In France, violets and lily-of-the-valley are the flowers traditionally given to women to symbolise International Women's Day. After World War II, when Luigi Longo, the deputy secretary of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) wanted to start the same practice in Italy, he asked Teresa Mattei, the former partisan and member of the Constituent Assembly, for advice. She chose the mimosa because the French alternatives were too expensive and difficult to find in Italy. She said mimosa, which was plentiful in the countryside, was the flower that best reflected ‘female sweetness and fragility.' So today, thanks to her, Italian women now exchange or are given sprigs of this bright yellow flower to celebrate their day every March 8.
Mattei, who was born in Genoa on February 1, 1921, led a privileged life until the war broke out. Adopting the battle-name of Chicchi when she joined the PCI in 1942 , she became a courier in the partisan struggle against fascism. Her commitment to the cause was reinforced in 1944 when her brother, Gianfranco Mattei, committed suicide. He was a professor in analytical chemistry and assistant to Giulio Natta, a future Nobel prize winner, but also a member of the Gruppi d'Azione Patriottica (GAP), the PCI-inspired militant groups modelled on the French Resistance. Betrayed by a fascist spy, he was arrested and imprisoned in the infamous prison in via Tasso in Rome by the German SS on February 1, 1944. To avoid revealing his comrades' names under torture, he hanged himself six days later.
Between 1943 and 1945, Mattei was commander of the company bearing her brother's name in the Fronte della Gioventù, the biggest organisation of young partisans. The company operated clandestinely in and around Florence. During this time, she met the son of a wealthy Jewish magnate and fellow combatant, Bruno Sanguinetti. They married in 1946 and were together until his death in 1950. She later remarried and had four children.