Matilda Cuomo
First Lady of New York
In role
January 1, 1983 – December 31, 1994
GovernorMario Cuomo
Preceded byEvangeline Gouletas
Succeeded byLibby Pataki
Second Lady of New York
In role
January 1, 1979 – December 31, 1982
Lieutenant GovernorMario Cuomo
Preceded byEdwin Margolis
(Second Gentleman)
Succeeded byDee DelBello
Personal details
Mattia Raffa[1]

(1931-09-16) September 16, 1931 (age 92)[2]
New York City, U.S.
(m. 1954; died 2015)
Children5, including Andrew, Margaret, and Chris
EducationSt. John's University 1954
OccupationAdvocate for women, children, and families

Matilda Cuomo (born Mattia Raffa; born September 16, 1931) is an American advocate for women and children, former First Lady of New York from 1983 to 1994, and matriarch of the Cuomo family. She is the widow of Governor of New York Mario Cuomo and mother of Andrew Cuomo who also served as Governor of New York before resigning in August 2021 and former CNN presenter Chris Cuomo. The founder of the child advocacy group Mentoring USA, Cuomo was inducted to the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2017.[3]

Early life and education

Cuomo was born Mattia Raffa in New York[1] to parents, Mary (née Gitto) Raffa (d. 1995)[4] and Carmelo "Charles" Raffa (d. 1988), who had immigrated to the United States from Sicily.[1][5][6] After arriving in the United States in 1927, her father Charles worked to establish his own firm, making supermarket shelves and refrigeration units and later invested in real estate.[5] Cuomo is the third of five children, with older brothers Frank and Sam and younger brother Joseph and sister Nancy.[5]

Cuomo's mother attempted to register her daughter for kindergarten at a Brooklyn elementary school. However, the principal and school registrar threw both out of the registration because her mother could only speak Italian at the time.[1] Years later, Cuomo recalled the registrar yelling, "Get Mrs. Raffa out of here and tell her she can come back when she can speak English," at her mother.[1] During elementary school, Raffa's teachers called her Matilda, rather than her birth name, which was Mattia, which she accepted initially out of fear.[1] The name stuck and she has used Matilda ever since.[1]

Cuomo attended Midwood High School.[7] A capable student who was accepted at Columbia Teachers College, Brooklyn College, and Hunter, she was persuaded by family to attend school closer to home out of concerns for her safety.[5] She further pursued her studies in teaching at St. John's University in Queens, graduating in 1954 from St. John's Teachers College.[7][8]

Matilda Raffa Cuomo met Mario Cuomo in 1951[5] in the cafeteria at St. John's University in Queens where they were both enrolled in school.[9] The couple married on June 5, 1954. Cuomo worked as a teacher and supported her husband while he completed law school at St. John's, graduating with a Juris Doctor degree in 1956.[8][10][11] Reported as "one of the great love stories," their close public and private partnership lasted 61 years until her husband's death in 2015.[12][13][10]

Notable achievements

Cuomo served as a Second and First Lady of New York State (between 1979 and 1994) where she was highly active in advocating for women, children, and families.[14] She created initiatives that mentored children at-risk, facilitated finding long term homes for foster children, and strengthened families through providing education, including nutrition and immunization programs.[10] Cuomo founded the New York State Mentoring Program in 1984 with the aim of creating one-on-one mentoring opportunities for children and young adults.[15] The state run program served over 10,000 students and was active with Cuomo as chair until 1995.[15][16] After the New York State program was discontinued, she transitioned the initiative into Mentoring USA, an international nonprofit child advocacy organization serving to create mentor relationships for youth ages 7–21.[17][18] The New York State Mentoring Program was reinstated in 2015.[15] She also chaired the New York State Decade of the Child initiative.

To help support her efforts to advocate for mentoring, Cuomo compiled and edited the book "The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent Americans Recall Their Mentors," with proceeds going to the Mentoring USA nonprofit organization.[19] Her mentorship book, first published in 1999, was reprinted in 2002 and 2012 featuring a foreword by Hillary Clinton, and later recorded as an audio book in 2016.[19] Personal essays on mentoring by Joe Torre, Rosie O'Donnell, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Nora Ephron, General Colin Powell, and Cory Booker are included in her book.[20] Cuomo has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss her work in support of mentoring programs.[21]

Cuomo co-chaired the Governor's Commission on Child Care and chaired the NY Citizens' Task Force on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.[14]  She led New York's role in the UN's World Summit for Children in 1990 and the USA's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.[14]

Awards and recognition

Cuomo has received numerous honors for her lifelong work as an educator and advocate for women, children, and families. In 1994, she was presented with the International Fellowship Hall of Fame award by the Coalition for Italo-American Associations in honor of her humanitarian efforts as an advocate for children.[22]

