Educating girls : the case of Carlotta de Saxy - a transnational educator and reformer at the intersection between Milan, Lombardy, and the Habsburg Empire, c.1760s-1805

  • Cecilia Ascoli

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, education, from the hands of religious congregations, single clergymen, as well as private citizens, became codified, unified, and public. Although these developments would occur transnationally across Europe, they can greatly differ due to the numerous regional circumstances. This long process is even more complex when considering the conditions of female education which was often conducted either at home or in religious institutions with little oversight from the government. Carlotta Ercolina De Saxy Visconti (1733-1805) was a Milanese noblewoman appointed by Joseph II as superintendent of female education in Lombardy, a role she would keep after the arrival of the French troops in 1796. De Saxy, through her published books and political position, tried to translate the educational principles created in the imperian metropole into reforms that were feasible both theoretically and pragmatically in northern Italy.

De Saxy devised a free, comprehensive project dedicated to women of all social standing encompassing all aspects of education, she also included plans for funding, in addition to finding teachers, textbooks, and functional school buildings. Her work awarded her praise from intellectuals and politicians alike, and, although she never had her own salon, she succeeded in creating a network of enlightened thinkers across Italy and Europe, including Pietro Verri, Giuseppe Gorani, Pietro Metastasio, and Melchiorre Delfico. She encouraged them to publish their own work by connecting them with each other to further support their aspirations. Moreover, her Jansenist sensibilities prompted a correspondence between herself, philosopher Pietro Verri, and Jansenist bishop of Pistoia Scipione De’ Ricci, a reformer of religious practises who closely collaborated with Peter Leopold in the Tuscan Grand Dutchy.

This works aims, with the tools of micro and translational history, to uncover the long-term historical process of female schooling by analysing a local actor moving between Milanese culture and Habsburg government. The shift in the scope and objective of female education at the turn of the nineteenth century in Lombardy is illustrated by examining the connection between people and institutions from the perspective of the individuals involved in changing them.
Date of Award30 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorBernhard Struck (Supervisor) & Valerie Elizabeth McGuire (Supervisor)


  • History
  • Modern history
  • Female history
  • Gender history
  • Social history
  • Habsburg Empire
  • Italian history
  • Milan
  • Female education
  • Education
  • Schooling

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 12 August 2025

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