During the Enlightenment of the 1700s, the educated upper classes focused on rational thought and the beginnings of modern science. This era produced a great and influential flowering of human thought. However, in all the countries in Europe except one, women were forbidden to study and lecture in universities. In fact, women had hardly any participation in the sciences at all – with one exception: Italy.
The education of Italian women from the higher social classes was exactly the same as that of men. In the universities of Salerno, Bologna, Padua, and elsewhere in Italy, women competed on an equal footing with men, particularly in the fields of literature, natural sciences, and medicine.
The University of Bologna in northern Italy, which was founded in 1088, was distinguished by the unusual number of women scientists it graduated and hired during the 18th century. At the University of Bologna, intellectually gifted women from the upper classes, and occasionally from the lower classes, had access to a level of education not seen in most Western nations until the 20th century. Here are just a few of the women who flourished as scholars and scientists:
Laura Bassi (1711-1778): Bassi became the first woman to earn a doctor of philosophy degree, was the university’s first female professor, and the first woman to occupy a chair in physics.
Anna Morandi Manzolini (1716-1774): Morandi was considered to be the finest practitioner of artistic anatomy of her time. She is cited as the first to make models of internal organs. She produced a model of the ear that could be taken apart to be used in the instruction of medical students.
Maria Dalle Donne (1778-1842), was an Italian physician and a director at the Bologna University. She was the first female to receive a doctorate in medicine. In 1800, Dalle Donne published three scientific papers. The first was a review and commentary on work previously done on female reproduction and fertility, fetal malformations, and blood circulation in the uterus. The second suggested for the first time that diseases be classified on the basis of symptoms. The third focused on midwifery and the care of newborns. In 1832, Dalle Donne became Director of the Department of Midwifery at the University of Bologna.
It may have been because of these great women who came before her that Lucia Colosi decided to study medicine. And if her hometown actually was in the northern section of Italy, she may even have studied at the Bologna University.