10 April 2021

Nilde Iotti – politician

'The best President of the Republic that Italy never had'

Iotti was the first woman to be elected president of the Chamber of Deputies
Iotti was the first woman to be elected
president of the Chamber of Deputies
Leonilde Iotti, who was later known as Nilde Iotti and became Italy’s most important and respected female politician, was born on this day in 1920 in Reggio Emilia.

She was both the first female president of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament and the longest serving, occupying the position from 1979 to 1992. 

One of the 75 politicians who drafted the Italian Constitution, she was a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and its successor, the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) for all of her political career.

Iotti's father, Egidio, was a socialist trade unionist but he died when she was a teenager. Thanks to a scholarship, she was able to attend the Catholic University of Milan. She graduated in 1942 and joined the National Fascist Party, which she was obliged to do in order to become a teacher.

At the same time, she was an underground member of the PCI and during World War II she was an active member of the Resistance movement setting up and leading women’s defence groups.

After the war, Iotti was elected to the Constituent Assembly and was one of the 75 members who drafted the Constitution in 1946.

It was at this time that she started her relationship with the PCI leader, Palmiro Togliatti, who was 27 years older than her. They stayed together until his death in 1964.

Iotti with Palmiro Togliatti, with whom she shared her life for many years, pictured in Russia
Iotti with Palmiro Togliatti, with whom she shared
her life for many years, pictured in Russia
To begin with their relationship was kept secret but, after an attempt on his life in 1948, it became public knowledge. Togliatti was shot three times near Palazzo Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome. He was seriously wounded and for several days it was not certain that he would survive. He eventually recovered and was able to continue as head of the party until his death.

The Italian people and members of the PCI were opposed to their relationship because Togliatti was married with a son, but the couple remained committed to each other and eventually adopted a child together, Marisa Malagoli, the daughter of a worker killed during a demonstration.

In 1948 Iotti became a member of the Chamber of Deputies and in June 1979 she was elected president, in which position she was also Speaker of the House, gaining re-election in 1983 and 1987 for an unbroken tenure of 13 years.

In 1956 she became a member of the central committee of the PCI and became an integral part of the party leadership. She focused her activity on the relevance of the female role in the workplace and on civil rights. She was particularly involved in the campaign for the 1974 divorce referendum.

Iotti (right) with Marisa Maligola, the orphan she and Togliatti adopted as a daughter
Iotti (right) with Marisa Maligola, the orphan she
and Togliatti adopted as a daughter 
In 1991 she supported the transformation of the PCI to the PDS and became a leading member of the renamed party. She was elected to the Chamber of Deputies again in the 1992, 1994 and 1996 elections.

Her name was mentioned in connection with the role of President of the Republic but she was never chosen. She has been widely spoken of as the best President of the Republic that Italy never had.

When Iotti retired in November 1999 due to ill health she had served continuously in the Italian parliament for 53 years.

Nilde Iotti died in Rome in December 1999. Before her state funeral, an all-women guard of honour stood by her coffin in the hall of the Chamber of Deputies where she had spent so much of her life. She was buried in the Cimitero del Verano, next to her lover, Togliatti, which had been her last wish.

The Basilica di San Prospero overlooks an elegant square in Reggio Emilia
The Basilica di San Prospero overlooks
an elegant square in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, where Nilde Iotti was born, is an ancient walled city in the region of Emilia-Romagna, 28km (17 miles) southeast of Parma and 32km (20 miles) northwest of Modena. It is the birthplace of the poet, Ludovico Ariosto, and there is a statue of him in the centre of the city and you can see the villa the poet was born in near the municipal building. You can also see a villa outside the town, Il Mauriziano, where Ariosto spent time while he was governing the city on behalf of the Dukes of Ferrara.  Raggio Emilia is believed to have given Italy its tricolore national flag. There are historical records that suggest that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green that was decreed in Reggio Emilia in 1797. Notable buildings in the city include the Basilica della Ghiara and the 10th century Basilica di San Prospero, which overlooks the elegant Piazza of the same name.

The Palazzo Montecitorio has housed the Italian Chamber of Deputies since 1918
The Palazzo Montecitorio has housed the Italian
Chamber of Deputies since 1918
Travel tip:

Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome is the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament. The building was originally designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Ludovico Ludovisi, the nephew of Pope Gregory XV. Following Italian unification, the palace was chosen as the seat of the Chamber of Deputies in 1871 but the building proved inadequate for their needs, with poor acoustics and a tendency to become overheated in summer and inhospitably cold in winter. After extensive renovations had been carried out, with many Stile Liberty touches introduced by the architect Ernesto Basile, the chamber returned to the palace in 1918.

Also on this day:

1598: The death of philosopher Jacopo Mazzoni

1762: The birth of physicist Giovanni Aldini

1886: The death of physician and politician Agostino Bertani

1892: An Italian airship completes the first flight over the North Pole

1991: The Moby Prince disaster

(Basilica di San Prospero picture by Paola da Reggio via Wikimedia Commons)


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