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Digital Resources: Gender and Latin American Independence

Summary and Keywords

This research project investigates women’s involvement in the struggles to achieve political independence in Spanish America and Brazil during the first half of the 19th century. The project is hosted at the University of Nottingham, Department of Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies, School of Cultures, Languages, and Area Studies; it was funded by the University of Nottingham and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) between 2001 and 2014. The online searchable database was a core output of the first of these AHRC-funded projects (2001–2006): “Gendering Latin American Independence: Women’s Political Culture and the Textual Construction of Gender 1790–1850.” It was enhanced in stages with an AHRC Pilot Dissemination Award (2006–2007) and Follow-on Funding (2012) for the crowd-sourcing project “Women and Independence in Latin America: A New Multimedia Community–Contributed, Community-Driven Online Resource” in collaboration with the Horizon Digital Economy Institute, University of Nottingham.

The aim of the follow-on-funding awards was to stimulate widespread public debate, preferably in collaboration with partners (national and international). This was of particular importance with respect to the involvement of Latin American women in the independence wars against Spain and Portugal, an aspect of women’s history that had been much neglected. Since 2006, a lively public debate has emerged about women’s involvement in the wars of independence, especially in Latin America. The debate has focused on women’s exclusion from mainstream nationalist historiography and their problematic position in postindependence politics and public culture. The unprecedented surge of interest in women’s history and the founding discourses of the Spanish American republics has been triggered by the bicentenary celebrations of Spanish American political independence, which began in 2010 and will continue into the 2020s, and the recent rise to political prominence of women in Latin America (women presidents in Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, and Argentina).

The research project of 2001–2006 focused more specifically on the constructions of gender categories in the culture of the independence period and the impact of war and conflict on women’s lives, social relationships, and cultural production. The research emphasized the significance of women in the independence process and explored the reasons for their subsequent exclusion from political culture until recently. Independence was examined in terms of gender: (a) the study of women’s political culture, (b) women’s activities and writings, and (c) the textual construction of gender in political discourse. Questions were posed: Did the wars of independence change traditional ways of thinking about women, and change women’s views of themselves? How was the category “woman” produced historically and politically in Spanish America at the time? In what ways were those identified as women constructed ambiguously as subjects and objects in political discourse? What were women’s responses to the republican discourse of individual rights that equated individuality with masculinity? Why, after political independence, were political rights still denied to over half the population according to the criterion of sexual difference?

Keywords: Spanish American independence, gender, women’s history, Latin America, political culture

Women in the Spanish American Wars of Independence

The estimated population of Spanish America in 1800, excluding the Caribbean islands, was 12 million. Assuming some 50 percent were women, about 6 million women were involved at some stage in this fifteen-year conflict that was, to all intents and purposes, a civil war. Women were no doubt as affected as men, and a large proportion of women must have played an active role. Dividing the population according to gender, rather than according to status, race, ethnicity, or locality, makes the following point clear: that while Spanish absolutism denied political rights to virtually all men and women, the new republican constitutions denied political rights systematically to women only. Women were excluded as a social sector because, in the final analysis, gender (rather than class or caste) was the criterion for political exclusion. Indeed, it was on this basis only that the res publica was made possible. Its functioning was predicated on the separation of the public world and private life; only the public was political, and this was the business of men. In classical republicanism, men speak for and in lieu of women. Women had to wait another hundred years for the right to vote, until 1929 in Ecuador and as late as 1954 in Colombia. The question asked is not only what women’s status was at the end of the wars, but, more importantly, why.

The findings of the research were presented in the 2006 monograph coauthored by Catherine Davies, Hilary Owen, and Claire Brewster: South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text.1 The two young researchers attached to the project also published their findings in monograph form: Iona Macintyre, Women and Print Culture in Post-Independence Buenos Aires (2010), and Charlotte Matthews, Gender, Race, and Patriotism in the Works of Nísia Floresta (2012).2 The project’s findings appeared in numerous publications in academic presses and journals, at several public events, in collaborations with nonacademic partners, and in a bank of open online resources.

Origins of the Digital Resource

In 2001, Claire Brewster, a project team member, began to construct a large database of women’s names, biographies, events, and writings sourced from the national archives of several Latin American countries and extensive secondary literature (28 archives and 266 academic publications, all of which are listed). This resource aimed not only to provide a tool for historical research but also to encourage the exchange of ideas and information among a broad nonacademic community and to make connections between the lives and aspirations of Latin American women in the 19th century and those of Latin American women today. To this end, the database was significantly enhanced. The result is Genderlatam, an online, map-based, searchable database and image bank of female participation in the Spanish American Wars of Independence (1810–1826) and in the regional conflicts in Brazil (1820–1850). It is a key resource for researchers, primarily historians.

