The author would like to express thanks to Maura Quiriconi for having shared the personal archive of her mother, from which all pictures published in this article are taken (except for where indicated).
PLEASE NOTE – Express permission is required to reproduce ANY of the images of this article – please contact Playing Pasts or the author for more details.
Due to the pandemic emergency of the last months, the first part of my research on Lydia Bongiovanni and Elda Franco, that Playing Pasts’ readers already know thanks to the first 3 parts of this series, was done remotely: which is quite problematic, since both Lydia and Elda were from Turin. So last week I phoned Maura Quiriconi, who had already shared with me her memories about her mother’s career, asking her if I could see in person all the interesting stuff she had showed me via her smartphone. So I travelled to the little village in the Monferrato hills where Elda spent her last years, and … as usual, historical treasures were waiting for me, AND even more than I expected.
As all we know, women’s sports memorabilia are more endangered than men’s ones: generally, families underestimate their mother or granny’s photographs, letters, diaries, clippings, judging them as not worthy of being preserved. You know, history is made by men, not by women … But there are material objects that are even more endangered because most of us are taught in school that a letter or a cup are historical artifacts, but here I’m talking about sportswear: who would think to preserve items like old shoes, shirts, shorts, tracksuits? They take up space, they need specific conservation and above all they are useless. Thankfully, Maura didn’t think so about her mother’s tracksuit.
This small tracksuit (Elda was approximately five foot three high) was the one worn by the Italy National team athletes between 1942 and 1946, as proven by the photos persevered in Elda’s archive.
The tracksuit is well persevered: I guess sports fashion historians can fully appreciate elements such as internal seams, external buttons, lateral zippers …
There are two further items that are even more endangered, since at a first glance they don’t look very important at all, or even perhaps very well kept items.
But every scholar of the Fascist era Italian women’s sports know that these 2 white shirts, emcompssed by an Italian tricolore, are not normal shirts: although they are very simple, they were the Italian Champion uniforms, and only the female or male winner of the annual competitions could wear them!
The photographs preserved in the family albums puts a face to some of the names in Elda’s biography. Firstly, her parents, the motorcycle enthusiast Damiano Franco and her French wife Assunta Lambert.
Maura already told me that Damiano taught her little daughter to ride his motorcycle: I was quite sceptical, until I saw a pair of photos …
Then, 3 photos show us Elda in a schoolyard with some GIL mates – GIL was the new Fascist Youth association which in 1937 replace the old ONB (see https://bit.ly/2Vwtzjc ).
These first items and photographs were only a taste: the real historical treasures preserved by Maura are made up of another 4 major items.
The first, a little red notebook, in which Elda, who had graduated in accounting and worked as a clerk, recorded every athletics competition she competed in, from October, 4th 1936 to August 7th 1949.
The second is a black notebook, signed ‘E’ and ‘F’: as in Rosetta’s football notebook (see http://bit.ly/3y6vUj4 ), it contains glued clippings. Elda chose just some of them (further clipping are gathered between the cover and the first page), posing them in chronological order, from 1937 to 1949: unluckily, she didn’t record the sources, which seems to be various sports newspaper such as La Gazzetta dello Sport, Tuttosport and Stadio.
Unlike Rosetta Boccalini (see http://bit.ly/3y6vUj4 ), Elda used to underlined each times a journalist wrote about her; sometimes she selected only the paragraph about her, throwing away the rest of the article …
The third and fourth items are two photo-albums created by Elda herself when she was older: they contain 64 (Album I) and 59 (Album II) photographs. The combined use of these 4 items can be very useful: for example, the red notebook can help in dating the clippings and the albums may contain high-definition (but undated) versions of the same photographs published in the clippings.
The first photos in Album I, date back to 1937, and show a very young Elda in the SIP uniform: since his father worked at this electric company as an electrician, it’s no surprise that his 13-years old daughter began to practice athletics is the company’s dopolavoro (also called Dopolavoro Aziendale SIP, DAS). A trainer taught the girls the basics, such as how to pass the relay baton, which was often run by the younger girls over 75m rather than 100m.
The reading of the first 3 pages of the red notebook could be very useful to understand how the beginners’ lives could be hard. At the very first competition (October, 4th 1936), Elda was eliminated in the long jump, and the 4x75m SIP relay team was last. After 3 first placings in the second competition in Turin, on April, 25th 1937 Elda went for the first time on a trip outside of Turin: in Alessandria she was eliminated both in 60m race and in long jump.
More than half of these photos were taken at the athletics pitch of Stadio Mussolini (today Stadio Comunale Grande Torino), a modern stadium built by the regime in 1933 (see https://bit.ly/3g2JnBG ): not only because it was the usual place for every athletics event in Piedmont, but also because it was used for international meetings. The Rationalist Torre di Maratona had been witness to the undertakings by Elda and her team mates, even after 1945 …
In the first years (1936/1939), Elda was just one among many SIP athletes: after a short debut as a runner (60m and 4x75m relay), she specialized in high and long jump, with some small success.
The main difference between Elda and the other SIP athletes whose names appear and then disappear from the clippings, is that Elda continued to work hard, slowly emerging in the local scene ruled by the strong GS Venchi Unica opponents …
Three very interesting pictures prove that athletics was not the the only sport that DAS allowed the SIP female employees to participate in: on November 12th, 1939, they went out on the streets of Turin riding their bicycles … in a twist of fate, the same vehicle that partisans such as Elda would use, some years later, to help the Resistance!
The Red Notebook can give us an idea of Elda’s path. In 1937, her best result in long jump was 4,17 metres; in April 1938, she reached 4,38 m, then 4,59 m in September. In the first 1939 event (a school championship organized by the GIL among the Turinese students) she jumped 4,79 m, reaching 4,99 m in May and even 5,07 in June. But then, when she competed for the first time in the National Championship in Milan, on July, 30th, 1939, she jumped just 4,82 m, classifying 6th.
Yet high jump was the key to Elda’s success in Milan. For the second time during that year, Elda she jumped 1,45m just like her opponent Spaggiari, who won a silver medal on countback.
Article © of Marco Giani
To read Part 5 Click HERE
For the complete digital edition of all Elda Franco’s picture preserved in her two photo-albums, see:
For all the clippings preserved in Elda Franco’s personal archive, see:
For more resources about Elda Franco’s personal archive, see:
For Italian sources about the carriers of Lydia Bongiovanni and Elda Franco, see: