Contrary to 20 years ago, women’s active role in the history of the Catholic movement and the 20th century Italian Church is now a topic that is studied often. The recent revival of research, a mixture between ‘gender studies’ and ‘religious history’, let us acquire new materials and viewpoints, which should be reconsidered in a complete synthesis. In this introduction to the conference, the Author tries to raise some problems about chronology and historiographical interpretation, in order to start a new season of research.
The essay is focused on the historiographical sources of a women’s religious congregation, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in particular. The answer to the question, «Which sources for which history?», acknowledges the value of the sources available in various religious and civil archives, both central and marginal, but it also leads to identifying further testimonies about how the sisters are represented in the Church and in society, as well as in historiography.
Among the archival documents from the 19th and 20th centuries that re-emerge today is the presence of women’s ‘minor’ literature. It is very important because it describes the model of a ‘new woman’ and reveals the topic of emancipation, seen as the acquisition of full citizenship and ethical and social engagement. Especially through the publication of magazines and novels, many Christian feminists (among them, Giacomelli, Saporiti, Melegari, Bisi Albini) also spoke for new dignity for women and a search for faith that should not be taken for granted.
The essay gives a biographical sketch of Adelaide Coari. The young Milanese teacher had an active role in the spread of Union rights and in the emancipation of women. Appreciated by the ecclesiastical authorities from Milan in the early 20th century, she was deprived of authority in the years of the modernist crisis. This essay offers information about the situation of the sources and gives bibliographical indications for the biography of a woman who played a leading role in the Catholic social movement.
The essay is divided into two parts. The first is dedicated to a brief history of the Group for the Promotion of Women, founded by Catholic women in Milan in 1972, as a response to the women’s movement. The second is dedicated to the description of the data archives produced by the Group and donated to the «Mario Romani» Archive.