This study examines the role of southern Italian women who remained behind when their husbands emigrated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By piecing together limited archival source material, the author argues that married women were not voiceless or powerless when their husbands were abroad, but they took on roles beyond their limited legal position. They petitioned local officials, requested passports, received remittances, and handled the family finances, all in the absence of their husbands, the legal head of the family. The study also emphasizes the connection forged between women and the new Italian state at a time when women did not have political rights. Centering on Basilicata—a “forgotten” region of the Italian south and one that has not been a major focus of scholarly investigation—this study challenges stereotypes that the Italian south was backwards, uncivilized, and lagging behind northern Italy. The author argues that large scale emigration greatly impacted the married women left behind in the villages of Basilicata, changing their social, political, and economic role.
Victoria Calabrese teaches at Iona College.
Preface: A Woman Left Behind
Introduction: Women, Emigration, and Basilicata
Chapter 1: Marriage, Tradition, and Emigration
Chapter 2: Motherhood and Migration
Chapter 3: Women and Economic Change in an Era of Mass Migration
Chapter 4: Women and the State: Forging Citizenship
Chapter 5: Family, Community, and Church: Coping with Emigration
Chapter 6: Deviant Women: Criminal and Dishonorable Activity
Chapter 7: Returning Men and Emigrating Women
About the Author
Calabrese’s work is a timely reminder of the gendered dimension of transnational migration. By focusing on rural women in Basilicata, a seemingly isolated, rural world, Calabrese shows us the ways in which male emigration transformed the intimate and public lives of the married women who remained behind. Working from a wide range of government documents, Calabrese centers on the words and experiences of rural women as they navigated the intricacies of a transnational global network. This work highlights the ways rural women invoked the law, government agencies, and social norms to forge new roles for themselves within the family and the state.
Italian Women in Basilicata creatively pieces together scant and scattered documentation with good results. It delivers vivid illustrations of how women’s confined civil status shaped their responses to male emigration, focusing on their persistent, small efforts to protect themselves as wives, mothers, and daughters.
Victoria Calabrese paints a moving and nuanced portrait of women in Italy during the peak years of emigration from the south of the country. By investigating the legal, social, and religious implications of families separated by international migration, Calabrese explains continuity and change in gender relations, family structures, and community development. This book makes a significant contribution to women’s studies, migration studies, and Italian studies, with specific examples of women’s stories that readers will long remember.