For this International Women’s Day, l’d like to introduce you to the first President of the Institute of Psychosynthesis in Rome, which in 1926 was initially called the Istituto di Cultura e di Terapia Psichica (Institute of Culture and Psychic Therapy). Yes, that’s right! She was a woman…the Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi (1853-1931), whom Assagioli greatly admired both as an international leader as well as a devoted grandmother and someone he felt “exhibited a happy combination of the gifts of the various ages.”
To this day, Rasponi remains little known even in Italy. She was born in Ravenna into an aristocratic family (her grandmother was Napoleon’s sister Carolina) and was privately educated. Married at the age of 17 to Count Venceslao Spalletti Trivelli, she had five children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1874, the couple moved to Rome where her husband became a Senator to the Kingdom. Rasponi was widowed in 1899 when she was 46 years old.
Working for Women’s Social, Political and Labor Rights
In addition to her fundamental role in the history of psychosynthesis, in 1903, Rasponi became the Founder and President of the National Council of Italian Women (Consiglio Nazionale Donne Italiane; CNDI), an organization that promoted women’s labor equality and justice in terms of legal, social, familial rights and occupational safety. They also believed in women’s suffrage.
The CNDI organized its first congress on the theme of family education in Rome in 1908. The second was held in 1920 and entitled “La donna per l’Italia nuova” (“The woman for the new Italy”). The third congress on family education took place in Rome from 3-8 May 1923. Rasponi was the CNDI President until 1931, and the organization is still active in Rome today (in Italian, see https://www.cndi.it/).
George Davis Herron, an American clergyman, lecturer, and writer from Indiana, visited Italy in 1922 and wrote the following about Rasponi and her work in his book The Revival of Italy:
Gabriela Spalletti Rasponi is indeed a superior woman, who combines genuine religious fervor with clear intellectual insight and practical efficiency and adaptability. Under her wise leadership, the Italian feminist movements have avoided the excesses of militant feminism of other countries; and this while working vigorously for all the rights of women as citizens and for their education and preparation for public activity and position.
Turning Her Villa into a Women’s Cooperative
Prior to founding the CNDI, while on holiday at their villa in Tuscany, Rasponi was deeply moved by the poverty she saw around her. Consequently, she decided to open a school where women could learn the traditional art of embroidery and crochet. In 1887, she began teaching five women in her villa and by 1904, 400 women had formed a cooperative, were supporting their families through these artesian crafts, and receiving international awards for their work. The CNDI was soon afterwards created to help promote and organize similar successful campaigns throughout the nation.
During the 1908 earthquake in Messina and Reggio Calabria, through the CNDI, Rasponi was able to organize and support many of the victims, especially its orphans. Her tireless work received recognition from Italy’s Queen Elena who, by Royal Decree, granted Rasponi the title of “the first woman to be invested as a protector of children.”
The ‘Rebel’ President
Assagioli described Rasponi as a woman who “with youthful enthusiasm, pursued every new current of thought with regard to education, culture, and spirituality. The Institute of Psychosynthesis … is particularly indebted to her moral and material support of its Constitution.” The theme of the first conference she held for the newly founded Institute was “How to Educate the Will.” During her lifetime, she acknowledged her own strong will, even calling herself “a Rebel”.
At her private villa in Rome (now a 5-star hotel), Rasponi often hosted and promoted many new thinkers. Every Thursday afternoon, influential political and cultural figures frequented the villa’s drawing rooms – from Émile Coué (1857-1926), the French psychologist, to Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in Literature and Hermann von Keyserling (1880-1946), whom Assagioli described as “a brilliant thinker, a fine architect of the word, and a fervid man of action.”
In 1937, Jiddu Krishnamurti visited Rome for three months and held his conferences at Rasponi’s villa. Despite the fact that Krishnamurti was under surveillance by the the fascist regime’s political police, he was allowed to give his philosophical talks in part because of Rasponi’s high standing and her assurance that his discourses were “absolutely and only philosophical.”
As a Devoted Grandmother
With regard to Rasponi’s devotion as a grandmother, Assagioli wrote:
“The Contessa’s house resembled a government ministry, but that did not prevent her, while in her 70s and in ill health, from being such a conscientious grandmother that she resumed the study of Latin and Greek in order to help her young grandson further develop himself.”
Her Revolutionary Initiatives
Rasponi throughout her lifetime founded, organized and implemented revolutionary initiatives – including the vision of psychosynthesis. She established travelling libraries for teachers, secretariats for the protection of women and orphaned children, and maternity help for needy mothers. She always promoted women’s education as an integration of practical activity and intellectual stimulation.
Assagioli, Roberto, (1973). “The Conflict between Generations and Psychosynthesis of the Ages”, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 31.
Assagioli, Roberto. (2008). Il mondo interiore, W. Esposito (Ed.). Vicenza, Italy: Edizioni Teosofiche Italiane, pp. 183-191.
Assagioli, Roberto (1971). Psicosintesi: Armonia della vita. Roma: Edizioni Mediterranee, pp. 69-70.
Bartoloni, Stefania, (2016). “Rasponi Spelletti, Gabriela,” in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani – Volume 86 (2016) Retrieved 3 March 2018 from http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/gabriella-rasponi-spalletti_(Dizionario-Biografico)
Giovetti, P. (1995). Roberto Assagioli: La vita e l’opera del fondatore della Psicosintesi. Rome: Edizioni Mediterrane, pp. 45-46.
“La Contessa che amava ‘tramare’” blog post on Opportunità di Genere Women’s Studies. Posted on 11 April 2014 and retrieved 3 March 2018 from http://opportunitadigenere.blogspot.it/2014/04/la-contessa-che-amava-tramare.html
“Merletto a Filet di Lucciano.” Retrieved 3 March 2018 from http://www.fioretombolo.net/luccianofilet.htm
“Quarrata: Le produzioni tipiche” Retrieved 3 March 2018 from http://www.comunequarrata.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/2338
“Villa Spelletti Trivelli, The History”. Retrieved 3 March 2018 from https://villaspalletti.it/en/our-hotel.html