At the latest count (January 2015), Genderlatam includes data for 2,300 people, 3,900 events, and 340 images, in particular the names and biographies (where available) of individual women, their writings, public and private culture, social networks, group activities, associated places, and commemorations. Accessible in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, it enables searches by name, date, place, gender, ethnicity, political allegiance, event, or connection (for example, women connected by family, “tertulia,” organization, friendships, and profession, as well as by categories such as women soldiers and women who were punished). Of particular interest are the prominent extended families, female relatives of men who were executed, women who donated property to the cause of their choice, women who hosted salons, and women who were active in cultural societies and networks. The events include, for example, birth, marriage, death, execution, fighting, reward, imprisonment, and so on.

A list of bibliographical and archival sources used in the compilation of the database is also provided. A simplified version of the database, “Heroes and Heroines in Latin American Independence,” is an open educational resource for students and schools.

Content and Coverage

The Web site, which hosts the database, features translations into Spanish of chapters of the book South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text and articles and working papers by project researchers and collaborators. In addition to the monographs, publications resulting from the project include “Género en la independencia de Latinoamérica: Cultura política de la mujer e interpretación textual de género, 1790–1850,” in Visiones y Revisiones de la Independencia Americana: Subalternidad e Independencias, edited by Izaskun Alvarez Cuartero and Julio Sánchez Gómez (2012), and Josefa Acevedo de Gómez, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Mothers and Housewives (2007), an edited reprint of the 1848 original.3 Also included are Catherine Davies, “Colonial Dependence and Sexual Difference: Reading for Gender in the Writings of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830),” in a special 2005 issue of Feminist Review; Davies, “Unequal States: Gender in Latin American Independence,” in a special 2006 issue of the Hispanic Research Journal; Davies, “Troped out of History: Women, Gender and Nation in the Poetry of Andrés Bello,” in a 2007 Bulletin of Hispanic Studies; and Davies, “Gendered Interpretations of Independence Poetry: Mexico and Peru, 1820–1822,” in Power, Place and Representation. Contested Sites of Dependence and Independence in Latin America, edited by Bill Richardson and Lorraine Kelly (2012).4

The online resource was showcased as part of bicentenary celebrations to diverse audiences and special interest groups in the United Kingdom, including the British Library, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and secondary school pupils, as well as at academic conferences. For general, nonacademic users, the Web site makes available summaries of knowledge exchange and outreach events developed around the theme of “Women and Independence in Latin America,” in collaboration with the Museo de la Mujer (Women’s Museum), Buenos Aires, and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), London. These events include Pablo Allison’s documentary photographic exhibition “Empowerment through Art: Photography and Latin American Migrant Girls in London,” shown at the New Art Exchange, Nottingham, and at Southwark Council, London, in 2013; an interview with photographer John Perivolaris, whose exhibition “Portraits of Latin American Women in England” was shown at the New Art Exchange, Nottingham, in 2010; the drama project “Razones por las que luchar” (Reasons for Fighting), performed by young Latin America migrant women in association with Pablo Allison and LAWRS, and the girls’ blog in which they discuss concepts of Independence today; and the Movimiento Ecuador Reino Unido’s poetry competition, “La mujer latinoamericana” (Latin American Woman), plus entries to the project’s poetry competition of the same name.

The research findings and database were presented at several academic meetings, including the international conference coorganized with Anthony Macfarlane, “Unequal States: Gender and Race at Latin America Independence,” University of Warwick, 2004, and the International symposium, “Women in Latin American Independence: History, Society, Culture,” held at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London, March 2012, in collaboration with Sara Beatriz Guardia, Director of the Centro de Estudios la Mujer en la Historia de América Latina (Universidad de San Martín de Porres, Lima). These key insights included the hitherto unacknowledged significance of women in Latin American culture and history between 1810 and 1850; the shifts in gender parameters and gendered discourse throughout this period that still persist; the cultural impact of aggressive and violent masculinity in militarized societies, which shaped the cultural values and social norms deemed appropriate for women; the textual and artistic representation of women as mythical figures and literary tropes (for example, liberty, patria, nation), rather than historical figures rendering women’s exclusion from the public sphere natural and acceptable; the ongoing manipulation of male-centered historiography by patriarchal nationalist agendas; and the existence and value of hitherto unstudied writings by women, including letters and educational texts.

This was pioneering research, which made a seminal contribution to revisionist accounts of Independence. It has resulted in increased awareness and understanding, especially among Latin American women, of the current relevance of women’s political protagonism. In addition, by engaging with professional, charity, and cultural institutions, it has enhanced the historical knowledge and professional skills of young Latin American women by enabling them to more fully understand their collective heritage and cultural identity.

