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Register of the Papers of



54 ft.

MSS 40


Shawn Weldon

December 1982


Leonard Covello is known equally for his innovative work as a public school teacher and administrator in the Italian and, later, Puerto Rican communities of East Harlem, New York City, and as a perceptive analyst of the Italian experience in America.  An immigrant himself, his approach to education developed out of his own experiences in New York City schools, from social activists with whom he had contact as an adolescent and young adult, and from his initial experiences as a teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School.  From these influences, Covello developed strong commitments to cultural pluralism and to the importance of immigrant children becoming conscious and proud of their native cultures while learning to adapt to their new environment.  As an administrator, Covello succeeded in implementing a concept of education, the community centered school, which provided a social and cultural context for the education of Italian and later Puerto Rican and Black school children in East Harlem.  Covello also lectured regularly at colleges and universities in New York City.  The course which he taught at New York University provided the basis for his doctoral dissertation, The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child, a classic study which he completed in 1944 and published in 1967.  In addition to his work as an educator, Covello was involved in almost every aspect of the activities of the Italian community in New York City, and he was a founder or major influence in most of the prominent Italian organizations in the city.

Covello was born in the town of Avigliano in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy on November 26, 1887.  In 1890 his father, Pietro Covello, emigrated to New York City.  Leonard, his mother, and his two brothers, joined his father in the East Harlem section of the city in 1896.

Almost immediately Covello was placed in the "Soup School," a local school run by a Protestant mission group.  The main purpose of the school was to "Americanize" new immigrants.  After two years at the "Soup School" Covello finished his elementary education at P.S. 83, and he entered Morris High School in 1902.  While in high school Covello won a Pulitzer Scholarship which enabled him to attend Columbia University.  He entered Columbia in 1907 and graduated in 1911.  In 1913 he took a job as a teacher of French in DeWitt Clinton High School.

With the entrance of the United States into World War I in 1917, Covello first became a volunteer with the Farm Cadet Bureau.  Then on December 10, 1917, he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Artillery Corps.  He went to France as an interpreter and became a member of the Corps of Intelligence Police.  Through contacts made during the war Covello gained a post-war job with a Midwest clearinghouse for foreign advertising.

In 1920 Covello returned to his former position at DeWitt Clinton and served as head of the school's Italian Department from 1922 to 1926.  In 1926 he was appointed First Assistant in Modern Languages, a post he held until 1934.  Covello had been influenced early in life by the social reform ideas of Anna C. Ruddy at the Home Garden Club, and later by the more radical social activism of Norman Thomas.  This, combined with his own experiences as an immigrant, influenced much of his educational theory, as well as his community development work in East Harlem.  At DeWitt Clinton, Covello recognized that Italian American children were confronted by a dilemma in the public schools.  They were expected to separate themselves from their native culture and language, including their families and communities, in order to meet the school's expectations and to achieve academically.  Covello sought means to ease the transition of immigrant school children into American life and to aid in their acculturation without separating them from their communities or native culture.  In 1914 he established Il Circolo Italiano at DeWitt Clinton.  This club combined social service, recreational and cultural activities, and its members did a great amount of work within the Italian immigrant community.  He also began a campaign to establish Italian on an equal footing with other foreign languages taught in New York City schools, a campaign which culminated in his appointment as head of the newly established Italian Department at DeWitt Clinton in 1922.  In the same year Covello established the Italian Parents Association at the school.

Covello's work extended beyond DeWitt Clinton to include the city's school system and its Italian community as a whole.  He was a major force in the Italian Teachers Association and in 1931 founded the Casa Italiana Educational Bureau, which was a significant factor in the spread.  of information on Italian and Italo-American culture.  He was a member or was associated with most of the Italian organizations in the city such as the Italy-America Society and Order of Sons of Italy.  Through them he tried to ease the transition of the immigrant and to spread pride and knowledge of Italian culture.

During his years at DeWitt Clinton, Covello became increasingly aware of the need for a high school in East Harlem.  From 1931 until 1934 he led a campaign to create such a high school, and in 1934 his work was rewarded with the establishment of Benjamin Franklin High School.  Covello was appointed principal of the school and later became principal of James Otis Junior High School as well.

As principal of Franklin, Covello was able to implement many of the innovative theories and methods he held as to the role of the school and its place in the community, and he turned Franklin into one of the leading examples of the community centered school.  This concept, based on the recognition that the public school was the one social agency which touched nearly all families, called for almost complete interaction between the school and the community.  Working through the school's Community Advisory Council, which consisted of teachers, students, parents and business and civic leaders, an intensive program was launched to strengthen the East Harlem community and aid in its development.  The program included housing and sanitation campaigns, the establishment of social and educational centers in the community, citizenship campaigns and adult education and summer school programs, as well as a number of other educational and community improvement programs.  In 1935 Franklin added an intercultural education program, designed to teach students to understand and appreciate other ethnic and cultural groups.

Besides his educational and administrative work in the New York City school system, Covello also taught courses at several colleges and universities in the New York metropolitan area.  He taught courses in romance languages, Italian culture, and education.  His most important courses were those he taught on the community centered school and the social background of the Italo-American school child at New York University's School of Education, where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1944.

As East Harlem began to experience an influx of Puerto Rican immigrants during the 1940s and 1950s, Covello implemented programs for Puerto Rican students at Franklin similar to those which had proven successful among Italian immigrants.  In 1956 Covello retired as principal of Franklin High School and Otis Jr. High and accepted an appointment as Education Consultant to the Migration Division of the Puerto Rican Department of Labor.  His work with the Migration Division included language and literacy campaigns, citizenship programs, work with Puerto Rican organizations, conferences and workshops on Puerto Rican problems, and a general effort to raise awareness and pride in Puerto Rican history and culture.

After his retirement from Benjamin Franklin High School Covello also became deeply involved in work with senior citizens in East Harlem.  He was a founder of the East Harlem Day Care Center for or Older Persons in 1952, which was renamed the Leonard Covello Senior Center for East Harlem in 1969.  He was also involved with the formation of the East Harlem Committee on Aging in the early 1960's and served as chairman of the Committee.

In 1972 Covello returned to Sicily at the invitation of Sicilian social reformer Danilo Dolci to work with Dolci's Center for Study & Action in Western Sicily.  Here Covello continued the work he had performed in East Harlem.

In addition to his doctoral dissertation, The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child: A Study of the Southern Italian Family Mores and Their Effect on the School Situation in Italy and America (1944, published in 1967), Covello published and spoke on a wide variety of topics, including educational theory, the concept of the community centered school, immigration, religion, citizenship, Italian and Puerto Rican history and culture, and Benjamin Franklin High School.  Covello presented lectures and speeches regularly before community and civic groups, professional associations, religious groups, student bodies, and at rallies, conferences, workshops, and on radio.  The Covello Papers contain documentation on over 300 speeches with many more listed but undocumented.

Among Covello's most significant writings are The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child, his autobiography, The Heart is the Teacher (1956), and a draft of an unpublished manuscript on the Benjamin Franklin High School.  He also wrote numerous articles for scholarly and popular journals and for newspapers.

Covello died on August 19, 1982 in Messina, Italy.

For additional biographical information, see his autobiographical work, The Heart is the Teacher, written with Guido Agostino in 1957, Robert Peebles' dissertation, Leonard Covello: An Immigrant's Contribution to New York City, 1967; and Francesco Cordasco, editor, Studies in Italian American Social History: Essays in Honor of Leonard Covello, 1975.


The Covello Papers were donated to the Balch Institute Library by Francesco Cordasco in 1975.  Arrangement and description of the Leonard Covello Papers, 54 linear feet, was made possible through a grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities.


The Leonard Covello Papers span the years 1907-1974 and cover in detail most every aspect of his life and activities.  Because Covello's interests interrelated and evolved throughout his career, information on given topics can be found throughout the papers.  Cross references have been made where possible, but the papers should be examined as a whole for information on a topic.  Included in the papers are correspondence, biographical material, speeches writings, teaching and administrative records, subject files, printed material, organizational minutes and proceedings, reports and studies and news clippings.

A large amount of photographs and pamphlets as well as several reel recording tapes, some of which appear to contain autobiographical reminiscences, and two motion picture films accompanied the collection and are being processed separately (see attached separation record) .

The Covello papers are divided into thirteen series: General Papers, Speakers File, Writings, Teaching and Administration, DeWitt Clinton High School, Benjamin Franklin High School/Community Centered School Program, Social Backgrounds, East Harlem, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Delinquency, Miscellaneous, and Clippings.


Series 1, GENERAL PAPERS, contains biographical and personal material relating to Covello and files describing his nonprofessional activities.  Included in the biographical files are profiles from press releases and various Who's Who compilations, newspaper and magazine articles, a 1969 interview from Urban Review, and a biographical "Record" which outlines his activities and affiliations up to 1958.

The series contains a long run of files for the various honors and awards bestowed upon Covello by colleagues, civic and community groups, and professional associations, among others.  Most important are the Gold Medal for Special Merit in Education awarded by the Italian government in 1933 and the State of New York Meritorious Service Medal bestowed upon Covello in 1966.  The series also contains files on Covello's travels to Puerto Rico and Europe, his World War I service, files of personal notes and correspondence, and files on his education including graduation and diplomas from Morris High School and Columbia University, and his Ph.D. records.

The most significant section of GENERAL PAPERS is the long run of correspondence and general files.  These files are arranged alphabetically by personal name and consist primarily of correspondence, but in addition they often contain biographical information, writing and speeches, and other material pertaining to friends, relatives and professional associates of Covello.  Among the most important files are those on Vito Marcantonio, Mario Cosenza, Fiorello LaGuardia, Edward Corsi, and Joseph Monserrat.  The files frequently reveal Covello's relations with these people and the influence they had on him.  Similar files are also contained in the Italians and Puerto Ricans series, listed under Leaders.

Series II, SPEAKERS FILE, is one of the most important in the papers.  The series contains over 300 individual files on Covello's speaking engagements.  Not all of the files contain copies of the speech texts, but the majority include either the text or an outline, plus such related material as correspondence, programs, and background information.  The speeches in the series cover a wide variety of topics and provide insight into Covello's ideas and social and educational philosophy.  Included also is a card file of speeches arranged alphabetically by topic and organization.

Series III, WRITINGS, is similar to SPEAKERS FILE both in the information provided on Covello's educational and social philosophy and, frequently, he topics covered.  The series contains files on the Italian books and readers written by Covello and Anne Giacobbe, most of which consist of contracts, royalty statements, and other routine material.  There are large number of files relating to The Heart is the Teacher which include correspondence reviews, and information on publication and publicity.  The personal reminiscences in the series are probably drafts for this book.  Of major importance is a draft of the manuscript for Covello's unpublished book on the community centered school.  Material on Covello's thesis, The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child, is in Series VIII.

Series III also includes reports, articles, and shorter writings by Covello on a variety of topics.  In addition to reprints and tear sheets, files often contain drafts and background materials.

Series IV, TEACHING AND ADMINISTRATION, documents Covello's career the New York City school system as well as his teaching assignments at colleges and universities.  Files covering his years at DeWitt Clinton include notifications of licensing and assignments, letters of commendation and recommendation, ratings of service. and material on his position as First Assistant in Modern Languages.  Information on his years as principal Benjamin Franklin High School includes his application in 1934, examination material, appointment and renewals, and ratings of service.  There is also material pertaining to in-service courses conducted by Covello for the Board Education and his service on the Board of Examiners, 1926-1957, the College Entrance Examinations Board, 1923-1934, and the Regents Examination Board, 1926-1934.

