4.3 Trieste’s Women on the Waterfront

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Female work between manufacturing and commerce in 18th-century Trieste

In Trieste during the 18th century, the female workforce represented a large part of the multifaceted working population that contributed to the growth of the city and its port, which, over a few decades, became one of the greatest Mediterranean emporiums. Although the sources do not reveal their direct involvement in navigation, women were engaged in many activities related to the maritime sector. For example, they worked on the construction of port infrastructures, the production of the equipment needed to arm the ships, and, finally, the manufacturing of strategic products for commercial flows. This female working class may be represented by workers such as Mariuza Talich and Antonia Calich, who transported by wagon stones to construct the piers, or by the 70 spinners employed in the Buzzini Brothers’ sail loft during the 1760s. In the second half of the century, “rosolio” had become one of the leading export goods. More than twenty distilleries were active in the city, exporting hundreds of thousands of “fiaschi” (i.e., bottles covered with a close-fitting straw basket) every year. Rosolio bottle straw baskets were made primarily by female workers. That working activity had taken root in the city around the 1750s. By circumventing the rules that favoured the purchase of glass produced in Bohemia (Habsburg Monarchy), Trieste’s merchants bought the flasks in Murano (Republic of Venice). Still, from the domains of the Serenissima – from Cavarzere specifically – even the straw to cover the flasks came. In addition, from Murano to Trieste, women specialized in the flasks’ straw-covering techniques, and they were also responsible for training other women in this craft.

Daniele Andreozzi
University of Trieste

4.3.a

A Young Port

Fig. 4.3.a – Trieste and its port at the beginning of the 19th century.
(L.F. Cassas, Trieste Harbour (1802), Victoria & Albert Museum)

4.3.b

The Free Port and Immigration

With the declaration of the Free Port in 1719, Trieste began to attract women and men who came to the city to evaluate the opportunities it offered. Some stayed indefinitely. Others stayed for shorter or longer, but always limited, periods of time. Thus, Trieste began to be populated by people of different beliefs and languages, coming from the hinterland, the Levant, the Italian Peninsula, the Balkans, and Europe.

Fig. 4.3.b.1 – Linguistic and religious groups arrive in Trieste from the Mediterranean basin and the rest of Europe. There they will take the name of “nations”. That was the case, for example, with Jews, Greeks and Protestants.
(V. Coronelli, Mediterraneo (1693), DRHMC-SU)
Fig. 4.3.b.2 – Female and male workers – who were employed mainly in construction, crafts and manufacturing – would constantly arrive from Veneto Friuli, which, at that time, was a Serenissima’s domain. A lot of manpower also came from the nearby Imperial counties of Gorizia and Gradisca.
(J. Blaeu, Patria del Frivli olim Forvm Ivlii (1665), DRHMC-SU)
Fig. 4.3.b.3 – Another essential basin of labour recruitment was another Venetian domain: Istria.
(J. Blaeu, Istria olim Iapidia (1665), DRHMC-SU)

4.3.c

A Young Woman from Istria

Fig. 4.3.c – This was probably what many female workers in Trieste looked like in the 18th century.
(J. Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, Femme de l’Istrie (1787), WDPC-NYPL – Digital Collections, ID 827333)

4.3.d

Female Spinners in Trieste

Fig. 4.3.d – In the chart, the number of rope yards and sail lofts (in orange) and the number of female workers employed in those factories (in yellow) in Trieste in the second half of the 18th century.
(D. Andreozzi, Gli urti necessari, in Storia Economica e Sociale di Trieste, vol. 2)

4.3.e

Trieste Fashion

Fig. 4.3.e – Perhaps our women sailmakers made “bonnette” (cutlass sails) wearing bonnets. We do not know. It seems that revolutionary Paris also appreciated the casual style of Trieste’s women.
(Particolare di Nouvelles modes de 1797: Coiffure a la bonne fortune, Rijksmuseum, via Europeana)

4.3.f

Rosolio Wicker Flasks

From the mid-17th century, heavier distribution of refined sugar was followed by greater production of rosolio, especially in the Italian peninsula. In the second half of the 18th century, Trieste had numerous distilleries that produced rosolio, especially for the foreign market.

Fig. 4.3.f.1 – Rosolio was generally consumed at the end of a meal, with a dessert or as a digestive.
(L. Baugin, Le dessert de gaufrettes (c. 1630), Musée du Louvre, via Wikimedia Commons)
Fig. 4.3.f.2 – Rosolio flasks produced in the Trieste distilleries (in orange, data in thousand), wicker rosolio flasks (in yellow, data in thousand), and the number of families devoted to straw weaving and covering the whistles. Out of 30 families involved, about 10 workers were men and 90 were women.
(D. Andreozzi, Gli urti necessari, in Storia Economica e Sociale di Trieste, vol. 2)
Fig. 4.3.f.3 – Coat of arms of Giacomo Balletti’s rosolio factory in Trieste, mid-18th century. In recognition of the quality of the product, he received from Vienna the privilege of using the imperial coat of arms on the label.
(Collezione Dino Cafagna)

4.3.g

A Female Street Vendor (venderigola)

Fig. 4.3.g – Although this was painted the late 19th century, this picture portrays a scene that is timeless. A female street vendor (venderigola) sells sausages and sauerkraut to a customer. The “venderigola” was a business often practised by Trieste’s female lower working class.
(M. Stifter, Marktszene in Triest, 1889)