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A Real Girl’s Role Model

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Thanks to UniteWomen.org, today I learned about another remarkable woman, Rita Levi-Montalcini, who changed science. Her life served as yet another example of the achievements women can and do make when given opportunity and encouragement.

Rita Levi-Montalcini

Levi-Montalcini enrolled in medical school in 1930 despite her father’s objections (who believed that the role of a woman was to be a wife and mother, not an academic). She earned a degree in medicine and surgery, but her post-graduate career was cut short when Mussolini issued his “Manifesto of Race” which barred those of Jewish descent from professional careers. Rather than fleeing the country, Levi-Montalcini chose to stay in Italy and continue her work alone. She built a small research unit at her home and installed it in her bedroom.

She spent time on her research and as a physician during the war, and then returned to academic life afterwards. In 1947 she joined Washington University and became a full professor there in 1958. In 1962 she established a research unit in Rome, splitting her time between there and St. Louis, and in 1969 she became the Director of the Institute of Cell Biology of the Italian National Council of Research.

In 1986, Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for isolating Nerve Growth Factor from tumor cells. 

Although she officially retired in 1977, she never truly stopped working as a scientist or an educator. Eight years ago she founded the European Brain Research Institute (EBRI) in Rome. She (with her sister Paola) also founded the Rita Levi-Montalcini Foundation, which focuses on the education of girls and young women in Africa. In 2001 she was appointed an Italian Senator-for-life.

More on Levi-Montalcini’s life, achievements, and dedication to science here.
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Written by Valerie Curl

January 1, 2013 at 11:19 AM

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