Dante Alighieri Society of Michigan
Italy was finally united in 1861 from a collection of independent states and regions controlled by foreign powers. Forging a nation out of the various loyalties was going to be a daunting task.
Ironically, despite its tardy unification the history, culture and language of Italy had an ancient rich legacy. Italians could be proud of their heritage which would be the glue that would forge a national consciousness and be Italy’s gift to the rest of the world.
Not long after the unification of Italy, a mass migration of Italians to other countries in Europe, North and South America, and Australia would begin. These millions of emigrants deserved to know and preserve a sense of Italian culture and language, for themselves and their children. At the same time, the richness of Italian culture and the beauty of the Italian language enthralled many people who were not of Italian descent.
To reach out to these people in 1889 a group in Rome, led by Giosuè Carducci, formed the Dante Alighieri Society whose mission would be to promote the language, literature and culture of their new country. The society was named for Italy’s greatest writer, Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, and one of the most admired writers of great literature of all time. Initially centered in Italy, it soon expanded to cities throughout the world where Italians had settled and where other admirers of things Italian could gather, learn and appreciate all the things that Italy had to offer across the spectrum of human endeavors. With 87 chapters in every region of Italy, it has grown to 423 chapters throughout the world in 2014.
In 1924 a chapter of the Dante Alighieri Society was founded among the Italian residents of Detroit, centered on the lower east side of the city where most Italian immigrants lived. As the city of Detroit attracted large numbers of Italian immigrants, it also was home to many non-Italians that were admirers of the language and culture of Italy. Paolo Polidori and a group of other local citizens formed the local chapter of the society. Efforts were made to serve the many Italian immigrants living in the growing city and to showcase Italian culture and progress to their American neighbors. It was hoped that these immigrants and their descendents would value their heritage even as they adapted to their new homeland.
The society flourished through the 1920s and 1930s offering Detroiters language classes and cultural events until the tragic war years when Italian Americans faced a choice between their beloved Italy and their new homeland. Almost all of them proved to be loyal to their new homeland. With the outbreak of war between Italy and the United States in 1941, the Dante Alighieri Society was dissolved for fear that it would be an outpost of enemy infiltration in America.
In the 1940s, with the war over, a renewed interest in Italy led to the rebirth of the Dante Alighieri Society. Doctor Piero Foà, an Italian Jewish refugee from Fascist Italy who had settled in Detroit during the 1930s, organized leaders of the Italian community in Detroit and the society once again set out to achieve its goals. Since then, Italian language, literature, art, music, film, history, design and all other aspects of Italian culture have been promoted and encouraged in the metro Detroit region.
For the past 92 years, the Dante Alighieri Society has aimed to be the “face” of Italian culture in southeastern Michigan.
The Dante Alighieri Society – Michigan Chapter promotes Italian language and culture through education and cultural event, Il Mosaico newsletter, and other cultural resources. In addition to Italian courses, the Dante Alighieri Society maintains La Biblioteca Italiana, a substantial Italian-language collection held at Oakland Community College in Royal Oak for members and the community at-large and a DVD lending library for members. For younger members and student members, there is the Gruppo Giovanile, which organized activities with the interests of the youth in mind.
History of the Dante Alighieri Society
The inaugural meeting of the Società Dante Alighieri in Michigan was held on December 21, 1924, at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch. The guiding purpose was “to promote Italian cultural programs.”
To bring Italian culture to the wider community, the Dante Alighieri Society hosts cultural and networking events, often in partnership with other Michigan Italian cultural or educational institutions. To see a calendar of upcoming events and a summary of past events, visit the Events page.
The Dante Alighieri Society publishes its newsletter, Il Mosaico, twice a year. Each issue of Il Mosaico brings the latest Society news to our members, as well as articles about Italy by our members. To submit an article for Il Mosaico, please contact: Mosaico
Visit the Il Mosaico page to view past issues.
Presidents of the Michigan Chapter (1924-2016)
The Dante Alighieri Society was established in Rome, Italy by Royal Decree in 1893, by King Umberto I di Savoia. La Società is named in honor of II Sommo Poeta Fiorentino, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), who created the pillars of Italian literature and language and profoundly affected Western civilization with the universality of his wisdom.
The DAS, an international organization with over 400 chapters, presents the art, science, and literature, as well as the political, social, and economic life of contemporary Italy within the global context. The membership of La Società reflects all nationalities, vocations, and ages of persons interested in Italian culture.