In the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, Italy held a strong appeal for Russian travelers. Several of these Russian émigrés were women of Jewish lineage, who had come with their families or were sent abroad on their own in order to complete their education at one of the newborn kingdom’s prestigious universities. Elena Raffalovich (Odessa 1842 – Florence 1918) is one of the earliest and most intriguing examples of this phenomenon. While her intellectual trajectory, as a pioneer in children’s education and an advocate of women’s rights, is representative of that of many other Russian Jewish women living in Italy at that time, it also challenges a number of historiographic commonplaces about Jewish women and their emancipation process in nineteenth-century Europe. Moreover, through the archives of different prominent members of the Raffalovich dynasty, it is possible to follow its vicissitudes over at least five generations, completing our knowledge of Elena’s biography and reassessing the importance of her intellectual contribution to Italian culture.

issue 08 / November 2015 by Asher Salah