The average stature of Italians is very much below the medium, but, nevertheless, they are wiry and muscular and capable of prolonged physical exertion. The country-bred Italian bears the insanitary conditions of the tenement houses very badly. He succumbs to disease as a result of tenement house conditions more readily than the Hebrew, who for generations has been a dweller in the crowded insanitary districts of large towns and cities, and has acquired a certain degree of resisting power against diseases due to overcrowding, filth and lack of pure air and sunlight. Italian children reared in the Italian quarter of New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Chicago are prone to tubercular disease and rickets, and compare unfavorably with children brought up in Sicily or Italy. Consumption is frequent among tenement-house Italians, although extremely rare in recently arrived immigrants.
Mentally the Italian immigrant is what might be expected of peasantry whose average illiteracy is 48 per cent. However, the possibilities of the Italian peasant, properly educated, are very promising. They are very quick to learn, have a deftness of hand which adapts them to trades requiring manual skill, and their artistic sense is always developed, though it sometimes does violence to the esthetic color sense of hyper-critical Americans.
The moral standard of the Italian family is very high, and Italian women are deservedly noted for the homely virtues, which make womanhood, of whatever nationality, revered.
The crimes charged to the Italians are usually crimes of violence, actuated by revenge for real or fancied wrongs. These are outgrowths of the custom of taking the law in their own hands in a country where the poor had little or no redress from the law. But in the aggregate of crime the Italian, by reason of his sobriety, presents a better record in this country than many of the races commonly classed as desirable. The Italian seldom becomes a public charge, because of his willingness to work at any kind of labor that offers. He does not become pauperized. He applies for and receives charity less often than many of our other city-dwelling immigrants. He is frugal and, in spite of the robbery to which he is subjected by padrone or banker, manages to save some of his earnings. If he has no other prospect, when winter, lack of work and poverty stare him in the face, he usually has the price of steerage passage to Italy, and migrates to reappear at some more opportune season. This migratory tendency of the Italian laborer has caused a great deal of comment upon his value to the country. There is little doubt that the Italian goes back and forth between Europe and America more than any other people. They have earned the title of 'birds of passage' by their habit of flitting back and forth and have been accused of sending vast sums of money home and, in many instances, of going home to live in luxury on the money they earned in America.