Mora, Constancia de la (1906–1950)
Mora, Constancia de la (1906–1950)
Spanish activist during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) who held the position of Censor for the Foreign Press Bureau, becoming its director in 1938, and was instrumental in the organization of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee during WWII. Name variations: Connie; Constancia de la Mora y Maura. Pronunciation: Con-STAN-thee-ah day lah Mor-ah ee Mau-rah. Born Constancia de la Mora y Maura in Madrid, Spain, on January 28, 1906; died as a result of injuries received in an automobile accident in Guatemala on January 26, 1950; daughter of Germán de la Mora (a managing director of one of the most important electric companies in Madrid) and Constancia Maura (daughter of Prime Minister Antonio Maura); attended the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart convent school in Madrid, 1915–20; attended St. Mary's Convent School of Cambridge, 1920–23; married Manuel Bolín, in May 1927 (divorced 1932); married Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros, in 1933; children:
(first marriage) Constancia María de Lourdes Bolín Maura (known as "Luli").
Educated at home by an Irish nanny who taught her English (1910); was enrolled at a convent school (1915–20); continued education in Cambridge; returned to Madrid for social debut (1923–26); while vacationing in France, met Manuel Bolín of Málaga and became engaged (1926); married (1927); legally separated from husband and returned to Madrid (1931); took on first job—as a clerk—in a popular arts store; obtained one of the first divorces of the Spanish Republic (1932); married (1933); accompanied husband to Italy and Germany where he held the post of Air Attaché to the Spanish Embassy in Rome (1933–36); rebel forces staged a military coup against the legally elected government (July 1936), starting an international conflict known as the Spanish Civil War; joined the Spanish Communist Party (PCE, autumn 1936); became an active member of the National Committee of Antifascist Women, the central governing organ of AMA, the National Organization of Anti-Fascist Women; worked with the Ministry of Justice for the Protection of Minors; directed a hospice for abandoned or orphaned children; ordered by the Committee for the Protection of Minors to leave the capital, due to the intense bombings of Madrid (autumn 1936); evacuated, along with her 650 charges, to the Mediterranean city of Alicante and oversaw colonies for evacuated children; established a convalescent home for wounded aviators in Alicante; evacuated her daughter to the USSR; was the only woman to join the staff of censors of the Foreign Press Bureau in Valencia, the new capital of the Republic (1937); visited various fronts; attended the International Anti-Fascist Writers Conference in Valencia; evacuated with the rest of the Republican government to the coastal city of Barcelona (1937); promoted to chief of the Foreign Press Bureau—the only woman to hold this position in Spanish history (1938); accompanied the foreign minister to Geneva where they pleaded the Spanish cause before the League of Nations Assembly (May 1938); left Barcelona for the northern town of Figueras (January 1939); evacuated to France (February 1939); set up a makeshift press agency in Toulouse and became an impromptu speaker for the government of the Spanish Republic; left for U.S. to ask for military and humanitarian aid for the Spanish cause (February 1939); Franco declared his victory over the Spanish Republic (April 1); published autobiography In Place of Splendor (1939); relocated with family to Cuernavaca, Mexico (1940); was instrumental in the operation of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (1940–45).
In Place of Splendor: Autobiography of a Spanish Woman (Harcourt, Brace, 1939); Anna Seghers -Constancia de la Mora Tell the Story of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (NY: National Office, 1944).
As a young girl growing up in one of Spain's most prominent political families, Connie de la Mora enjoyed a life of idle luxury devoted to debutante balls, elite social functions, royal shooting parties, Paris shopping trips, and exclusive vacations. Just as with other women of her class, she was expected to marry young and well: "For finding a husband was the real aim of my existence and I was never allowed to forget it," she wrote. De la Mora's life did not go according to her parents' plans. She married for love, not money; but it was a disastrous marriage that ended in divorce. Her experience as an independent single parent was to be the catalyst in her coming to realize the unequal status afforded to women in Spanish society and the inspiration for her political activism.
Connie de la Mora y Maura was born in 1906 in Madrid, Spain, to German de la Mora, chief executive officer of an electric company, and Constancia Maura , the eldest daughter of the conservative politician and prime minister Antonio Maura. In her autobiography, de la Mora observes, rather wryly, that she was aware early in life of "belong[ing] to Spain's privileged class: the rich. And yet I knew this before I could pronounce the Spanish word for it." She confesses, however, feeling uncomfortable in this role:
In Zarauz I became a rebel against my heritage. Although it took twenty years and more to develop. I remember distinctly that my first feeling of hostility to my surroundings, my people, my life, was born in Zarauz…. I would probably not remember that uncomfortable feeling of my childhood except that it followed me all through my girlhood, into my life as a woman and citizen of Spain.
