International Women's Day 2022 - 12 great Italian women

International Women’s Day: 12 Italian Women Who Made an Impact

Culture News

For International Women’s Day, we look at twelve Italian women who made an impact in Italy and abroad. From science and mathematics to literature and politics, each of these women made important contributions to their field.

Italy has a remarkable history of women excelling in their fields. Particular strength appears in STEM subjects with many firsts for women attained by Italians. International Women’s Day 2022 is a great opportunity to recognise their achievements as we work to #BreaktheBias.

Trotula of Salerno (11th and 12th centuries)


Trotula was one of the most famous physicians of the time and a pioneer in women’s health. She is considered the world’s first gynaecologist. She was also the first to believe that women should not suffer relentless pain during childbirth, advocating the use of opiates to dull labour pains.

Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380)

Catherine of Siena

One of two patron saints of Italy, Catherine of Siena was a scholastic philosopher and theologian. She also acted as an ambassador and counsellor to Popes Gregorio XI and Urbano VI. Along with being responsible for bringing back the Pope to Rome, she is one of only three women saints declared Doctor of the Church.

Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi (1593 – 1653)


The first female painter to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. This was at a time when women did not have the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life. Gentileschi is considered one of the most accomplished painters in the generation after Caravaggio.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646 -1684)


Piscopia was a Venetian mathematician and the first woman in the world to officially receive a university degree. She graduated from Padua university in 1678.

Related article: Padua to erect statue of Piscopia

Laura Bassi (1711 – 1778)

Laura Bassi

Bassi was an Italian physicist and academic. She was the first woman to have a doctorate in science and the second woman in the world to earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Related article: On this day in history – Laura Bassi

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718 – 1799)

Laura Bassi

Credit goes to Agnesi for writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. She was an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna.

Virginia Oldoïni  (1837 – 1899)

Oldoïni – Countess of Castiglione – was active in politics. In 1871, just after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, she had a secret meeting with Otto von Bismarck. She explained to him how the German occupation of Paris could be fatal to his interests. La Castiglione was also a significant figure in the early history of photography.

Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

Maria Montessori

Montessori was a physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, and her writing on scientific pedagogy. One of the first women to attend medical school in Italy, she graduated with honours in 1896.

Grazia Deledda (1871 – 1936)

Grazia Deledda

Deledda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926 and one of the leading figures of the verism movement in literature. The first Italian woman, and only the second in the world to receive the award, others do not acknowledge Deledda as a feminist writer. This may be due to her tendency of depicting women’s pain and suffering as opposed to women’s autonomy.

Rita Levi Montalcini (1909 – 2012)

Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini was a neurologist and one of Italy’s leading scientists. Alongside biochemist Stanley Cohen, she received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF). Their discovery plays a significant role in understanding cancers and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Nilde Iotti (1920 – 1999)

Leonilde Iotti

A member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), Iotti was the first and only woman member of the PCI to become President of the Chamber of Deputies. She held the office for three consecutive legislatures from 1979 to 1992, becoming the longest-serving post-war President of the Chamber.

Samantha Cristoforetti (1977)

Samantha Cristoforetti

Cristoforetti is a European Space Agency astronaut, former Italian Air Force pilot and engineer. She holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight by a European astronaut (199 days, 16 hours). She is also the first Italian woman in space. Cristoforetti is scheduled to take command of ISS Expedition 68 in 2022.

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