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Erminia Fua Fusinato: A Jewish Patriot in Rome (1871-76).

   Chi cambia di fede e maledetto da quelli che lascia e disprezzato
   da quelli a cui va.

   (Those who change faith are cursed by those they leave and despised
   by those they embrace.)

   (Pincherle 340)

A Preamble

A poet and educator, Erminia Fua Fusinato (1834-1876) was raised in a liberal Jewish family from the Veneto region and converted to Catholicism in order to marry, against her parents' will, Arnaldo Fusinato, whose poetry and political ideals she deeply admired. Hailed by contemporaries as "la donna dei tempi nuovi" ("the woman of modern times"), but almost forgotten after her death, Erminia Fua Fusinato has recently been at the center of several studies, which examine her role as a poet during the Risorgimento and as an educator and institutional figure in the aftermath of Italy's political unification (Piazza 22). (1) Almost no mention, however, may be found in these studies about her cultural and ethnic identity as a Jewish woman, as if with marriage and conversion she had seamlessly integrated into the majority society. This lack of critical interest towards her Jewishness may be interpreted as part of an historiographical tradition, recently challenged by historians for its unproblematic view of nineteenth- century Italy's relationships to Jews, (2) which obfuscates the reality of those Jews who, in the words of Isaiah Berlin, "stood facing a new and by no means friendly world," and belonged to that first generation of gifted and ambitious Jews seeking "admission to the outer world" (322). An ambitious woman who became a prominent school reformer in spite of her lack of any formal education, (3) Fua Fusinato belongs to that generation of Italian Jews who served in public office in the aftermath of Italy's political unification. She considered herself first and foremost an Italian and prided herself on living, as Lodovico Mortara put it, "da cittadino e vedere accolta l'opera mia come quella di un italiano" ("as a citizen and having my work be viewed as that of an Italian") (61, author's italics).

Like other secular Jews of her generation who married outside of her community, Erminia Fua Fusinato never abjured her Jewish origins. She strongly identified with her Italian identity, never practiced Catholicism, and her Jewishness--though not publicly demonstrated--nevertheless played a role in her professional and personal life. This particularly proved the case when she moved to Rome and attempted to reform a school system that, not only in the new Italian capital, but all over the Italian territory, had until then been firmly controlled by the Catholic Church. Institutional and pedagogical efforts to promote a public national school system--which as an educator she embraced wholeheartedly--were not surprisingly opposed by conservative Catholic forces, especially when the reforms involved women's education. With the premise, therefore, that in spite of her conversion Erminia Fua Fusinato did not sever ties from her Jewish origins, two main questions will be explored in this essay: how do we understand Fua Fusinato's Jewishness in the context not only of her personal and professional life, but also in the memorialization of her literary and institutional figure? And, more generally, what was her legacy as an Italian woman of Jewish origin within the post-unification cultural efforts to modernize Italy and to reshape the national discourse on social disparities and gender roles?

The Price of Integration: Jews and Italianness

As the story goes, Erminia Fua met Arnaldo Fusinato in 1854 during a cultural soiree her parents held in their house. They fell in love and married two years later, soon after her conversion to Catholicism. The decision to convert was most likely dictated by practical necessity: before Italy's political unification in 1861, when the possibility of a civil marriage did not yet exist, (4) the Jewish member of a religiously mixed couple had to convert in order for the wedding to be carried out and for the marriage to be officially registered (Ungari, Foa). Joined by their political commitment to the Italian nation and coming from liberal families with little attachment to religious orthodoxy, Fua and Fusinato saw in their marriage the celebration of a new type of union between kindred souls. Their marriage was based on a sense of liberation from the constraints imposed by old traditions and on their belief in the patriotic ideals of "patria, famiglia e liberta" ("country, family and freedom"), whereby individuals, whether Catholic or Jewish, men or women, socially and morally coalesced around the family, seen as a microcosm of the Italian nation (Seymour 3). (5) At a time when the marriage of a young woman, in both Jewish and Catholic families, was still under the tight control of parents, and not too uncommonly arranged by them, by marrying a man of her own choice the young Erminia had demonstrated a self-determination rarely found among her peers--an act that she proudly defended throughout her life. (6)

Mixed marriages were uncommon before the 1860s, yet they were perceived and presented in Jewish and Catholic publications as a most pressing problem in society. (7) Twenty-four articles, for instance, appeared on this topic in L'Educatore israelita between 1853 and 1874. Fearing assimilation into the majority society, the Jewish community intensified a cultural campaign that criticized mixed marriages and emphasized the role that Jewish women ought to play in the family as the main cultural and religious educators of children (Foa 47). (8) In her study on mixed marriages in late nineteenth-century Piedmont, Chiara Foa describes marrying outside of one's religion as a brave and rather risky act for women of that era, because it could have easily resulted in becoming an outcast, not only from the community but from one's own family as well. Fua Fusinato remained close to her family throughout her life, as both her poems and diary attest; (9) but what Chiara Foa describes as an unavoidable destiny of ambiguity and a position of social liminality for those who married outside of the Jewish community certainly applies to Fua Fusinato as well (13-14).

