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Demonstrations in front of the parliament, Ljubljana, March 23 1993. Photo: Tone Stojko. © Muzej za novejšo zgodovino Slovenije [National Museum of Contemporary History], collection Tone Stojko, inv. n. TS19932303_22.

Project EIRENE, in collaboration with  Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici dell’Università di Trieste, organized their third workshop, titled “Women and Post-War Transitions: Work“. The event took place at Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici in Trieste,  23-24 January 2020.


Guest lecturers and project members presented intriguing lectures. The workshop was devised into keynote presentations and into panels. First, we started with a welcome speech by Lorenza Rega, professor at University of Trieste and Delegate of the Dean, followed by welcome and introduction speech by our host Elisabetta Vezzosi,  professor at University of Trieste and Head of the Department of Humanities. Welcome reception and speeches was concluded by  Marta Verginella, professor at University of Ljubljana and Principal investigator of the project.


Selina Todd (University of Oxford) – Women, work, labour militancy and the changing state of post-war Britain (keynote speaker)

The first keynote lecture of this EIRENE workshop was given by Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford. Professor Todd, who, for instance, has won the Women’s History Network Book Prize for her volume Young Women, Work, and Family in England 1918–1950 (published with Oxford UP in 2005), spoke about ‘Women, work, labour militancy and the changing state of post-war Britain’. In her talk, Professor Todd highlighted many aspects of working as well as living conditions for female wage earners after 1945, be it, for example, as mothers or labour activists in both the private and public spheres.

Panel 1: Women, Rights and Labour Market in Transition Phases

Chair: Nina Vodopivec (Institute of Contemporary History in Ljubljana)

The first panel addressed women’s rights at the labour market after the 2nd World war in Italy (Women, Rights and Labour Market in Transition Phases). The first speaker, Teresa Bertilotti, a historian who in her research deals primarily with the link between education and work, collaborates on the Eirine project (University of Ljubljana). In her presentation Rights in the post-war 2 Italian transition she analyzed the connection between work and citizenship (political and social rights).

The second speaker was Roberta Nunin, Associate Professor of Labour Law at the University of Trieste. In the paper Changes in Italian post-war 2 labour market and the fight against gender discrimination: the role of the Constitutional Charter and the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court she analyzed the picture of female labour, legislative changes, underlining the process of slow deconstruction of the regulatory “scoria” left by the fascist regime.

The third speaker Francesca Bettio, a professor of Economics at the University of Sienna is among other interested in studying long term and cyclical patterns of female employment and wage differentials, discrimination and occupational segregations. In her paper Relative wages for women in Italy: a special focus on postwar transitions she depicted the main factors influencing the pattern of female wages in Italy during the latest post war periods and the 1990s.

Panel 2: Women in Tobacco Industry

Chair: Iva Kosmos (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

The panel “Women in Tobacco Industry” was dedicated to case studies in different local contexts and time periods, from Rijeka/Fiume and Rovinj/Rovigno to Celovec/Klagenfurt and Ljubljana, ranging from the period before the First World War to the years after the Second World War. In all of these cases, as well as in other examples of industries that employed women, paid work enabled women economic independency and challenged the traditional gender roles. However, this panel stressed how the wider national and political turmoil and changes of political and economic systems deeply impacted the position, social role and demographic structure of workers. Francesca Rolandi observed the consequences of national and political tensions in the tobacco factory in Fiume after the Great War, which have been at least twofold: while excluding workers considered as non-Italian from work and political process, the same context enabled political activism for other workers. Namely, diverse political actors tried to set foot in the factory and gain political support, which provided workers with bargaining power and enabled attempts of negotiation with authorities. Dagmar Wernitznig, researching the period after the Great War in Carinthia, also focused on political activism and endeavors of the social democratic party that targeted tobacco workers. This was explored through the specific case of a laborer and political activist Marie Tusch (1868-1939). Orietta Moscarda observed how the change of political system after 1945 impacted the Italian workers in Rovinj that were once regarded as »little ladies«, but became stigmatized under the new Yugoslav government. Finally, they emigrated from the region, which resulted in the ethnically changed structure of workers. Similarly, Urška Strle presented the socio-demographic composition of workers in three political frameworks—the final years of the Habsburg Monarchy (1912–1918), the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941) and the first years of socialist Yugoslavia (1945–1952), showing again how the profound political changes and socio-economic transformations deeply influenced workers’ position and demographic features.


