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The tabacchine

Museo storico e scientifico del Tabacco

In Umbria, where the main variety cultivated was Virginia Bright, the history of tobacco culture was above all a story of women. The tabacchine were female tobacco workers who often came from sharecropping families and farm labourers from the patriarchal system in the surrounding countryside. Following the second world war, the low feminine unionisation favoured female employment in the tobacco sector: around the 1950’s the tabacchine constituted for 50% of factory workers and they were mainly employed for sorting and transferring the leaves to barrels. This required great concentration and visual exertion because they had to be capable of recognising the various shades of colour and the length of the leaves. As well as the higher, increased precision required, it should also be remembered that, for the same position, the salary rates paid to the women were more than 20% lower compared to those of the men.

The women employed in tobacco contributed to the development of the social system: as time went on, rooms for breastfeeding were set up inside the factories, as well as the first nurseries for the children of the workers, medical assistance was guaranteed on the job and better conditions in the workplace. For this reason, the tobacco work provided an element of emancipation for the role of women.