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Lidia_Poët

Lidia Poët

Lidia Poët (born 1855) was the first modern female Italian advocate. Her disbarring led to a movement to allow women to practice law and hold public office in Italy.

Career

Born in Pinerolo in 1855, she passed her examinations in jurisprudence at the University of Turin and received her degree onJune 17, 1881. For the following two years, she "attended forensic practice" in the office of an advocate and assisted at the sessions of the tribunals. She then underwent the theoretical and practical examination of the Order of Advocates of Turin and, approved by 45 of 50 votes, was inscribed in the roll of advocates (albo di avvocati) in August 9, 1883.

However, the inscription of a woman on the roll "did not please" the office of the attorney general (procuratore general), who entered a complaint with the Court of Appeal of Turin. Despite rejoinders, arguments, and examples of women advocates in other countries (such as Clara S. Foltz), the attorney general argued that women were forbidden by law and public policy to enter the milizia togata. The Court of Appeal subsequently found that the inscription of Signorina Poët was illegal. She then appealed to the Court of Cassation of Turin, but the decision of the court below was confirmed.

Debate on women and the legal profession in Italy

Public debate ensued, with 25 Italian newspapers supporting women's public roles and only three against. Those against made statements such as that the only men who supported women's public roles were themselves unmarried celibates. A teacher at the University of Padua named Taverni interviewed William Waldorf Astor, and reported that the Minister said, "that the public opinion of the Americans was not in favor of the exercise of professions by women, inasmuch as the female physicians, lawyers, etc., practicing in America, do not belong either to the aristocracy of money or to that of intellect." However, Taverni himself favored public lives for women, as it would save the 250,000 unmarriageable Italian women who, if society did not give them a role, would spend their lives as nihilists.

All of this aside, the central questions came down to whether a husband would incur liability for his wife's practicing advocacy and whether in the construction of the statutes, the words in the masculine gender were meant to apply to men only.

Later life

Sources report that, for the rest of her life, Poët was active in the international women's movement.

Under Law n. 1176 of July 17, 1919, women were allowed to hold certain public offices. A year later, at the age of 65, Poët was finally inscribed in the role of advocates in Turin.

Sources

Ferd. Santoni de Sio, La Donna e l'Avvocatura, Rome, 1884 (2 voll.)

Montgomery H. Throop, "Woman and the Legal Profession," Albany Law Journal (Dec. 13, 1884), 464-67

Marino Raichich, "Liceo, università, professioni: un percorso difficile," in Simonetta Soldani, ed., L'educazione delle donne: Scuole e modelli di vita femminile nell'Italia dell'Ottocento (Milan, 1989), 151-53

Clara Bounous, La toga negata. Da Lidia Poët all’attuale realtà torinese (Pinerolo 1997)

James C. Albisetti, "Portia ante portas. Women and the Legal Profession in Europe, ca. 1870-1925," Journal of Social History (Summer, 2000), Link

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