Nilde Iotti

Partisan, pioneer and politician of the European Union

Maria Teresa Natale (opens in new window) (Michael Culture Association / Museu)

Leonilde Iotti, known as Nilde was born in Reggio Emilia, Italy on 10 April 1920, into an anti-fascist family, persecuted by the fascist regime. Her father Egidio, a railway worker, was fired because of his socialist ideas and his subsequent commitment as a trade unionist.

When her father died in 1934, Nilde’s family faced considerable economic difficulties. This however did not prevent her from being a brilliant student. She obtained a scholarship that allowed her to enrol at the Catholic University of Milan where she graduated in Literature and Philosophy in 1942.

She distanced herself from religious faith precisely during her university studies.

I rationally said no to belief, because it was absurd.

After the armistice of Cassibile on 8 September 1943 during the Second World War, she participated in the Resistance. Initially she participated as a courier, then joining the Women's Defense Groups, an anti-fascist formation of the Italian Communist Party, becoming a leading figure. In 1946 she finally joined the Italian Communist Party.

That same year Nilde was a candidate and elected member of the Constituent Assembly, in which she was one of the 75 members of the Committee responsible for drafting the Italian Constitution.

During this time, she began an affair with Palmiro Togliatti, an economist, journalist and politician, who led the Italian Communist Party from 1927 until his death in 1964. Palmiro was married to Rita Montagnana, who was also a member of the Constituent Assembly.

Nilde joined the Chamber of Deputies in 1948, and sat in Palazzo Montecitorio (the seat of the Chamber of Deputies) continuously until 1999.

In 1963, she was part of the Constitutional Affairs Commission, focusing her activity on the relevance of women’s roles in the world of work and family relations.

Nilde committed herself to the reform of civil laws. This included the recognition of children born out of wedlock and the introduction of divorce into the legal system, winning in 1974 the abrogative referendum (popular referendum) wanted by Catholics and Christian Democrats.

The Communist participation in the European Parliament happened for the first time in 1969. Nilde was part of the first Italian delegation and committed herself to the promulgation (enactment) of the law on direct European suffrage.

Nilde remained a deputy until the first direct elections in 1979. At the opening of the Legislature VIII of Italy, she was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies, a role she held from 1979 to 1992. In her inauguration speech she placed women in society at the centre:

I myself, I won't hide it from you, I experience this moment almost emblematically, sensing in it a profound meaning that goes beyond myself and affects millions of women who, through tiring, patient and persistent struggles, have opened the way towards their emancipation.

Nilde resigned from all duties on 18 November, 1999 due to serious health problems. She received a standing ovation by The Chamber of Deputies at her resignation. On 4 December 1999, she died in Poli, near Rome. Nilde was honoured with a civil rite because she was an atheist. She is buried in Rome, at the Verano Cemetery.

We must humanise work, the rhythm of life. We must introduce into politics the everyday experiences, the small details of life, forcing everyone - politicians, ministers, economists, local administrators - to finally come to terms with the actual lives of women.

Nilde Iotti Foundation, Committee for the centenary of her birth