7 of the most influential and Inspiring Italian women in the XX century
If you’re unfamiliar with the tale of Rome’s beginnings, it’s a powerful story with an underlying matriarchal theme.
The legend is that Rhea Silva, a Vestal Virgin birthed twin sons named Romulus and Remus, and was soon forced to abandon them due to threats against their lives. Intercepted from the Tiber river by the god Tiberius, the twins were saved as they nursed from the she-wolf Lupercal. Some 3,000 years later, and Italian society is still suckling from the teet of women’s accomplishments.
Influential women have riddled Italian history, yet rarely make it past the textbook page into public discourse.
Hortensia, the first female lawyer who lived in 42 B.C. argued that women should not have to pay for a war they wanted nothing to do with.
Trotula de Ruggiero, the first female gynecologist argued against God’s will for pain during childbirth and presented the idea of opium to ease said pain.
Artemisia Gentileschi, who lived in the 17th century, was the first recognized female painter. Despite these advanced positions, these women’s accomplishments were swallowed whole by patriarchal dictation. It wasn’t until the 20th century that official legislation and progress for women’s rights finally became visible, and Italian’s have women like these to thank for it.
Here is a list of some of the most influential and Inspiring Italian women in the XX century
Franca SozzaniFranca Sozzani is arguably one of the most significant women in global fashion. In her 28 years as editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia (1988-2016), she accomplished many milestones and shifted the tone within the fashion industry.
Sozzani didn’t shy away from bringing light to some controversial topics at the time, such as domestic violence, drug abuse, plastic surgery, weight standards, and inclusivity.
In 2008, she published an iconic issue, titled the “Black Issue”, which featured solely black models such as Naomi Campbell and Iman. The magazine sold out in the U.S. and U.K. within 72 hours and created a lot of buzz within the fashion industry.
Aside from her strides in fashion, Sozzani dedicated her time to philanthropic work. She became a UN Goodwill Ambassador, a global ambassador for the UN Food Programme, cofounder of Child Priority (a non-profit in which assists talented but less fortunate children achieve their dreams), and president of the European Institute of Oncology Foundation. Ph. DELBO ANDREA / Shutterstock.com
Rita Levi MontalciniDespite her father’s initial expectations of his daughter to be a housewife, Montalcini attended the University of Turin Medical School and subsequently made substantial contributions to the science world.
In 1986, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of the nerve growth factor. She was also honored with other biochemistry or biomedical science awards such as the Louisa Gross Horowitz Prize in 1983, the Lasker Award in 1986, and the National Medal of Science in 1987. Aside from her scientific achievements, Montalcini was appointed as Senator for Life in 2001 by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the President of Italy.
Anna MagnaniOtherwise known as “La Lupa” or the “she-wolf, “ Anna Magnani was a prominent figure in the Italian film industry. She left a lasting impression on many and was described as “fiery” by Time magazine, and was known for her expressive and emotional acting.
In 1955, Magnani starred in her first English speaking role in a mainstream Hollywood movie called The Rose Tattoo . Due to her moving performance of a distraught widow, she was the first Italian to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
Grazia DeleddaAnother Nobel Prize winner, Grazie Deladda, was honored as a sympathetic and idealistic writer. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926 and was the first Italian woman to receive the prize and the second woman globally. Deledda invoked moving descriptions of characters with strong connections to their origins while simultaneously criticizing societal norms.
Leonilde IottiLeonilde or “Nilde” Iotti was a paramount Italian politician in the Italian Communist Party (PCI). In 1946, Iotti was selected as a member of the Constituent Assembly and, as a result, was one of 75 members confided with drafting the Italian Republican Constitution. She was elected as the first female
President of the Chamber of Deputies in 1979, serving the longest post-war term with two more legislative terms. Though not entirely radicalized, Iotti had a more nuanced take on women’s rights, such as divorce and abortion. Even at her funeral, an all-women guard of honor stood in the hall of the chamber of deputies by her coffin.
Maria MontessoriMontessori began her academic journey as a fish out of water in an all-boys technical school, aspiring to be an engineer. She then shifted her path and graduated medical school with honors from the Sapienza University of Rome.
After graduation, she continued researching at Sapienza in the psychiatric clinic, visiting asylums to observe children with mental disabilities, and focusing on assisting these children with proper education. In 1906, she was recruited to oversee children’s education and care for low-income families in Rome’s San Lorenzo district. The house, called Casa dei Bambini, enrolled 50-60 children between two to seven.
Observing these children proved to be the foundation for her educational methods, as she provided practical activities that allowed the children to form self-discipline and individualism. The first “casa” found immense success, and Montessori opened a few more.
Meanwhile, her teaching methods were becoming popularized in Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States. She traveled to give lectures and provide training courses for her methods. Her education design is currently used on an international level.
Tina AnselmiTina Anselmi lived a noble life, fighting against fascism and for the oppressed. In 1944, Nazi soldiers stormed her school and forced her and her peers to witness a hanging of a group of 31 young Partisans.
It was then that she decided to join the Italian Resistance movement and later the Christian Democracy Party. Between 1968-1987, she was re-elected five times as a Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, three times as undersecretary to the Department of Labour and Social Services, and became the first female member of an Italian cabinet.
She was an advocate for equal opportunities, passing a bill in 1977 that allowed both fathers and mothers to have time away from their children. She was also vocal on gender equality in terms of employment and chaired the National Equal Opportunities Commission until 1994. Anselmi received the Great Knight’s Cross award of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the highest-ranking honor. In 2016, she was featured on an Italian postage stamp.
These women managed to not just scratch, but shatter the glass ceiling by dominating their respective fields of work. This isn’t to say that progress is not desperately needed when it comes to equality and representation of women in Italy, however, these women set an optimistic tone that gives modern-day women a sliver of hope and a solid foundation for opportunity and change.