Who was Anita Garibaldi?

“Destiny toys with us with both hands. For my sins, I will pay as all of us must. More I think. But I still rejoice in the family she has brought me.” ~Anita Garibaldi

Legend has it that when Giuseppe Garibaldi spied Anita Garibaldi from his ship, he dove straight into the water, threw her over his shoulder and sailed off to Italy. The truth is far more compelling.

Anita was born in the wilds of Brazil — a far cry from the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — where the hills stretch on like rolling, green waves. A precocious child, she found herself more at home with the legendary gauchos than she did in the confining world of her sisters.

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However, her ideal world was shattered when her father died unexpectedly. Her mother moved what was left of the family to Laguna, Brazil: a busy harbor known for the unique way they utilize dolphins for fishing.

Shortly after turning 14, Anita was married off to Manoel de Salto, a cobbler by trade and the town drunkard by reputation. When asked about the experience she said:

“He was a nice man, Manoel, but weak. He expected things from me. I knew that. He tried to order me, but he couldn’t control me in everything. I think he was sorry he married me, and I thank the saints that I never had to carry one of his children. God forgive me! That would have been the end for me!”

Unable to bear life with Manoel any longer, Anita left him. Soon after Laguna became the locus for the Ragamuffin War, Brazil’s Civil War.

The southern state of Rio Grande do Sol led the rebellion under such grievances as a tax on the beef produced in Brazil, and the abolition of slavery, which caught the attention of Giuseppe Garibaldi, a freedom fighter wandering South America in exile from his homeland of Italy. Instantly drawn to him and his causes they began an illicit affair. Anita left Laguna behind to join the Ferrapos, and became one of their fiercest soldiers, riding out to battle with Giuseppe. However, the Ferrapos lost and with no other options, Anita and Giuseppe moved to Uruguay.

For a time they lived in peace with their growing family however, war came. Manuel Rosas, the dictator of Argentina, set his eyes on Uruguay. Leading a regiment of Italian soldiers, Giuseppe Garibaldi left to defend his new country. Even though Anita stayed behind to take care of their children she found herself defending the city of Montevideo from the Argentinians. She led a group of women in an organized effort to build walls to fortify the city against the invaders. It was because of her and the efforts of the women that she worked with that Montevideo was saved.

At the close of another war, Giuseppe Garibaldi received the letter that he had been waiting a long time for. The King of Sardinia wanted him to come home. Italy needed him. So the Garibaldi packed their bags and moved to Italy.

While Giuseppe began his campaign for a united Italy, independent of other countries, Anita took on the role of publicist and recruiter in addition to tending to their children. However, when Giuseppe needed her, she rushed to his side and there she stayed. She followed him on his campaign to liberate Rome. Their attempt at a liberation failed and the army was forced to retreat.

It was during this retreat that Anita fell ill and died. She was 28 years old and eight months pregnant.

Anita Garibaldi leaves a legacy unlike any other woman: A freedom fighter, martyr and mother, she is an inspiration the world over.