This situation of liminality became more enhanced during the years Fua Fusinato spent in Rome, where, as an Italian woman of Jewish origin, promoting the secularization of the school system, she positioned herself between a Jewish community that no longer considered her one of its own (10) and the Catholic world that mistrusted and, in its most intransigent fringe, demonized Jews (converted or not) as the main fomenters of a destructive modernization of the country (Dickie 20). (11) No longer officially a member of the Jewish community, and yet not really Catholic either, since she did not practice Catholicism, Fua Fusinato personified in her life choices and ideas an ambivalence which illustrates well what Zygmunt Bauman has termed "allosemitism"--"the practice of setting the Jews apart as people radically different from all the others" and one of which "anti-Semitism is but an offshoot or a variety"(143). "Allosemitism," a term originally coined by the Polish critic Artur Sandauer, has, according to Bauman, "a radically ambivalent attitude," in the sense that it expresses "the great fear of modern life towards indetermination, unclarity, uncertainty, in other words ambivalence [...]" (149-50). When applied to post-unification Italian history, the concept of "allosemitism" sheds important light on how Italian Jews, whether religiously or culturally attached to their Jewishness, even in the absence of violent and explicit acts of anti-Semitism, could still be viewed as being inherently different, not fully Italian. Suffice to mention, to illustrate this point, the famous cases of Alessandro D'Ancona and Isacco Pesaro Maurogonato, whose nominations, respectively, to Chair of the Italian department at the University of Pisa and to Finance Minister, were considered by adversaries as incompatible with their Jewish identity. (12) A supposed incompatibility between Italianness and Jewishness was perceived even among lay and progressive intellectuals, as demonstrated by Paolo Mantegazza's controversial article published in the popular Fanfulla della domenica, in which the famous anthropologist suggested that Jews should stop practicing circumcision in order to erase their difference and symbolically seal the deal, made by patriots during the Risorgimento, which pledged equality and progress for all. "Dichiaratevi," he wrote, "nascendo eguali a noi, e noi ci diremo a voi eguali. [...] noi ci sentiremo fratelli nella grande famiglia della civilta europea, che deve avere come un'unica mira il progresso" ("Declare yourselves equal to us, when you are born, and we will say that we are equal to you [...] we shall feel like brothers in the great family of European civilization, which should have progress as its only aim"). (13) Espousing what Mario Tedeschi has termed "uguaglianza senza diversita" ("equality without diversity"), Mantegazza envisioned homogeneity as a necessary stage in the path towards a progress which could not afford religious or ethnic diversity (29). To be Jewish, in this syllogism, meant to be bearing the brunt of difference, as Bauman suggested (150)--a liability that translated into the formula, "ebrei in casa, cittadini fuori" ("Jews at home, citizens in public"), which many Jewish public figures adopted in post-unification Italy (Ferrara degli Uberti 14-15). As a woman of Jewish origin, Erminia Fua Fusinato was well aware of the social and political implications of her Jewishness and chose to keep it private, as a most intimate matter of her personal life. In spite of this, her Jewish identity remained entrenched in the general perception of her public persona both during and after her life.

Fua Fusinato championed the cause of unified Italy with its vision of a national cohesive identity, choosing to understate her Jewish ethnic particularity. This attitude meant conforming to a general ideological stance according to which one's national identity would supersede all ethnic, religious and regional differences. As Alberto Cavaglion has aptly pointed out, for first-generation Italian Jews, the desire to keep one's Jewishness private was the natural result of a memory still strongly alive with past discriminations and of an awareness that freedom had been conquered at the cost of many sacrifices (1031). Such freedom, as Luigi Luzzatti, a contemporary of Fua Fusinato argued, could only be preserved in a secular state where religious freedom would determine all other liberties, as Luzzati wrote: "il fato di tutte le altre liberta" ("the destiny of all other freedoms") (8). Unlike Fua Fusinato, Luzzatti did not convert to Catholicism, but like her he was a secular Jew from Veneto, who strongly believed in the moral force of religion--a morality that would confer dignity and respect upon all faiths. (14) Fua Fusinato also deemed religion a moral necessity, especially in the process of educating the new nation, as she wrote in her moral lessons:
   Adoriamo il bene sotto una forma spirituale, ed avremo quella fede
   che fa sopportare ogni dolore, sostenere ogni sacrificio che il
   dovere ci chieda, che non vuole transazioni con la propria
   coscienza, e ci fa necessaria la virtu come l'aria e la luce.

   (Ghivizzani, SE 49) (15)

   (Let's pursue goodness in its spiritual form, and we'll have a
   faith that allows us to sustain any pain or sacrifice that duty may
   demand of us--a faith that does not negotiate with our own
   conscience and that makes virtue as necessary as air or light.)

She thought religious tolerance to be a fundamental right for individual freedom--a freedom not so easily obtainable for a woman of her generation and for which she had made courageous choices and many sacrifices. Her story and profile as a secular Jewish Italian woman underscore the complexity of the process of integration, the reality, as Mandel writes, of the "multiple routes Jews took 'out of the ghetto,'" and the ambivalent, if not strained relationships, Italy entertained with its Jewish minority during the post-unification period (72).