Alessandra Pescarolo (Istituto regionale per la programmazione economica della Toscana) – Gender ideologies and cultures of work in post-war Italian transitions: notes which could be useful to compare with the northern Adriatic transitions (keynote speaker)

After a sumptuous lunch, the workshop continued with the second keynote address, presented by Alessandra Pescarolo of the Istituto regionale per la programmazione economica della Toscana. Professor Pescarolo has published extensively about topics such as family, work, social inequalities, and the social role of women and young people, and her lecture was entitled ‘Gender ideologies and cultures of work in post-war Italian transitions: notes which could be useful to compare with the northern Adriatic transitions’. Her contribution assessed socio-economic, legal, cultural, and political alterations or paradigm shifts in post-1945 Italy specifically and the North-Eastern Adriatic region generally.

Panel 3: Working women in the Julian March after World Wars

Chair: Dagmar Wernitznig (University of Ljubljana)

The penultimate panel of the first day of the workshop dealt with working women in the Julian March after both World Wars and was chaired by Dagmar Wernitznig. Commencing with a paper by Matteo Perissinotto, an EIRENE researcher, the audience learned about ‘Women employees of the Italian administration in the Julian March (1918–1922)’. The second speaker was Erica Mezzoli of the Istituto Livio Saranz in Trieste, who analysed the female labour supply in the Zone A of the Allied Military Government (short: AMG) for the period 1945 to 1947 from a quantitative and contrastive perspective. This panel concluded with Tullia Catalan, an Associate Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Trieste, and her study of female citizens, recruited for the administration of the AMG from 1945 to 1954, by examining, for instance, employment practices, salaries, and the working atmosphere.

Panel 4: A Changing Labour Market: Women in Italy after World War II and Beyond

Chair: Teresa Bertilotti (University of Ljubljana)

The panel deals with the enter of women in two particular sectors of the labour market – the social work and the police – and with the representation of the Balkan women in Italy.

Elisabetta Vezzosi (University of Trieste) analyzed the relationship between gender and social work in Italy, in particular after the Second World War.

She women’s leadership in the creation and development of a predominantly female profession, and the role of some of them, such as Angelica Zucconi.

Furthermore, she highlighted how the development of new schools is a crucial element of a very innovative approach to social welfare in Italy.

Molly Tambor (Long Island University) presented some results of her new research about women in the Italian Police Force. In particular, she focused on how, after World War II and the democratization of the Police Force, they were allowed to be part of it.

This new women profession was part of a complicated and highly gendered social bargain: women in Italian Police Force fought for their rights (equal uniforms, pay scale, etc.), but at the same time they replaced the Morals Police, a role aimed at disciplining the sexuality of citizens, especially women.

Antonella Mauri (University of Lille), presented a paper about the literary and non-literary images of the Balkan women in Italy (1946–1980).

They were often represented according to the stereotypes of an operetta character and a dangerous Circe, as it was in the positivist scientism theories, adopted by fascism, based on the belief that Slavic populations were inferior if compared to the Mediterranean ones, especially the Italians.

Maury gave many examples of the persistence of this stereotype after World War II which influenced the perception and acceptance of Istrian refugees and other Slavic women living on the Italian territory at least until the 1980s.

Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk (Utrecht University) – Globalization and women’s textile work in the twentieth century: a comparative perspective (keynote speaker)

Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, Professor of Economic and Social History, working at Utrecht University and Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, was having a keynote speech on January 24, 2020, the second day of the workshop. Her lecture titled Globalization and women’s textile work in the twentieth century: a comparative perspective was contextualizing women’s work in the global textile industry by detecting broad patterns in the relocation of the textile production over 20th century, which is most notable by the shift from the production in “the Global North” to “the Global South”. She argued that globalisation combined with the availability (or absence) of alternative work for women has played a major role in this relocation process across the world. As she is currently Principle Investigator in the ERC-Consolidator Project TEXTILELAB (2018–2023), dealing with the role of households and gender in the history of textile production worldwide, her lecture was especially valuable for our workshop as well as an example of good practise how to approach the broad subject matter of ERC projects.

Panel 5 – Rethinking Traditional Female Occupations

Chair: Erica Mezzoli (Istituto Livio Saranz)

The panel provided new elements on some types of work considered as traditionally “womanly” as – in the facts – particularly “elusive”, which occur in “gray” economic spaces: the subordinate domestic labour and the work activities of the textile industry. Ana Cergol Paradiž and Petra Testen Koren (University of Ljubljana) focused their attention on the situation of Slovene domestic helpers in Trieste-Trst in the years straddling the First World War.

Irena Selišnik (University of Ljubljana) addressed the topic of the subordinate domestic labour taking into account the legal framework on the issue from the epoch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the times of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Finally, by adopting an anthropological approach, Nina Vodopivec (Institute of Contemporary History in Ljubljana) explored the economic activity in relation to the social positions, self-perception and identities of Slovene female textile workers as at the micro as at the macro levels (i.e., factory-local communities-Country).

Laura Lee Downs (Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris and European University Institute, Florence) –“A Tolmino il nostro asilo rimarrà unico ed italiano”: Gender, social action and nationalist/irredentist politics in the Upper Adriatic, 1919–1950 (keynote speaker)

In the last keynote speech, Laura Lee Downs (European University Institute – École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) looked at the activities of Opera Nazionale di Assistenza all’Italia Redenta (ONAIR) in the Upper Adriatic region in the two post-World Wars periods (1919-26, 1945-50). In particular, she focused her attention on the modes of operation of ONAIR’s socio-medical and educational centers (scuole) for early childhood and on their nationalist/irredentist politics of Italianization towards the Slovene and Croatian speaking peoples of the region.

Panel 6: Intellectuals

Chair: Natka Badurina (University of Udine)

The last panel of the workshop, chaired by Natka Badurina (University of Udine), was devoted to intellectuals and their transitions in different after-war periods. Marta Verginella (University of Ljubljana), the principal investigator of the ERC Eirene project, focused on teachers in the Littoral 1914-1941. How did the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Italian occupation of the formal Littoral mark the Slovene language schooling? The removal of the Slovene-language schools after Gentile’s reform had a huge impact on Slovene teachers who could no longer teach in Julian-March, but were relocated to other Italian schools or, if they didn’t have Italian citizenship, to Yugoslavia. Female teachers who were politically involved were one of the first intellectual victims of fascism and the paper highlighted the chronology of their transfers and dismissals. Also Gorazd Bajc (University of Maribor) focused on female teachers, but his primary interest were Slovene refugee women in Trieste in the first decade after World War II, who left Yugoslavia for political reasons and worked as teachers in Trieste. The third paper of the panel was given by Manca G. Renko (University of Ljubljana) and it focused on the life trajectory of the Austrian war correspondent, journalist and photographer Alice Schalek. The researcher focused especially on her transitions after the World War I and the division between intellectual labour and being an intellectual.


Tanja Petrović (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) – Conclusions and final discussion

Tanja Petrović is a research Advisor at the Institute of Culture and Memory Studies ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana. Her field of interest include post-socialist studies, memory studies, labour history, gender history, linguistic anthropology. She delivered a final conclusion to our workshop, summing up all of our presentations and opened some relevant questions for future research work,

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