These feelings of alienation would accompany de la Mora throughout her life. The eldest of five children, she was brought up by an Irish nanny until her formal education began, at the age of nine, in strict Catholic schools. The five years spent under the repressive care of the religious order of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart left an indelible mark on de la Mora and contributed to the formation of her progressive ideas regarding education and child rearing. She thought the instruction provided by the nuns was severely limited, offering her a narrowly focused and parochial education. Too young to attend finishing school or make her societal debut, at age 14 she convinced her parents to send her to St. Mary's Convent School in Cambridge, England, to further her schooling. There, in contrast to her prior educational experience, de la Mora was allowed to explore a new world where women had the freedom to wander about without a chaperon, where women could speak freely, and where books were made readily available for inquisitive minds. In Cambridge, de la Mora blossomed and later recalled this period as one of the most joyful: "It was the one happy period of my life my parents gave me."
I valued my independence…. I knew that I was violating every canon of the society I had been brought up in—Spanish women of my class accepted sorrow submissively, as the will of God…. But I was ready at long last to burn my bridges.
—Constancia de la Mora
Upon her return to Spain, de la Mora prepared for her societal debut, a period filled with the never-ending social and religious obligations suitable to her stature. She was thought by many, she writes, to be "quite a catch, the granddaughter of Spain's most famous political leader—and on top of that—considered quite a beauty in Madrid." However, the life her parents had planned for their daughter assured her a mundane future, typical of upper-class Spanish women of the period. "At nineteen," she wrote, "I would be officially engaged to a solid, sensible gentleman with money and position. At twenty, I would have a great church wedding, a Paris trousseau, and a three months' wedding trip. And after that—well, but after that there was nothing to talk about. My life would be secure, settled, begun and ended at the same time."
True to her spirit, de la Mora refused to follow social convention and decided that she would marry only for love. In 1926, while vacationing in the exclusive French seaside resort of St.-Jean-de-Luz, she met Manuel Bolín of Málaga and became engaged within two weeks. The whirlwind romance led to marriage a year later. But troubles in the relationship appeared on her wedding night, said de la Mora. "I knew before morning that I did not, and never would, love my husband." During her brief marriage to Bolín, they lived in the Southern provincial city of Málaga, a far cry from the sophistication of Spain's capital, Madrid. De la Mora found it difficult to adjust to life in a small, provincial city as was Málaga in the 1920s. Living with her in-laws only added to the tension in the marriage, so she convinced her husband that they should move out of his parents' home to their own place.
In 1928, de la Mora gave birth to her first and only child, a girl, Constancia Maria de Lourdes Bolín Maura, known as Luli. For a few months, things seemed to go well, until her husband insisted that he could no longer work for his father and that it would be best if they moved to Madrid. Bolín found it difficult to keep any job, and ultimately money troubles began to affect the young couple. De la Mora took matters into her own hands and set out to find a job in order to help support herself, her child, and her husband. This was a brave move, for married women of high social standing in Spain did not work. Through Zenobia Camprubí , a businesswoman married to poet and Nobel prizewinner Juan Ramón Jiménez, de la Mora found her first post, tutoring American journalists and their wives in Spanish and administrating the many apartments Camprubí owned throughout Madrid. That autumn, de la Mora worked in Arte Popular, a folk art shop owned by Camprubí and Inés Muñoz . Her marriage continued to disintegrate, and she finally decided to separate from her husband. Her decision to live independently as a single parent generated a fair amount of gossip and scandal among her social peers. Even so, de la Mora had her lawyer draw up the necessary legal papers in 1931, a year that would also prove to be an important milestone in Spanish history.
Following the abdication of King Alphonso XIII, a republic was established in 1931 by a weak coalition of centrist and left-centrist party leaders. This democratic regime, the second in Spain's history, initiated a series of economic, social, and political reforms that would ultimately drive the nation into civil strife. The liberalization process initiated by the new government particularly impacted women's lives. Many women of the urban middle class gained access to professions previously limited to men. Women were elected members of Parliament, led national trade unions, and undertook careers in law, medicine, and other scientific disciplines. Within two short years, women were granted constitutional equality, the right to vote, and the right to divorce their husbands.
