Christopher Columbus And The Daughters of Italianita`: An Often Overlooked Aspect of This Holiday

Christopher Columbus Barcelona Sailor Monument Port
Christopher Columbus Barcelona Sailor Monument Port

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937, he hailed the Admiral of the Ocean Sea as a “brave navigator” whose voyage “was the culmination of years of bold speculation, careful preparation, and struggle against opponents who had belittled his great plan and thwarted its execution.”

These are the selfsame qualities epitomized by Columbus’ female counterparts through the ages — the daughters of italianita` — who have blazed a trail of discovery in the tradition of Mother Cabrini, Maria Montessori, Ella Grasso, and Geraldine Ferraro. Not to mention the radical activism of Maria Barbieri , Maria Roda, Ersilia Grandi, and Annie Lo Pizzo. Yearning for labor equality and social justice, Barbieri issued “Ribelliamoci” (Let’s Rebel!), they issued an eloquent, if incendiary, call to action in 1905.

“To my women comrades, these are the thoughts of another woman worker dedicated to you,” they said. “It is in my thoughts and the beating of my soul that I feel all the social injustices, that for centuries we have been humble and obedient slaves; it is in rebellion, to rise up against all of these inequities, that I invite you to struggle.”

Today, the daughters of italianita` in America have excelled in every field of human endeavor.  Intellectually rigorous and supremely competent, they continue to inform, enlighten, and enrich the nation — and the world.

Though demonized at every turn by GOP troglodytes, timorous Democrats and pugnacious cable-TV pundits, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi enabled former President Barack Obama to pass the most comprehensive healthcare reform in American history. In fact, her stewardship of the House of Representatives has been nothing short of historic.

Speaker Pelosi is now spearheading the drive toward the inquiry that could well result in the impeachment of President Donald Trump, who may have violated his oath of office in committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

Carolyn Porco is the planetary scientist who served as the leader of the Imaging Science Team on the Cassini mission to Saturn. A staunch advocate of a robust human presence throughout the solar system, Porco remains true to the spirit of exploration exemplified by Columbus, Caboto, Vespucci, and da Verrazzano: “the future is boundless, and it belongs to us.”

Recently, astronomers at University College London discovered the presence of water vapor in the atmosphere of K2-18b, a possibly habitable Earth-like planet situated 110 light years from our world.  

“To our great surprise we saw a pretty strong signature of water vapor,” said Professor Giovanna Tinetti, a London-based physicist from Turin and member of the UCL team. “It means first of all that there’s an atmosphere, and second that it contains a significant amount of water.”

In It Happened in Italy, author Elizabeth Bettina details the valor of “Italy’s army of Schindlers,” (a phrase coined by Dorothy Rabinowitz), officials, and everyday Italian citizens who rescued Jews from perishing in the Holocaust. Rather than acquiescing in Hitler’s Final Solution, the Italians intervened to preserve a people. 

And in the Ferramonti Campo di Concentramento in Calabria, Jewish internees were shielded from German eliminationism: “There were doctors, dentists, bakers, teachers, rabbis. They even had their own form of government.”  

Children were born and educated. Cantors sang. Ice cream vendors sold gelati.

“There were even a few weddings, at least three or four that I was aware of,” according to Max Kempin.

Of course, the values of a society must coexist with a nation’s security concerns.

Janet Napolitano, a no-nonsense former governor of Arizona, helmed Homeland Security, the agency that must be as vigilant as it is proactive in protecting the United States from all foreign and domestic terrorist threats.

When it comes to unlocking the secrets of the universe, physicist Chiara Nappi has few equals.  In addition to her research on string theory, particle physics, black holes, and mathematical physics, this Princeton University professor has written extensively on women in science. Nappi earned her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Naples.

Across the final frontier, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, an Air Force pilot and engineer, holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight of a European astronaut.

Italy was in the vanguard of feminine education for centuries. In 1415, Constanza Calenda served as the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Salerno. She later became the medical dean at the University of Naples.  

Rebecca Guarna contributed greatly to medical literature, penning scholarly works on “Fever” and the “Embryo.” In fact, women have been practicing medicine throughout Italy since the twelfth century. During the first century of its existence, the University of Bologna boasted women professors in nearly every department.

Though it has long been obscured by puerile stereotypes, the grand Italian tradition of female excellence in education, law, medicine, science, and the arts dates back to the Roman emancipation of women.

According historians Roger Vigneron and Jean-Francois Gerkens, this ancient Italian notion — “the very idea of equality of men and women” — is based on Celsius’s famous dictum in the Emperor Justinian’s Digest: “The law is the art of goodness and fairness.” Moreover, “inside the Roman people itself, the role of juridical equality was the duty to be pursued.”

And it is the ancestral sine qua non that inspires the daughters of italianita`.