10 ITALIAN WOMEN who MADE HISTORY

10 women, each different from one another, who have made the history of Italy: excelled in science, math, art and literature. What do these women have in common, apparently so far from each other? Strength, determination and the mark they made in history. In this article, we’re going to find out more about these women, their lives and what made them unforgettable.

Revolutionary women in Italy

Here are the 10 women who changed woman’s history and conception, from the Middle Ages to our days:


1) Matilde di Canossa (1046 – 1115)


The Great Countess Matilde is one of the most important and interesting figures of the Italian Middle Ages.
Great female figure in European Middle Ages history, Matilde of Tuscany, when she was only six, found herself to be heiress of a territory which extended from Latium to Lake Garda, a strategic crossing point for both Pontifex who wanted to settle in Rome, and emperors who were meant to be crowned in Roma. Second cousin of the emperor Henry IV, but a loyal follower of Reformation of the church, carried on by Pope Gregory VII, found herself at the core of an epochal clash for the Investiture Controversy between papacy and empire.
Matilde di Canossa lived in a period of frequent battles, intrigues and excommunications, a period that considered women as inferior. And yet, she was capable of showing an extraordinary strength and innate leadership skills. Under her command, the Domain of Canossa reached its maximum extension, and conquering all the territories north of Papal State.
The emperor Henry IV, in 1077 went to Canossa to obtain, humiliating himself in the guise of penitent, Pope Gregory’s forgiveness, a guest at Matilde’s, owner of the castle. From this derives the expression “andare a Canossa” (going to Canossa), to make an act of humiliating submission, retracting and recognize the enemy’s supremacy.


2) Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1652)


Artemisia Gentileschi was a painter of Caravaggisti. Her father, Orazio, was a painter and since childhood, she showed to be passionate about art: even though it was prohibited for women to become painters, Artemisia made her first step in the art world in 1610, with the painting Susanna and the Elders. This artist is also known to be one of the first women to denounce a sexual assault: she made Agostino Tassi (who was her perspective teacher) stand trial and refused the shotgun wedding. che era stato il suo maestro di prospettiva) a processo e rifiutò il matrimonio riparatore. The process was long and painful, but Artemisia managed to face it with braveness.
After that, she married a Florentin and moved to Florence where she received commissions, also from Medici.


3) Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)


Maria Montessori was one of the first Italian women to graduate in medicine. She was an fu una delle prime donne italiane a laurearsi in medicina. She was an educator, pedagogist, philosopher, doctor, child psychiatrist and Italian scientist, and she is remembered for her educational method that bears her name, used in thousands of preschools, elementary, middle and high schools all over the world.
The Montessori method refers to the education of the child from birth to adult age. The teacher must be “only” the mediator that encourages the desire to do, innate in children; they must be able to observe, choosing the suitable material and know when to be silent.


In her analysis Maria Montessori there are four planes of development. The first one (2-6 years) has as its objective the exercise of the senses and the education of practical life and socialization (movement, time, housekeeping, relation with nature, independence, silence, language, numbers, space, noises and sounds, colors, writing, auto education). In the second plane (7-12 years) there’s the switch from sensory level to an abstract level. Among themes: studies about water, chemistry, cosmic education, history, religions, art and music culture, scoutism. «The adolescence (12-18 years) is the period in which a child becomes a man, that is a member of society», because of this, in this plane social life should be taken into account, you must teach the child how to associate with others, which makes them develop new skills and stimulate energy. In the fourth plane, Maria highlights the necessity to encourage the young adult to be independent, to cooperate and to gain economic independence during university.
She went to many countries to spread her method, and in India, she was surprised by the Second World War: there, she was imprisoned with her son and was released in 1944.


4) Grazia Deledda (1871 – 1963)


Grazia Deledda is the second woman in the world (the first in Italy) to receive the Nobel prize in Literature. Raised in a wealthy and traditional family, Grazia Deledda clashed from the start with a retrograde and patriarchal society, that would only conceived women as wives and mothers. In her novels emerges this criticized society, adding a personal and emotional touch which makes her novels impactful.

