History, they say, is written by the victorious. It is also majorly written by men. When it comes to the vibrant characters that shaped Malta, there are a number of women who, while are often sidelined, deserve a spotlight for their fascinating tales and achievements.
Lovin Malta’s fortnight series on Maltese Herstory is giving a platform to these intriguing, historical characters. Here are seven women you should (but probably don’t) know about.
1. Maria DeDomenici – Malta’s first established female painter.
Whether you’re a local or floating tourist – you’re bound to come across the ornate paintings of the Baroque master Mattia Preti. And while he is rightly put on a pedestal in Maltese art history, a closer look at his bottega reveals another jewel – Maria De Dominici – sculptor, tertiary nun and the first established female painter recorded in Malta.
2. Caterina Vitale – a rich, 16th-century slave-owning she-chemist.
Caterina Vitale bore many hats to her contemporaries in the 16th century: a high-class whore, a firm businesswoman, a sadist, a supposed witch… and Malta’s first recorded pharmacist.
3. Agatha Barbara – a socialist force and Malta’s first female MP and president
Malta is currently debating a bill to address its depressingly low rates of women in political power. It’s almost unbelievable that some forty years ago, this little infant Republic had its own female Head of State – a force that smashed political ceilings for women everywhere.
Her name was Agatha Barbara, the first woman President, Parliamentarian, Minister and even interim Prime Minister in Malta.
4. Emma Hamilton – an avant-garde artist and first women to receive the Maltese cross.
Lady Hamilton was at one point the most famous Briton in the world. Her rich life story is a tale akin to today’s coming of age movies, a true Cinderella of the late 18th Century. From a poor daughter of a blacksmith, she turned into a muse, a ground-breaking artist in her own right, a political influencer and the first dame to receive the Maltese cross.
5. Mabel Strickland – a beacon of hope of Malta’s free press.
A mention of a certain Mabel Strickland is going to conjure up a number of visions: perhaps as the founder of the Times of Malta, maybe the figure behind a booming, defiant voice raised high against Mintoffian politics or even a member of one of the most influential families on the island.
One thing is unequivocal – Strickland was a 20th-century woman of reckonings – her mark still echoes today.
6. Florence Nightengale – the world’s first nurse.
Florence Nightingale is a 20th-century icon whose name has a familiar ring to Maltese. But how much do you know about the revolutionary woman? As with all the women in Maltese herstory, the tale of Nightingale is one of broken boundaries, strife and courage. This is the life of an aristocratic-born woman, who gave up wealth, marriage and comfort to heal the masses and also the reason we know to wash our hands to fight diseases.
7. Cosmana Navarra – Malta’s first female patron of the arts.
When it comes to the finest 17th-century art, Malta is an island gem like no other. The Knights of St. John brought their penchant for Baroque art to the islands, certain patrons of art also did their part in embellishing it.
Patrons like Cosmana Navarra, Malta’s first female patron of the arts and certainly one of the island’s most prolific.
Tag someone who needs to read about these awesome women!