There are also files on courses which Covello taught at area colleges universities.  Most significant are those files pertaining to the courses on community coordination and the community centered school at New York University's School of Education.  These files are extensive and include plans, lecture outlines, assignments and examinations, and student papers.  Information on Covello's course on the social background of the Italo-American school child is in Series VII, SOCIAL BACKGROUNDS.

Series V, DeWITT CLINTON, consists primarily of material from the years 1915-1934 and documents various aspects of the academic program, and especially the Italian program, at Clinton.  The academic files contain material on discipline, graduations, the Student Aid Fund, and various studies the student body in general but pertaining mostly to Italian students.  The latter consist of general, vocational, and geographical questionnaires conducted between 1929 and 1932.  The questionnaires were conducted as part the Boys Club study at New York University conducted by Frederick Thrasher 1928 to 1932 in which Covello assisted. 

The files on the Italian Department and Italian students are also of special interest.  These include files on Il Circolo Italiano (the Italian Club), 1915-1934; copies of Il Foro (the Italian club paper), 1921-1926; Italian Department yearly reports, 1920-1926, 1929; files on various activities of the Italian Department; and one file on the Italian Boys Experimental Program, 1931-1933.

Series VI, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL/COMMUNITY CENTERED SCHOOL, covers all aspects of the school's academic and community program, and it is divided into six subseries: Academic Aspects, Community Centered School Program, Reports and Studies, Intercultural Education, Student Participation, and General and Conceptual.

The Academic Aspects subseries contains documentation on the administrative and scholastic functions of the school.  Prominent in the subseries are files on the campaign to establish Franklin (1931-1934) and the campaign for a new building which was erected in 1941-1942.  Also significant are department annual reports, 1952-1956; an almost complete run of assembly programs, 1934-1938, 1943-1956; several articles about Franklin High School, 1936-1956; cabinet conferences, 1934-1949; files on student clubs and activities; and files on numerous other aspects of the school including faculty, guidance, and teacher training.

The Community Centered School subseries documents in great detail the community program of Franklin High School.  Included is material concerning the work of the Community Advisory Council, 1935-1938; C.A.C. reports, 1937-1942; general material on the organization and function of the various school-community committees from 1936 to 1945; and files on individual committees.

The subseries also includes files on community school programs, including education 1936-1941; citizenship, 1935-1943; various community events and festivals, 1937-1952; housing, 1933-1965; sanitation campaign, 1947-1952; storefronts (street units); summer school, 1936, 1939-1944; and Work Projects Administration work at Franklin, 1935-1942.

The Reports and Studies subseries consists of reports on Benjamin Franklin High School and the community program of the school and numerous studies done on the students of the school.  Among the most significant studies a are the results of the entrance questionnaire for 1934; the guidance questionnaire comparing Italian and non-Italian students which was distributed in 1935; the Motion Picture Study done in 1936; and the 1951 Nationality Study.  Other studies examine discipline, intelligence and mental ability, residence of students, health, background and many other aspects of the school and its students.

The Intercultural Education subseries contains material on intercultural education theory and practice in general and on the intercultural education program at Franklin.  Included in the former are files on organizations involved with intercultural education, articles, and various subject files.  Material pertaining to Franklin includes files on the experimental program at the school, 1935 and 1939, a large amount of material on the highly publicized racial incident at Franklin in 1945 and reports on racial and ethnic attitudes at the school, 1938-1939.

The Student Participation subseries documents the school and community activities of Franklin students aside from their normal school clubs and recreational activities.  The most significant files are those for the American Student Congress, 1938-1941; the American Student Union, 1937-1940; the National Youth Administration, 1939-1942; and the Youth Builders Program, 1943-1947.  The subseries also contains two folders of student essays, compositions, poems, plays, radio scripts, and other miscellaneous student writings.

The General and Conceptual subseries contains files on the theoretical and conceptual background of the community centered school and on programs in other schools and cities.  Important files are those on American history teaching in the community centered school; charts of case study outlines; a file on a program of study for the Cosmopolitan High School; Board of Education reports by the Committee on Articulation and Integration, 1935-1936, and the Committee on the Principal and His Community, n.d.; and the transcript of a 1945 radio broadcast on the community centered school in which Covello participated.

