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He worried that her work as a doctor would interfere with her duties of future wife and mother.
"At 20, I realized that I could not possibly adjust to a feminine role as conceived by my father and asked him permission to engage in a professional career," Levi Montalcini wrote in her biography.
"In eight months I filled my gaps in Latin, Greek and mathematics, graduated from high school, and entered medical school in Turin," she added.
She graduated in 1936, but two years later her career was halted by Mussolini's laws banning "inferior races" from academic and professional careers.
Undaunted, Levi Montalcini set up an improvised laboratory in her bedroom during World War II and studied the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos.
After fleeing with her family to Florence in 1943, she worked as a nurse and a doctor treating refugees with infectious diseases.
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After the war, she accepted an invitation to study for a semester at Washington University in St. Louis. She remained there, continuing her work on nerve growth factor, for three decades, calling those years "the happiest and most productive" of her life.