Conti, Adalgisa
First name:
20th century
Field of expertise:
Place of birth:
Pieve Santo Stefano (ITA)
* 28.05.1887
† 01.01.1970
Biography print

Long-term asylum inmate from Italy.


Adalgisa Conti (1887-1983) was born in Pieve Santo Stefano in Tuscany, Italy. Her mother was a primary school teacher, her father a music teacher and most likely an alcoholic. The second of eight children, Conti had to take care of her siblings while still a school girl. She was said to have been a sensitive and “anaemic” girl, who allegedly fell victim to repeated sexual assault until adolescence. Her father died in 1903 when she was 16 years old. Shortly afterwards, she met Probo Palombini, a printer, whom she married at the age of 24. In her autobiography, Conti described him as handsome but heartless – she obviously felt neglected and unsatisfied in her marriage (cf. Niemann 1996). When she fell in love with a music teacher, she became depressive and developed persistent and unshakable feelings of guilt and persecution. In November of 1913, she was acutely suicidal and committed to the insane asylum at Arezzo, where she was treated with opium extract. Her condition improved by the end of February, she was no longer force-fed and could work.


Autobiography and stay in the asylum

Conti also penned down an autobiography intended for her doctor. Employing clear and concise language, she therein described her life up until the day of her committal to the asylum. The text Gentilissimo sig. Dottore, questa è la mia vita, (Dear Mr. doctor, this is my life) dated 25 March 1914, became published in 1978. Albeit rife with self-accusations and self-blame, the text also reveals Conti’s desire for female autonomy: “I’ve always been a proud character, not much given to submissiveness and humility” (1979: 18; our translation). In April of 1914 and despite her family’s repeated attempts to take her back home, she was transferred to the ward for agitated patients. She was diagnosed with “dementia praecox” in 1920 and, three years later, seemed to be permanently confused (Della Mea 1979: 70). In the 1940s, her condition was labelled as “schizophrenic, terminal dementia”. However, she was able to work as a cleaner at the asylum. She was declared legally incapacitated in 1955. During the 1960s – and against all odds – she still proved capable of establishing and maintaining a close relationship with a fellow patient. The Arrezzo asylum was reformed in the early 1970s by Agostino Pirella and his team (Pirella 1998). Conti, now almost deaf, did not actively participate in the clinic meetings. In 1977, she was discharged on probation for three days but returned to the clinic. Adalgisa Conti died in 1983 at age 96 at the institution in Arrezzo, where she had spent 69 years of her life.


 Conti’s fate is considered a paradigmatic example of the extent of “institutional regression” among asylum patients in 20th-century Italy. Rehistorising patients’ case histories as part of their life stories (“verifica”) became a core feature in Franco Basaglia’s Democratic Psychiatry approach (1969; 1971). Piero Jozzia, the last doctor to treat Conti, wrote: “With her autobiography, Adalgisa Conti has, after 65 years, regained her voice and thereby forced the institution to acknowledge her own point of view, her value system, her culture – namely her self-written life story and her ‘disease’” (1979: 89; our translation).


Adalgisa Conti’s story has been adapted for stage (Baliani, Crippa & Ghiglione 2000: Lola che dilati la camicia, Teatro elfo Puccini, Milan 2014; Melancholisches Syndrom, Jeiny Cortés, Berlin 2012/13).



Baliani, M., C. Crippa, A. Ghiglione (2000): Lola che dilati la camicia. In: A. Conti: Gentilissimo sig. dottore questa è la mia vita. Manicomio 1914. Milan: Jaca Book.

Basaglia, F. (1968): Die negierte Institution oder die Gemeinschaft der Ausgeschlossenen. Frankfurt on the Main: Suhrkamp.

Basaglia, F., F. Basaglia-Ongaro (1971): Die abweichende Mehrheit. Frankfurt on the Main: Suhrkamp.

Bassanese, N. (1978): “Gent Sig. Dottore, questa è la mia vita". In: lotta continua, martedì 12 dicembre (Rezensioni), p. 11.

Conti, A. (1978): Manicomio 1914. Gentilissimo sig. dottore, questa é la mia vita. A cura di Luciano Della Mea. Milan: Mazzotta. [German edition: Conti, A.: Im Irrenhaus. Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor. Dies ist mein Leben. Frankfurt on the Main: Neue Kritik 1979.]

Della Mea, L. (1978): Chronologie des Anstaltsaufenthaltes Adalgisas, rekonstruiert aus der Krankenkartei 1913-1970. In: A. Conti (1979): Im Irrenhaus. Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor. Dies ist mein Leben. Frankfurt on the Main: Neue Kritik, pp. 50-74.

Jozzia, P. (1979): Die negierte Interpretation. In: A. Conti (1979): Im Irrenhaus. Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor. Dies ist mein Leben. Frankfurt on the Main: Neue Kritik, pp. 87-92.

Niemann, S. (1996): “Ich habe immer ein stolzes Wesen gehabt”. In: S. Duda, F. Pusch (eds.): WahnsinnsFrauen, Vol. 2. Frankfurt on the Main: Suhrkamp, pp.187-222.

Pirella, A. (1998): Ein schwieriger Weg. Zwanzig Jahre Psychiatriereform in Italien. In: Sozialpsychiatrische Informationen 28, (3), pp. 22-28.

Schlesiak, D. (1979): Nachwort. In: A. Conti: Im Irrenhaus. Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor. Dies ist mein Leben. Frankfurt on the Main: Neue Kritik, pp. 121-134.


Burkhart Brückner


Referencing format
Burkhart Brückner (2015): Conti, Adalgisa.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:22.02.2024)