Florentine Lombard : a Kent anarchist and volunteer nurse during the Naples cholera epidemic of 1884

Naples, 23 September 1890: “45 year old Florentine Lombard passed away today from heart disease. She was an anarchist, English by nationality. And had settled in Naples. During the cholera epidemic of 1884 she served as a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross. She spent her life close to the poor, going without in order to do so. On the 1st of May last she was arrested in the Canalone district… ” That is how the non-socialist press reports read.

In 1884, cholera blighted several parts of Italy, being especially virulent in Naples. According to the prefect’s statistics, cholera affected upwards of 14,000 people in the province, killing 8,000 of them, of whom 7,000 perished in the city of Naples alone. The state reacted by imposing a crackdown: the city was placed under martial law, restrictions on movements were imposed, using methods similar to those employed on the occasion of the Messina earthquake or the more recent quake in L’Aquila. The volunteers from the White Cross, Red Cross, social democrats, republicans and socialists adopted quite a different approach. Felice Cavallotti, Giovanni Bovio, Andrea Costa and Errico Malatesta, no less, were active on the streets of Naples. And not without some risk to their own health: the socialist volunteers Massimiliano Boschi, Francesco Valdrè and Rocco Lombardo caught cholera and perished. Another of the volunteers was Florentine Lombard: a native of Kent, near London “she was one of the Red Cross volunteers and exhorted the men to selfless self-sacrifice” … “visiting the hovels of the poor, bringing with her consolation and aid and socialist charity.”

A life of propaganda and activism on behalf of the liberation of the oppressed does not leave much of a paper-trail. She turns up in the press reports of 30 April 1890 when she was arrested, as were another 78 individuals, including two women representing workers’ societies, at the anarchist club in the Canalone district. For four days the club played host to the standing commission coordinating the 1st of May demonstrations with the workers’ associations. Those demonstrations, prefaced also by the distribution of thousands of anarchist leaflets, proved a huge and solemn success, despite the ban imposed by the chief of police.

On 16 September 1890, Florentine enthusiastically gave her backing in a public letter to the suggestion from the editorial team of the Trapani newspaper La Nuova Riscossa . “that we no longer call ourselves socialists or anarchist socialists, but simply anarchists. The object being to shun the bamboozlers and politickers and show all men on earth that the true salvation of Humanity lies in Anarchy, which is to say, life without government, without religion, without authority, but with real freedom.” Florentine wrote that “the word Anarchy is quite clear and perfectly encapsulates the ideal condition which alone will be able to make a reality of humanity’s loftiest aspirations by ensuring the dominion of justice and freedom”, ushering in the Anarchist Communist Revolution.

Within a few days, on 23 September, she was dead. The teacher Ciccarelli and Giovanni Bergamasco, both of them anarchists, tended to her “right up until the end, shooing away the priests who would try to gain entry every so often and of whom the deceased was a fierce enemy. No sooner had the sad news broken than the city streets were papered with manifestoes” by the socialists of Naples. “The funeral rites were extremely impressive, with several socialist and republican flags following the coffin; the wreath from the anarchists bore the motto: ‘Onwards, onwards, workers of the world!’”

Both the socialist and the non-socialist press carried the news of her death and funeral and they were unanimous in their praises of her. The anarchist Giovanni Bergamasco remembered her as “a very dear comrade, a woman of lofty and noble sentiments, a brave fighter for emancipation of the oppressed.”

The renowned composer Pietro Floridia wrote a piano serenade dedicated to her in 1889.

From: http://magma.im/storie/florentine-lombard. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.