Jeff Matthews entry Feb. 2004
Women's Journals in Naples
in the 19th Century
The drive to encourage literacy
among women in southern Italy started under Ferdinand IV
in the late 1700s. Certainly, there are a number of
examples of women poets and scholars at the Bourbon
court from that period; the most outstanding example is
Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel,
classical scholar, poet, and Passionaria of the
Neapolitan revolution and Republic of 1799, a role for
which she paid with her life.
With the coming of
the French decade (1806-10) in Naples, the drive
continued, and the years leading up to the Risorgimento
and unification of Italy produced a number of
publications in Naples, some of them aimed directly at
women. One of the best private libraries in Naples, the
Biblioteca Patria Storia (on the
grounds of the Maschio Angioino)
is dedicated exclusively to local history, meaning the
city of Naples as well as the historic Kingdom of
Naples. Part of their collection is dedicated to those
women's journals published in Naples in the 1800s. I
have taken what follows from the library's descriptions
of those journals.
—Le cesta de' fiori
per le dame (A Women's Flower Basket) was
published one time only in 1835. It was 98 pages of
anecdotes, poetry, and stories, some with the explicit
theme of women's literacy, such as this excerpt, which
has the protagonist saying: "..great princes and men of
distinction owe their superiority to the first lessons
they received from the mothers...Give attention to the
education of women if you want to have men of courage.
[...] When we say "education", we don't mean music,
dance, painting and foreign languages. [...] We mean all
Comitato di Donne (Women's Committee)
(eleven issues in 1848) was a political journal
dedicated to the constitutional struggles of the day.
(In 1848, the movement for constitutional reform swept
much of Europe; in Italy, it was the beginning of the Risorgimento, the
move to unite Italy.) The Comitato published articles and
commentary about the role of women in the move for
Italian unity and independence, including the need for
women to participate actively in military action.
lume a gas (Gas lamp), published daily
from November 1848 through June 1849. It was originally
dedicated to items of humor and human interest and had
little or no political axe to grind. As the
constitutional questions in the south of Italy came to a
head, however, the paper took a moderate editorial stand
in favor of constitutional government. It praised the
role of women in the wars of liberation going on in the
far north of the Italian peninsula, but, strangely, was
sarcastic in dealing with that same role in the south.
It printed some satire aimed at the Comitato di Donne
(above) and the idea of squads of Neapolitan women
actually bearing arms.
Sibilo was a "scientific, literary,
artistic and industrial journal," published weekly for
the entire year of 1845. Each issue consisted of eight
pages of miscellany, including serialized stories, human
interest, and editorial emphasis on the importance of
the education of women.
Colonna was a literary and artistic
journal for women published in Naples in 1846 and 1847
"under the auspices of the Queen Mother." Twenty-one
issues appeared. The journal was inspired by and named
for the great Renaissance poet, Michelangelo's sketch of
whom appears at the top of this entry. (Click here for a separate entry
on Vittoria Colonna.)
—Then, later, during the last days of the
Kingdom of Naples, there appeared La donna italiana 1860,
Giornaletto per le dame (The Italian
Woman 1860, a magazine for women). Only the first
issue from August 8, 1860, is extant, and it is not
clear if subsequent issues came out. The editorial
thrust seems to have been the involvement of women in
the great patriotic battle then looming to unite Italy.
Commentary was addressed to "women of Italy," leading
one to believe that it was a pro-unity paper—and, thus,
anti-Bourbon. From the publication date, Garibaldi was
only one month away from taking Naples, the capital of
the Bourbon kingdom; thus, there could not have been
much room for an anti-government magazine at the time.
No wonder it appeared only once.