De la Mora began this new period with a sense of adventure. As a single parent, she became keenly aware of the importance of politics and how it could effect change on an individual level: "Overnight I became a citizen of Spain," she wrote. "And I was free and happy, and suddenly I wanted passionately to know about the world I lived in." Her new-found awareness was closely bound to the difficulties she encountered as a single working mother. De la Mora's alternative lifestyle was met with great disapproval by her family and friends. "A woman who wants to be 'independent'," she wrote, "will sooner or later end up as that of lowest of all things, a Republican, a traitor to the Monarchy. And in a fortnight I had lost all the friends I had known since my childhood." The country was divided between those conservative forces—such as the Church, the aristocracy, and the military—that supported the monarchy, and the Spanish people who supported the Republic and democratic reform. De la Mora aligned herself with the latter and actively engaged in the rebuilding of "our new country" by taking a job with the PNT, a government agency that supervised the writing and distribution of tourist information. De la Mora felt that she could contribute to dispelling the myths and animosities among Spaniards and foreigners by producing well written, accurate and helpful information about Spain. Soon discouraged by the lack of interest demonstrated by her superiors, however, she resigned her post and returned to the folk-art business to help her friends.
In 1931, de la Mora met a dashing young Air Force major, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros. As their relationship intensified, she decided to divorce her husband and marry Hidalgo de Cisneros. For almost a year, she and Ignacio attended the parliamentary debates on the divorce bill. Finally on March 2, 1932, divorce became legal in Spain, and shortly thereafter she obtained one of the country's first divorces. In the small town of Alcalá de Henares (just outside Madrid), on January 16, 1933, Constancia de la Mora y Maura wed Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros in a civil ceremony. Their next few years were spent in Rome and Berlin where Ignacio had been assigned the post of military attaché. These experiences allowed de la Mora to witness firsthand National Syndicalism in the Third Reich and Fascism in Mussolini's Italy. While they were on foreign duty, Spain was undergoing many political changes: in the national elections of 1933, the ultra-conservative coalition CEDA (Spanish Confederation of the Independent Right) won with a landslide vote. When many of the reforms initiated by the prior government were suspended or eliminated by the new conservative coalition, minors, workers, and farmhands launched national strikes. The government forces struck with force and many thousands of workers (especially in the mining area of Asturias) were killed. De la Mora returned to Spain in 1935 and resumed her previous employment in Madrid, even investing in the art shop.
New elections were held in February 1936. The Popular Front, a coalition of Leftist parties, won, and once again the country set its course for democratic reform. But this electoral victory would be short-lived. Riots and street violence kept the nation on edge. The right-wing Falange (modeled after the Italian Blackshirts) waged a campaign of violence against those sympathetic to democracy. The military, supported by the Church and the land owners, threatened to take over the legally elected government if law and order were not restored. Finally on July 17, 1936, General Francisco Franco and his troops staged a military revolt in the Spanish Protectorates of Morocco. The rebellion, carefully planned months ahead, was carried out swiftly by other military commanders throughout Spain. The Spanish Civil War had begun.
De la Mora clearly sympathized with the democratic forces under siege and quickly volunteered her services in defense of the Republic. Despite the fact that she was not affiliated with any political party or trade union, she managed to contact someone at the Ministry of Justice. Accompanied by a group of her closest friends, de la Mora was instructed by the Committee for the Protection of Minors to supervise an orphanage abandoned by the religious order that had previously been in charge. She directed the orphanage for a short time, introducing many changes that reflect her progressive approach to child-rearing. As the war raged, de la Mora saw her wards increase in number, but it was no longer a safe place for children, due to the intense bombings of Madrid in the autumn of 1936. The Republican government established a series of refugee camps for the children of Madrid on the Mediterranean coast. De la Mora was ordered by the Committee for the Protection of Minors to leave the capital with her 650 charges for the city of Alicante.
During this period, de la Mora joined the Spanish Communist Party and became an active member of the National Committee of Antifascist Women, the central governing organ of Agrupación de Mujeres Antifascistas (AMA), the National Organization of Anti-Fascist Women.
Upon hearing from Ignacio about the lack of adequate health care for wounded military personnel, de la Mora established a convalescent home for wounded aviators in Alicante while relinquishing her leadership of the children whom she had evacuated from Madrid. In December, she accepted the offer made by the Soviet government to care for Spanish Republican children until the end of the war and sent her daughter Luli to the USSR.
