All images are taken from:

Milano, Archivio di Stato di Milano, Prefettura di Milano, Gabinetto, Carteggio fino al 1937: serie I

All images are published with the permission by Ministero dei Beni e le Attività Culturali.

Any reproduction of images is strictly forbidden.


For Part 1 of this series please click HERE 

Let’s move to some more interesting documents, and to one of the strangest para-sport disciplines of the Fascist Ventennio (1922-1943), which was undoubtedly the lancio della bomba, ‘bomb throw’, which was added during the late 1930s to the amateur sports meetings, in order to familiarise Italian men (and women, too!) to war time.

The 1st page of a small programme
The event (which included also a bicycle race) would take place in Monza, on 1 July 1934, on the occasion of the 2nd edition of Settimana Monzese (Monza Week) and the Fiera di S. Giovanni (St. John’s Fair)
The pitcher depicted is wearing a black Fascist beret


Yet, as we know from the 1933 calciatrici‘s story (see ), during the Fascist Ventennio, Italian sportswomen tried to make inroads into the male-dominated sports world, by relying on the regime’s sports policy, which attempted to promote women’s youth sport in order to increase the birth rate.

Among the disciplines, swimming was especially recommended by the Italian sports doctors to promote a healthy improvement of both the male and the female body. For the latter however there was a specific social problem, a lot of Italian families didn’t want to ‘exhibit’ their daughters to the gaze of others in swimming pools and on beaches. As a result the Fascist sports authorities launched a sort of ‘swimming propaganda programme’ via the Italian media, using images of the few female competitive swimmers in order to promote the wider practice among Italian women of all ages.

‘Excelsior’ was a glossy ladies’ magazine. The title says: ‘Madam, please swim!’
Source: Excelsior, 2/08/1933, p. 12

Journalist Goffredo Barbacci was a sort of advocate for women’s swimming from the late 1920s
Writing a lot of propaganda articles, praising the virtues of such activities for Italians of all ages
‘For you, Italian women, who don’t swim (yet) ..’ says this article’s title
Source: Lo Sport Fascista, April 1929, p. 32.

As the Catholic newspaper Avvenire d’Italia attacked the ‘immoral’ practice of women swimming in public pools, Leandro Arpinati (future head of CONI, and who, in March 1933, would give the GFC temporary permission to play women’s football) sent the image shown below to the sports newspaper Il Littoriale, depicting his own daughter Giancarla (on the right) and her friend dressed in swimsuits. The caption says ironically:

‘The shameful author of this photograph depicting such an immoral scene’ (the ‘author’ was Arpinati’s friend) ‘is even the father of the girl on the left! How horrible!’

Source: Il Littoriale, 22 marzo 1929, p. 3

Two Italian diving champions, both from Trieste: De Vigogna and Anita Giurin
This double photo was published by Lo Sport Fascista, the sports monthly which was a sort of official spokesman of the sports regime’s policy
Source: Lo Sport Fascista, October 1932, p. 46.

In the early 1930s there was some interest in open water swimming, where there was a place for women too. Firstly, the Italian newspapers started to report on foreign women swimmers who were attempting to break records all over the world.

In this cartoon, the Manchester swimming pioneer Sunny Lowry is depicted during her second (not the third!) attempt to swim the English Channel
Italian caption says that she will swim the Channel, not when she would like, but rather when the Chanel would
Source: Il Resto del Carlino, 31/08/1933

A photo of US swimmer Gertrude Ederle, the first women ever to swim the English Channel, in 1926
Source: Lo Sport Fascista, July 1933, p. 37

While in 1931 in Milan, probably one of the Italian cities most distant from the sea, the local Gruppo Rionale Fascista (GRF) Crespi organized the Traversata di Milano, a local open water swimming event, held in the Navigli, the Milanese canal system. Naturally, the Fascist group sent a copy of the official programme to the Milan Prefetto, a copy of the 1933 edition has been preserved at the Archivio di Stato and is illustrated below.

The cover page of the official programme
La Gazzetta dello Sport was the main media sponsor of the event, scheduled for 24 September 1933
Source: Traversata di Milano official programme (1933 edition), cover page, in f. 957.

Another logo of GRF Crespi
Source: f. 957.

The course was 3028m long, and all the swimmers were to be amateur (both male and female) and only members of Federazione Italiana Nuoto (FIN) ‘Italian Swimming Federation’ could compete.

Via Ludovico il Moro, near via Parenzo
It is here the Traversata was started, in a place called Restocco, where the Rari Nantes swimming society had its headquarters (near Cascina Maroni) and where in 1895, the first ever Winter Cimento started, with the first (male) 7 swimmers

A video about the Winter Cimento, 1947 edition. Please note how much time is spent talking about Manuela, the female swimmer who is ‘the living answer to the ones who says that women are the weaker sex’.  Despite this positive comment, it is followed by a quite sexist one: ‘Manuela’s figure is good for warming the (male) audience’. Even after the Liberation and the end of the Fascist regime, the female swimmer was perceived as a sort of ‘strange’ person: for some people, they were more of a sideshow rather than real sportswomen, such as the calciatrici in Naples 16 years before (see ). In the end of the video, Manuela is awarded by Mayor Greppi, who was colleague of Assessora Giovanna Boccalini Barcellona (who had been team manager of GFC in 1933).       Source:

The Darsena ‘port’ of Porta Ticinese in early 20th century: the site of the finish of the Traversata

Looking at the several greater and indeed lesser prizes presented by the many associations, public organizations, and powerful men of the area, we can easily understand why this event was seen as important for the whole Milanese world, beyond the borders of the lovers of swimming.

The trophy for the winner of the Traversata: a sculpture by Bertolazzi depicting a young swimmer
Source: Traversata di Milano official programme (1933 edition), p. 8, in f. 957.

The Regional FIN Commissioner provided a special prize for the Women’s category, thereby testifying his will to promote women’s swimming
Source: Traversata di Milano official programme (1933 edition), p. 10, in f. 957.

Of course, the 1st prize (an ‘artistic’ cigarette case) was donated by the Duca di Bergamo; added to this, the Ministry of Education provided a large silver medal
Source: Traversata di Milano official programme (1933 edition), p. 9, in f. 957.

Among the special prizes, both those provided by Fernando Pozzani, and Gazzetta dello Sport (for the swimming society with the highest number of members finishing the race) can be considered as important, because they illustrate how much the Traversata was seen as an event for the whole Milanese sports world
Source: Traversata di Milano official programme (1933 edition), p. 11, in f. 957.

The Archivio di Stato papers also demonstrate the whole process of the requesting and granting of permission for  sports event in 1930s’ Italy, since the whole 1933 Traversata di Milano files have been preserved.

On 20 September the Prefetto, after a conversation with Carlo Pisani (Direttore of the Traversata) could finally answer the Gabinetto, recording all the information requested regarding the Traversata, scheduled for 24 September 1933. In the end, the Prefetto gives a positive reply about providing a prize by the Gabinetto di Presidenza. Source: f. 957.


A further important planning question concerned the presence of the Duca di Bergamo, who was willing to follow the Traversata on a boat …

The GRF Crespi Fiduciario wrote to the Prefetto to ask whether the Duke would be on time at Restocco, some boats would be provided for him and his followers
Source: f. 957.

The final phonogram, written the day before the event. After which, the Duca di Bergamo himself would present the winners with their prizes. The security guard would be made up of several Carabinieri and policemen.                    Source: f. 957.


Finally, after a 1-week postponement, the Traversata di Milan took place on 1 October 1933, the same day of the scheduled and subsequently cancelled women’s football match between the Milan and Alessandria teams (see ). In contrast with what happened to their football colleagues, the 6 females swimmers had no problems in joining the race, held under the gaze of Duca di Bergamo.

The phonogram describing the event: there were no problems and among the 80 swimmers there were 6 women
The day before the event, La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote about 3 of them in particular
Swiss Anna Villiger and Anna Kneschaurek (Società Nuoto Lugano), Italian Grazietta Scalia
Source: f. 957.

The record holder Grazia Scalia
Although it was announced that she would swim in the 1933 Traversata di Milano, she didn’t (… and we don’t know why!)
Source: Il Littoriale, 14/10/1932, p. 1.

Swimmer Anna Kneschaurek (Società Nuoto Lugano)
Source: La Gazzetta dello Sport, 01/01/1933, p. 5.


Seventeen year-old Edoardo Nosotti (from GRF Crespi swimming team) won the race. The itself race was handicapped, with the 5 female swimmers (who were given the largest time handicap) starting first with the final starter, the male champion Giacomo Gamba (who eventually finished 2nd), starting some 8min 10sec after the women.

The starter (probably Antonio Toma, the head of Ufficio Sportivo of the Federazione dei Fasci di Milano,
who was the man that organised the boycott of women’s football in town…), followed the female swimmers,  as they approach the start …
Source: L’Illustrazione Italiana, 08/10/1933, p. 543

The 5 women who competed were: Coppini, Pasquini, Wurdakowa, Werner and Villiger, but there was no real contest between them as  ‘Mrs. Williger was clearly fastest than her colleagues’; the journalists noting that ‘swimmers Wurdaknowa and Werner swam breaststroke’ (could Anna Kneschaurek be one of these two?). Anyway, at one point during the race Anna Villiger was leading and finished fourth in the end.

Anna’s moment of pure glory
‘Swiss woman Villiger ran in front, and just at the via Valenza bridge, Nosotti succeeded in reaching her; yet the female swimmer defended herself with gritted teeth, and for some time the two champions swam side by side. Then Nosotti overtook her, and Rota and Zennaro too in the very last metres overtook the strong and brave Swiss female swimmer’
Nosotti finished in 32’ 05’’, Rota in 32’ 17’’, Zennaro in 32’ 38’’ 4/10 and Villiger in 32’ 38’’ 6/10. The young Maria Coppini (Canottieri Milano), the 2nd female swimmer, finished in 35th place
Source: La Gazzetta dello Sport, 02/10/1933, p. 5.

Edoardo Nosotti, and the Duca di Bergamo
Source: La Gazzetta dello Sport, 03/10/1933, p. 2.

An interesting fact here is that the previous year a woman had won the Traversata! Lina Tischeler Lugnani,  a swimmer from Pirano (Slovenian: Piran), a little town in Istria, an Adriatic Sea peninsula (today part of Slovenia and Croatia) where girls (as was the same for females in Trieste, Zara/Zadar and Fiume/Rijeka) were accustomed to swimming, due to the Austro-Hungary legacy of the areas. On the other hand, is quite surprising that Lina was a married woman: yet, as we have seen with Giovanna Boccalini Barcellona’s victory in a 1933 skiing event (see ), some married woman continued to engage in sports even after the marriage at the time.

The winners of the first three Traversata editions
Source: Traversata di Milano official programme (1933 edition), p. 12, in f. 957.


The last example, for this particular paper, of a sportswomen introduced to us by the Archivio di Stato files is that of Isaline Crivelli, born in Credera (Cremona) in 1903 and died in St. Moritz in 1988: for the first part of her life she was a golfer and  skier but following World War 2 she became a painter.

The signature of Isaline on a painting (1975)

Daughter of Pietro Massazza and Rosa Avanzini, Isaline was introduced by her father to hunting, which was one of his greatest passions. She had three sisters Elda, Felicita and Delfa; in 1920 Elda married the famous La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Lando Ferretti, who belonged to the newly-born Fascist movement. Mussolini trusted Lando Ferretti enough to make him the President of Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) in 1925. After the success of the Italian Olympic Team at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Ferretti was also appointed, by Mussolini, as Head of his own Press Office.

It should come as no surprise then, that by July 1929 Lo Sport Fascista, the regime’s official monthly sports magazine, directed by Ferretti himself, published ‘Sport e maternità’, a sporting autobiography written by Isaline.

Lando Ferretti, President of CONI, in his Fascist uniform
Source: Lando Ferretti, “Il Libro dello Sport”, Rome/Milan 1928, p. 8.

Another interesting connection of the Massazza family is that of the marriage of Delfa, Isaline’s younger sister, to Ambrogio Fusar Poli, son of Luigi, who was the mayor of Credera at the beginning of the century. Ambrogio came from a family well-known in Milanese sporting life, with Giovanni Fusar Poli being an excellent runner during the 1930s. In 1912 Dafne gave birth to Pietro, in Credera and in the photograph below we can see Paolo Fusar Poli (possibly the brother, or cousin of Ambrogio) dressed in an M shirt. He was the winner of 3000m race at the Littoriali ‘Fascist University Games’ held in Turin in 1933, he is flanked by Francesco Ercole (Minister for Education) and Achille Starace (Secretary of Partito Nazionale Fascista).

Source: Lo Sport Fascista, June 1933, p. 3.