Like other democratic patriots of her time, Erminia Fua Fusinato embraced a secular idea of personal and collective identity; but as the first woman of Jewish origin to gain access to institutional governance in unified Italy, she was unique, unlike any other woman of similar rank, social background and political convictions. To begin with, she lacked the Catholic education of her peers, perhaps one of the reasons she was asked to go to Rome as a reformer in 1871; she also demonstrated a literacy and cultural preparation uncommon even among middle- class women, and, in spite of her moderate ideological stance and married status, she lived the life of a rather independent woman for the time. (16) The combination of all these elements conjured the creation of the image of a "new Italian woman," or "la donna piu colta d'Italia" ("the most cultured woman in Italy"), as she was defined by one of her biographers and for which she was known during her life time and for generations to come (Pascolato 14). But her novelty rested on the recognition not only of her personal achievements but also of her Jewishness. While people were well aware of her conversion, during her lifetime she continued to be considered Jewish, as attested by a letter of Giosue Carducci, who in 1874 referred to her as "poetessa ebrea" ("Jewish poet") in a disparaging comment about her poetry. (17) And even after her death, she remained Jewish in the public perception. A couple of events connected to the promulgation of the Racial Laws in 1938 are revealing in this regard. The Padua high school for women "Erminia Fua Fusinato" was renamed "Amedeo di Savoia Duca d'Aosta" in 1943, as part of the process of eradication of any Jewish presence, physical or nominal, from the Italian school system after 1938. (18) And in Rome, even though in 1934 the city had commissioned the sculptor Nino Cloza to produce a bust that would commemorate her and be positioned on the Pincio promenade, next to St. Catherine of Siena, the city authorities later deemed it inappropriate to add the sculpture of a Jewish woman next to national glories, and still today the bust sits in the basement of a municipal building (Cremona et al. 78).

It is only in her personal diary, written in the last few years of her life and published posthumously, that we gain a deeper sense of her connection to her Jewishness, both in terms of familial relations and cultural association, as Erminia Fua Fusinato makes frequent references to Jewish individuals and members of her family of origin. These entries describe her strong affection for her father, her nostalgia for her parental home, and the sadness she felt for having caused pain to her parents when she married without their consent. She also includes descriptions of encounters with Jewish acquaintances, recounted as exemplary figures of a religious tolerance and humanistic thought she considered integral to the advancement of social progress in Italy. On November 2, 1875, for instance, she wrote:
   L'altro ieri ho assistito alla premiazione degli Asili Infantili
   Israelitici, cerimonia sempre cara, ma che trattandosi d'Israeliti,
   e qui a Roma, pareva quasi strana. Oh! La tolleranza, la vera
   fratellanza, l'amore comune alla comune istruzione, che cosa santa
   e bella! E si voleva far credere che Iddio, il padre di tutti,
   potesse condannare chi non l'adorasse in un dato modo, benche buono
   di cuore, benche santo nelle opere! ... Oh quanto questa eta e piu
   felice delle passate!

   (quoted in Molmenti 158-59)

   (The day before yesterday I attended the award ceremony at the
   Jewish Nursery Schools, a ceremony always dear to me, but which,
   regarding Jews and here in Rome, seemed almost strange. Oh
   tolerance, true brotherhood and shared love towards a common
   education, what a beautiful and sacred idea! And they wanted us to
   believe that God, the father of all, could condemn those who didn't
   pray in a certain way, although they are good at heart, and holy in
   their deeds. Oh, this time is so much happier than those past!)

On December 3, 1875, she wrote about Julie Salis Schwabe, an English Jewish woman of German origin, famous for her philanthropic efforts in Italy (Waddington). A British representative of the Italian Ladies' Philanthropic Association, Salis Schwabe had donated a substantial amount of money to Garibaldi's military campaigns. After Italy's unification, she had also contributed to the founding of Froebelian schools for the poor in Naples. (19) Fua Fusinato highly respected her for her philanthropic initiatives but also for her humanistic approach to religion--a stance commonly embraced by secular Jews for its emphasis on the moral rather than dogmatic aspect of religion:
   Vidi oggi, dopo quasi un anno quella santa donna della Schwabe.
   Parlandomi della questione della religione, mi disse: "Io adoro la
   fede di Abramo, la saggezza di Mose e l'amore di Cristo, ecco la
   mia Trinita." Se in ogni citta nostra vi fosse una di queste donne
   cosi operosa nel bene, l'Italia sarebbe redenta. Mi vergogno del
   poco che facciamo per aiutarla in cio ch'ella fa per noi. Quanto
   siamo meno di Lei!

   (Quoted in Molmenti 159)

   (I saw today, after almost a year, that saintly woman Schwabe.
   Speaking to me about the question of religion, she said: "I adore
   the faith of Abraham, the wisdom of Moses and the love of Christ,
   this is my Trinity." If in each of our cities we had one of these
   women who work for the good of others, Italy would be saved. I am
   ashamed of how little we do to help her in what she does for us. We
   are so much less than she is!)

Started during the summer of 1871, her diary chronicles her most intimate thoughts, aspirations, and concerns during the time she lived in Rome, a city where she felt vulnerable and isolated. "Sono agitata, incerta, temo di me stessa, mi sento sola, nuova a questo incarico che parmi superiore alle mie forze fisiche e intellettuali" ("I feel agitated, uncertain, I fear myself, I feel lonely, new to this task which seems superior to my physical and intellectual forces") (quoted in Ghivizzani, SL 5).

Living and working in Rome turned out to be a daunting task for her and a source of a mental and physical debilitation, which caused her sickness and eventually death on September 30, 1876. In a poem, "Il tarlo" ("The Woodworm"), written during those years but published posthumously, Erminia Fua Fusinato expressed an anxiety which gives voice to an internal struggle that was seemingly tearing her apart, gnawing at her, as the title suggests. Considered one of her most accomplished artistic endeavors, "Il tarlo" was written in 1874 during a summer visit to her Jewish family in Veneto, and before going back to Rome where she would soon start directing the Scuola superiore femminile, a high school for women. In her poem, she talks about the presence of a woodworm gnawing at the wardrobe in her room--a silent but conspicuous company during her sleepless nights which brings her to compare the insect's erosion of the wood to a torment she was feeling in her heart:
   Spesso tra veglie amare
   Ascoltando il tuo metro
   Si monotono e tetro
   Ad un povero cor soglio pensare
   Ove pur penetrava un tarlo audace
   Che senza tregua roderlo si piace."

   (Versi 297-98) (20)

   (Often in sleepless hours
   Listening to your rhythm
   So monotonous and sad
   I think continually of an unhappy heart
   Wherein, too, a bold worm penetrated
   And there is pleased to gnaw incessantly.)

Marta Savini interprets this poem as "il segno di un turbamento, di una crisi sofferta nel chiuso della coscienza" ("the sign of a perturbation, of a crisis suffered within one's conscience") as the result of a solitude the poet and educator was feeling in Rome where she had been living alone and had to fend for herself against the blows inflicted by "ambienti non sempre a lei ben disposti" ("environments not always well disposed towards her") (42-43, 61). A diary entry confirms, without explaining, her deep frustration with her life in Rome. On Nov 30, 1874, she wrote: "Eppure i forti sdegni in questi giorni mi fervono in petto, che davanti alla debolezza, alla malvagita, alla vilta umana, c'e in me qualche cosa che sorge a protestare" ("And yet, my indignation these days boils in my chest, because in front of weakness, evil and human cowardice, there is in me something that surges in protest") (Ghivizzani, SL 48). In the poem, written only a couple of months earlier than her diary entry, her indignation assumes more subdued tones as her frustration is replaced by a sense of defeat when confronting a strategy of self-concealment she can no longer sustain. "Di fuori il riso e la vernice, e ognora / Di dentro il tarlo e legno e cor divora" ("Outside the smile, the varnish, and all the while / Inside, the worm consumes both wood and heart") she wrote, expressing a sorrow consuming her from the inside like a well-kept secret. Commenting on this poem, Finotti suggests that this conflict was the outcome of the poet's intuition that the world of Romantic and Risorgimento ideals was doomed to vanish, although the critic remains vague as to what ideals she regrets were disappearing (211). Was she talking about the disappointments she was experiencing in Rome as she was realizing the limits of a vision for a secular Italian identity she so valued, but for which she was making too many compromises? Was this crisis the result of an internal struggle between wanting to be seen as an Italian and, at the same time, recognizing the importance of the intimate connection she maintained with her Jewishness? Was she expressing the profound unease she felt at the idea of returning to Rome, and having to conceal a Jewishness which was rekindled every time she visited her parents' family in Veneto?

The Creation of a Public School System in Rome after 1870

Fua Fusinato moved to Rome on August 28, 1871, charged by the then Minister of Education, Cesare Correnti, with the task of inspecting schools in the provinces of Rome and Naples (Ghivizzani, SL XLVI). Before moving to Rome, however, between February and March of 1871, she spent a month in Naples and wrote five articles, "Intorno le condizioni di Napoli," ("On the conditions of Naples"), published in the Gazzetta d'Italia, in which she provided an overall description of the city, "un vero incanto" ("truly enchanting"), her impressions of its political climate--"qui la parte dei liberi pensatori ha di fronte i clericali piu inviperiti" ("here the side with the free thinkers is opposed by the most virulent clericals")--and of its economic disparities: "qui l'estremo della miseria e il colmo dell'opulenza" ("here you find extreme poverty and the utmost wealth") (Ghivizzani, SL 117-18). In one of these articles she described her visit to the college of San Vincenzo Ferreri, an old convent for poor orphan girls, and praised Duke Edoardo Crivelli for a speech in which he championed the separation of the old nuns from the young school girls, "l'istruzione delle quali e ora interamente affidata a buone maestre laiche" ("whose education is now entirely provided by good lay teachers") and for introducing the study of literature while preventing the sale of the girls' sartorial work for profit "a beneficio d'istituzioni clericali, avverse alle aspirazioni del paese" ("to the benefit of clerical institutions, which oppose the country's aspirations") (Ghivizzani, SL 124). While the Duke's speech remained a mere promise for still quite some time (21)--the new Italian government's reforming efforts towards the "educandati" (religious colleges for women) proceeded very slowly (Franchini 21-22)--Fua Fusinato's articles reveal her strong support for secularizing schools, a stand that surely made her unwelcome in Rome where she was about to move in a few months.

At the end of August 1871, she began inspecting schools in Rome and its province (Leuzzi 104). Soon after she received the official nomination as teacher of Italian literature for the "Conferenze magistrali femminili," a series of conferences aimed at offering professional training to teachers. Three years later in 1874, she became the Director of the newly founded Scuola superiore femminile, one of only two schools of this kind in the whole of Italy (the other was in Florence) that was intended to provide young women with a secondary education supposedly comparable, if not in content at least in prestige, to the liceo, still exclusively attended by male students (Di Bello et al. 137). During her inauguration speech for the second academic year of the school, in front of 100 young women, Fua Fusinato illustrated what she considered the core mission of public schooling: the formation of a national consciousness and unity within the newly created Italian nation--no easy task, as she was about to learn. She said:
   Molte di voi sortirono in Roma i natali, altre coi destini della
   patria furono dalle famiglie condotte a questa illustre citta che
   di ospitarle si allieta. E per tale modo che pur sui banchi della
   nostra scuola si rafforzeranno sempre meglio quei sacri legami di
   affetto che rendono indissolubile l'unita nazionale compiutasi
   sotti gli auspici della gloriosa casa Savoia.

   (Nella solenne inaugurazione 5)

   (Many of you were born in Rome, others with the fate of the country
   were brought by their families to this illustrious city which is
   pleased to give them hospitality. It is because of this that at our
   school desks sacred ties of affection will be stronger and will
   render indissoluble our national unity, which was created under the
   auspices of the glorious Royal House of Savoy.)

Envisioning Rome as a monarchic and secular capital, Fua Fusinato was endorsing the idea of the "Third Rome"--a new and modern city projected towards the future and disengaged from its past legacy as the center of Christianity and antiquity. But to modernize Rome and its educational system meant to antagonize Catholic conservative forces which resisted any reform and change to the status quo.

The proclamation of Rome as the new capital of Italy on February 3, 1871 set in motion a process of urban transformation that saw a sharp increase in the city's population. Much of this growth resulted from an influx of northerners, commonly referred to as buzzurri (uncouth)--a negative and derisive term used in clerical newspapers and by the Roman population (Pesci 199). (22) Bureaucrats, politicians, journalists, patriots, all descended upon Rome and, slowly with them, their families and children, who had to be educated in local schools. Before 1870, the educational system of the city offered a variety of school options, some private and others parochial, mostly at the elementary level. (23) Based on the axiom, "meno istruzione e piu educazione," women's education in pre-1870 Rome was limited to the teaching of basic reading, catechism and domestic work (Manacorda 2). Teachers in women's schools themselves had very limited education and professional training insofar as the main requirement for them to teach was that they "avessero compiuto i 21 anni di eta e fossero di buona condotta e istruite nella dottrina cristiana" ("they were supposed to be of 21 years of age, certified for good conduct and instructed in the Christian doctrine") (Volpicelli 394). In a letter to a friend in Florence written on September 2, Fua Fusinato expressed her dismay at what she found during her school inspections and the difficulties she encountered in making a positive impact on the educators:
   Visito monasteri, faccio discorsi morali alle suore, cerco di
   mettere qualcheduna delle idee, degli affetti nostri in quelle
   menti ristrette, in quei cuori soffocati dal nascere! [...]
   Predicare a Roma questo e veramente qualche cosa d'ardito [...] ma
   io non mi sgomento, perche se non riusciro a far del bene, ne avro
   almeno il desiderio vivissimo.

   (Ghivizzani, SL XLVII)

   (I visit monasteries, give moral speeches to nuns, I try to put
   some of our ideas and affections in those closed minds, in those
   hearts suffocated at birth! To preach this in Rome is really
   something daring ... but I am not discouraged, because if I cannot
   bring some goodness, I will at least feel its vivid desire.)

Nuns were reluctant, if not outwardly opposed, to implement any change, and families as well were hesitant to send their children to public schools, presented in Catholic satirical newspapers as "scuole di ateismo" ("schools of atheism") or schools for Jews (Volpicelli 403). The first task, therefore, for educators was to convince families of the physical and moral safety of public schooling. And although the Italian government sought to adopt in Rome a conciliatory relationship with the Catholic Church--"La parola d'ordine del governo era proprio questa di usare prudenza e accortezza" ("the governement's watchword was to just use prudence and carefulness") (Volpicelli 399)--the first decades of Rome as capital of Italy were characterized by a strong polarization between conservative and democratic forces which expressed their antagonism in street fights and vitriolic articles published in partisan newspapers (Bartolini 18).

Among the various clerical publications, Civilta cattolica became the most authoritative cultural voice of the Roman Catholic Church and, more generally, of Catholic conservative thought. Founded in Naples in 1850 by the Jesuit Carlo Maria Curci, under the auspices of Pius IX, Civilta cattolica enjoyed a large readership--more than 6000 subscribers at the end of the first trimester--and promoted the defense of traditional values against the advancement of liberalism, secularism, and modernization, all seen as the expressions of secret conspiracies by the enemies of Christianity. These enemies were frequently identified with Free Masons and Jews (Taradel and Raggi 4). Any efforts to educate women were viewed as attempts to undermine the very foundation of Christian society, the family, where women fulfilled their natural and primary social role, and they were thus strongly opposed. In the early 1870s, for instance, Civilta cattolica ran a series of four articles titled "Una moderna educatrice della donna italiana," in response to Rosa Piazza's Della educazione ed istruzione della donna italiana. Pensieri; the series was published in La donna, a progressive newspaper which was popular among middle-class female teachers and educators, and to which Fua Fusinato herself had been a contributor (Pisa 26). (24) Denouncing Piazza for wanting to "trasformare le femmine in politichesse e liberalesse" ("transform women into pseudo-political and liberal ladies"), the anonymous writer of these articles rejected any reforms to women's education, seen as an instrumental attempt on the part of the "impresa massonica di scristianizzare l'educazione della donna, sotto scusa di italianizzarla" ("Masonic enterprise to dechristianize women under the excuse of Italianizing them") ("Una moderna educatrice della donna italiana III" 534, 683). This was the climate in which Fua Fusinato began to work in 1871 as a school inspector, teacher, and reformer in Rome. Ultra-conservative Catholic forces did not, of course, control the educational efforts of the new national government. Nevertheless, their influence and attempts to discredit reformers were pervasive during those years (1870-1873) of virulent antisemitism (Toscano 27). Several articles in contemporary periodicals attest to the criticism and attacks Erminia Fua Fusinato received while she was in Rome. La voce della verita ridiculed her support of the notion of evangelical charity as a value to instill among young teachers, presumably on the basis that a Jewish woman lacked authority in Christian matters (Droulers et al. 79), while the Unita cattolica dubbed her despairingly "donna professoressa" ("woman professor"). Both conservative Catholic publications had limited sales but far-reaching influence and circulation. (25) It should not come as a surprise if, in this environment of social and religious tension in post-unification Rome, Fua Fusinato kept her Jewishness private. As an educational reformer who deeply cared about being viewed as an Italian and about secularizing the public-school system, she simply could not afford seeing her reactionary opponents further antagonize her on the basis of her ethnic identity.

The New Italian Woman

Erminia Fua Fusinato was ideologically a moderate thinker and reformer. Like the majority of Italian women, she opposed legal emancipation for women, and thought that the real fight women ought to prioritize was emancipation from poverty and prejudice. Her vision, however, of women's role in society was also rather innovative for a woman of her generation. Influenced by Positivist thought in education, in particular that of Raffaello Lambruschini (1788-1873), (26) whom she had known in Florence in the 1860s, Fua Fusinato conceived of women's education as part of the process of national progress. Unlike material goods, education, she argued in her Lezioni di morale, cannot be taken away from you: "[...] sono beni su cui nulla puo fare la fortuna" ("they are valuables against which fortune has no power")--a lesson she had probably heard innumerable times during her childhood, growing up in a Jewish family (Ghivizzani, SE 42). Her Jewish upbringing provided her with ideas and experiences which later informed her vision for women's education and professional development. Already in the first half of the nineteenth-century, when Erminia was a girl growing up in Veneto and was educated at home by her uncle, the issue of women's education dominated Jewish periodicals. Educating women was considered a crucial element in the community's efforts to advance economically but also to bring social justice to its most vulnerable members. Beginning in the 1850s, many Jewish communities responded to this call for action by creating schools, often inspired by the Froebelian educational model, and laboratories. Schooling had both a moral and utilitarian purpose: it was meant to combat indolence and vice, but also to provide women with a dignified future as mothers and educators (Miniati 40-48).

Erminia Fua Fusinato's overall literary and pedagogic production may be said to have been inspired by two converging ideas: women's education developed within a secular notion of italianita, and women's employment presented as an opportunity for self-improvement and material support to the family. Starting with the premise that by women's emancipation she intended mainly an emancipation from ignorance and prejudice, "ch'e fonte perenne di ogni materiale e morale miseria" ("the eternal source of all material and moral misery) (Ghivizzani, SE 318), Fua Fusinato considered education a primary way for women to pursue self-improvement and, ultimately, achieve economic stability. In particular she was concerned that unmarried women were vulnerable to economic uncertainty and, as a consequence, to unhappiness. Young women of middle-class families, she maintained, unable to rely on the financial security of the upper-classes, were not infrequently forced by their parents to marry according to economic considerations rather than personal propensity, as she wrote in "L'educazione della donna":
   La mancanza di una dote e della capacita di procurarsi una
   onorevole e proficua occupazione condanna una infinita di
   giovanette a celibato perpetuo, e ne consiglia taluna a dare la
   propria mano di sposa a tale che non ama, accettando il matrimonio
   come scampo alla miseria"

   (Ghivizzani, SE 319-20)

   ("The lack of a dowry and of the ability to gain an honorable and
   profitable occupation, condemns an infinite number ofyoung women to
   eternal celibacy, and even pushes some of them to marry someone
   they do not love, accepting marriage as a way out of poverty".)

Another central point of her educational reforms was her emphasis on women's right to work, so that if faced with financial hardship, they could provide for their family. While elaborating these ideas, she was certainly thinking about her personal story, as she had accepted Minister Correnti's offer to work in Rome at a moment of grave financial distress after her husband's loss of a large sum of money in an unsuccessful investment in Florence.


On May 11, 1882, the lives of two women, Matilde Serao and Erminia Fua Fusinato serendipitously converged. Still at the beginning of her career as a journalist and novelist, Serao attended on that day the unveiling of the monumental tomb commemorating Erminia Fua Fusinato at the Verano cemetery in Rome, six years after her death. Sent by the daily Capitan Fracassa to cover an event where all the city dignitaries and institutional representatives were in attendance, Serao took issue with Senator Marco Tabarrini's commemorative speech. In her article, "Per giustizia," published two days later, Serao criticized the senator for contrasting "la buona signora, la poetessa affettuosa, la educatrice pia" to the living women writers "che non si vergognano di scrivere nei giornali, anche di politica" ("the good lady, the affectionate poetess, and pious educator [...] who are not ashamed to write in newspapers even about politics") (Melis 122). Serao's indignation against Tabarrini and his instrumental use of Erminia's memory to criticize contemporary women still enlightens today. What is striking in Serao's criticism of Tabarrini is how the process of Erminia Fua Fusinato's memorialization, which started immediately after her death and was magnified in 1882 with the erection of a monument, was perceived as an act of betrayal to her historical memory. Serao's exposition of the flaws contained in the efforts to memorialize Fua Fusinato is hardly found in the literature devoted to the poet and educator. Institutional commemorations and biographies of Erminia have usually presented her as an exemplary figure of moderation and piety, purposefully placed within a Risorgimento iconography of Italian mothers which were, as Banti demonstrated, not uncommonly infused with the language and images of sacredness and sacrifice inherited from Italy's Catholic past (120). While it is not clear to what extent Fua Fusinato identified with her Jewish identity outside of the personal sphere, it is rather clear that she did not consider herself Catholic. Her memorial in the Verano cemetery is the ultimate testimonial to this statement. The statue of Erminia Fua Fusinato, still standing in all its majestic simplicity, does not include a cross, unlike all other nearby monuments built around the same time. This simple fact ought to at the very least raise some questions, when one deals with a biographic and historiographic tradition that present her as unproblematically integrated into Italian society. She did not identify with Catholicism because she was a secular Jewish woman who sought to reconcile the secularism of her national identity with the cultural heritage she inherited from her family of origin. Indeed, "la donna nuova," she was an exceptional woman, far ahead of her time. A study of her life and writings has much to tell us not only about Italy's relations with its minorities but also about the many facets of Jewish integration in post-unification Italy.

Gabriella Romani

Seton Hall University

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(1) For recent studies on Erminia Fua Fusinato, see: Savini, Pes, Leuzzi, Mori, Filippini, Bianconi, Finotti.

(2) Among the scholars who challenged the idea of a natural integration of Jews in post-unification Italy, see Gunzberg, Caviglia, Luzzatto Voghera, and Toscano.

(3) Born in Rovigo on October 23, 1834, Erminia Fua grew up in Padua and never formally attended schools. She received a basic education at home in the way of informal lessons given to her by an uncle, and through readings from the library of her cultured and middle-class family. In 1856 she eloped to Venice in order to marry Arnaldo Fusinato, who was not Jewish. At this time she was already writing poems which would eventually be published in various periodicals, such as La ricamatrice, Illustrazione italiana, Corriere delle dame, L'emporio pittoresco, Nuova antologia. She also published essays in Il giornale delle donne, La donna, Cornelia, Gazzetta d'Italia, Nuova antologia. After marriage, the Fusinato family settled in Castelfranco Veneto, but in 1864 first Arnaldo and then Erminia with their three children moved to Florence to escape arrest from the Austrian police. In Florence they gravitated around the main intellectual circles of the city. Here Erminia promoted and eventually secured the publication of Confessioni di un ottuagenario (1867) by Ippolito Nievo, the Risorgimento writer who tragically died in a shipwreck in 1861, and a close family friend. After a disastrous financial investment made by Arnaldo Fusinato, the family experienced serious economic distress and Erminia accepted Minister Correnti's offer to move to Rome in 1871 and work as school inspector. During this time she became involved in various professional initiatives, among which the creation of a high school for women and a series of Sunday lectures for the advancement of women's education. Through her work in Rome, she was able to support her family. She died in Rome in 1876. For more biographical information see Ghivizzani and Molmenti.

(4) Civil marriages became mandatory only after the promulgation of the 1865 Pisanelli Family Law (Codice civile del Regno d'Italia), Italy's first civil code after the formation of the Kingdom of Italy.

(5) Arnaldo Fusinato was strongly anticlerical, and possibly an atheist--a stance that he, a poet, expressed in his political poems (Baldacci and Innamorati; Balduino 943-46). Little is known about Erminia's family's religious practices. Her family was well integrated in the social and cultural life of Padua, where they regularly organized soirees attended by local artists and patriots. Their initial opposition to their daughter's marriage to a Catholic man, however, demonstrates that, although liberal and well-integrated, they maintained a strong connection to their Jewish roots.

(6) In a letter to her friend Anna Mander, written when her sister Eloisa got engaged to a Jewish engineer chosen by their parents, she wrote: "Invidio le ragazze che possiedono la virtu d'appagare anche in questo (nell'andare a marito) il desiderio dei genitori, ma duolmi sentire ch'io non potrei dare la mia fede ad uno che non avesse il mio cuore" ("I envy those girls who are able to satisfy their parents' will (in taking a husband), but I am afraid that I could not give my faithfulness to someone who does not own my heart.") (quoted in Ghivizzani, XXII).

(7) For literary representations of mixed marriages between Jews and Christians, see: Orvieto, Castelnuovo, and Pirandello.

(8) On endogamic and exogamic Jewish marriage see Miniati, Ferrara degli Uberti, and Vitale.

(9) See Erminia Fua Fusinato's poems: "A mio fratello Enrico nel giorno della sua laurea nelle Matematiche"(1856), "Quattordici anni dopo. Allo stesso" (1870), "A' miei genitori, per le nozze della sorella Elvira" (1863), "A mio padre. Nel suo giorno onomastico" (1871) in Versi.

(10) The 1875 "Bibliografia femminile israelitica italiana" published by the Vessillo israelitico, for instance, does not include the name of Erminia Fua Fusinato for reasons which the anonymous writer describes: "Avremmo volentieri fatto parola della Fua Fusinato, che nacque nostra, ma l'amore ce la rapi e ai suoi scritti e al suo nome, meritamente celebrato, applaudiamo col cuore, ma col cuore afflitto" ("We would have gladly mentioned Fua Fusinato, who was born as one of us, but whom love took away from us and whose writings and name, deservingly celebrated, we applaud with our heart, though an afflicted one") (Vessillo israelitico 23.8 [1875]: 238).

