Laura Bassi: The world's first female university chair

Laura Bassi was an extraordinary figure: she became the first woman in the world to be appointed to a University chair. This occurred in Bologna in 1732, when she was awarded the university chair of filosofia universa, or experimental physics. Laura was born in 1711 in Bologna to a modest family, and soon demonstrated herself to be a very intelligent child. Her parents were, however, reluctant to make her out as a child prodigy, as was often done in the 18th century, especially among aristocratic families, where girls educated by rich and ambitious parents were exhibited in literary salons.

The 18th century, the Century of Enlightenment, was characterized by an unprecedented cultural openness, and women also found their space. Bologna, in particular, was defined in the 18th century as "a paradise for women." This was, first of all, because the university had a history of entrusting chairs to lay teachers, and over time, it frequently occurred that these became hereditary: this allowed a presence of women, obviously on the margins, who could in exceptional conditions-such as illness or premature death of the one holding the chair, for example, a father or brother-replace them for some time. Hence the legendary status of some women within the city, dating from the Middle Ages.