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Milestones in Italian women’s history, 1850-present


Rosa Segale (1850-1941)
This woman, also known as “Sister Blandina,” was a Genoa-born missionary who worked in the American frontier. Her thoughts are collected in a book, “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail.”

Frances Xavier Cabrini

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917) Also known as “Sister Cabrini,” this Lombardy-born religious sister went to the pope in 1887 seeking approval to start missions in China. Instead, he sent her to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were flooding that nation. She founded many schools and hospitals.

Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940)
Born in Florence, she was an opera singer (dramatic colotura soprano) who rose to inter- national acclaim for her concert career in the 1890s-1940s. Her voice lives on in recordings.


Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) This physician, born in Chiaravalle, Marche, became an educational innovator known for the philosophy that bears her name. The Montessori method emphasizes discovery and interaction over rote memorization. She founded many schools.

Grazia Deledda (1871- 1936) Sardinia-born writer won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Literature, for her work inspired by the hard lives of Sardinian peasants.

Alfonsina Morini Strada (1891-1959) Acclaimed cyclist, born in Castelfranco in Emilia, was nicknamed “the devil in a dress” when she became the first woman to race in the Giro d’Italia (1924) after organizers mistook her for a man.

Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012) Turin-born Italian Nobel Laureate in Medicine/Physiology (1986), shared with Stanley Cohen.

Dr. Guiliana Cavaglieri Tesoro (1921-2002) Venice-born chemist was an inventor and professor who invented flame-retardant fiber, and 125 other U.S. patents.

Dr. Margherita Hack (1922-2013) This Florence-born astrophysicist and liberal activist was first woman to administer Trieste Astronomical Observatory, 1964-1987.

Oriana Fallaci (1931-2004)
Florence-born journalist, interviewer and author known for her probing, sometimes-controversial coverage of war and revolution.

Fabiola Gianotti (1960-present)
Rome-born experimental particle physicist is the first woman Director General of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. Appeared in the 2013 American documentary “Particle Fever.”

Samantha Cristoferetti

Samantha Cristoforetti (1977-present)
Milan native holds the one-time record for longest uninterrupted time in space by a European astronaut: 199 days, 16 hours.

Sources: IAH research and Catena M. Spiritosanto, president, State Lodge of Pennsylvania, Order Sons of Italy in America. (www.paosia.org) 

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