Perón, María Eva Duarte de (1919–1952)

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Perón, María Eva Duarte de (1919–1952)

María Eva Duarte de Perón (Evita; b. 7 May 1919; d. 26 July 1952), Argentine politician and actress and the second wife of President Juan Domingo Perón during his first term in office (1946–1952). Born on an estate near Los Toldos in Buenos Aires Province, Evita, as she was known, was the fifth illegitimate child of Juana Ibarguren and Juan Duarte, a local landowner. After his death, the family moved to Junín, in eastern Argentina, where Evita attended school and dreamed of becoming an actress. At fifteen, she decided to try her luck in Buenos Aires. Success eluded her in the theater and films, but she was very successful as a soap-opera radio actress. Her life changed substantially after January 1944, when she met Colonel Perón, then undersecretary of war and secretary of labor, and soon-to-be-minister of war and vice president. To the consternation and shock of his fellow officers and Buenos Aires's sociopolitical elite, not only did Perón and Evita become lovers, but, contrary to accepted norms, they began to live together.

The transformation of the dark-haired young starlet into the elegant, blond, and fiery Evita, the charismatic leader of the descamisados (shirtless ones), was a gradual process that began after the 17 October 1945 crisis. On that day, thousands of workers went on strike to demand the release of Perón, who had been forced to resign from his three posts and was imprisoned. Although Peronist and anti-Peronist mythology credits Evita with a leading role in the workers' demonstration, she only tried to obtain a writ of habeas corpus for Perón's release. However, he wrote to her from jail and promised to marry her.

Shortly after their 21 October 1945 wedding, Perón began his campaign for the presidency. In a society where women could not vote and first ladies remained in the background, Evita sat in on strategy meetings and accompanied Perón on his tours of the provinces. After his inauguration, her interest in politics and her influence increased as she began to meet daily with union leaders and represented Perón at numerous functions. Invited by General Francisco Franco to visit Spain in an official capacity, she toured Spain, France, and Italy as if she were a glamorous movie star.

By 1948, Evita was clearly established as an influential member of Perón's government. Until her death, she played a crucial, though informal, role within the Peronist structure. Her only attempt to formalize her activities and become a vice presidential candidate in the 1951 elections generated too much opposition from the military. Officially, she was only Argentina's first lady, but, together with Perón, she was the leader of the descamisados, his liaison with organized labor, and his most effective publicist. She was also president of the Eva Perón Foundation, a wealthy social-welfare organization whose funds she used to build hospitals, low-income housing, schools, and youth hotels and to buy thousands of goods that she distributed to the needy. Finally, while her participation in the campaign to obtain women's suffrage was limited, she was instrumental in the massive incorporation of women into the political process and the organization of the women's branch of the Peronist Party. She presided over the party with a firm hand, and though she was already very sick when Perón ran for a second term, he was elected with an overwhelming female vote.

Evita's death transformed her into a powerful myth, but it also shook the stability of the Peronist structure at a time when Perón's economic policies strained the support of the descamisados. In September 1955 he was deposed by a military coup and forced into exile. Evita's myth became essential to the survival of Peronism during the following eighteen years and to Perón's own reelection in 1973.

See alsoArgentina: The Twentieth Century; Perón, Juan Domingo.


Julie Taylor, Evita: The Myths of a Woman (1979).

Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro, Eva Perón (1980).

Marysa Navarro, Evita (1981).

Additional Bibliography

Dujovne Ortiz, Alicia, and Shawn Fields. Eva Perón. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Navarro, Marysa. Evita: Mitos y representaciones. México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2002.

Savigliano, Marta Elena. "Evita: The Globalization of a National Myth." Latin American Perspectives 24:6 (November 1997): 156-172.

                                    Marysa Navarro