STORIES FROM SPAIN

ELENA MASERAS, FIRST WOMAN TO STUDY MEDICINE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF BARCELONA

Nowadays, women outnumber men in universities: 58 per cent of those enrolled are women. This data does not surprise us now, but getting here has not been easy. As in many other spheres, women could not attend University until a little over a century ago.

Since its origins, university classrooms only welcomed men, but in the face of the struggle of equality for women, in the middle of the 19th century, some European universities decided to accept women in all university studies on equal terms with men. The universities of Paris and Zurich were the pioneers.

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Despite the prohibitions, some women managed to sneak into classrooms, even if they had to do so dressed as men (Concepción Arenal).

Elena Maseras, born in 1853 in Vilaseca, Spain, did not want to disguise herself to enrol in the University of Barcelona. She was raised in a family of doctors, and since her childhood she was drawn to medicine and decided to follow in her family’s footsteps.  She longed to study medicine during a time when university was closed for women. Despite the great challenges she faced, she finished her Bachelor of Arts.

After requesting to enrol in the University, the King of Spain, Amadeo de Saboya, granted her a Royal Order in 1872 that allowed her to enrol to study medicine at the University of Barcelona.

That permission allowed Elena to pursue the degree on a private basis, but did not allow her to attend classes. In 1875, Professor Narciso Carbón admitted her to his classroom and thus she began in-person classes. Despite being well received by her male companions, Elena could not sit beside them; she had to occupy a special seat on the platform next to the teacher.

In 1878, she concluded her studies and requested to take the licensure exam. The Ministry of Public Instruction took just over 3 years to grant her permission. Tired of bureaucratic obstacles, Elena Maseras decided to redirect her career towards teaching, working as a teacher in the town of Villanova i la Geltrú (Catalonia) and later in Mahón (Menorca) where she taught at the first public school for girls.

While she was teaching, Elena also wrote for a Republican and Democratic newspaper called “El Pueblo”. Her articles covered health, culture, and leisure topics.

Meanwhile, small steps were taken for the integration of women in the university world. Thus, in 1888, the entry of women into the University as private students was allowed, but it required the authorization of the Council of Ministers for their registration as official students.

Only on 8 March 1910, through a Royal Order of the Ministry of Public Instruction, women enrolment was authorized under the same conditions as men—without special permits and allowing them to attend classes. In addition, a few months later, the qualification for professional practice was recognized. During the first year, 21 women enrolled in the university.

Elena Maseras could not be a witness to it; she had died five years earlier. She was only 52 years old, but her name occupies a place of honour among the brave women who fought for equality between men and women.

 

Literature and References

https://mujerespioneras.org/2020/08/elena-maseras-primera-mujer-en-estudiar-medicina-en-la-universidad-de-barcelona/

https://mujeresvalientes.es/elena-maseras-medicina-universidad/  

JUANA THE MAD

Juana of Castile was also known as Juana La Loca or ‘Juana the Mad.’ She was the older sister of Catherine of Aragon, the queen of England during her marriage to Henry VIII of England. Juana married Philip the Handsome when she was sixteen and had six children.

Juana was smart and possessed a high level of education. She was fluent in Castilian, Leonese, Galician-Portuguese, Catalan, French and Latin. She enjoyed hunting and hawking, dancing and playing a variety of instruments, including the clavichord, the guitar and the monochord.

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In her teens, she began to question the Catholic faith.  Her mother, Queen Isabella I, reportedly tortured her as a punishment for her scepticism. While harsh, it is not surprising given that one of Isabella’s greatest life achievements was the Inquisition.

Juana was thrust to the front of the line to the throne when many of her family members died. First, her brother Juan died, leaving no living children, and then Juana’s sister Isabella died after giving birth to her son Miquel, who died on his second birthday.

This all meant that Juana was the Princess of Asturias and heir to the throne of Castile. When her mother, Isabella I of Castile died in 1504, Juana took the throne of Castile and Leon, and then she inherited the Kingdom of Aragon when her father died in 1517.

So why was she nicknamed ‘Mad’?

In 1504, she began to show signs of mental instability. (A psychologist might point out that she began to experience mental problems the same year that her mother, both a source of love and intense pain, passed away.)

Juana had trouble sleeping and eating, and to avoid loneliness, she yearned to join her husband in his travels. When she was prevented from doing so, she would become enraged.

Another source of anger for Juana was her husband taking multiple mistresses.

The most notorious of her outbursts was when her husband died, and she travelled with his body form Burgos to Granada while she was pregnant. Upon arrival, she opened her husband’s casket to hug and kiss him.

Before his death, Philip, wishing to seize the Crown of Castile, spread rumours about Juana’s insanity, potentially blowing them out of proportion, being supported by Ferdinand II of Aragon, attempting to prevent Juana from reigning thus avoiding that the crown fell into the hands of Philip, due to the significant enmity between father-in law and son-in-law.  Juana’s son Charles became the Holy Roman Emperor and sent Juana to a convent where she would live out the rest of her life until she died at age 75.

That ended the long and tragic life of Juana the Mad. Without a doubt, the nickname can be understood taking into account her personal circumstances, marked by the loss of her loved ones, as well as continuous deceptions of her husband, whom she loved with devotion and whose death led to a serious emotional crisis of Juana.

There are scholars who have argued that Juana’s “madness” was due to a political conspiracy favoured by her father and her husband, who had political aspirations to govern and possess the absolute power of Castile. Some even affirm that her temperament was due to a way of making herself heard in a world dominated by men and thus reaffirming herself as a woman. This approach would make Juana a clear example of all those intelligent women who have been unfairly excluded from power just for the simple fact of being a woman.

 

Literature and References

https://www.factinate.com/people/facts-joanna-of-castile-mad-queen/

Gerda Taro
1910 - 1937

Pioneer of war photography
Gerda Taro, nee Gerta Pohorylle, was born in Stuttgart and educated in Leipzig, Germany. As she is from a Jewish family, she flees from the Nazis to Paris in 1933. There she lives a bohemian lifestyle with her friend Ruth Cerf and eventually meets Endre Ernő Friedmann, better known today as Robert Capa. Together, they start documenting the Spanish Civil War in 1935, after Gerda had invented their alter egos in order to better sell Endre's and her own pictures. Inspired by their own political convictions, they only take pictures of the the fight of the republican troops against the rebellious franquist troops. Both of them try to be as close to the action as possible - a goal which eventually led to Gerda's death. Despite the fact that her pictures only cover 1 year of the war, her pictures are those that went around the world. Together with Robert Capa and with David Seymour, she developed modern war photography as we know it today during this short period of time. Since she officially was Capa's agent and he sold many of her pictures as his own, it took until the 2000s until people began to recognize her as an artist in her own right rather than only his partner: In 2007, the so-called Mexican Suitcase was found in Mexico City, a suitcase containing thousands of negatives believed lost by Capa, Taro and Seymour. Since then, many photographs originally attributed to Capa are known to have been taken by Gerda. However, during her short life, Taro was well known and when she was killed in 1937 by a tank, - she was only 26 - thousands of people attended her funeral in Paris. The funeral procession, led by Pablo Neruda and Louis Aragon, became a demonstration against fascism.

Marie-Claire Chevalier
1955 - 2022

The one whose trial for illegal abortion changed the law against abortion in France
In 1971, Marie-Claire Chevalier was 16 years old when she became pregnant after being raped by a boy two years older than her in high school. The young woman asked her mother to help her have an abortion. The mother turned to an underground doctor, but her daughter suffered a hemorrhage that forced her to the hospital. Her rapist, arrested for stealing a car, decides to turn her in against his own freedom. She is directly accused, as are four other women, including her mother, because in 1971 the voluntary termination of a pregnancy was illegal in France and punishable by six months to two years in prison. She was then convicted at the Bobigny trial and all were defended by lawyer Gisèle Halimi. Gisèle Halimi made of this trial and of Marie-Claire Chevalier a political symbol for the right to abortion. The case will forever mark French history and symbolize real progress for women's rights. Extremely mediatized, the trial closely followed by many personalities ends on a brilliant victory. Three years later this judgement, things started to move. This event contributed to the adoption of the Veil law and the legalization of abortion in France in 1975.

Having suffered greatly from this trial, she attempted suicide. Then, she chose to return to anonymity by changing her name. At her death, she received tributes from the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron and feminist associations.

Maria Lejárraga
1874 – 1974

She was writing and her husband harvesting the glory, fame and money!
Writer, feminist, deputy, polyglot and socialist who opposed to the death penalty and legal prostitution. She advocated for education, work and equal rights for women in Spain. A very open-minded and visionary woman who had to pay a high price imposed by her gender.

María Lejárraga comes from the region of La Rioja from an economically stable middle class family. She was able to receive good education and became a teacher. During her teaching career she discovered her passion for writing. She was very talented and ready to share her ideas and stories with the world. But, that´s where she bumped into a big obstacle. At the beginning of the XX century being a female writer was seen as immoral work, especially for an educator. If she had risked meeting her goals, she could have lost her teaching job. She found a solution to this problem in her marriage by publishing her works under her husband's name. So, she was writing and waiting at home and he was the one receiving praise and applause at the premiers of the plays. Before dying, her husband confirmed the rumours circulating in theatre circles that she was the true author of his works.
continue reading

Maria Lejárraga
1874 – 1974

She was writing and her husband harvesting the glory, fame and money!
Writer, feminist, deputy, polyglot and socialist who opposed to the death penalty and legal prostitution. She advocated for education, work and equal rights for women in Spain. A very open-minded and visionary woman who had to pay a high price imposed by her gender.

María Lejárraga comes from the region of La Rioja from an economically stable middle class family. She was able to receive good education and became a teacher. During her teaching career she discovered her passion for writing. She was very talented and ready to share her ideas and stories with the world. But, that´s where she bumped into a big obstacle. At the beginning of the XX century being a female writer was seen as immoral work, especially for an educator. If she had risked meeting her goals, she could have lost her teaching job. She found a solution to this problem in her marriage by publishing her works under her husband's name. So, she was writing and waiting at home and he was the one receiving praise and applause at the premiers of the plays. Before dying, her husband confirmed the rumours circulating in theatre circles that she was the true author of his works.
continue reading

Maria Lejárraga
1874 – 1974

She was writing and her husband harvesting the glory, fame and money!
Writer, feminist, deputy, polyglot and socialist who opposed to the death penalty and legal prostitution. She advocated for education, work and equal rights for women in Spain. A very open-minded and visionary woman who had to pay a high price imposed by her gender.

María Lejárraga comes from the region of La Rioja from an economically stable middle class family. She was able to receive good education and became a teacher. During her teaching career she discovered her passion for writing. She was very...
continue reading