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Non solo Signorine. Women at work from the 1910s to the 1970s


Lingotto Fiere, Turin


From 9 to 13 May 2024


Curated by
Annalena Benini, editorial director of the Turin International Book Fair
Barbara Costa, head of the Intesa Sanpaolo Historical Archives.

Women at work between the first decade of the 20th century and the 1970s seen through thirteen photographs from the Intesa Sanpaolo Historical Archives and Publifoto Archive.

An opportunity to propose an in-depth examination of a page of history - related to labour, social aspects, gender - starting from the narrative power of photography.

For many women, and particularly for those who were lucky enough to be employed in public offices or in banks, replacing a man called up to the front during the First World War represented an opportunity to enter the working world.

A job that was, more often than not, precarious and underpaid compared to the corresponding male role, but still privileged compared to that of female peers employed in factories (many in the spinning mills), in the countryside or at the wash-house. A job that, in spite of everything, allowed thousands of women, almost always young and strictly single, to achieve a dignified economic independence.

From the early post-war years to the 1950s, the offices in the cities were populated with telephone switchboard operators, typists, secretaries, who joined the traditional female workforce of nurses, schoolteachers, seamstresses, maids, etc. In the countryside, on the other hand, women had always worked, so much so that at the beginning of the 20th century, kindergartens began to appear in some rural municipalities in northern Italy, so that mothers were not forced to leave their offspring unattended.

The choice of photographs also wanted to bear witness to some of the “emerging” professions of the years considered: petrol pump attendants, railway women and even a mechanic joined mondine and washerwomen, switchboard operators and bank tellers. A fresco with great narrative power, which photography - whether produced in-house by a company or by a photojournalism agency such as Publifoto - helps to recreate. Things wouldn't be complete without evidence of a profession linked to the world of publishing, represented here by the owner of a Milanese printing house, portrayed at her business premises in 1961.