For Part 1 of this series see –


  • 4. Moving to the active side, let’s start with a letter to Il Littoriale, written by a group of Giovani Italiane (the juvenile Fascist organization, for girls aged from 14 to 18), living in an undeclared city of Lombardy (probably Lodi, Pavia or Mantua). They had followed the controversy between Il Littoriale and L’Osservatore Romano about women’s sports in Italy (November-December 1933). The latter (owned by the Vatican, mouthpiece of conservative Italian Catholics) accused the regime of immorality, because it forced a lot of young Italian girls to play sports; in particular, the Vatican newspaper blamed the public athletics and swimming contests, because of the “immoral” shorts and swimsuits worn by the participants on those occasions. On the other side, Il Littoriale, the newspaper owned by the CONI (Italian Olympic Committee), at that time controlled by the PNF (Fascist National Party), defended the regime’s sports policy: Mussolini’s Italy needed stronger and healthier girls that would one day be the mothers of the future soldiers to the Italian Empire. After more than one month of fierce controversy, the Giovani Italiane from Lombardy sent a letter to Il Littoriale (which published it on December 12, 1933), talking about their own sports experience. In their opinion, sports was good, and it fitted well with both their belonging to the Fascist ideology and their Catholic faith. In some very interesting passages from this text, they wrote about the three sports they practised: gymnastics (during Giovani Italiane public parades), athletics (on their own, in the private grounds of one their homes) and above all rowing. Here below they describe their experience of rowing:

last year [=1932, or 1932/1933 school year] we made a deal with the local rowing club, in order to row three mornings a week before school: the club had to hire a boat, and a male cox as coach. There were four of us, and it felt so good in the cool breeze of the wind in the morning, as we sped along the river. By the time we reached the school, we were flushed and refreshed, and – can you believe it? – we didn’t need to powder our noses. On Sundays we attended Mass (we often took communion), and afterwards we ran off to practise sports


  • 5.1. As said before, the regime never forbid female rowing: conversely, sometimes Fascist organizations promoted it, probably as a local and/or short-term experiment. At the Orvieto Accademia (the regime’s official female National Sport Academy) rowing was included in the second sports category, which included all activities that students were allowed to practice, so long as they were practised con moderazione ‘with moderation’. The same happened with Giovani Italiane. In a 1931 video by Istituto Luce about the sports activities of a Roman group, girls were seen practised gymnastics, field hockey and rowing:


Giovani Italiane rowing, Rome, 1931.


  • 5.2. In some local GUF (Gruppo Fascista Universitario, the Fascist university student association) girls were allowed to row. It seemed to have been allowed very early on in Pavia (across the Ticino river), as can be evidenced in the harsh satire written by their resentful male colleagues, which we can read in a 1929 issue of Su Alegher, the local student magazine. In a humoristic interview with the local head of GUF sports, he explained in verse (in the Italian original version, in rhyme!) their annual program, saying that


Il canottaggio avrà le cure prime

Siccome al suo valore si conviene.

In yole farò correr le piccine

Che i timoni sapran maneggiar bene.

Le medichesse lascerò alle prese

Col doppio scull, che a loro non fa tema,

Allo skiff, addestrandola in un mese,

Destinerò dipoi la bella Mema


We will take a special care for rowing

As it should be done

I will order the young girls to sail down the river using a yole

They will be able to handle the sculls

I’ll let the female Medical students struggle with the double scull

Because they don’t fear it

Then, training the beautiful Mema in just one month,

I will assign her the double skiff.


If we look beyond the obvious sexism (which was implicit in an Italian goliardico ‘humoristic male’ magazine such as Su Alegher was) evident in some of the puns, this stanza can provide us with some historical evidence. For example, the fact that younger girls were assigned a yole (or iole) corresponds with what we read in the Il Littoriale’s letter: the four high school girls were assigned a yole, a boat that would have been suitable for beginners (as evidenced also in T. Francesconi’s book I ragazzi del 1925, set in the late 1930s’ Zara).



Article © Marco Giani 

For Part 3 of this series see –