Moreau de Justo, Alicia (1885–1986)
Moreau de Justo, Alicia (1885–1986)
Noted Argentine feminist, fighter for the right of women to vote, medical doctor, writer, editor, and political activist who was a leader in the Socialist Party. Pronunciation: ah-LEE-seeah mo-ROW day HOOS-toe. Name variations: Alicia Moreau. Born Alicia Moreau on October 11, 1885, in London, England; died in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1986; daughter of Armando Moreau (later a journalist and influential member of the Argentine Socialist Party) and María Denampont de Moreau; attended primary school, Buenos Aires, Escuela Normal N°-1 (Normal School N°-1), Buenos Aires (1898–1904), Colegio Nacional Central (Central National College) (1906), Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Buenos Aires (Medical School, University of Buenos Aires) (1907–14); married Juan Bautista Justo, in 1922 (died 1928); children: three, Juan, Luís, and Alicia.
Founded La Unión Nacional Feminista (National Feminist Union, 1918) and the Socialist Women's Suffrage Committee (1930); served as editor of the Socialist newspaper, La Vanguardia (1956–62).
La emancipación civil de la mujer (The Civil Emancipation of Woman, 1919); El feminismo en la evolución social (Feminism in Social Evolution, 1911); La mujer en la democracia (The Woman in a Democracy, 1945); El socialismo de Juan B. Justo (The Socialism of Juan B. Justo, 1946); Socialismoy la mujer (Socialism and the Woman, 1946).
Alicia Moreau de Justo, a leading feminist and a figure whose long life traced the history of socialism in Argentina, was born into a family tradition of rebellion. Both her father Armando Moreau and mother Maria Denampont were French exiles in London, where they met and married. They had fled France in the tumultuous wake of the Franco-Prussian War and the unsuccessful revolutionary struggle known as the Paris Commune that raged through the spring of 1871.
Born on October 11, 1885, Alicia had an older sister Luisa and a brother Santiago. Not long after her birth, the family decided to move to a country "without barriers" and chose, somewhat naively, Argentina. There her father worked at a number of odd jobs, including a stint as a cook, before he emerged as an influential journalist and a leader in the fledgling Socialist Party, founded in 1894 by Juan B. Justo.
Female suffrage is true democracy: about one-half of the population is female—how can governments and legislatures call themselves representatives of the people when half of these people cannot vote or express their opinion?
—Alicia Moreau de Justo
Alicia was always close to her father and in her later years she remembered the stories he related about the Commune with its people in arms. A photograph in his possession, which showed the execution of prisoners, made a deep impression on her and sowed the seeds of a heroic ideal, that of popular emancipation. That troubling photograph led Moreau to the deeper study of French history in general, and the French Revolution in particular. As a teenager, she accompanied her father to meetings of the Socialist Party and a variety of popular demonstrations in turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires. In 1900, at age 15, she helped her friends Fenia Chertkoff and Gabriela de Coni found the Socialist Feminist center, an organization that pushed for protective legislation for working women.
Moreau's close contact with Argentine socialism in part accounts for her interest in women's rights. But a terrifying experience as a primary school student also had an impact on the precocious child. For a period of time, as she walked to and from school, she was stalked by a man. Once, when he got too close, she struck him with her book bag and he fled, never to return. The event was traumatic, and Moreau later interpreted it within the context of the low status of women in Argentine society and the anxious atmosphere associated with the development of a young girl under what she called the "imperio masculino," or "male rule."
In 1898, Moreau enrolled in Escuela Normal N°-1 (Normal School Number 1) in downtown Buenos Aires. Courses she took and teachers she encountered had a strong influence on her intellectual development. One class was taught by a future president of Argentina, Hipólito Yrigoyen. In another class, she was impressed with the commanding role assumed by women in Aristophanes' play, Lysistrata. In her second year, she was attracted to natural history because of the expertise and professionalism of one of her teachers, who was also the director of the Zoological Garden in Buenos Aires. She discussed everything, with her professors and with her peers, later noting, "I was never in agreement with things if I did not understand them." Among her favorite authors were Charles Darwin and his German adherent, Ernst Haeckel. Indeed, when Moreau was a young girl, her father had read her passages from Darwin's Origin of Species. Darwinism inspired Alicia to pursue a career in medicine, once she had graduated from the Escuela Normal. In her words: "that which had the most influence over my development, and that in the end led me to study medicine, was darwinism." As she told interviewer Blas Alberti:
I came to respect men who observed, who used their hands to dissect, to use the microscope.…This love took me toward the study of all the sciences, and when I was sufficiently advanced in chemistry, physics, and the like, I looked for a place to study them further—and this took me to medicine.
Awarded her teacher's certificate in 1904, Moreau applied to the Medical Faculty of the University of Buenos Aires. Her entry was delayed a year because of a student strike in 1906, but she used the time to earn her bachelor's degree at the Colegio Nacional Central. To raise money for medical school, for she was virtually self-supporting, Moreau worked as a laboratory assistant for a psychologist at the University of Buenos Aires. From her professor, she learned about a scheduled international convention on free thought to be held in Buenos Aires and wanted to attend. Informed that she would have to prepare and read a paper, she wrote a piece on education. Although Moreau's paper by her own admission was not especially good, she did make contact with a number of leading intellectuals, including the Socialist doctor Angel Giménez. Giménez in 1898 had established the Sociedad Luz (Society of Light) which was dedicated to the education of the working class. Moreau joined, and during 1907, her first year in medical school, lectured workers on alcoholism, tuberculosis, and syphilis. The emphasis was on prevention. It was also at this time that Giménez introduced her to the leaders of Argentine socialism: Augusto Bunge, Nicolás Repetto, Enrique Dickmann, Adolfo Dickmann, and Juan B. Justo. All were, or had been, students at, or graduates of, the Medical School of the University of Buenos Aires.
One of six women in her class, Moreau suffered from various degrees of prejudice and hostility. She told one interviewer that she "encountered great hostility from male students," although the faculty were generally supportive. Part of the hostility, she mischievously explained to Marifran Carlson , was attributed to "her own personal beauty." They were offended "because she did not want to marry any of them." Moreover, she explained that male students were angry because "they knew that women were naturally better doctors than men." While some students were contemptuous, others were indifferent and a few were sympathetic and tried to be of assistance.
Moreau was able to combine medical school with a growing interest in political action, especially as it touched issues important to women. As a Socialist, she subordinated personal ambition to the good of all people. While she befriended other feminists, such as Julieta Lantieri and Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane , she disapproved of their individualism. Carlson notes that Moreau felt that they "did not…put sufficient emphasis on the larger struggle for social justice." As late as 1977, in an interview, Moreau still cast Lantieri as an "egoist and a self-seeking individualist." But Moreau was in turn criticized for subordinating a feminist agenda to a Socialist one.
Argentine Socialists worked within a framework of evolution rather than revolution. Moreau, with her affinity for Darwinism, believed in the progressive evolution of society. While she was impressed with those women who chose the path of anarchism, she was opposed to clandestinity and the potential for violence. In 1907, Moreau and others worked hard to prepare legislation that would regulate the labor of women and children. Their bill was presented to Argentine lawmakers by Socialist senator Alfredo Palacios, and Law 5291 took effect in 1908. Although it was largely unenforced, that the law was passed at all attests to the thorough preparation of Moreau and to her associates and to a subtle shift in the political climate.
Even before she attended medical school, Moreau had contributed articles to La Vanguardia (The Vanguard), the newspaper of the Socialist Party, and her father's journal, La Nueva Humanidad (New Humanity). While still a student, in 1911, she wrote a short book, El feminismo en la evolución social (Feminism in Social Evolution) which approached socialism and feminism within a Darwinian context. The book, according to Carlson's analysis, noted that industrialism had made feminism a necessity if women were to enjoy the rightful fruits of their own labor. The maternal role, which traditionally had been used to isolate women from society, Moreau argued should not be used to exclude women from the public arena. Rather, the importance of women in the home, together with their new economic roles in the larger society, justified the granting of civil and political rights.
Moreau interned at the Hospital de Clínicas where she worked in the women's section and specialized in gynecology. Service in the hospital, by her own admission, allowed Moreau to ponder the role of women in Argentine society. The clinic was located on the site of a former house of prostitution and many of her patients were working prostitutes. Most of the young women were from the provinces and had been forced by necessity into their profession, which she likened to a form of slavery. While Moreau practiced medicine, the clinic also served as a laboratory for her social and political education. She was determined to raise the status of people in general, but with special attention to the emancipation of women.
In 1918, Moreau founded the Unión Feminista Nacional (National Feminist Union) to attract working-class women to the Socialist Party, the only party that supported female suffrage as well as reform of Argentina's patriarchal Civil Code. Members of the Union prepared the text of a suffrage bill and, even though Socialist members of the legislature failed to gain its passage, Moreau was pleased by the 8,000 signatures in its support. Just a year later, she published La emancipación civil de la mujer (The Civil Emancipation of Woman) in which she attacked the "child-doll personality" promoted by Argentine culture. Interestingly, she noted, while 87% of Argentine primary school teachers were women, these same women were denied civil and political rights. Throughout 1919, Moreau traveled to the interior provinces of Argentina, other Latin American countries, and the United States. To educate women and to convince them to fight for the right to vote were her guiding principles. While in New York, she met with American feminist Carrie Chapman Catt and spoke to the International Congress of Women Workers about the need for government-sponsored day-care centers, comprehensive maternity protection, equal pay for equal work, and a 40-hour work week. But if change were to occur, women had to gain the vote.
Many feminists in the United States and elsewhere who were seeking to secure female suffrage in societies concerned about social unrest—and 1919 was a nerve-wracking year for many governments—agreed that property and educational qualifications were necessary for all voters. Moreau vehemently disagreed and pushed the Socialist line that "qualified suffrage" was undemocratic and unfair. Never would Moreau compromise on this issue, and it helped to create a deep schism in Argentine feminism.