In 2010, she received the Lewis Avenue Alumni Legacy Award from St. John's University.[8]

Cuomo was honored in 2011 with the Champion for New York's Children and Families Award by the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation in Albany, New York.[23]

She was the distinguished honoree in 2016 at the 75th Anniversary Jubilee for Midwood High School.[17]

Cuomo was the recipient of the first Liberty Partnerships Program Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 for her work to improve the lives of New York's children through education and mentorship.[24] In 2017, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[11]

"Matilda's Law"

Main article: Matilda's Law

On March 20, 2020, her son, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, announced a protective order for people over 70 in the state in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.[11] He called it "Matilda's Law" in honor of his mother, and appealed to all citizens to think of their mothers in abiding by the restrictions.[25]

Personal life

Cuomo and her late husband Mario had five children together, daughters Margaret, Maria, and Madeline, and sons Andrew and Christopher.[26] Her elder son, Andrew Cuomo, was New York's 56th governor until he resigned and Cuomo's daughter Maria Cuomo Cole is a film producer of Newtown and The Invisible War.[27] Her younger son is journalist Chris Cuomo, and daughter Margaret Cuomo is a physician specializing in radiology.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cohen, Paula (1997-07-13). "A Lady First". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2019-01-14. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  2. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame
  3. ^ Grondahl, Paul (12 February 2017). "Matilda Cuomo thrilled by National Women's Hall of Fame induction". Times Union. Archived from the original on 20 January 2018. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Mary Raffa; Cuomo's Mother-in-Law, 91". The New York Times. 1995-06-23. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  5. ^ a b c d e Blauner, Peter (February 13, 1989). "From the Archives: Mario Cuomo's All-Star Family Feud". NYMag. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  6. ^ Vielkind, Jimmy (19 April 2018). "Cuomo's talk of undocumented immigrant roots draws scrutiny". Politico PRO. Retrieved 2020-04-05.
  7. ^ a b Ramirez, Jeanine (February 17, 2017). "State's Former First Lady Matilda Cuomo Returns to Her Alma Mater to Launch Mentoring Program". Spectrum News NY1. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  8. ^ a b c "Lewis Avenue Alumni Turn Back the Clock at 59th Annual Reunion | St. John's University". October 19, 2016. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  9. ^ Sack, Kevin (21 July 1994). "AT HOME WITH Matilda Raffa Cuomo; Working to Renew the Lease". New York Times. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Grondahl, Paul (2015-01-08). "Matilda and Mario: An enduring love story". Times Union. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  11. ^ a b c Davis, Dominic-Madori (March 26, 2020). "Meet the Cuomo family, the New York political dynasty that's become the face of America's response to the coronavirus pandemic". Business Insider. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  12. ^ Janes, DeAnna (2020-03-27). "Andrew Cuomo's Mom and Dad Had an Incredible 60-Year Marriage". Oprah Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  13. ^ "Matilda Cuomo: Former NY Governor Mario Cuomo's Wife". Daily Entertainment News. 2 January 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  14. ^ a b c "Cuomo, Matilda Raffa". National Women’s Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  15. ^ a b c "Hunter College partners with The New York State Mentoring Program". New York Amsterdam News. April 26, 2018. Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  16. ^ "Matilda Cuomo Breathes New Life Into Mentorship Program That Touched Thousands". CBS New York. 2017-03-03. Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  17. ^ a b Alexander, John (2016-10-05). "Midwood High School's 75th Anniversary Jubilee to honor former N.Y. first lady Matilda Cuomo". Brooklyn Eagle. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  18. ^ "Our Founder: Matilda Raffa Cuomo". Mentoring USA. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  19. ^ a b Cuomo, Matilda, ed. (2012). The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent People Recall Their Mentors. Rodale. ISBN 9781605291222.
  20. ^ "Matilda Cuomo and Mayor Cory Booker on Their Mentors | The Leonard Lopate Show". WNYC. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  21. ^ Marshall, Genevieve (September 17, 2000). "Sheehy, Speakers Share Experiences at Conference". The Morning Call. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  22. ^ Williams, Lena (1994-09-16). "Chronicle". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  23. ^ Grondahl, Paul (2011-11-12). "Former First Lady Cuomo feted". Times Union. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  24. ^ Burman, Jonathan. "Matilda Raffa Cuomo To Receive First Liberty Partnerships Program Lifetime Achievement Award". NYSED. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  25. ^ "Governor Cuomo Signs the 'New York State on PAUSE' Executive Order". March 20, 2020. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  26. ^ Evans, Heidi (3 January 2015). "'One of the great love stories': Matilda and Mario Cuomo's long life together". NY Daily News. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  27. ^ "Maria Cuomo Cole". IMDb. Retrieved 2020-03-30.