Feminist Congresses, First and Second, 1916, Yucatan

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Feminist Congresses, First and Second, 1916, Yucatan

Seven hundred women attended the First and Second Feminist Congresses at the Peon Contreras Theatre in Mérida, Yucatán, in January and December 1916. The congresses, held against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), were the first to address women's rights and participation in Mexico. They reflected the swell of feminist thought, liberalism, and radical ideas that had grown particularly since the late nineteenth century.

Scholars credit Salvador Alvarado, the Yucatán governor (1915–1918), with the idea to hold the congresses, though women carried out the logistics and organization. A proclaimed socialist, Alvarado implemented liberal reforms and supported greater roles for women in public life, particularly in education. President Venustiano Carranza, who appointed Alvarado, likewise raised awareness about women's contributions to the nation. His private secretary was Hermila Galindo de Topete (1896–1954), a vocal feminist and editor from 1915 to 1919 of the journal Mujer Moderna (Modern woman), which promoted Carranza and feminist ideas. Although Galindo did not attend the conferences, she sent a speech about the "woman of the future" to be read in her absence; its discussion of female sexuality generated great controversy.

Because literacy was required, the majority of conference attendees were middle-class schoolteachers. Education was an important theme: Though separated among radicals, moderates, and conservatives, in general the attendees agreed on the centrality of education in addressing the condition of women in society. Some women believed that education was more important for men than for women; others stressed the importance of women's roles as mothers and as educators within and outside the home. Although vague, conference resolutions demanded the same job opportunities for women and men. The Catholic Church was a subject of much debate and disagreement. Reflecting the government's anticlerical attitudes, some women decried the Church as the "yoke of tradition" and criticized its influence in education. Their opponents defended it as a critical educational and moral compass.

The moderate and radical factions of the Congress united in favor of reforming the 1884 Civil Code, which denied married women legal and property rights. Their critique had some influence on President Carranza's decision to enact the Law of Family Relations in 1917, expanding women's legal rights. Although the conferences' more ambitious goals, such as women's suffrage, were still far off, the discussions and debate that took place gave voice to the major concerns of middle-class women in early-twentieth-century Mexico.

See alsoAlvarado, Salvador; Carranza, Venustiano; Feminism and Feminist Organizations; Women.


Blanco Figueroa, Francisco. Mujeres mexicanas del siglo XX: La otra revolución, 4 vols. Mexico: Editorial Edico, 2001–.

Macías, Anna. Against All Odds: The Feminist Movement in Mexico to 1940. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.

Mitchell, Stephanie, and Patience A. Schell, eds. The Women's Revolution in Mexico, 1910–1953. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007.

                                        Meredith Glueck

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