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To Pray, To Work, To Hear, To Speak: Women in Roman Streets c. 1600

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image of Journal of Early Modern History

Using pictures, city regulations, and judicial records, this essay claims a place for women of varying rank and status in the street life of early modern Rome. It revises the conventional binary of male public realms and female domesticity that, reinforced by scholarly expectations of Mediterranean gendered seclusion, obscures a necessary female presence in the city. In urban spaces outside their homes beggars, prostitutes, servants, working wives, nubile daughters, and even gentlewomen faced risks, but also cadged opportunities. Though excluded from government and corporate decision-making, women routinely ventured into the streets in pursuit of many goals: heavenly salvation, earthly livelihood, neighborly support, vital information, or momentary pleasure. While Rome's patterns of physical and demographic growth distinguished it in important respects from other Italian cities, it is nevertheless likely that, as in Venice, these female uses of urban space had analogues elsewhere.

Affiliations: 1: York University (Toronto)


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