Tullia Calabi-Zevi was born in Milan to a staunchly anti-Fascist family. When race laws were enacted in September 1938, her father, Giuseppe Calabi, a successful attorney, decided to leave Italy and emigrate to the United States with his wife and four children. The Calabis joined another family that was vacationing in Switzerland, where Giuseppe announced they would not be returning to Italy. They proceeded to Paris and then to the United States. Tullia, who had begun studying philosophy in Milan, continued at the Sorbonne in Paris and then went on to attend the Juilliard School of Music in New York and Radcliff College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, earning her living as a harp player. It was in the United States that she met her future husband Bruno Zevi (1918–2000), later to become a renowned architect and lecturer, whom she married in New York during World War II. The two were highly active in anti-Fascist circles. Tullia began working as a journalist during the war years. In 1946, she returned to Italy with her husband and was dispatched to Germany to cover the Nuremberg Trials.
Over the years, she became a journalist of international renown, writing for several leading newspapers in Italy and elsewhere, including Ma’ariv, Espresso, The Jewish Chronicle, The Religious News Service, Voce Repubblicana and others. In 1970, her interview with King Hussein of Jordan following the Black September incidents and the expulsion of the PLO was published both in Italy and in Israel, where she was invited to meet with Prime Minister Golda Meir.
Over the years, she became increasingly involved in Italian political and intellectual life, especially among the country’s Jews. She served as Vice President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities between 1978 and 1983 and as its President from 1983 to 1998 – the only woman to serve in this highest representative position of Italian Jewry. Zevi continues to hold numerous public positions in Italy and elsewhere, including membership in the National Committee on Bioethics, the Italian Committee of UNESCO and several Italian national committees. In 1998 she was elected President of the Commission for Intercultural and Interfaith Relations of the European Jewish Congress. She has received numerous commendations and awards for her extensive public activity and was the Italian candidate for the European Woman of the Year Award in 1992 because of her work for promotion of human rights and international solidarity. That same year, she received Italy’s highest award, Cavaliere di Grande Croce. In 1994, the Ministry of Culture awarded her a gold medal for her contribution to education, art and culture.