University Women. More radical women in Women Strike for Peace demonstrated against the nuclear arms race and were summoned to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1962. Many activists would join the Civil Rights Movement.
The movement against segregation following World War II dates from the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that segregated schools are inherently unequal and thus a violation of the 14th amendment. African-Americans were given new hope, and in 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, triggered a bus boycott of critical importance. Black women and white women took part in boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, and marches. A culminating achievement in 1965 was the Voting Rights Act pushed through by President Johnson.
Mexican-Americans in the southwest also fought to improve their life and work conditions. In 1962, Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, played a leading role in organizing a national boycott of grapes that forced growers to sign a contract with the union.
Other ethnic groups were soon to come to America, enriching its diversity. The Immigrant and Nationality Act of 1965 established an immigration system based on family preference. Half of the new immigrants came from Mexico and Central and South America, while a quarter were from Asia. Two-thirds of the immigrants were women and children. While poverty and acculturation were issues, for many the time-honored American process of upward social mobility had begun.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.