Laura Fermi

Fermi headshot from Olivia
Born in Rome, Italy, Laura Capon Fermi (1907-1977) was an Italian-American writer, historian and activist who authored over half a dozen books in both English and Italian. Laura’s family were Jewish and her father was a career Italian naval officer. She studied general science at the University of Rome where she met Enrico Fermi, whom she married in 1928.

Atoms in the Family (1954), Laura Fermi’s best-selling memoir of life with her famous husband, she recounts how in 1938 with their two young children, she and Enrico fled Fascist Italy and its increasingly draconian anti-Jewish laws; how they adjusted to their lives as immigrants in the United States; and how their lives changed again when Enrico was recruited by the US military to work on the first atomic weapons, in a secret location in the New Mexican desert, during World War II. The family settled in Chicago after the War.

After her husband’s death in 1954, Laura attended the first International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1955, in her role as the historian for the US delegation. Laura then wrote a book about the proceedings,
Atoms for the World in 1957.

Also in 1957, Fermi won a Guggenheim Fellowship for her writing. In 1961, she published
Mussolini, a biography of the Italian dictator and a book for young readers, The Story of Atomic Energy. Her last book, Illustrious Immigrants, was originally published in 1968. Since 1959, she was at the leading edge of raising awareness of air pollution control in Chicago and nationally. In 1971, she and her colleagues initiated the US’s first ever lobby for stricter gun control both locally and nationally.

In her later years, Laura lived with a lung condition, which limited her ability to walk more than a couple of blocks. She continued to raise awareness about, and promote solutions for significant social issues until the end of her life.

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Illustrious Immigrants eBook cover