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From Law to Public Service
About Peter A. Cavicchia

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American politician Peter Angelo Cavicchia was born in Roccamandolfi, Province of Campobasso, Italy, on May 22, 1879 to Dominic and Maria Josephine (née Lombardi) Cavicchia. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 1888, where they settled in Newark, New Jersey. Cavicchia worked in a factory and attended public schools until he could afford to go to college. Cavicchia obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1906 and his Bachelor of Laws from New York University in 1908. While attending New York University he served as grand master of the Order Sons of Italy and deputy grand chief major of Foresters of America. 


Cavicchia was admitted to the bar in 1909. A year later he began his own law practice and worked as a clerk for the law office of New Jersey governor John Franklin Fort. He also served as director and counsel for several building and loan associations. In 1917 he was appointed supervisor of inheritance tax of Essex CountyHe was a member of the Newark Board of Education from 1917-1931 and served as its president from 1924-1926. He was a professor of law and trustee of Mercer Beasley School of Law (now part of Rutgers University) from 1925-1931. 

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Cavicchia’s Move from Law to Politics

Cavicchia’s interests expanded from law into politics. He ran for Newark City Commissioner in 1929. He was elected to the 72nd, 73rd, and 74th Congresses as a Republican serving from March 4, 1931 to January 3, 1937 in the House of Representatives representing New Jersey’s 11th congressional district. He was the first member of Congress born in Italy and the first Italian-American to be elected from a New Jersey district. While in Congress, he became a member of the House Banking Committee and was instrumental in developing the law creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)He also served as ranking Republican representative of the War Claims Committee. Although he ran for reelection to the 75th Congress, he lost his bid and was succeeded by Edward O’Neill. After the loss, Cavicchia returned to practicing law and again served as supervisor of inheritance tax for Essex County from 1937-1956. He also served as chairman of the Central Planning Board of Newark from 1946-1957.

Public Servant

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Cavicchia Identified “Ills of the American City” and Sought to Improve

As chairman of the Central Planning Board, Cavicchia was highly concerned with the quality of American cities, Newark in particular. He identified the “ills” of the American city as coming from “slums, blight, inadequate street pattern, overcrowding, obsolescence, population change, and high tax rate.” He had a clear vision for the city of Newark, identifying specific areas for rehabilitating or rebuilding. Cavicchia acknowledged that his choices weren’t always popular among those whose neighborhoods were affected by these plans, but countered, “Progress tears down something good sometimes to bring something better.” [1]


Cavicchia was described in newspapers and other publications as “a faithful public servant” and his life of service “quiet but effective.”[2] As written in the Jewish Chronicle, in which he was frequently featured, he believed “in laws that regulate and [opposed] laws that strangulate.”[3]


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Cavicchia Took Pride in His Italian-American Upbringing

Cavicchia took pride in his Italian-American upbringing, participating as a member and officer of many civic and fraternal community organizations. He was a chevalier and officer of the Order of the Crown of Italy.[4] He also founded the Iron Bound Republican Club. He strongly opposed the atrocities towards Jews committed by the Germans and Mussolini during the Second World War. He supported the massive U.S. boycott of German goods. He asserted that Italian-Americans believe in the principle of freedom of speech and religion, and stressed the importance of being thankful for the privilege of enjoying that principle.[5]


Cavicchia was married twice, first to Annabella Auger in 1909, with whom he had three children, Priscilla Josephine, Eugene Auger, and Paul Gaetano; and then to Elsie del Negro in 1938. His younger brother Dominic Cavicchia also studied law and went on to be a politician, serving as Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.[6] A Presbyterian, Cavicchia once served as superintendent of the Sabbath-School of the First Presbyterian Church of Newark.[7]


He died in Belleville, New Jersey on September 11, 1967, aged 88, and is interred in a family plot in Fairmount Cemetery in Newark


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Remarks by Hon. Dean A. Gallo of New Jersey to the House of Representatives, Tuesday, October 24, 1989. 


The People of New Jersey. Rudolph J. Vecoli. D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. 1965. New Jersey Historical Series.


The Master Plan for the Physical Development of the City of Newark, N.J. Central Planning Board Newark, New Jersey 1947. (View PDF)

[1] Brad R Tuttle, How Newark Became Newark: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American City. Rutgers University Press, Feb 16, 2009. 133-134.

[2] "Cavicchia 20 Years In Public Service." Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), April 12, 1929: 7. Readex: America's Historical Newspapers. 

[3] "Cavicchia Ex-Member of Education Board." Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), May 4, 1934: 9. Readex: America's Historical Newspapers.

[4] J.C. Schwarz, Who’s Who in Law: Volume I. J.C. Schwarz, p. 162. 

[5] Warren Grover, Nazis in Newark, Transaction Publishers, New York: 2003. 18.

[6] “The Cavicchia Story,” Observer, July 25, 2007.

[7] “Italian Work in and Near Newark, N.J.” The Assembly Herald 5, no. 2, August 1901, 306.

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