Elizabeth Cohen

Elizabeth Cohen

Robert Lehman Visiting Professor
Women of Rome: Working Lives in an Early Modern City


Elizabeth (Libby) Cohen is Professor of History at York University (Toronto). Using criminal court records from Rome, she reconstructs the lives of non-elite early modern women. Her articles explore varied themes: work, family, sexuality, prostitution, street rituals, self-representation, oralities, time, food, and the home life of the painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. Also, with Thomas Cohen, she has co-authored Words and Deeds in Renaissance Rome: Trials Before the Papal Magistrates (1993) and Daily Life in Renaissance Italy (2001; 2nd edition, forthcoming). A collection, The Youth of Early Modern Women, co-edited with Margaret Reeves, is forthcoming from Amsterdam University Press.

Project Summary

This book recreates through individual stories the experiences of ordinary women in Rome circa 1600. The pope’s capital was an unusual city, not least for its sustained surplus of men and the relative scarcity of intact nuclear family households. Hundreds of verbatim testimonies from the Governor’s criminal court allow us to reconstruct how, in this very particular social environment, artisan’s wives, servants, prostitutes, beggars, and other non-elite women, often on their own, coped and strategized and how they interacted with their male peers and public authorities. Extended research in these archives has uncovered many ways that scholars’ gendered expectations may obscure the lively agency of these at once feisty and vulnerable urban women.