March 2023

Powerless Women? Italian Emigration and the Perseverance of the Women Who Stayed Behind

In this in-person webinar, Dr. Victoria Calabrese will discuss the Italian women who remained behind during the great wave of emigration. Between 1876 and 1914, millions emigrated from the newly formed Italian state. About 80 percent of those migrants were men, many of whom left wives and children behind. Her work explores the various changes and challenges women experienced when their husbands emigrated from Basilicata, one of the least examined regions of Italy, but one with a high percentage of emigration.

In a period where married women had few legal rights, Calabrese uses archival sources, such as passport requests and petitions to the mayor’s office, to argue that women did not simply wait for their husbands to return, but took charge of their lives and families. Despite their legal limitations, they forged a new relationship with the state, handled remittances, managed their family income, learned to read and write, and acted as de facto heads of household.

Victoria Calabrese received her Ph.D. in modern European history from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Her research focuses on modern Italian history, gender, migration, and nation building. Her book, Italian Women in Basilicata: Staying Behind but Moving Forward during the Age of Mass Emigration, 1876–1914, was published by Lexington Books in 2022. The book examines women in the southern Italian region of Basilicata and the many ways their lives changed when their husbands emigrated. In addition to the women who remained behind, she has written articles on honor and infanticide, and on traveling child musicians. Victoria is an avid genealogist, focusing on southern Italian genealogy research. She is currently an adjunct professor at Lehman College, teaching courses in early modern and modern European history.

Victoria Calabrese, PH.D.