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Pettracini was born in a merchant family in Tuscany, and moved to Emilia Romagna with her spouse, Francesco Ferretti who was a surgent at the hospital of Bagnacavallo. She was tutored in surgery by her spouse, before she became a student in medicin at the University of Florence 13 September 1788. She continued her education at the University of Ferrara.
Maria and her daughter, Zaffira Peretti, were teachers in anatomy at the University of Ferrara. The universities of Salerno and then Bologna were centers of medical education in Italy and known as the locations where most female anatomists and physicians were active. The careers of Pettracini and her daughter indicate that Ferrara also encouraged women as students and teachers.
Pettracini published books about the care of infants and women in childbirth (1789). She protested against the contemporary practice of bandaging of infants, which she claimed could lead to injuries, proclaimed that infants should be allowed to move their limbs. She advocated breast feeding, but also that children should be accustomed to other foods than milk as soon as possible. Though Maria Pettracini died in 1791 and was not able to teach for many years, her ideas were much talked about and attracted a lot of attention.
- Ogilvie, Marilyn, ed. (2000). "Pettracini, Maria". The biographical dictionary of women in science. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415920384.
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