Operators, Supporters, and Follow-On Projects

The follow-on project with coinvestigator Derek McAuley of the School of Computing Studies, University of Nottingham, began in April 2012. Maria Thomas was appointed as Research Fellow to work with database technician Richard Tyler-Jones and Web designer Teri Browett. The long-term ambition was to create an app for use on smart phones in the UK and abroad. User contribution would be stimulated by means of social media and an updated Web site so that users can manipulate, visualize, and interpret data in new ways. New interpretations of the data would encourage users to participate through Facebook in online discussions on women and Independence (in blogs, forums, comments boards, and reviews) and to submit data, photos, video clips, and podcasts relevant to the Web site. These could be added to the new resource, enhancing it with user-generated content.

The high level of usage was registered by Google analytics (65,500 visitors between March 2007 and July 2011, with an average of more than 850 visitors per month, and increasing). The Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and blog accounts allow users, particularly Latin American women themselves, to participate in discussions and to submit new data, photos and comments. This interactive community-driven and community-led mode makes possible academic innovation in the sourcing, accessing, and interpretation of knowledge and the framing of different kinds of research questions. For example, what do Latin American women today know about the wars of independence and women’s contribution? How can they relate to those events? To what extent might they identify with the women who led or resisted the independence campaigns? How can women today recover and express this cultural memory?

Research collaboration was sought with Latin American women living in the UK. Increasing numbers of Latin American migrants have moved to the UK, mainly from Spain where the economic situation was worsening. The 2011 report No Longer Invisible: The Latin American Community in London, authored by Cathy McIlwaine, Juan Camilo Cook, and Bernard Linneker, gave the following figures: In 2008, the estimated population of Latin American migrants in London was almost 190,000 (61 percent of the total in the UK). The size of the officially registered community compares with that of the ethnic Chinese. About one-fifth of the total consists of irregular migrants and another fifth are second-generation migrants. The largest groups of migrants are from Colombia and Brazil, though almost all the Latin American countries are represented. Many of the recent migrants live in south London, especially in the Brixton and Elephant and Castle areas, and they launched a campaign, the Latin American Recognition Campaign (LARC), to press for “ethnic minority” recognition. In 2013, Southwark Council was the first London council to officially recognize Latin Americans as a distinctive “ethnic” group.5

The project included collaboration with LAWRS in the form of a program entitled “Libertadoras,” a series of group activities for teenage girls of migrant families led by the LAWRS development and outreach coordinator Carolina Velasquez and Mexican photographer Pablo Allison. Discussion with the girls around the resource promoted engagement with women’s issues within the girls’ own culture and history, and enabled them to learn about leadership, ambition, and women’s independence. It has encouraged them to shape their own experiences prompted by models from the past. The program culminated in the photographic and video exhibition, referred to previously, consisting of 11 photographic portraits of the girls taken by Allison and the girls’ own photographs on the theme of women’s struggle for freedom and recognition. Allison worked with the Latin American Recognition Campaign and was commissioned by them to produce a photographic exhibition of Latin Americans in the UK.

A second project partner was the Museo de la Mujer (Women’s Museum) in Buenos Aires (Director: Graciela Tejero Coni), which participates in a loose network of Women’s Museums consisting of some 50 women’s and gender museums and 14 women’s museum initiatives in different countries. The aim of the network is to promote education on gender issues, to improve the role of women in society, and to encourage equal rights and opportunities. Among the network’s various activities is the reconstruction of the history of the women of their countries and reflections on women’s exclusion to date. The network was created at the First International Women’s Museums Congress in June 2008 in Merano, Italy, during which a resolution was passed defining the concept of the “Women’s Museum” and their common objectives.

In September 2009, the second International Congress of Women’s Museums took place in Bonn and the third in Buenos Aires in 2010. Those who mainly attend the Buenos Aires Museum activities are local residents, women of all ages and backgrounds, and educated professional men and women. Collaboration with the project took the forms of a summer program (August–September 2012) of workshops, plays, exhibitions, and educational classes (history, politics, philosophy, gender studies) on the theme of “Las Libertadoras,” that is, women and independence, both historically specific and more generally. One of the most successful aspects of the program was teaching nonacademic women how to access and make use of primary sources in their search for information on women’s lives from the past.

Another unexpected and gratifying outcome of this partnership in Argentina, resulting from the enthusiasm of one of the museum’s board members, Berta Wexler, a retired teacher, was the involvement of a large group of continuing-education students studying English at the Instituto Emilio Laferriere in the small working-class town of Villa Constitución. Encouraged by their teachers, these students volunteered to contribute to the database by translating many of the biographical entries and three chapters of the 2006 book from English into Spanish. Their contribution has been invaluable, and judging from their comments, they have taken an active interest in the subject of women and the Independence wars in Latin America.

