As Connecticut’s first female mayor, Ann Uccello — who just turned 100 — worked with constituents, allies and opponents to bridge divides and move America forward in the 1960s and ’70s.

A note from Basil M. Russo, who leads The Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO): Each month, we honor a woman of Italian descent to spotlight their indelible contributions to our culture and community. May’s Donna Distinta Award goes to Antonina “Ann” Uccello, an outstanding leader who forever changed the national political landscape. Ann was a force for good, a voice of reason and a beacon to women and girls everywhere who sought to break through glass ceilings. Ann turned 100 years old just a few days ago, and to this we say: long live your principles and your tireless pursuit of excellence. Viva Ann Uccello!

By Paul Pirrotta

“Could the daughter of a Sicilian shoemaker brought up in New England go on to lead a major capital city — even if she was a little square, and a Republican?”

“Absolutely,” was the overwhelming answer from the voters.

Antonina “Ann” Uccello turned 100 years old on May 19, 2022. Fifty-five years ago, she achieved the most impossible of political victories: she became the first female mayor in the history of Hartford, Conn., the first female mayor of any town in Connecticut and the first woman to be elected mayor of a major city in the U.S.

She accomplished all this in a city where Democrats outnumbered Republicans 3 to 1.

Antonina Uccello was born and raised in Hartford, and she was the second of five daughters in a closely-knit family of Italian immigrants.

Her father had almost become a priest — he was extremely religious, as faith was at the center of family life. Always hardworking, Uccello graduated with honors from both Weavers High School and St. Joseph College.

Her interest in politics led her to pursue graduate work in American government at Trinity College and at the University of Connecticut Law School. Uccello taught high school history before entering the business world, working in a variety of management positions at G. Fox & Company, Hartford’s leading department store. It was during this time, working in close quarters with Beatrice Fox Auerbach, that Uccello’s dreams began moving in the direction of politics. Auerbach was one of Uccello’s biggest supporters, encouraging her to pursue political office.

In 1963 she was elected to the Hartford City Council and re-elected in 1965. During her time on city council, Uccello chaired several key committees and quickly rose through the political ranks. By 1967, she was ready to run for mayor. In an upset victory over Hartford’s incumbent, Mayor George Kinsella, Uccello became not only the first woman mayor of any Connecticut municipality, but also Hartford’s first Republican mayor since World War II. (And to date, she’s the last Republican to lead Hartford.)

Uccello was a pragmatic Republican, who in her inaugural address promised a liberal social agenda combined with fiscal conservatism. Her many proposals included legislation protecting children from lead poisoning, creating low- and moderate-income housing in and outside the city, and establishing an Info-Mobile to travel the city with news of jobs and services.

Uccello received national attention for her leadership.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. on April 4, 1968, city streets all over the nation were consumed by rioting. Outraged by the violence sweeping the nation, and fearful of its consequences in Hartford, Mayor Uccello helped city residents find peace and calm in the midst of this ruptured time. “Mayor Ann,” as she was known, quelled demonstrations and spent the night visiting with residents in the street, connecting with her constituents and helping to ease the pain and confusion surrounding Dr. King’s loss.

While speaking to a high school audience about her time in office, a student asked her if she was afraid during the riots that shook America.

“No,” she replied. “I always carry my secret weapon with me: my Rosary!”

In 1971 Uccello went to Washington as Director of the newly-created Office of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Transportation, becoming one of the highest-ranking women in the Nixon administration. In 1975, she was selected to deliver the keynote address at the First International Conference on Public Transport and the People in Paris, France.

She returned home to Connecticut in 1979 to tend to family matters and work in her family’s insurance business. She remained active locally as a trustee of numerous organizations including Hartford Hospital, the Hartford Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and the American Association of University Women. She has also served as President of the Hartford Public Library Board.

She holds an honorary doctorate from St. Joseph College, has received the Amita Award in Government, the Salvation Army Leadership Award and in 1972 was named Cavaliere Ordine della Stella della Solidarieta’ Italiana.

In 2008, Hartford turned Ann Street into Ann Uccello Street; and in 2016, her parents’ hometown in Italy renamed the street her father was born on. It is now Via Ann Uccello.