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main index   © 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. (Further details at this library webpage.)

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 their talents..."

Un 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.

Il 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.

Il 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.

Vittoria 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.


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