Lisboa, Irene (1892–1958)

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Lisboa, Irene (1892–1958)

Portuguese educator and author. Name variations: Irene do Ceu Vieira Lisboa; (pseudonyms) João Falco and Manuel Soares. Born in Murzinheira, Arruda dos Vinhos, Portugal, on December 25, 1892; died in Lisbon on November 25, 1958.

Born on Christmas day, 1892, in the town of Murzinheira, Arruda dos Vinhos, Portugal, Irene do Céu Vieira Lisboa lived as an orphan from an early age. When her mother died (or possibly abandoned her), Irene's father showed no interest in raising the young girl. She consequently passed to her godmother's care. According to Ivone Leal, Irene's childhood "lacked the minimal conditions for the construction of her own identity: the kindness and security of a stable family." Irene studied for four years in a convent school (which she disliked) and then went to a "modern and cosmopolitan" English-style colégio. At 15, she entered the Liceu Maria Pia, where her academic abilities drew attention, and later to the Normal School, where she prepared to teach children. Restless and energetic, she founded Educação Feminina, a journal which the conservative faculty forced her to close after a few issues. Dissatisfied with the curriculum, she and colleagues gathered books on the psychology and education of young children, including works by Gabriel Compayré, Alfred Binet, Adolfo Coelho and Herbert Spencer.

Lisboa began teaching during the era of the First World War, which Portugal entered in 1917. Her first assignment was the Beato Parish school in Lisbon, where the students' great poverty made teaching them a challenge. She provided them with food, instructional materials and other necessities from her own salary, which she was able to do because she lived with her godfather and received free room and board. Devoted to the children, she perhaps created through them the emotional security missing in her own infancy. In 1920, she moved to the Tapada School, with the assignment of directing teachers engaged in pre-school education. The end of the war and the newness of Portugal's Republic (established in 1910) made it both an exhilarating time, full of hope and experimentation, and an era of political chaos. She joined with Ilda Moreira , a schoolhood friend, to lay the foundations of Portuguese pedagogy for young children. They studied the programs of Felix Klein, Maria Montessori , and Ovide Decroly, borrowing ideas but creating their own method for Portugal. This method emphasized interest centers, observation, group work, and considerable freedom for the students rather than structure.

The Portuguese government quickly recognized Lisboa and Moreira's pedagogical contributions. Upon the recommendation of Portugal's National Institute of Education, Irene spent the years from 1929 to 1931 on a fellowship at the University of Geneva's Institute of Educational Science, followed by a half year at the International Montessori Course in Rome. At her own expense, she then spent a year in Brussels studying Decroly's method (1931–32). She also brought back to Portugal an invaluable collection of books on educational theory. In 1933, she organized and directed an important conference on "The Methods and Ends of Early Childhood Education." Her official educational experimentation lasted for 18 years, part of which she served as director of Early Childhood Education (Inspectora Orientadora do Ensino Infantil) for the National Institute of Education. In 1938, the Antonio Salazar dictatorship forced her to retire as it had no interest in her endeavors.

Prior to that Irene Lisboa wrote and published prolifically, both in pedagogy and literature. Using the pseudonym João Falco, she published 13 Contarelos in 1926, a series of children's stories. Under governmental auspices, she authored several official reports on early childhood education from 1933 to 1935. Her early unofficial works on pedagogy, however, appeared under the pseudonym Manuel Soares. Only in the early 1940s, after being forced to step down from her government post, did Irene Lisboa begin writing under her own name.

Lisboa's literary works, whether for children or adults, generally depict daily life in Lisbon. They focus on the mundane and contain virtually nothing linking them to the political climate of the time. Although widely studied by literary critics and scholars, her works, a precursor of Portuguese neo-Realism, failed to garner great public success. Lisboa's chief literary prose includes: Começa uma Vida (1940), Esta Cidade! (1943), Uma Mão Cheia de Nada, Outra de Coisa Nenhuma (1955), and the posthumous Crônicas da Serra (1961) and Solidão II (1974). Um Dia e Outro Dia (1936) and Folhas Volantes (1940) are two volumes of her poetry.

Physical ailments and unhappiness marked Lisboa's final years. She often complained of her loneliness, a sense of isolation that afflicted her during much of her life. Her insecurity made her shy, and her shyness sometimes made her seem arrogant to those who did not know her. In a letter to a friend, she remarked, "The sick person is infinitely alone, isolated, solitary, that's it!" She remained active in public life and was affiliated with the Movement for Democratic Union in the mid-1950s. Irene Lisboa died in Lisbon on November 25, 1958.


Morão, Paula. Irene Lisboa, Vida e Escrita. Lisbon: Editorial Presença, 1989.

Portugal. Biblioteca Nacional. Irene Lisboa: 1892–1958. Lisbon: Instituto da Biblioteca Nacional e do Livro, 1992.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah