Radical Woman of the Day: Laura Bassi

On this day in 1778, Laura Maria Caterina Bassi, Italian scientist and the first woman ever to teach at a European university, died. Born in 1711 to a wealthy family in Bologna, she received a private education, including tutoring by Gaetano Tacconi, a university teacher and scientist.

The University of Bologna appointed her professor of anatomy in 1731, when she was only 21, and the following year she was elected to the Academy of the Institute for Sciences. At first giving only occasional lectures, she began lecturing regularly from her own home after marrying Giuseppe Veratti in 1738. Focusing primarily on Newtonian physics, she spent 28 years propagating Newton’s discoveries while also conducting her own experiments in physics.

In 1745, Pope Benedict XIV, who had encouraged the young Bassi in her studies while he was still a Cardinal, apppointed her as the only woman in a group of 25 scholars named “Benedettini”, after himself. In 1776 the Bologna Institute of Sciences appointed her to a chair in experimental physics. She was 65, and her husband served as her teaching assistant.

Bassi has a crater on Venus named after her, as well as a high school and city street in Bologna.