Accessibility and Usage

The Genderlatam database was a core output of the AHRC research projects. It was created principally as a tool to enable researchers to explore the roles that women played in the independence struggles. To this end, the database includes data on the people (mostly women) involved, significant life events (birth, marriage, and death), and the places associated with the people and events. In the original database design, the data on events and places were stored in separate tables. This design imposed limitations on the ability to search the database: It was not possible to query the database both on the date and location of events. During a second developmental phase, the data in these two tables were merged to create a single table holding all the data on events: the person involved and the date, location, and type of event. With the two tables combined, the range of event types was extended to include such activities as fighting, imprisonment, and spying. This restructuring has significantly improved the ability to search the database for events. Users can now create complex queries combining many search criteria, such as who was involved and when, what the event was, and where it happened.

The database was also enhanced by adding new data to other tables. For instance, the longitude and latitude for locations were added, thus enabling locations to be shown on maps. Also, most of the text in the database was in English. Spanish and Portuguese translations of all texts were added to make the research tool more accessible to non-English speakers, and the biographical details of a number of women active in Brazil during the conflicts in the first half of the 19th century were added by Research Associate Fani Tabak. The various changes and additions have considerably improved both the ability to query the database and the way in which data can be presented, providing a more useful tool for researchers.

One of the most useful research sources made possible by the database are the groupings of women and men. The database holds 501 such groupings. For example, there are 21 names of “women volunteers in Barinas,” including the Briceño women (with 13 women in this family group—daughters, mothers, sisters-in-law and daughters-in-law), and the women of the Coeto and Villafañe families. Some of the most extensive groups of women are the families Álvarez and González Manrique in Bogotá, with 35 and 36 women’s names, respectively. Examination of these groupings shows that the institution that figures most prominently in women’s political and social lives and in their networks is the family. The extended family was women’s prime motivation for joining or resisting the independence cause; it provided the necessary support, and it gave them a forum for discussion and debate. The semiformal gatherings of family, friends, and guests organized by the lady of the house in the domestic space of the home provided a generally safe and secluded meeting place for rebels and patriots.

The database holds the details of the women of many patriot families who conspired against the pro-Spanish authorities: the Arguindegui, Balderrama, Carrera, Carrillo, Briceño, Caicedo, Almeyda, Escalada, Garaicoa, Nariño, Lozano, Ricaurte, Torres, and Zárate families, as well as details of 39 “tertulias,” or literary salons: the Buen Gusto, Escalada, Campusano, Pacheco, Sumalve, Torres, Recabarren, Rodríguez Gaitán, and so on, that were held in private homes. Heavily influenced by French culture and manners, celebrated ladies of fashion had hosted these tertulias for some time, and during the independence period they became focal points for mixed-sex discussions of independence plans, which escaped the control of the authorities. The Rávago salon, organized by Manuela Abellafuertes y Querejazu de Rábago, Countess of Pascual, included 17 people among whom are were Andrés Santa Cruz, General Salaverry, José Joaquín de Mora, José Joaquín Olmedo, General Obregoso, and General San Martín. In this way, numerous women of the educated elite could be counted in the select social circles that met to debate Enlightenment ideas.

Under the guise of balls or festivities, the events were often described in the local press. One of the most famous hostesses was Mariquita Sánchez de Thompson, of Buenos Aires and later Montevideo, a woman of wealth and status who, as her name indicates, was married to her cousin Martín Thompson; after his death she married Washington de Mendeville, the French consul. Her salons provided space for the new ruling classes of Buenos Aires, later Argentina, to develop their plans, and after independence, she was entrusted by Rivadavia with the creation of new orphanages and schools for girls. The Argentine national anthem was sung for the first time, it is said, in her home in 1813.

Other large groupings of women worthy of note in the database include women citizens (“cuidadanas”) in Gran Colombia, with 63 names; women in Argentina with an interest in the education of girls (40 names); women relatives of exiled patriots (11 names); women relatives of political and military leaders (112 names); women who organized pro-independence meetings in their homes (58 names); women who donated money and jewels to the independence cause in Venezuela (90 names); women who were executed by the Royalists in Colombia (55 names); women who were exiled by Spanish General Pablo Morillo from Bogotá (144 names); women who were exiled due to their support for independence (186 names); women who sewed the uniforms of patriots (29 names); and women spies (41 names).

Many of these women deserve to be the subject of individual scholarly historical and biographical studies, for example, Manuela Sanz de Santamaría de González Manrique, who is mentioned in passing in the studies published by Evelyn Cherpak and Susan Socolow, and more fully in José D. Monsalve’s book, Mujeres de la independencia. She was born in Bogotá, the daughter of Francisco Sanz de Santamaría and Petronila Prieto y Ricaurte, who had both participated in the Rebellion of the “Comuneros.” She was married to Francisco González Manrique, son of the president of the High Court (“Audiencia”), and she played an important role in the extensive networks of some of the most wealthy and powerful creole families of the time: the González Manrique, Álvarez, Ricaurte, París, Nariño, and Pardo families. She was a well-educated woman who translated texts from Latin, French, and Italian, she assisted her husband in his profession, natural history, and she was acquainted with Alexander Humboldt. According to Socolow, Sanz de Santamaría de González Manrique published an essay in the Papel Periódico de Santa Fe de Bogotá on public education.6

The database also includes images of some 200 women who took part in the independence process, women whose faces were recorded for posterity in paintings, drawings, or engravings of the time. The women were mostly white, that is, of Spanish or European descent, and many were wealthy. Some were mestizas (of mixed European and indigenous descent).

Research Applications for the Digital Resource

Exploring the database and the related historiography makes possible important conclusions. For example, it is clear that women of the elite were involved on both sides of the conflict. Thus, in 1810, the Royalists women in Mexico City founded an organization of 2,500 members to venerate the Virgin of the Remedies, the patron saint of the Royal Army, in defiance of the rebels whose patron saint was the Virgin of Guadalupe, and they published pamphlets proclaiming their loyalty to the king, Ferdinand VII. However, few activities of pro-Royalist women have been recorded or researched. The women who have been recorded most assiduously are those who supported the insurgents, the patriots who fought for independence. Their lives have been recorded and commemorated because women patriots made a large contribution to the independence cause, due to the fact that the rebels had few resources and were forced to call on women’s support. Women who favored the status quo could not be incorporated easily into the professional Royalist army. In addition, the patriots won and the victors write the history.

The outlaws became the governors of the new republics, and they needed new postcolonial histories to be disseminated and myths to be invented. One of the first tasks of the newly formed republics was to celebrate their patriot heroines and women martyrs. Salient examples in Colombia are the seamstress Policarpa Salavarrieta, who was found guilty of spying and executed in Bogotá in 1817 in front of 3,000 soldiers, and Antonia Santos, also accused of spying, who was executed in 1819. Ten days after Santos’s execution, independence was proclaimed in Boyacá (Colombia), and she was officially proclaimed a martyr to the cause. Historians can find details of these events in the proceedings drawn up by the Spanish military authorities of the time. Today, a small statue of Policarpa stands in the Plaza de los Andes, in Bogotá.

Another important conclusion is that women were present in battles and skirmishes not only as camp followers but also as military officers who waged battle on the patriot side. One of the most prominent was the mestiza Lieutenant Colonel Juana de Azurduy, wife of Manuel Padilla, who with her husband led an army of some 6,000 in Upper Peru, today’s Bolivia. Her name has been given to the airport in Sucre, and she was posthumously elevated to the rank of General in the Argentine army in 2009. She led her own battalion of women named “Los Leales,” the Loyals, who fought in 16 conflicts. Another was Francisca de Zubiaga, La Mariscala, wife of Marshall Gamarra, twice president of Peru. She was a formidable woman, a skilled swordswoman and shot who suffered from epilepsy, bore three children, and died at the age of 31. There are engravings and paintings of these women, and descriptions of their feats in the chronicles of the time.

Due to the wars, dressing up in military uniform became fashionable. Manuela Sáenz, Bolivar’s lover and companion (she was married to English merchant James Thorne, twice her age), served as Bolívar’s secretary and was later promoted to Colonel in the Hussars. She liked to parade before the soldiers in her bright red jacket. By all accounts Sáenz was a very accomplished horsewoman, and she saved Bolivar from attempts on his life on at least two occasions. After Bolívar’s death, her name was denigrated and she died in poverty, but today her effigy is popular, especially in street art. A statue is dedicated to her in Quito, and in 2010 she was given a full state burial in Venezuela.

Furthermore, evidence of women’s enthusiasm for independence is found in the contemporary periodical press. In October 1811, twenty women in the province of Barinas, Venezuela, signed a letter to the new governor offering to enlist in the republican army. This enthusiasm was prompted by the presence in the town of Colonel Briceño Pumar, married to Bolívar’s niece. The generous offer was refused, but the letter was published in the Caracas Gazette as a salutary example for men and women alike. Among the signatories are three women with the surname Briceño, mentioned earlier; at least seven of the tenwomen who signed belonged to the Briceño family. The first to sign was Nicolasa Briceño, the Colonel’s daughter. The offer was sent to the secretary of the provincial government, Nicolás Pumar; two women who signed have the surname Pumar. This is another example of how the women who supported independence usually did so to support the men of their families: their fathers, brothers, fiancés, and sons. The women whose names have been recorded belong primarily to the prominent families that fought for independence; a major exception was María Antonia Bolívar, Bolívar’s sister, who despite cordial relations with her brother remained a staunch Royalist throughout.

Many women donated property, especially jewels, to the patriot cause. Their names are officially recorded by the grateful recipients, and they form another group. General San Martín, who with considerable help from the British, notably Admiral Cochrane, fought to liberate the south of the continent (today’s Argentina, Chile, and Peru), was one of the most keen to recognize women’s contribution. He created the Order of the Sun, a medal (of freemasonry inspiration) awarded to women with suitable credentials. San Martín was sufficiently astute to realize the power of women in the family and the home. He knew that if he could persuade the governing elites to join him (half of whom were women), he need not engage in fighting other than with the garrisons held by the Royalist soldiers. In this he was largely successful, especially in Peru.

The contributions of these elite women were recognized and recorded in books published in the first decades of the 20th century to commemorate the centenary or other anniversaries relating to independence. These were the secondary sources used and referenced for the database research, and they are listed there. Examples include Bolivianas ilustres [Illustrious Bolivian women] by José Macedonio Urquidi (1918), with 80 short biographical entries; La mujer peruana a través de los siglos [Peruvian women across the centuries] by Elvira García y García (1924), with 150 entries; and Mujeres de la independencia [Women of the independence movement] by José D. Monsalve (1926), with more than 500 entries.7 These books consist in little more than lists of names, but they have proved to be an invaluable guide for further research.

Despite such contributions, little is known about the vast majority of Latin American women who did not belong to elite society: the anonymous women of African and indigenous descent who contributed so much. Spanish colonial bureaucracy, often meticulously detailed, records the names of women who took part in the indigenous and slave rebellions, but not the extent to which they were part of the independence process. Many slaves and indigenous peoples fought for the Crown. The most salient example of an indigenous woman’s rebellion against the colonial authorities is that of Micaela Bastidas, who, with her husband and sons, led the Tupac Amaru rebellion of 1780 in the Cuzco area of Peru. Whether this rebellion was a precursor of independence is a moot point, but that is how it is portrayed in Peru today. On the outside wall of the Panteón de los Próceres (the Pantheon of the Illustrious Heroes) in Lima is a statue of Micaela, and inside the Pantheon is a plaque on which is listed all the names of the indigenous women and children who were captured and forced to march from Cuzco to Callao to be transported to prison. The rest were punished by death, and their names were recorded by the Spanish authorities who put down the rebellion. Micaela’s savage execution in 1781 is described in official documents in gory detail, as are those of her husband and sons.

The database and research publications also provide details of women’s writings, published and unpublished, during and immediately following the independence period. These writings include the poems, stories, novels, conduct manuals, and biographies authored by Josefa Acevedo (Nueva Granada), Mercedes Marín (Chile), Juana Manso (Argentina), and Delfina Benigna da Cunha and Ana Barandas (Brazil). These women were born between 1803 and 1819, and they belong to the second generation of the independence process. Marín’s poems were published after 1830 and Acevedo’s after 1823.8 Acevedo’s family biographies and her Tratado sobre la economía doméstica were published in the 1840s and later. Juana Manso published in the 1850s: the novels Los misterios del Plata (1852) and La familia del Comendador (1854) and her periodical Album de señoritas (1854). Important, too, is women’s correspondence, for example, that of the Chilean Carrera family (Javiera Carrera and her sisters-in-law Ana María Cotapos and Mercedes Fuentecilla) or the letters written by Manuela Sáenz to Bolívar. Many of these letters have been sourced from archives across Latin America.


To conclude, women played a crucial role in the struggle for independence. They bankrolled the insurgent military campaigns by donating jewels and precious metals and by fund-raising. They prepared food, supplies, equipment, clothes, uniforms, and munitions, thus functioning as army ordinance and logistics corps. They cared for wounded soldiers and converted their homes into hospitals, thus functioning as medical corps. They printed and distributed revolutionary pamphlets on a continent in which there were few printing presses and little paper, and they delivered public speeches against the Spanish military authorities as if they were employees of a Ministry of Propaganda. Like resistance guerrillas, they hid refugees and disrupted enemies’ plans. Like military intelligence, they worked as spies, passing information on the movement of Royalist troops to insurgents. They provided martyrs and heroines, thus contributing to the mythification and commemoration of the war effort that led to the consolidation of new nations. Evelyn Cherpak states that 48 women patriots were executed and 119 arrested or exiled in the wars in Colombia alone (p. 224).9 These arrangements were informal but no less vital to the patriots’ success and no less worthy of serious consideration.

Within the context of the bicentenaries of 2010, revisionist historians have questioned previous assumptions about the independence conflicts and have reassessed the significance of everyday life, civil society, gender, social class, race, and ethnicity. During the decades of revolution and constitutional transformation, all issues pertaining to government (political rights, nationality, and citizenship) were opened to debate. Women, as a social group, contributed to the patriot cause and to the making of civil society yet were largely excluded from the public sphere thereafter.

Current research is focusing on diversity and the mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion. Investigation into women’s experiences in the wars is topical not only in academic circles (e.g., Sara Beatriz Guardia ed., Las mujeres en la Independencia de America Latina, 2010, with 37 contributors, almost all of whom are Latin American women)10 but also more generally as evidenced in the bestselling historical novels of, for example, Elsa Drucaroff and Silvia Miguens; popular biography, such as that of Bolívar’s sister, María Antonia Bolívar;11 in cinema such as Diego Rísquez’s film “Manuela Sáenz”; and in official commemorations, including the aforementioned plaques mounted in 2002 in the Panteón de los Próceres, Lima, to commemorate the indigenous heroines of independence and the infamous Caravana de la Muerte (Caravan of Death).

This historical interest is strengthened by women’s forceful presence in contemporary Latin American politics. Women’s share in parliamentary seats rose from an average of 13 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2010, largely boosted by gender quotas. Michelle Bachelet was elected president in Chile in 2006 (to 2010). Dilma Roussef, the first woman president of Brazil, and Laura Chinchilla, president of Costa Rica, were elected in 2010, and in 2011 the female presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori lost the closely fought elections in Peru, but the winner, Ollanta Humala, ran on a women’s rights platform. In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president in 2007, won the elections of 2011.

Further Reading

Acevedo de Gómez, Josefa. A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Mothers and Housewives. Edited with introduction by Catherine Davies and translated from the Spanish by Sarah Sánchez. Nottingham: CCCP, 2007. This was originally published in 1848 as Tratado sobre la economía doméstica.Find this resource:

    Cherpak, Evelyn. “The Participation of Women in the Independence Movement in Gran Colombia, 1780–1830.” In Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives. Edited by Asuncion Lavrin, 219–234. Wesport, CT, and London: Greenwood, 1978.Find this resource:

      Davies, Catherine. “Colonial Dependence and Sexual Difference: Reading for Gender in the Writings of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830).” Feminist Review 79 (special issue: Latin America: History, War and Independence, 2005): 5–19.Find this resource:

        Davies, Catherine. “Unequal States: Gender in Latin American Independence.” Hispanic Research Journal 7.1 (special issue, 2006): 3–10.Find this resource:

          Davies, Catherine. “Troped out of History: Women, Gender and Nation in the Poetry of Andrés Bello.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 84 (2007): 99–111.Find this resource:

            Davies, Catherine. “Gendered Interpretations of Independence Poetry: Mexico and Peru, 1820–1822.” In Power, Place and Representation: Contested Sites of Dependence and Independence in Latin America. Edited by Bill Richardson and Lorraine Kelly, 129–155. Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang, 2012.Find this resource:

              Davies, Catherine. “Género en la independencia de Latinoamérica: Cultura política de la mujer e interpretación textual de género, 1790–1850.” In Visiones y Revisiones de la Independencia Americana: Subalternidad e Independencias. Edited by Izaskun Alvarez Cuartero and Julio Sánchez Gómez, 103–114. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad, 2012.Find this resource:

                Davies, Catherine, Hilary Owen, and Claire Brewster. South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

                  Drucaroff, Elsa. La patria de las mujeres: Una historia de espías en la Salta de Güemes. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1999.Find this resource:

                    García y García, Elvira. La mujer peruana a través de los siglos. Lima: Imprenta americana, 1924.Find this resource:

                      Guardia, Sara Beatriz, ed. Las mujeres en la Independencia de America Latina. Lima: CEMHAL, 2010.Find this resource:

                        Macintyre, Iona. Women and Print Culture in Post-Independence Buenos Aires. London: Tamesis, 2010.Find this resource:

                          Matthews, Charlotte. Gender, Race, and Patriotism in the Works of Nísia Floresta. London: Tamesis, 2012.Find this resource:

                            McIlwaine, Cathy, Juan Camilo Cook, and Bernard Linneker. No Longer Invisible: The Latin American Community in London. London: Queen Mary, University of London, 2011.Find this resource:

                              Miguens, Silvia. Lupe. Buenos Aires: Tusquets, 1996.Find this resource:

                                Monsalve, José D. Mujeres de la independencia. Bogota: Imprenta nacional, 1926.Find this resource:

                                  Potthast, Barbara. “Review of South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text.” Hispanic American Historical Review 88.3 (2009): 501–502.Find this resource:

                                    Quintero, Inés. La criolla principal: María Antonia Bolívar, la hermana del Libertador. Caracas: Aguilar, 2010.Find this resource:

                                      Rodriguez, Julia. “Review of South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text.” Journal of Latin American Studies 41 (2009): 375–377.Find this resource:

                                        Socolow, Susan Migden. The Women of Colonial America. 2d ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

                                          Urquidi, José Macedonio. Bolivianas ilustres. La Paz: Escuela tipográfica salesiana, 1918.Find this resource:


                                            (1.) Catherine Davies, Hilary Owen, and Claire Brewster, South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text (Liverpool, U.K.: Liverpool University Press, 2006). Reviewers of the book found it an excellent source for both specialists and nonspecialists. For Barbara Potthast, University of Cologne, “the authors should be praised for uncovering several hitherto unknown or forgotten texts, mainly those written by women,” and she noted that it was “a fine example of the importance of an interdisciplinary approach” (Hispanic American Historical Review 88.3 [2009]: 501–502).

                                            (2.) Iona Macintyre, Women and Print Culture in Post-Independence Buenos Aires (London: Tamesis, 2010); and Charlotte Matthews, Gender, Race, and Patriotism in the Works of Nísia Floresta (London: Tamesis, 2012).

                                            (3.) Catherine Davies, “Género en la independencia de Latinoamérica: Cultura política de la mujer e interpretación textual de género, 1790–1850,” in Visiones y Revisiones de la Independencia Americana: Subalternidad e Independencias, eds. Izaskun Alvarez Cuartero and Julio Sánchez Gómez (Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad, 2012), 103–114; and Josefa Acevedo de Gómez, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Mothers and Housewives, edited with introduction by Catherine Davies and translated from the Spanish by Sarah Sánchez (Nottingham, U.K.: CCCP, 2007). The Acevedo treatise was originally published in 1848 as Tratado sobre la economía doméstica.

                                            (4.) Catherine Davies, “Colonial Dependence and Sexual Difference: Reading for Gender in the Writings of Simón Bolívar (1783–1830),” Feminist Review 79 (special issue: Latin America: History, War and Independence 2005): 5–19; Davies, “Unequal States: Gender in Latin American Independence,” Hispanic Research Journal 7.1 (special issue 2006): 3–10; Davies, “Troped out of History: Women, Gender and Nation in the Poetry of Andrés Bello,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 84 (2007): 99–111; and Davies, “Gendered Interpretations of Independence Poetry: Mexico and Peru, 1820–1822,” in Power, Place and Representation: Contested Sites of Dependence and Independence in Latin America, eds. Bill Richardson and Lorraine Kelly (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang, 2012), 129–155.

                                            (5.) Cathy McIlwaine, Juan Camilo Cook, and Bernard Linneker, No Longer Invisible, The Latin American Community in London (London: Queen Mary University of London Press, 2011).

                                            (6.) Susan Migden Socolow, The Women of Colonial America, 2d ed. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press), 171.

                                            (7.) José Macedonio Urquidi, Bolivianas ilustres [Illustrious Bolivian Women] (La Paz: Escuela tipográfica salesiana, 1918); Elvira Garcia y Garcia, La mujer peruana a través de los siglos [Peruvian Women across the Centuries] (Lima: Imprenta Americana, 1924); and José D. Monsalve, Mujeres de la independencia [Women of the Independence movement] (Bogota: Imprenta nacional, 1926).

                                            (8.) Josefa Acevedo de Gómez, Poesías de una granadina (Bogota: Imprenta F. Torres Amaya, 1854).

                                            (9.) Evelyn Cherpak, “The Participation of Women in the Independence Movement in Gran Colombia, 1780–1830,” in Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives, eds. Asuncion Lavrin (Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood, 1978), 219–234.

                                            (10.) Sara Beatriz Guardia, ed., Las mujeres en la Independencia de America Latina (Lima: CEMHAL, 2010).

                                            (11.) Elsa Drucaroff, La patria de las mujeres: Una historia de espías en la Salta de Güemes (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1999); Silvia Miguens, Lupe (Buenos Aires: Tusquets, 1996); and Inés Quintero, La criolla principal: María Antonia Bolívar, la hermana del Libertador (Caracas: Aguilar, 2010).