Rose GardenIrene Luzzatto (Coen) La Guardia was born July 18, 1859 to Fiona (Luzzatto) and Isac Abram Coen, in Rijeka, Croatia, near what is now Trieste, Italy. In Trieste, Achille Luigi Carlo La Guardia met, and later married Irene on June 3, 1880. She was taken by her suitor’s good looks and sophisticated worldly charm and the prospect of going to America.  He was impressed with her social status, poise, and schooling. She was fluent in Italian, Hebrew, and German. She was a descendant of a prestigious Italian-Jewish family of scholars and poets. Theirs was a civil marriage officiated by the Mayor of Trieste. Shortly after wedding, the couple left for the United States. Their first two children were born in New York City, New York: Gemma on April 24, 1881, and Fiorello on December 11, 1882.

In 1885, the family went to Fort Sully, Dakota Territory. Their third child, Richard, was born in 1877 in South Dakota. Living in South Dakota, Achille felt that the family might be terrorized by Indians. Irene had other ideas. She made friends with the Sioux. Gemma later recorded, “They brought her all kinds of gifts, such as handmade blankets, moccasins, beads, and Mother gave them staples. The Indians spoke a Spanish dialect and Mother spoke in Italian to them, and in the [sic] manner, they understood each other very well.”

In the autumn of 1890, Achille and Irene packed the pots and pans, bedding, and musical instruments and made the two-thousand-mile journey to Fort Huachuca, in Arizona Territory. The fort was a dry mud hole with a stockade, a long way from anything important.  They were given a two-room adobe house with a detached kitchen. The Fort did not have much to offer, except a living and the hope they could move to a larger post, which they did in 1892. At Whipple Barracks near Prescott, Arizona Territory, the La Guardia family thought they had returned to civilization!

Thanks to Irene, the La Guardia house was a middle-class home with art on the walls, drapes on the windows, rugs, books, a piano, and various musical instruments.  Cultured guests from town were frequent visitors. Although the Italian language was prohibited in the home, Italian music and great classical operas rang throughout the home nightly.

The Army gave them a respectable five-roomed house, with a lean-to kitchen. They kept rabbits, chickens, and three cows. Irene did all the cooking with the exception of Christmas dinner. That is the job of her husband! She was a strict disciplinarian and made the children toe the line. She loved music and painting and the fine arts and she passed that on to the children. When Irene heard reports that Fiorello was not attentive in school, she chided him, “Why can’t you sit still and pay attention? A restless boy will never be a learned man.”

In February of 1898, the telegraph brought grim news that the U.S.S. Maine had been blown up in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Achille took the family by train to St. Louis, Missouri, and Jefferson Barracks, where he settled his family and then took a train to Tampa, Florida. Fiorello, at age fifteen, became a correspondent for a newspaper and joined his father with the 11th Infantry, leaving the girls to fend for themselves. In August of 1898, Achille returned from Florida to Fort Whipple, where he was given a medical discharge due to disease of stomach and bowels, catarrh of the head and throat, and malaria. He picked up the family at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and they all returned to New York. The family returned to Trieste to live with the widowed mother of Irene. He died on October 21, 1904, in Trieste.

Irene moved to Budapest, Hungary, to live with Gemma and her husband, and died there in 1915. She is buried in the Jewish Cemetery, where her grave is marked with a modest stone bearing the inscription “Irene La Guardia 1859–1915.”

Donor: Kate Anderson
Photo: RGC MS-39, Box L, Folder – La Guardia, Irene (Coen)
Updated: October 16, 2016, Gretchen Hough Eastman