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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Treglia, Mary Joanna
(October 7, 1897–October 10, 1959)

–settlement house director—was born in Sioux City, Iowa, the only child of Italian immigrants Rose and Anthony Treglia. After her husband died before Mary's second birthday, Rose Treglia supported herself and her daughter with a fruit stand that she and Anthony had opened.

    As a youngster in Sioux City, Mary Treglia developed a power pitching ability, a skill she developed into paying jobs when she was a young adult. She traveled the area giving demonstrations of her throwing and catching abilities before men's baseball games, sometimes catching a baseball tossed from an airplane. She also earned money as an umpire for men's baseball games.

    Rose's declining health and her desire for a warmer climate led Mary to take her mother to California in 1919. While there, Mary played for one of the many women's baseball teams of the era. She also had a brief career in silent movies, first as an extra and then in bit parts. In 1921 the Treglias returned to Sioux City.

    While Mary Treglia and her mother had been in California, the Sioux City Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) had sponsored a survey of the city's east side, revealing the need for a social gathering place and resulting in the founding of the Sioux City Community House in April 1921. Mary Treglia volunteered at the Community House soon after she returned to Iowa, organizing a club for working girls. Within a year, the center had employed Treglia as assistant to the director, the only other paid employee. She also began working to obtain an academic background for her work, taking a course in settlement house work at the University of Minnesota, doing fieldwork and course work at the New York School for Social Work and at United Charities in Chicago, and enrolling at Morningside College in Sioux City. Her academic studies were interrupted in 1925 when the Community House's director left and she became the director. Treglia completed her bachelor's degree in 1933. She later became active in the professional community, serving on the board of directors of the National Federation of Settlements from 1947 to 1951 and as president of the Iowa branch of the American Association of Social Workers in 1942.

    As director of the Sioux City Community House, Treglia developed clubs, such as the Women of All Nations Club, one her mother supported by going door to door inviting women to join. There were also groups for the arts, youth groups, and programs for girls referred to the Community House by the courts. Classes in English, American government and history, and assistance with the naturalization process were central to the Community House. Treglia respected the courage and commitment demonstrated by those she served. In 1931 she said, "It is gratifying to have these men and women who for the most part are engaged in industrial work coming twice a week to study English and to see them gradually and sanely assimilated."

    In 1933 Treglia helped organize the Booker T. Washington Center, later the Sanford Center, on Sioux City's west side. Initially intended to provide a social gathering place for the city's African American residents, it expanded to include an educational program, a preschool nursery, and a black servicemen's club. The center had an on-site executive director, but Treglia, as executive supervisor, helped develop programs.

    With one foot firmly planted with immigrants and other disadvantaged groups, Treglia had her other foot planted in Sioux City's social and political power base, helping them understand and work with each other. When the school board threatened to close a neighborhood school, Lincoln School, Treglia helped turn a potentially volatile situation into a mediated agreement. Later, when the school board did close the school, she helped negotiate the end of the resulting school strike.

    In 1932 when the city condemned the building that housed Community House, Treglia oversaw the construction of a new facility, which was built on the site of the former Lincoln School. Before the new building opened, the Floyd River flooded, damaging the building. After another major flood in 1936, Treglia organized the Community House's clubs to gather petitions, and she chaired more than 200 meetings with city officials and flood control planners. World War II suspended action, but following the 1953 Floyd River flood, sustained planning continued for six years. When the comprehensive plan was finally completed in 1959, it included diverting the channel through the Community House neighborhood and razing homes as well as the Community House building itself. The Community House moved to another area of the city and was renamed the Mary J. Treglia Community House.
Sources Mabel Hoyt, "History of Community House, Sioux City, Iowa," Annals of Iowa 21 (1938), 190–91; and Suzanne O'Dea Schenken, "The Immigrant's Advocate: Mary Treglia and the Sioux City Community House, 1921–1959," Annals of Iowa 50 (1989/1990), 181–213.
Contributor: Suzanne O"™dea

Cite as: O'dea, Suzanne. "Treglia, Mary Joanna" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 26 May 2018