February 2016 Event

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 March 2016 Saturday, 12 March 2016

Add this to your website


Women in Malta in the Eighteenth Century


 Professor Yosanne Vella

 Summary:  Charles Gatt   Photos: Lewis Zammit.


At our February lecture Professor Yosanne Vella gave some insight into the lives of Maltese
women in the eighteenth century, pieced together from notary archives, inquisitor records and court cases.  Malta thrived under the Knights.  By the end of the eighteenth century, the population had risen from about 10,000 to 100,000.  Most worked in agriculture, followed by corsairing, and Malta was starting to become a commercial centre. 

Women worked unpaid at home and on family farms but a register of paid labourers on the Order’s farms showed about a quarter were female. Textile production employed females as cotton spinners and weavers, and some ran businesses.  Licences were awarded to women for a variety of shops, and as innkeepers and hawkers. Prostitution seemed to be an acceptable occupation.

Women were both victims and perpetrators of crime.  Many filed accusations of theft.  Violence against women was rampant and many injuries were serious.  Women were charged with non payment of debts, illegal gambling in their taverns, abuse and blasphemy, drunkenness and fighting.  Petty theft was common and servants stole valuables.  Punishments included warnings, fines, imprisonment or even exile to Gozo! 

There is very little evidence of women’s education in the 18th Century. Most people were illiterate, women probably even more so.  Schools are mentioned but little is known about them.  De Soldanis, the official librarian of the Order, lamented that, unlike overseas, Maltese girls were not sent to school in Rome or elsewhere.  He noted many girls roamed the countryside, unemployed and begging.  He believed women were ambitious and willing to succeed, and envisaged girls’ boarding schools to teach ‘womanly virtues’ but it is unknown whether any eventuated.

A woman could achieve social status as a nun or as a bizocca.  The latter did not take religious vows but lived a saintly, celibate life.  De Soldanis credited them with miraculous powers.  However, many other women were brought before the Inquisition accused of dabbling in the occult, placing curses or practising medicine illegally. 

Maltese women suffered many restrictions and limitations in legal and social rights.  They were not directly involved in any great events in the 18th century but their contribution to the growth and development of their society should not be overlooked or undervalued. 

To read the full article please see the March 2016 Newsletter (pages 2 - 3)

Click here to listen to Prof Yosanne Vella's talk (1:05:32)