3 Mar, 2024 @ 12:00
2 mins read

Pioneering voices: who were Spain’s early suffragettes?

SPAIN at the end of the 19th century was undergoing a massive economic and social upheaval – and women wanted a piece of the action too.

The country saw the emergence of a band of courageous feminists and suffragettes who fought for social, political, and economic justice.

But it would be a long road before they were to get the vote – and in many ways they had to wait until the death of Franco in 1975 before the deep-set conservatism that kept women ‘in their place’ began to give way. This is a process that is still continuing with modern day women fighting their own battles.

A wave of feminist thought had begun to take root in the late 19th century, with works like Emilia Pardo Bazan’s The Feminist Question (La Cuestion Feminista) published in 1892, serving as a catalyst for discussions on women’s rights, education, and equality.

Emilia Pardo Bazan y de la Rua-Figueroa, 1851-1921. Galician novelist, journalist, essayist, critic and scholar. Photo: Cordon Press

READ MORE: New York suffragettes, Charing Cross station and Annie Lennox – the surprising history of International Women’s Day

Another pioneering figure was Concepcion Arenal, whose writings and activism challenged traditional gender roles and advocated for women’s education and legal reforms. Her work was in many ways key to the growth of subsequent feminist movements in Spain.

Leading feminist figure, Concepcion Arenal. Photo: Cordon Press.

In 1918 – the same year as Germany agreed to extend the vote to women in time for the 1919 elections and women over 30 in the UK got the vote – the Asociacion Nacional de Mujeres Españolas (National Association of Spanish Women) was founded by Consuelo Gonzalez Ramos.

It attracted leading figures including Clara Campoamor and Victoria Kent.

READ MORE: Why this International Women’s Day is more poignant than ever

Clara Campoamor (Madrid, 1888-1972) Photo: Cordon Press.

Born in Madrid, Campoamor was one of the first women to enter Parliament in Spain and had a long history of feminism and campaigning for universal suffrage.

During the 1931 elections women could not vote but they could stand to be MPs. Campoamor and fellow lawyer Victoria Kent were the only two women elected.

Their work on the Constitutional Committee helped to enshrine the principle that women had the same rights as men in the Spanish Constitution of 1931 – with one glaring disagreement.

Malaga-born Kent, as a member of the Radical Socialist Republican Party, felt that it was too soon to allow women the vote.

Far left thought at the time was that women tended to be too conservative and in thrall to the Catholic Church and so would most likely vote right wing.

READ MORE: International Women’s Day: Celebrating the inspirational work of expat women in Spain

Campoamor, a member of the Radical Party, saw it as a human rights issue and was instrumental in achieving universal  suffrage for women in time for the 1933 elections after ‘winning’ a debate with Kent. During the Franco era women nominally retained the right to vote – although voter lists became restricted to ‘heads of households’, usually men.

Campoamor and Kent had already shown herself to be an inspiration to women. They were the first two female members of the Madrid Law Association having both broken through a glass ceiling by entering university to study law.

Campoamor went into exile during the Civil War and died in Lausanne (Switzerland) in 1972 at the age of 82.

Kent too was exiled and died in New York aged 96 in 1987.

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