She is still remembered as one of the greatest Italian writers. The verism of her narrative, her dark tones and the eagerness to break free, the stories of primitive passions she narrates in her novels enchanted the criticism, also abroad and the 10th December 1926 arrived the highest consecration of a writer: the award of Nobel prize in Literature, «for her power in writing, underpinned by a high ideal, which portrays the life in plastic forms, that is in its secluded native island and which, with deepness and warmness deals with issues of human interest».


5) Anna Magnani (1908 – 1973)


Anna Magnani was an actress, considered one of the greatest female performers in the history of film. She is a key figure in Roman cinematography of the XX century, with famous roles as in Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City) and La rosa tatuata (The Rose Tattoo). This last film made her with the The Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1956, and she was the first non-native English actress to receive it. Also, there’s a star embedded in Hollywood Walk of Fame that bears her name.

Anna Magnani was a key figure in Italian neorealism, interpreting with an inimitable style the character of a foul-mouthed fiery peasant, but at the same time sensitive and generous, incarnation of genuine values of a folkloric Italy. Her characters, though having this fiery and passionate temperament, are capable of touching and unpredictable sweetnesses, which fits her very well. Anna Magnani is remembered for her unreachable and passionate humanity, that would sometimes turn into intense manifestations of anger or affection, that distinguished her, like an unreachable actress, as well as a strong but sensitive woman, although deeply tormented.


6) Rita Levi Montalcini (1909 – 2012)


Rita Levi Montalcini was an Italian neurologist, academic and senator for life. She won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986, for having discovered and illustrated the growth factor of the nerve fiber, she is the first woman to be admitted to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Her researches still continued until her 100s. She lived between the United States and Belgium, she was forced to flee the racial laws as a Jew, she is still remembered today as one of the greatest scientists in the world.


7) Nilde Iotti (1920-1999)


Nilde Iotti was an Italian politician, the first woman to hold the 3rd greatest mandate of Italian Government, the President of the Chamber of Deputies. She held that role for 13 years during 3 legislatures, the longest mandate for any President of the Chamber of Deputies. She was a communist and a partisan: in the North of Italy there was the Resistance and many partisan groups fought against nazifascists. Nilde Iotti came into contact with the communist part and in 1943 started collaborating with them as well, she became Partisan messenger and spreads flyers, supplies, medicines and woolen socks with her bike. She also was an activist for women. That’ll be the beginning or her political activity. Her settlement speech as President of the Chamber focused on the figure of womanin society and political impartiality.


8) Alda Merini (1931-2009)


Alda Merini was an Italian poet, writer and aphorist. She’s known to be one of the greatest Italian female poets of 20th century, and her poetry reveals a disarming emotional depth. Her personal life influenced her art: she suffered from a mental illness and was recovered in a psychiatric hospital. She would narrate her existence like this: «I enjoyed my life because I also like the hell of life and life is often a hell. For me, life was good because I payed it at high price».


9) Mina (1940)


Mina, born Mina Anna Maria Mazzini, is one of the most famous Italian singers in the world, as well as one of the best of all time. Her voiceprint distinguishes her: it’s a great ambpliture, extension and agility. She interpreted more than 1.500 songs during her career, and she was the first pop icon:she’s the first woman to have worn a mini skirt on Italian television.

The most popular songs of this great singer are
Amor mio”
“Ancora ancora ancora”
“Grande grande grande”
“Parole parole parole”
“Se telefonando”
“E poi”
“Acqua e sale”
with Adriano Celentano


10) Miuccia Prada (1949)


Miuccia Prada is a stylist and Italian entrepreneur. She inherited from her grandfather, Mario Prada, the homonym fashion brand. She started to work there in the accessories sector. While she was working as a manager in Fratelli Prada, Miuccia designed a line of bags of black nylon which quickly became a great sales success. We’re at the begging of 80s of the past century and that personal gratification leads the young Italian stylist, hardly more than a 30-year-old, to try again, focusing on dresses and shoes this time.

Thanks to her talent and entrepreneurial ability, Miuccia Prada made the brand one of the most known worldwide, combining avant-garde and innovation in fashion. Second in the Forbes list, she is the 10th richest woman in Italy and the 565th in the world.

If you like Italian culture, don’t miss the article where we show you the unforgettable trips to take in Italy so you can say you visited this country as no one never!

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