Women on the Verge of Science: Aristocratic Women and Knowledge in Early Eighteenth-Century Italy

  • Paula Findlen


In the spring of 1732, when a young lawyer’s daughter, Laura Bassi (1711–78), became the first woman to graduate from the University of Bologna and later the first woman to hold a university chair in any faculty in Europe, not all the women of her city celebrated her accomplishments. Somewhat curiously to our own sensibilities, the woman in Bologna who seemed most likely to appreciate Bassi — the noblewoman Laura Bentivoglio Davia (1689-1761), known to her contemporaries as the ‘beautiful Cartesian’ (la bella Cartesiana) — was most disparaging. From Bologna, she wrote to a friend in Rimini that she could not believe all the fuss over ‘the noisy, or better yet, ridiculous doctorate’ of Bassi.1 So well known and so widely publicized were her criticisms, and so in opposition to the general praise of Bassi, that she commented two weeks later, on 24 June 1732, that she feared she would be stoned by her fellow citizens for daring to suggest that the twenty-one year old Bassi was anything less than a miracle of a new age of knowledge.2


Eighteenth Century Italian Peninsula Newtonian Natural Philosophy Unhappy Marriage Famous Woman 
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© Paula Findlen 2005

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  • Paula Findlen

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