Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Mary Gibson

Committee Members

Marta Petrusewicz

Jane Schneider

Timothy Alborn

Herman Bennett

Subject Categories

European History | Women's History | Women's Studies


Italy, Basilicata, emigration, Southern Question, transnational


Between 1880 and 1914, millions of Italians emigrated to all corners of the globe in hopes of earning better wages and forging a better life for themselves and for their families. This dissertation examines the role of the women left behind in the Italian region of Basilicata when their husbands emigrated, and the political, social, economic, and legal changes they experienced in their absence. During the Liberal Period, women had few political rights, and married women were dependent on their husbands, but being left on their own put them in a unique position. I argue that the Southern Italian women who remained behind were not passive, powerless, or simply waiting for their husbands to return, but played a role above and beyond that of their subordinate legal role. They were living in a transnational society, and were exposed to ideas, people, and customs from all over the world. They were consumers handling money, citizens appealing to state agencies for assistance, mothers raising young children, and de facto heads of households, despite not having legal authority. My research demonstrates that emigration allowed these women to become integrated citizens in a newly unified Italy. They had increased social, economic, and civic responsibilities, which challenged societal norms and perceived stereotypes of Southern Italians. Overall, this dissertation uses emigration to show how Italian women in the Liberal Period acted beyond their traditional role and in doing so became modern citizens in the Italian state.