Series VII, SOCIAL BACKGROUNDS, contains material relating both to Covello's course on the social background of the Italo-American school child and his Ph.D. dissertation on the same subject.  The dissertation, which Covello completed in 1944 and published in 1967, was based in large part on the course, which, in turn, developed out of his experiences as a teacher at DeWitt Clinton and especially the Boys Club Study at New York University (see Series VIII and IX below).  Included in the files for the social backgrounds course are descriptions and outlines of the course, lecture outlines, class plans, bibliographies, topics, projects, examinations, and class papers.  Class papers for the course are also contained in the reference files in this series (see below) and in the subject files of other series.  The files for Covello's dissertation contain an abstract, overview and prospectus, reviews, outlines, and drafts of chapters.

Series VII contains a large number of reference files which are divided into two major groups.  The first group is arranged by subject and consists primarily of secondary source material on a variety of topics pertaining to Italy and Italian Americans, including history, culture, immigration, education.  The second group, labeled documents and notes, consists mostly of primary material, including interviews, reminiscences of immigrants, autobiographical notes of Covello, and material gathered from studies as well as other sources.  Material which appears to have been used in thesis is also spread throughout other series.  This material is marked roman numerals.

Series VIII, EAST HARLEM, contains reference material on the community itself as well as on Covello's activities in it.  There are a large number files on political, civic, educational, religious and other agencies organizations in East Harlem covering various racial and ethnic groups.  The series also contains files on East Harlem churches; the East Harlem taught in the New York public schools.  Also important is a long run of files labeled Italian leaders which contains correspondence by Covello and biographical and other information pertaining to a large number of prominent Italo-Americans.

Series X, PUERTO RICANS, is similar to the Italian series in that it contains a large number of reference and subject files.  These document Covello's work with the Puerto Rican community of New York City as educational consultant to the Migration Division of the Department of Labor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  There is a good deal of documentation on his duties this area including annual reports for the years 1958-1967 (relating to Covello's activities) and weekly reports for the Education Section for 1959-1966.

Other important files are those for articles on Puerto Ricans; conferences on Puerto Ricans and related issues, 1940-1968; files of the Mayor's Committee on Puerto Rican affairs, 1949-1956; reports and studies on Puerto Ricans; and the Goodwill Ambassadors program of New York High School students to Puerto Rico for Christmas in 1959 and 1960.

Series XI, DELINQUENCY, consists primarily of reference material.  Among the most important material in the series is a general file, 1944-1945, and report by the High School Principals' Association, Committee on Absence, Truancy, and Delinquency, of which Covello was chairman.  Significant also are New York City Board of Education reports on delinquency for various years from 1929 to 1958.  The series also contains a file of Covello's notes on delinquency; general delinquency files; and subject files covering gangs, East Harlem, and various delinquency programs in New York City.  Other information on delinquency and on Covello's work in the area is contained in other series.

Series XII, MISCELLANEOUS, is divided into several subseries.  The first subseries contains files on various organizations of which Covello was a member or worked with but which fit into no other series.  Included are files on Phi Beta Kappa, Reconciliation Trips, Bergen County Veterans of World War I, and a few others.

The rest of the subseries appears to be resource files which Covello collected to use for reference.  Included in the subseries are small groups of files on education (primarily in New York City); foreign born, and language.  There is a large amount of files in the subseries marked Research.  The latter are comprised mainly of abstracts of studies done by others in areas such as intelligence and mental ability, population, and education, as well as studies on various racial and ethnic groups.  These may have served as a conceptual background for some of Covello's studies.  Also included is miscellaneous printed material, mainly pamphlets.  Some of the printed material covers school integration in New York City, but the majority relates to intercultural, racial, and ethnic topics.

Series XIII, CLIPPINGS, consists of several folders of newspaper and magazine articles and clippings pertaining to Covello and his activities for the years 1925-1969.

The box list of the Register of the Papers of Leonard Covello is one hundred sixty-five pages long.