Nationality Rooms

For most of the history of Pittsburgh, elected officials have been white men. But in 1956, then-Mayor David L. Lawrence did something unheard of: he appointed a woman to City Council.

That woman was Irma D’Ascenzo, an Italian-American Hazelwood resident who was working as secretary and chief examiner for the city's Civil Service Commission. Throughout World War II, and in the years following, she’d been volunteering and was active in her community.

D’Ascenzo’s great-granddaughter, Jeanne Persuit, said Lawrence recognized that rising to council was a natural step for her.

Joseph / flickr

Seeds of Independent Czechoslovakia Began in Pittsburgh

Behind the doors of the Czechoslovakian Nationality Room in the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning is a copy of the 1918 Pittsburgh Agreement.

The little-known document outlines the desires of Czech and Slovak community members to form an independent Czechoslovakian nation. E. Maxine Bruhns, director of the University of Pittsburgh Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs, celebrates the city as the founding region for Czech independence.

The arrival of the Agreement’s primary author, Thomas Masaryk, spurred what Bruhns says was the “largest political rally of its time.” He came to Pittsburgh to seek support for the new nation.

Following his successful visit, the document was sent to President Woodrow Wilson, who began to recognize an independent Czechoslovakia.

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