Herstory: Anita Garibaldi

When I first heard about Anita I was working on another project. My father kept bringing her up to me. I was researching twentieth century Italian american women and Anita lived during the late 1800’s. Finally to shut him up I picked up an autobiography and became engrossed in her story.


What makes Anita’s story so unique is that she lived a hell of a lot of life in such a short time. She was only 28 when she died. Anita, one of the folk heroes, beloved of all of Italy was a Brazilian. As the legend goes, Guiseppe “Jose” Garibaldi spied her from his ship and said “She must be mine.” Now popular legend has it that he immediately jumped from his ship, threw her over his shoulder and took off with her to live the life of the pirate until he was able to unify Italy.

The real story was southern Brasil was in the midst of a revolution. Anita’s husband left her to join the cavalry. Given that she had been forced into marriage at the age of 14 and that she despised him, this wasn’t much of a problem for her until she met Garibaldi. Anita abandon her family and joined Garibaldi on his crusades as his constant companion, she fought by his side even while pregnant. When she was seven months pregnant she was fighting along the rear detachment ordering the delivery of ammunition for relief on the front lines when the horse she was riding was shot. Anita was knocked to the ground and taken captive. The Imperial army thought that they could scare her by telling her that her husband was dead. She talked them into letting her search the battlefield for her husband. When she didn’t find him she escaped. Her baby, Menotti came through the whole thing ok, with just a scar on his head. His father called him his victory child.

Anita went on to live by his side organizing people behind the scenes. Garibaldi even called her the Queen of his soul. It wasn’t until her last few years of life that she made it to Italy. Garibaldi’s battles were her battles, his causes were her causes. Though their goals were the same she was still very much her own individual person.

She was brave and broke all the established rules set for women in her time. So many of the autobiographies about her are so off target for what a woman would actually think. Likewise, others would make excuses for her leaving her husband. She wasn’t ashamed of her choices so why should history?

So, I dropped my original project and picked up this one. I’m very glad I did.


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