(11) The lay-Catholic cultural confrontation accompanying the Risorgimento and the aftermath of Italy's unification has been described as a form of "cultural wars" (Dickie 20).

(12) For further details on the D'Ancona and Maurogonato cases, see Canepa 166; Molinari 37-38; Schachter 115.

(13) Two Jewish public figures, Beniamino Soria and Leone Carpi, refuted Mantegazza's argument by presenting examples of well-integrated Jewish historical figures, respectively, with "La razza ebrea davanti alla storia" in Fanfulla della domenica (October 4, 1885) and "La schiatta ebrea davanti all'umanita I and II" in Domenica del Fracassa (December 13 and 20, 1885).

(14) Famously, Luigi Luzzatti (1841-1927) wrote in a letter to Monsignor Ugo Bonamartina, who was trying to convert him to Catholicism: "Io sono Monsignore fuori da tutte le Chiese, dall'Ebraica nella quale crebbi e dalle altre. Ma meta della mia vita scientifica e pubblica l'ho attraversata e l'attraverso a studiare le religioni fondamentali, che sono in ogni periodo storico le forme di piu alta moralita operante. E mi paragono a un'ape umana che sugge il miele da tutti i fiori celesti e non e ancora morta. Della fede mia ho profondo rispetto, dopo averne perduto la fede ardente: ma quando mi si rimprovera l'origine ebraica torno a sentirmi ebreo di fronte all'ingiuria e allo scherno [...]. Nessuno deve cercarmi di convertirmi. Alla mia eta e con le mie perenni meditazioni sulla filosofia e sulla fede, non sarebbe cosa possibile. Monsignore, mi consideri come un eretico che, se fosse capace, si farebbe banditore di una nuova fede, condensatrice delle virtu di tutte le altre." ("I am, Monsignor, outside of all faiths, from the Jewish one in which I grew up and from others. But I devoted half of my scientific and public life to studying the fundamental religions, which provide in any historic period the highest form of operating morality. And I compare myself to a human bee which produces honey from all heavenly flowers and who is not dead yet. I have a profound respect for my faith, even after having lost a strong belief, but when I am reproached for my Jewish origin, the scorn and accusation make me feel Jewish again [...]. Nobody should try to convert me. At my age and with my perennial meditation of philosophy and faith, it would not be possible. Monsignor, consider me a heretic who, if he could, would start a new religion, condensing the virtues of all the others.) Quoted in Franchini xii.

(15) From now on, Ghivizzani's edition of Fua Fusinato's Scritti educativi will be referred to as SE, and her Scritti letterari, as SL.

(16) She moved to Rome in 1871 by herself, where she began her professional career as an educator, and lived there alone until her husband and daughter joined her in 1874.

(17) In a private letter to his lover Lidia (Carolina Cristofori Piva), Carducci wrote begrudgingly about the publication of Fua Fusinato's volume of poems in 1874: "Le poesie della signora Erminia sono stampate da Le Monnier con una prefazione del senatore Marco Tabarrini, consigliere di stato [...] che fa da prelusore alla poetessa ebrea! Come sono stupidi tutti!" ("The poems of signora Erminia were printed by Le Monnier with an introduction by Senator Marco Tabarrini, a state counsellor [...] who writes an introduction to a Jewish poet! How stupid they all are!) ("Lettera 1696" 16).

(18) The school "Erminia Fua Fusinato," founded in 1891 in Padua, and renamed "Amedeo di Savoia Duca D'Aosta" in 1943, regained its original name only in 1968. The school was then merged in 1998 with the "Istituto di Istruzione Superiore Concetto Marchesi." On the history of the school, see Poppi 73-75, Simone and Targhetta 25-66, and Segre 20.

(19) Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) was a German pedagogue, renowned for his writings and theories on pre-school children education. He is credited with having created the concept and word ofkindergarten. He had been a pupil of the Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, whose educational methods were used by Erminia Fua Fusinato's uncle in his teachings to her.

(20) For the English translation of the poem, see Allen, Kittel, and Jewell 34- 37.

(21) Only a few years later, in 1877, the same school in Naples that so enthused Fua Fusinato was described by Jessy White Mario as having gone back to religious teachers and teachings (113-14).

(22) Between 1870 and 1881, the population of Rome rose from 240,000 to 300,000 inhabitants (Caracciolo 82).

(23) For the school system in Rome, see Pesci 218-21, Volpicelli, and Manacorda.

(24) Rosa Piazza (1845-1914) was the first woman to teach pedagogy at the University of Padua. She wrote for the journal La donna and knew well Fua Fusinato, for whom she worked as secretary during the 8th pedagogical congress in Venice in 1872 and whom she commemorated in a speech delivered at the Ateneo Veneto on February 15, 1877 after Fua Fusinato's death.

(25) On post-unification Catholic publications, see Tagliaferri.

(26) Raffaello Lambruschini was an enlightened Catholic priest and educator, close to Saint-Simonian thought and the positivistic intellectual circles gravitating around the Gabinetto Vieusseux in Florence. Critical of the Church's conservative positions, he favored women's education, public schooling for all, and the practice of religion understood as an experience to be lived in the intimacy of one's own conscience. For his biography, see Conti.
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Author:Romani, Gabriella
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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