Mozzoni, Anna Maria

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MOZZONI, ANNA MARIA (1837–1920), leader of the nineteenth-century Italian women's movement.

Anna Maria Mozzoni was a founder and the most prominent leader of the nineteenth-century Italian women's movement. Born in Milan, her lifelong commitment to democratic ideals and subsequent sympathy for socialism was shaped by her early intellectual immersion in the writings of the French philosophes, utopian socialists like Charles Fourier, and liberals like John Stuart Mill, whose book The Subjection of Women (1869) she translated in 1870. An opponent of Habsburg rule in her native Lombardy, she supported Giuseppe Mazzini's call for a republican solution to the Italian Risorgimento. After the unification of Italy in 1861, Mozzoni continued to agitate for women's rights, a cause that she championed until her death.

Mozzoni laid out her agenda for female emancipation in an early work, La donna ei suoi rapporti sociali (Woman and her relation to society; 1864). It argued for legal equality between women and men based on the liberal doctrine of natural rights and was addressed to male members of parliament who were drawing up a new code of civil law for united Italy. Her sweeping vision of a "risorgimento for women" included equality within the family, the right to own property, abolition of the sexual double standard, and access to education and the professions. Parliament ignored the demands of Mozzoni and other female emancipationists, choosing instead to perpetuate the legal control of husbands over the family and its property.

Perhaps the most radical of Mozzoni's demands at the time of unification was that of female suffrage. Mozzoni's emphasis on an issue that did not become central to the Italian women's movement until the turn of the twentieth century derived in part from her upbringing in Lombardy, where Austrian law had allowed women to participate in local "administrative" elections. In an unsuccessful campaign that lasted decades, Mozzoni sought support for female suffrage through speeches, pamphlets, and petitions to parliament (1877 and 1906).

As she tirelessly pursued equal rights for women, Mozzoni evolved from a Mazzinian democrat to a socialist. In the 1870s and early 1880s, she wrote frequently for La donna (Woman), an early feminist journal, and became active in the International Abolitionist Federation, an organization founded by the Englishwoman Josephine Butler to oppose state-regulated prostitution. With other democrats like Agostino Bertani and Giuseppe Nathan, she campaigned for repeal of the Italian law that required female prostitutes—but not their male customers—to register with police and undergo biweekly health examinations. The minister of education, Francesco De Sanctis, appointed her as Italy's representative to the International Women's Rights Congress held in Paris in 1878. In 1881 she founded the League for the Promotion of the Interests of Women (Lega promotrice degli interessi femminili), whose program attracted both bourgeois and working-class women with its emphasis on reform of legal codes and labor conditions. Increasingly committed to improving the lives of poor women, Mozzoni was among the founders, with Filippo Turati and Anna Kuliscioff, of the Socialist League of Milan in 1889.

Although sympathetic to socialism until her death, Mozzoni never joined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) after its establishment in 1892. Never a Marxist, Mozzoni criticized the PSI's exclusive focus on economic issues at the expense of "bourgeois" legal reforms like female suffrage. Her most famous quarrel with the PSI, and particularly Kuliscioff, was over protectionist legislation for women workers. Promoted by Kuliscioff as necessary to protect the health of women—and especially mothers—who carried the double burden of housework and paid labor, protectionist legislation promised to limit hours, forbid night work, and offer maternity leave to working women. Mozzoni strongly opposed protectionist legislation in the name of sexual equality, arguing that such measures would make women less attractive to employers and lead to their exclusion from the workforce. Once returned to their traditional role in the home, women would lose the opportunity to organize with men on the shop floor for improvements in hours and wages for both sexes. Mozzoni's opposition did not prevent the passage of Italy's first protective legislation for women in 1902, although in a less comprehensive version than that desired by the PSI.

Studies of Mozzoni have been sparse, despite her stature in Italian historiography as "the doyenne of feminism." She was rediscovered in the 1960s by the pioneering Italian women's historian Franca Pieroni Bortolotti, who interpreted Mozzoni's unbending adherence to sexual equality, typical of nineteenth-century "female emancipationism," as more radical than early-twentieth-century "feminism," with its emphasis on women's maternal role. Annarita Buttafuoco subsequently defended this later generation of feminists against Bortolotti's imputation of conservatism, emphasizing the multiplicity and activism of bourgeois, socialist, and Catholic women's organizations after the turn of the twentieth century in the face of a cultural backlash against the women's movement. Mozzoni still awaits her biographer.

See alsoFeminism; Suffragism.


Primary Sources

Mozzoni, Anna Maria. La liberazione della donna. Edited by Franca Pieroni Bortolotti. Milan, 1975.

Secondary Sources

Buttafuoco, Annarita. "Condizione delle donne e movimento di emancipazione femminile." In Storia della società italiana. Vol. 20: L'Italia di Giolitti, 145–185. Milan, 1981.

Pieroni Bortolotti, Franca. Alle origini del movimento femminile in Italia, 1848–1892. Turin, 1963.

——. Socialismo e questione femminile in Italia, 1892–1922. Milan, 1974.

Mary Gibson