Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
Striving for recognition: the first five female professors in Italy (1887-1904)
Simonetta Polenghi

Última modificación: 2017-07-17


Italy opened its universities’ doors to female students in 1875, at a time when Europe was debating Stuart Mill’s ideas. The general view was that very few women were clever enough to obtain a degree, so they would not threaten social stability. Female professors would be even rarer – a few exceptional “male” women - and therefore would not be dangerous. Young women entered Italian universities gradually. Between 1877 and 1900, 257 women obtained a degree (177 in the Faculty of Arts). Access to the professions was impossible in the case of the legal profession, or limited in terms of medicine, with women doctors only tolerated as pediatricians or gynecologists.

In this context, where both Catholics and Positivists opposed women’s careers, seeing them as incompatible with motherhood and marriage, five women managed to enter the academic world as unsalaried lecturers: Giuseppina Cattani (1887, Turin and Bologna, Pathology); Paolina Schiff (1891, Turin and Pavia, German language; 1893, Milan, German literature and language); Rina Monti (1899, Pavia, Anatomy and Comparative Physiology); Teresa Labriola (1901, Rome, Philosophy of Law); and Maria Montessori (1904, Rome, Anthropology).

The law distinguished between professors and unsalaried lecturers, who, like the German Privatdozent, had to pass a state exam to be licensed to teach. With archival documents and other contemporary texts, this paper will reconstruct who these women were and the many difficulties they faced in academic life. Four of them were emancipationists and did not marry. These choices debarred them from pursuing a full academic career. Only Monti, who had a family and took no active part in female propaganda, managed to become a full professor in 1911, the first woman in Italy to do so.