The Protests of '68 in the Marianum women’s college of the Catholic University of Milan. Emancipation and gender differences

Simonetta Polenghi*

*Autore corrispondente per questo lavoro

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in rivistaArticolo in rivistapeer review


The Catholic University of Milan was one of the first campuses to be affected by the students’ protest movement, when the university was occupied in November and December 1967 following an increase of 50 % in the academic fees. The leaders of the protest were students from the University’s male college, the Augustinianum, among them Mario Capanna, a student of philosophy, who was expelled on January 13th 1968 and went on to become the national leader of the movement, adopting an extreme left position. The Augustinianum was so shattered by the protest, that in 1970 the Rector decided to relocate the college far from its original campus, into another building. The women’s college, the Marianum, was also a centre of protest. However, by 1970, unlike the Augustinianum, its situation had already returned to normal. Both colleges, set up in 1936 and 1934 respectively, admitted particularly talented young people from poor or modest backgrounds, from all over Italy. Their aim was to educate a cultural and religious élite, strengthening the faith and deepening the intellectual training of young people of low economic means. Mea Tabanelli, a graduate in Pedagogy from Rome and member of the Azione Cattolica movement, was the director of the Marianum from 1945 until 1974. This essay, following on from existing research, will be based on archival sources kept in the Marianum and on others recently deposited in the University Archives (Mea Tabanelli’s papers). It will show how the models for female and male education differed; how different the educational styles of Tabanelli and the Augustinianum’s director/spiritual directors were; the difference in legal status between the colleges and how this allowed more freedom and power to Tabanelli; how since the mid-fifties the Marianum adopted a rich and stimulating cultural policy; the activities and assemblies that were already taking place in the sixties; how the stirrings of lay participation in the liturgy and the life of the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council stimulated self-consciousness and autonomy; and the deep and long-lasting relationships between Tabanelli and her students, as witnessed by hundreds of letters. It will demonstrate the social status of the girls, nearly all of whom were future wives and teachers; and finally, it will remember the atmosphere of intense intellectual competition among the students in the Augustinianum, as opposed to Tabanelli’s approach, which balanced intellectual excellence with works of charity, favouring a less abstract education, thereby rendering students less susceptible to utopian fascinations. 1967-69 was a time of turmoil, but the majority of girls refused the politically and religiously extreme positions of those who abandoned the college. From their humble origins in far-flung towns, these students experienced a life, in the Marianum and in a city like Milan with its cultural and religious richness, which was already a genuine means of emancipation, and which flowed even into their traditional lifestyles as mothers and teachers.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)120-142
Numero di pagine23
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2018


  • Catholic University of Milan
  • Emancipation
  • Gender differences
  • Marianum women’s college
  • Protests of '68


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