STORIES FROM PORTUGAL

CAROLINA BEATRIZ ÂNGELO (1878 – 1911)

Beatriz Ângelo’s life was a pioneering one on several fronts: she was part of the first group of women to defend equal rights and duties for men and women; she was the first woman in Western Europe to vote; she was the first woman to perform surgery and was the first Portuguese feminist, and the only one of her time, to advocate compulsory military service for women. “

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She was born in Guarda, a country town in Portugal. She earned her degree in medicine in 1902 to become the second woman Portuguese doctor. In the same year, Carolina Beatriz Ângelo was the first Portuguese doctor to perform surgery at the Hospital de S. José in Lisbon, under the guidance of Miguel Bombarda, doctor, scientist, professor and republican, a leading figure at that time. From 1906 on Carolina participated in committees and associations linked to republican ideas. She was a member of Freemasonry and a founder of Women’s Studies. She became the leader of the Republican League of Portuguese Women, having sewn together with Adelaide the flag of the Republic raised on October 5th in 1910. Till that year, Portugal was a monarchy. On May 28th1911, the first elections in Portugal took place, to constitute the National Assembly. Carolina immediately registered herself as a voter after having studied the law, which had just been formulated on the basis of the revolutionary ideas. In that law, she found no explicit reference to the sex of the voters. She was refused the right to vote. So, she took the case to the court twice, claiming her rights. She won the case, arguing that the electoral code attributed the right to vote to “all Portuguese over the age of twenty-one, who on May the 1st” (1911), were “resident on the national territory”, who knew to “read and write” and were “head of the household”. Well, she was a Portuguese citizen, widow and a mother—head of the family, and she even knew how to read and write. She was also a gynaecologist. On the appointed day, accompanied by ten companions from the Feminist Propaganda Association who wanted to witness first-hand, Carolina Beatriz Ângelo went to vote. A crowd of onlookers awaited them at the door of Clube Estefânia, in such a way that police volunteers decided to guard the place as well as the journalists who, at nine o’clock in the morning, were already there. That was a moment not to miss. When Carolina arrived, they would not let her in. Only men were allowed to vote. Nevertheless, Carolina voted, thus becoming the first female voter of Portugal and Western Europe. Politics was a male matter. She died a few months later at the age of only 33. Three years later, the legislators of the new-born Portuguese Republic changed the law excluding women from the right to vote. It took 63 years and a revolution to declare universal suffrage in Portugal.

ADELAIDE CABETE (1867 – 1935)

Adelaide de Jesus Damas Brazão was born in Alcáçovas, a country town bordering with Spain. She was born into a working class family. She got married at the age of 18 with a man aged 36, Manuel Ramos Fernandes Cabete, a self-taught sergeant, a Latin and Greek tutor, who encouraged and accompanied her in her studies. Adelaide completed primary school at the age of 22, finished grammar school at the age of 29 and graduated in medicine when she was 33.

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“The protection of poor pregnant women as a means of promoting the physical development of new generations”, was the title of her degree thesis. Adelaide proposed the formulation of the law that would allow female workers to rest during the last month of pregnancy, receiving a subsidy. She also proposed the creation of maternity wards, day-care centres, children’s homes, institutions of social solidarity. She promoted the first abolitionist congresses on prostitution, and organized in Portugal the famous Leagues of Kindness, a voluntary work of social assistance directed by women.

Politically, she was a committed republican. She had conviction, and she was a feminist.  She developed intense militant activity in favour of the establishment of that political regime and for the dignifying of women’s status. In 1909, she participated in the founding of the Republican League of Portuguese Women. The organisation split in May 1911 giving birth to the Association of Feminist Propaganda in Portugal (1911-1918), which was Masonic. She participated in the Gant Feminist Congress (1913) and was a member of the National Council of Portuguese Women (CNMP), the most enduring feminist organization in the 20th century (1914-1947), in Portugal. She was also president of the National Women’s Crusade, the result of the mobilization of Republicans with the declaration of the state of war in March 1916, to give material and moral support to the combatants and their families. Feminism partially put aside its pacifist endeavours. She saw the war as an opportunity to show the value of women. She also represented the Portuguese government at the 1st International Feminist Congress (1923), which took place in Italy. As President of the National Crusade for Portuguese Women, she organized the 1st Feminist and Education Congress (1924) in Lisbon. At this congress, she also presented a pedagogical project on the anti-alcoholic struggle in schools. This was an important milestone in Education in Portugal. Representing the Portuguese Government, she participated in the congress of the International Council of Women in Washington in 1925. She collaborated in the feminist press of the time, namely in the magazine Alma Feminina, which she also directed (1920-1929).

Disillusioned with the new political situation in the country resulting from the imposition of the dictatorship of the Estado Novo (1926), she left for Angola, where she mainly dedicated herself to medicine. Adelaide Cabete was the first and the only woman to vote in Luanda, where she lived, under the new Portuguese Constitution.