Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Maria Ponti Pasolini (1856-1938)

Mosca Manuela, University of Salento (Lecce)
Laurenzi Elena, University of Salento

Economics became part of Maria Ponti’s life very early, thanks to her family of origin, both through their activity as industrialists in the Lombard textile sector and their political and social involvement. Her interest in economic matters was explicitly manifested when, after her marriage to the aristocratic landowner Pietro Desiderio Pasolini, she sought ways to alleviate the dire poverty of the population in the countryside. To this end, in 1883 in an initiative similar to those of aristocratic women activists like herself in many other parts of Italy, she set up an embroidery school which later joined the network of Italian Female Industries - Industrie Femminili Italiane (IFI) – after its establishment in 1903. During her period in Rome, with her husband now a member of parliament and later senator (1883-1886), she formed ties with the economists De Viti de Marco, Pantaleoni and Pareto, and was one of the few women to publish articles in the Giornale degli economisti, especially on the social and economic conditions of families of sharefarmers and rural labourers. With a group of other socially committed militant women, in 1896 she founded the Charity Information Office in Rome. Alongside this activity in the field of social support, she showed remarkable commitment to promoting and encouraging education, seen both as a means of emancipation and of fighting illiteracy, and as a tool for women who, having abandoned school, wanted to continue their education. It was this belief that gave rise to many of her publications, designed to provide guidance in constructing systematic paths of study in various fields including economics, and to her activity in establishing libraries for women. Also worth noticing in the economic field are her guide to reading the state budget, written in the belief that this knowledge was essential in judging the work of governments, and her vision of art as public wealth. In 1899 she was one of the founders of the Rome federation of branches of women’s activity which later became the National Council of Italian Women (Consiglio Nazionale delle Donne Italiane, CNDI), and in 1908 she actively participated in the first Congress of Italian women. Besides identifying the numerous points of contact between the life and thought of Maria Ponti Pasolini and economics in the broad sense, the paper aims to put her into the context of the currents of thought of her age, and above all to discuss the historiographic and methodological issues arising in any discipline when one tackles a reconstruction of women’s thought.


Keywords: biographies, gender studies, education

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