Due to the Madrid bombings, the Republican government relocated to the Mediterranean city of Valencia, just up the coast from Alicante. De la Mora also moved there, feeling that she had accomplished all she could in Alicante. Since she had a remarkable command of foreign languages, friends suggested that she could better help the anti-Fascist war effort abroad by joining the Foreign Press Bureau (FPB). In 1937, she became the only woman to join the staff of censors of the FPB. Her duties expanded from merely censoring press releases, written by the many journalists covering the war, to securing gasoline, procuring passes, arranging interviews with government officials, and accompanying various foreign journalists, such as Josephine Herbst, Jean Ross , and Martha Gellhorn , to various war fronts. That year, she also attended the International Anti-Fascist Writers Conference held in Valencia.
As the war raged on, the Republican forces were losing ground. Once again, the government relocated further north, to Barcelona, nearer the French border. In 1938, de la Mora, now a government official, also left Valencia to take up residence in Barcelona as chief of the Foreign Press Bureau—the only woman to hold this position in Spanish history. That May, the League of Nations would once more include the "Spanish issue" in its agenda. De la Mora was asked by the foreign minister, Julio Alvarez del Vayo, to accompany him to the meeting as a translator and representative for the Republican government. Their mission was not as successful as had been hoped, and France, Great Britain, and the United States did not override the Non-Intervention Pact.
Following the disaster at the Ebro front, the Republican forces had to abandon Barcelona. In January 1939, de la Mora, with the help of her staff, dismantled her office, destroyed all incriminating documents, and left for the northern town of Figueras. In February, it became clear that the war was coming to a close, and de la Mora was one of the 400,000 Spanish refugees evacuated to France. She temporarily relocated to the town of Perpignan and was reunited with her husband. Once again, realizing the importance of her government post, she set up a makeshift press agency in Toulouse and became an impromptu representative of the government of the Spanish Republic, now in exile. On February 10, she left for the United States where she intended to ask for military as well as humanitarian aid for the Spanish cause. By the time she arrived in New York on March 3, however, Franco was very near victory. On April 1, he declared his conquest over the Spanish Republic. De la Mora's humanitarian mission was over before it began.
At the urging of her friend, the journalist Jay Allen, de la Mora wrote her autobiography, In Place of Splendor. Published in English in July 1939, with a second printing that November, it was translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian among other languages. In 1940, taking advantage of the generous offer of the Mexican government to accept all Spanish Republican refugees, de la Mora relocated with her husband and daughter to Cuernavaca, and, like many other Spanish refugees, adopted Mexican citizenship. Little is known about her activities following the end of the Spanish Civil War. She continued her Communist Party affiliation as well as her work in support of Spanish refugees and was instrumental in the operation of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee during the years 1940–45. While en route to the Guayaquil airport in Guatemala in 1950, she was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 44.
A remarkable woman, Constancia de la Mora did not hesitate to go against convention. She was deeply committed to effecting social change and strove hard to succeed in her goals. Allen Guttmann, in his analysis of the social progress initiated during the Spanish Republic, named Constancia de la Mora, among others, heir to the legacy of the American suffragist movement:
It seemed that women like Constancia de la Mora, Isabel de Palencia, Margarita Nelken de Paul were about to inherit the legacy left by Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott , and Susan B. Anthony —to name only those women prominent in the crusade for women's rights.
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Broué, Pierre, and Emile Teminé. The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain. Translated by Tony White. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970.
Mora, Constancia de la. In Place of Splendor: Autobiography of a Spanish Woman. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1939.
"Señorita de la Mora killed in Guatemala" (obituary) in The New York Times. January 29, 1950, p. 22.
Brothers, Barbara. "Writing Against the Grain," in Women Writing in Exile. Edited by Mary Lynn Broe and Angela Ingram. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
Collaci, Mario. "No Compromises" (review of In Place of Splendor), in Boston Transcript. November 18, 1939, p. 2.
Field, Rose. "A Patrician in Republican Spain" (review of In Place of Splendor) in The New York Times Book Review. November 18, 1939, p. 6.
Greene, Patricia V. "Constancia de la Mora's In Place of Splendor and the Persistence of Memory," in Journal of Interdisciplinary Literary Studies. Vol. 5, no. 1, 1993, pp. 75–84.
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H.M. "Sacrifice for Spain" (review of In Place of Splendor) in Christian Science Monitor. December 1, 1939, p. 20.
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The New Yorker (review). November 18, 1939, p. 90.
Sheean, Vincent. "Constancia" (a review of In Place of Splendor), in The New Republic. December 6, 1939, p. 209.
Time (review). November 20, 1939, p. 83.
White, Leigh. "Spanish Testament" (review of In Place of Splendor) in The Nation. December 23, 1939, p. 713.
Patricia V. Greene , Assistant Professor in the Department of Romance and Classical Languages, and in Women's Studies, at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan