Part 2 – unexpected finds in the Archive

As I mentioned in my last post I found a good deal more correspondence between Giovanna Guzzeloni and Muriel Pierotti.  Unlike the last find though there weren’t in a folder marked ‘International’, instead they were in folders of correspondence between Central Council and the Lincoln branch of the NUWT. I apologise in advance for the length of this post but I thought all the information was of value and interest so I didn’t want to cut it short.

The first letter from Giovanna is sent from Lincoln on 22/02/1943 where she writes “I am very much looking forward to attending the Easter conference as a delegate as I think the programme both interesting and of vital importance“.  There are some standard letters back and forth regarding ordering stationery for the branch, nominations for central council and other administrative details.  These go on through 1944 and in 1945 she is referred to by Muriel Pierotti as the Honorary Secretary of the Lincoln branch. 

On 7th October 1946 Muriel Pierotti writes to Giovanna “I wonder how you fared in Italy this summer… I am sure the editor of the ‘Woman Teacher’ would be most grateful if you could send a brief article either on education or a women’s position in Italy today“.  This then sent me off to check our run of the ‘The Woman Teacher’ – the journal of the NUWT – and I found that Giovanna had indeed written an article on 29 November 1946 called ‘Italy to-day’.  I’ve included it below and although the text is small, and not OCR’d, if you click on it and enlarge then it should be readable. 

Article from 'The Woman Teacher', NUWT Collection, ref UWT/H/1/42 ©Institute of Education Archive


Muriel Pierotti replied on 22nd October thanking Giovanna for her account of the position of women in Italy and the state of education in the country.  In a second letter to Giovanna which may be from Muriel Pierotti or from the editor of ‘The Woman Teacher’ she says “in this country it is hard to visualise the sheer terror that existed in the days of fascism and, before the war, it was difficult to get people to believe this existed…  Do please, let me know if you find any way in which we can help the women’s movement in Italy for I, too, am very willing to help if possible.”  This is referring to Giovanna’s memories of her mother’s experience in fascist Italy where she says that her mother’s name was posted on the Fascist Headquarters under the following notice “‘should anyone attempt the life of our Duce(?) twenty-eight heads will roll upon the village square, to be used as footballs’, this was not for any active work against the party but merely for a few unguarded words“.

She returned to Lincoln in 1947 and there are some more administrative type letters between her and Muriel Pierotti regarding the running of the Lincoln branch.  The next letter from Italy is dated 1948 but according to the Gianna Thompson website she was actually back in Italy in 1947 so her return to Lincoln bust have been a brief one!

On 12 September 1948 she writes of the lack of educational facilities for nursery education, and the effects of the war “We are fighting to improve the conditions of Nursery schools all over Italy… with what means of transport we could muster up we went round finding suitable rooms where this work could be carried out.  Looking for a couple of rooms in a village that had suffered almost 99% destruction was like looking for a needle in a haystack… the rooms were found and by April we had set up 25 nurseries in places as far up in the mountains as 3000ft.  Places that had barely schools and where help was very scanty. Our girls have been more than splendid, facing the hardships they have to face in those places which lacked almost every necessity of a civilised life.  I cannot imagine any male teacher putting up with the conditions as they did….
As I had already mentioned in a previous letter to you, the position of women here, that is anywhere south of Rome, is rather terrible. The girls are still segregated and though the better educated girls lead an apparently free life there are a lot of restrictions everywhere to their behaviour… The position of women in the home is on about the same level.  She is permitted to go out to work, be it in a profession as in the [word missing here], the field or to a factory, when she returns home she has to bear all the burden of the house without ever having the slightest help from the husband...”

These letters represent a valuable resource in a number of ways, one’s which spring to mind being –

  • They give us information on the experience of living and work in in post-war Italy from the perspective of a women
  • They provide an insight into the life of Giovanna Guzzelloni, someone who is already of interest to others given the dedication of a whole website to her and the references to her in a book by Ann Cornelisen ‘Where it all Began’
  • They could be of use to anyone doing comparitive education studies

I think this perfectly illustrates the importance of cataloguing (if anyone still needs convincing of this!) as these are the kind of unexpected subjects and links between collections which would never have been found without detailed file level cataloguing.

I’d like to thank Keith Washington for his incredibly useful and informative website as I feel I know her so much better now from all the added context given on his webpages.


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