chapter  1
Peasant women, the rural world and the Fasci Femminili
Pages 23

The pattern ofagricultural production and women's place in this system helped determine how the fascists attempted to mobilize them politically. Agriculture was still Italy's largest single economic sector in this period. Despite rapid economic growth around the turn of the century, which had created pockets of modern industry, mainly in the 'industrial triangle' of the North, millions still worked on the land. Numbers of those occupied by this sector remained high during the first half of the twentieth century and by 1936 were still roughly the same as in 1901. According to the 1931 census 41.5 per cent ofItalian families (3,800,000 families) had a 'head of family' engaged in farming. The rural world, however, was far from static. Since Unification a series offorces, including the increased role of the market, the agricultural crisis of the 1880s, the rise of socialism, emigration and technological innovation had led to much change. 1 In some rural areas, moreover, industry had an increasing impact on traditional lifestyles. 2 Rural industry varied greatly including both factories (mainly textiles and food processing) and various types of cottage industry. Large numbers of Tuscan peasant women, for example, made straw hats for export until the 1929 crash destroyed their markets.3 The First World War only served to accelerate processes of change when over two and a half million peasants went to the front.