In the beginning of ‘Sport e maternità’ Isaline claimed that she was alway aware of the open-mindedness of her parents, unusually for the time, they indulged rather than attempt to repress their daughter’s desire to run and to jump. Isaline and her sisters spent their childhood in the Crema countryside (they were born in the small village of Credera) walking in the woods, swimming, and hunting (their father’s passion).

Then Isaline married Giuseppe ‘Beppe’ Crivelli, one of the founders of Federazione Italiana Golf (FIG) (Milan, 1927). The couple, who lived in Milan, often played together in mixed-couple golf events. In her 1929 article, Isaline praised her husband’s liberality, since he encouraged her to practice new sports, including tennis, skiing, and golf.

In 1929, Isaline won her first national golf title, category Ladies
Source: Lo Sport Fascista, July 1929, p. 72.

Isaline practised several sports, quite the norm among the very few Italian sportswomen of that time, Silvia Struckel and Oda Gadda being another two examples.

Silvia Struckel, from Trieste: she took part in fencing, swimming and skiing
Source: Donne negli Stadi, December 1938, p. 23.


In the second part of her article, Isaline attempted to demonstrate, from her personal experience, how sporting activity could be useful for the reproductive function of married women – which was exactly what Lo Sport Fascista was keen to inform to its female readers.

Isaline in swimsuit, with her child: a perfect image of what the Fascist regime was expecting from sporting women
Source: Lo Sport Fascista, July 1929, p. 73.

1933 was a special year for Isaline as she won both the national golf title and the downhill gold medal at the National Skiing Championship, held in Cortina, beating the best Italian skier of early thirties, Paula Wiesinger.

Original caption says: ‘Mrs Isaline Crivelli-Massazza, an outstanding skier and golfer, who won the national golf title for the 2nd time’
Source: Lo Sport Fascista, June 1933, p. 26.

In 1935 Paula and Isaline climbed the Dente del Gigante / Dent de Geant (Mont Blanc) together
Source: Fonte: Lo Sport Fascista, February 1935, p. 31

The year after, the gold medallist Isaline was able to join the new elite skiing club founded in Milan, called Sci Club A.  As Corriere della Sera claimed on 14 March 1934, the club was founded by a contingent of important skiers (members of the FISI, the Italian Skiing Federation), in order to promote competitive skiing. All members of Sci Club A were expected to have a ‘complete knowledge’ of skiing: they numbered renowned male champions and trainers such as Federico Terschak, Ugo di Vallepiana, Leonardo Bonzi, Angelo Rivera, Emilio Romanini, Vitale Bramani, and even the Fascist gerarca ‘chief’ Renato Ricci, President of FISI.

Corriere della Sera wrote that among the members there were also some women: ‘Mrs Isaline Crivelli, Oda and Lina Gadda’; yet the Archivio di Stato, through the documents, show how the Gadda sisters’ positions were quite different.

Naturally, the Duca of Bergamo was member of this club, too …
Source: f. 1115.

In fact, Isaline Crivelli was a consigliere – member of the executive board of the club, but she was the only female member. Thanks in main to her sporting titles, she earned the right to be admitted to this male-only space, that of the committee room. It is not surprising that this happened in Milan, probably, at that time, the most liberal city in Italy and where sportswomen of all disciplines were accepted into the management elite.

Italian skiers Paula Wiesinger, Isaline Crivelli, Nives Dei Rossi and Frida Clara training during the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Source: Donne negli Stadi (December 1938), p. 13


Article © of Marco Giani 

Note from Playing Pasts editor [Margaret Roberts] – This special series has been really interesting and I am looking forward to reading more about these archives as Marco delves deeper into them to reveal more on how the sports women of Italy and Milan in particular forged their way into the sporting world, paving the way for future generations

To read Part 3 – Please click HERE 


Details of further reading –

For more images about women’s swimming in 1930s’ Italy, see:
For more details about the Traversata di Milano swimming contest, see:
For the 1933 Traversata di Milano programme book, see:
For more details about the 1933 edition of Traversata, see:
For more images about Isaline Massazza Crivelli, see:
For more images about women’s golf in 1930s’ Italy, see:
For more images about Paula Wiesinger, see:
For more images about women’s skiing in 1930s’ Italy, see:
For more details about the Sports History funds at the Milan Archivio di Stato, and the complete transcription of all sources found in this archive, see: