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14 famous Sicilian women of past and present

Famous Sicilian women in our homeland make us proud because, in the course of the centuries, they showed us how incredibly strong a woman can be, fighting for her rights and for a better society.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember those women who made history great, with their fights and their determination. Today with this post we want to contribute by remembering 14 famous Sicilian women that in our history were distinguished for their virtues and courage to them to be heard. It is because of the perseverance and strength of many famous strong women that today women have many more rights, even if we are conscious that so much more is still to be done.

We will name just 14 famous Sicilian women that fought not only for gender equality and emancipation but also against the mafia.

Famous Sicilian women examples of ability, courage and perseverance  

(1) Among the famous Sicilian women in our city, Messina, we can admire the example of Dina and Clarenza, known also as the heroines of the city. During the Sicilian Vespers, against Carlo D’Angiò’s army, they had the most important role, defending the city from the French attack, and thanks to their warning, the soldiers were ready to defend and protect Messina from the enemies. Today you can admire a significant representation of Dina and Clarenza as two automata marking the time every 15 minutes in the biggest astronomical clock in the world of the cathedral square of Messina, maybe during a beautiful guided walking tour of the historical centre.

Famous strong women: Dina and Clarenza
Automata of Dina and Clarenza in the bell tower of the cathedral of Messina

(2) Macalda of Scaletta was a lady in waiting who lived in the period of the Sicilian Vespers. She was an unconventional woman, who tried to put her influence first in Carlo D’angio’s court and then in Peter I’s Court. Her qualities made her the main character of that period who saw the island of Sicily passing from the French domination to the new Sicily Reign, independent from the mainland.

Famous Sicilian women, Macalda di Scaletta
Macalda of Scaletta

(3) Among the famous Sicilian women there is also Maria Costa, who was a poetess born in Messina. She wrote her poems in the Sicilian dialect and her most important work is the poem dedicated to the 1908 earthquake in her hometown. In 2006 Maria Costa has been inscribed into the register of the Living Human Treasures by UNESCO and in the register of Intangible Heritage by the Sicilian Region.

Famous sicilian women, maria costa
Maria Costa

(4) Franca Viola is among the famous strong women and famous women in history the first Sicilian woman who refused the shotgun marriage, becoming the symbol of female emancipation. Her history tells us about 1965 when Franca was 17 and she was engaged to Filippo Melodia, who was part of a criminal family and the grandson of a mafia boss. When Franca’s father broke off the engagement, Franca was captured by Filippo Melodia, and she was abused too.

After this episode, in that time, she had to marry her kidnapper – rapist to remove the crime and save her “honour”, but she opposed, also helped by her father, and after a criminal trial Melodia was arrested. She was an example for all the Italian women of that time in her situation, and today we can consider her one of the most famous women in history because, after her case, in 1981 the law that protected the rapists was abolished.

Famous sicilian women, Franca viola
Franca Viola

(5) The first woman in history who divorced his husband was a Sicilian woman, Baroness Maria Paternò. It was the early 19th century when this lady asked for and obtained a divorce thanks to the introduction of the Napoleonic Code and thanks to the help of a brilliant lawyer.

(6) Other women who have to be mentioned among the famous Sicilian women are Ottavia Penna Buscemi. She was a politician woman who was also the first candidate for the prestigious armchair of the State. It was the highest institutional position and she was defined as “a cultured, intelligent woman, a good wife and a perfect mother”.

(7) Loved by a lot of people, well educated, generous, with a charismatic attitude and a unique beauty was Franca Florio, a Sicilian noblewoman born in Palermo in 1873, who married Ignazio Florio, whose family had the majority of the economic power of the island. She had an important role in his husband’s affair, who owned many industries, banks, traps, wineries and more. Thanks to her and to the Florio family, Sicily was a convergence point of an international élite that used to stay for long periods in Palermo and Taormina.

famous sicilian women franca florio
Franca Florio

(8) It was just the last century when the Baroness Angelina Auteri, from Catania, Count Biscari’s wife, decided to give all the women, an occasion to redeem themselves, teaching them how to produce the entire trousseau for their daughters. The “Bobbin Tecnique” seemed to be perfect for them because they had strong and big hands and Angelina tried to teach this technique to these women, opening her palace in Mirabella and making it a real workshop.

Famous strong women in Sicily against mafia

Several famous Sicilian women have also had the courage and the nerve to fight back mafia sometimes to the death.

(9) We remember the example of Francesca Morvillo, wife of judge Falcone. As her husband, even Francesca was a great and well-prepared judge, and graduated in law with honours. In 1979 she met Giovanni Falcone and they married in 1986. She put her entire life serving justice and always supporting his husband in the war against the mafia, renouncing the idea of having children because of the continuous danger to their lives: “we can’t bring orphans into the world”. As a matter of fact, they both died in Palermo during the Capaci massacre in 1992.

Famous strong women: Francesca Morvillo
Francesca Morvillo in a picture with her husband

(10) Felicia Bartolotta Impastato, was married to a man who used to have contacts with the local mafia. Among the famous Sicilian women, she always argued with her husband and the conflicts became even worse when her son, Peppino Impastato, a young journalist, radio host and activist, began to strongly oppose the mafia and his father himself until he was killed in 1978. After his death, Felicia worked hard to put his son’s killers in prison. Vito Palazzolo, was sentenced to 30 years in prison and the instigator, Gaetano Badalamenti was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Felicia Impastato
Felicia Impastato

(11 and 12) Rita Atria was born in Palermo in a mafia family. After her father’s death, she became closer to her brother Nicola and her eighteen-year-old sister-in-law, Piera Aiello. After the murder of Nicola, Piera and Rita became state witnesses and started collaborating with justice. Rita in particular was very close to Paolo Borsellino, trusting him so much that she killed herself at the age of 17 after the judge Paolo Borsellino was killed in the Via D’Amelio massacre, just a few months after Giovanni Falcone. Piera is today the first state’s witness to be a member of Parliament and member of the anti-mafia Parliamentary Committee.

Famous Sicilian women Piera Aiello
Piera Aiello

(13) Rita Borsellino, Paolo Borsellino’s sister, tried to follow and continue his brother’s ideas, becoming an Italian politician, a member of Parliament and the vice-president of Libera, an anti-mafia association in Palermo. With her determination, she helped in the approval of the law establishing that all the goods and properties confiscated from the mafia have to return to the community and be used for social purposes.

Rita Borsellino famous sicilian women
Rita Borsellino © Roberto Monaldo

(14) Sonia Alfano was born in Messina and was the daughter of Beppe Alfano, a teacher and a journalist, who strongly engaged in the fight against the mafia. When her father was killed in 1993 she left the University of law and was employed by the Region of Sicily. She started a deep activity against the mafia to find out the real instigators of her father’s death, denouncing many false leads and the possible involvement of the Italian secret services in the murder. After these strong statements, the process was reopened and is still ongoing. She was Chairman of the Special Anti – Mafia Commission.

The history of our island is full of wonderful examples of famous Sicilian women that with their uncommon first time opened the way to the future generations of women for a better society and a better future. Without their commitment, we wouldn’t have had so much of what today seems so normal and granted. We should always remember all of these extraordinary examples, not only on International Women’s Day. And we must do this forever, because women were made not to be superior to men, not to be inferior to men, but to be in the same position, to walk together in this beautiful walking called LIFE.

3 Responses
  1. It’s interesting to know that a woman has been engaged to the grandson of a mafia boss before which was a criminal family. I can imagine how these stories can tell us more about the ways of their groups. I want to learn more about this because I have been fascinated by them in the past years, so I hope to find a mafia historian to lear more.

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