The city’s school board approved a measure to name the media center inside the new School 16 building after Italian-American trailblazer Mary Augusto, who founded “La Voce Italiana” or “The Italian Voice” newspaper and was the first woman to run for mayor in the Silk City.
Augusto died in 1982. To preserve her memory, Augusto’s daughter, Cesairna Augusto Earl, lobbied the board of education to either name School 16 or the media center after her mother. The daughter argued, her mother saved the school when the Board of Education attempted to shut it down in 1946-7 because it was too expensive to heat in the winter.
Augusto gathered 200 residents from the People’s Park section and brought them to the Board of Education meeting to stop the school closure. Her mother suggested eliminating the top floor of the three-floor building to make it cheaper to heat. The top floor was taken offline and the school remained open, said Earl.
The old school her mother saved was fully demolished in 2014, according to state government records. In its place, the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) built the new School 16 which opened in September 2016.
School board members considered the mother’s role in local history and in saving the school to approve a resolution on April 11th, 2017 to name the school after Augusto.
“Thank you for this tribute. Without her efforts, School 16 would have been closed in 1947. She’s probably smiling and very thrilled this has taken place,” said Earl after the board approved the measure.
Earl was present with more than a dozen family members and friends. Former longtime mayor Lawrence “Pat” Kramer was present with the family.
“Mary was always involved in the big issues of the day,” recalled Kramer. He thought the naming of the media center after Augusto an appropriate honor. Augusto also worked as a librarian in the school district at one point, said her daughter.
Some of the big issues she was involved in included railing against the inhumane working conditions in the silk mills. She also came out against political patronage in city government. As a reform candidate, she tossed her hat into the ring for mayor in 1947, becoming the first woman to ever run for mayor in Paterson. Without access to party funds, she lost.
Born in 1901 in Nicastro, Calabria, Italy, Augusto came to Paterson through Ellis Island in 1920. Her siblings were already in the United States. She joined them at a house in Paterson.
Augusto and her husband founded the Italian Voice in 1932. The publication continues to put out new issues every Thursday, according Earl.
The school district is expected to hold a dedication ceremony sometime in June.
There has been a proposal to rename the School 16 building after former president Barack Obama.