Congressional elections, scheduled for March 1920, was the occasion for Argentina's three main feminist organizations, Moreau's National Feminist Union, Lantieri's National Feminist Party, and Rawson de Dellepiane's Women's Rights Party, to hold their own mock election. Only the election united the groups. Moreau complained about Lantieri's self-seeking opportunism and felt that she should work more closely with the other groups. Lantieri's noisy, public campaign won most of the attention from the press. But it was Moreau's Socialist-affiliated Union that won most of the votes cast by women. Unfortunately, the number of women who voted was disappointingly low and the three feminist leaders agreed, in Carlson's words, "that the greatest enemy of female suffrage was female indifference."
Alicia Moreau married Juan B. Justo, the leader of the Socialist Party, in 1922. Although she gave birth to three children before her husband died in 1928, maternal concerns had little influence on the high level of Moreau's activism. In 1924, a curious coalition of feminists, anti-feminists, liberals, and conservatives fought a dignified and restrained battle for the passage of legislation that would protect women and children in the workplace. Moreau was allowed to present the feminist position to the Argentine Chamber of Deputies. Law 11.317, which was passed by Congress, limited non-agricultural work for women to 8 hours a day and 48 hours a week. Night work for women under age 18 was prohibited, women and children could not be hired for dangerous or unhealthy work, and provision was made for limited maternity protection. Although the law carried no regulatory provisions, feminists saw its passage as a victory. Feminists won another concession in 1926 when a reform of the Civil Code granted women more rights. But none of the legislation addressed what Moreau saw as the key issue—women's suffrage.
In 1930, she established the Socialist Women's Suffrage Committee and in 1931 published El socialismoy la mujer (Socialism and Woman). She argued that the only true democracy was one which allowed women to vote. Half of Argentina's population was unrepresented and unheard. Moreau again railed against the idea of the qualified vote and said: "We would prefer not to have the vote than to have it qualified." In this regard, she continued to be out of step with other feminists who felt that illiterates, for example, should not be able to vote.
In the 1930s in the pages of two magazines, Claridad (Illumination) and Vida Feminina (Woman's Life), Moreau created a character named doña Juana Pueblo (Joan People), who, in Francine Masiello 's phrase, "represented the emerging consciousness of modern, socialist woman." Juana Pueblo's Socratic dialogue with those supposedly wiser than herself opened insights into a wide range of themes, from cooperative farming, to congressional legislation, to the symbolism of the ritual of the Catholic Church. "But of greater importance," according to Masiello, Juana "learns through debate and reason to become engaged with social process and speak her mind in public."
Despite the hard work of feminists such as Moreau, a survey taken in 1936 revealed that 60% of Argentine women lacked an understanding as to what enfranchisement meant. In that same year, a conservative-dominated Senate rejected a petition that urged female suffrage circulated by Moreau, Carmela Horne de Burmeister , who founded the Argentine Association for Women's Suffrage, and Victoria Ocampo , president of the Union of Argentine Women. At the same time, Ocampo, Moreau and Horne de Burmeister successfully resisted attempts by Congress to roll back the reforms of the Civil Code that had been passed a decade before. In the mid- and late-1930s, Moreau and Ocampo emerged as the two most influential leaders of the women's movement in Argentina.
As was so often the case with Moreau, her inflexible principles put a good deal of strain on her relationship with Ocampo. While both shared the same general perspective on the role of women, Ocampo, a member of the elite, did not believe that a levelling of society was a possible or desirable end. Moreau, of course, was an uncompromising democratic Socialist.
During World War II, both women, with a few others, served on the board of Acción Argentina (Argentine Action), an organization that supported the Allied cause. In the last year of the war, Moreau wrote La mujer en la democracia (The Woman in a Democracy) in which she urged the empowerment of women and the decentralization of the power of the state. Ironically, this was at the same time that Juan Domingo Perón was planning his ascent to power and, ultimately, dictatorial rule.
Moreau and most Socialists opposed Perón. Even when he enfranchised women in 1947, Moreau judged the effort a cynical move on Perón's part to enhance his own power base. She told interviewer Carlson in 1977 that despite half a century of "pleading and exhortation" by feminists, working-class women of Argentina "had chosen to follow a demagogue." The Perónist years, in Moreau's view, were a "tragedy that 'politically unclear women' had helped to bring upon the country." The hallmarks of the regime were anti-democratic and featured intimidation, persecution and imprisonment. Essentially, Moreau had underestimated both the personal appeal of Perón and the attractive power of Argentine nationalism and overestimated the appeal of feminism and socialism.
Argentina's Socialist Party never recovered from its eclipse during Perón's decade of rule. Moreau, despite advancing years, remained active in a movement that grew increasingly fissiparous (splintered). Between 1956 and 1962, she edited the party's newspaper, La Vanguardia, and was elected to the party's executive board in 1958. In an attempt to reunify a divided Socialist Party, Moreau in 1975 created and presided over a new organization, the Confederación Socialista Argentina (Argentine Socialist Confederation). Her efforts were successful, and in 1983 a new and unified Partido Socialista Popular (Popular Socialist Party) was created. Active until the end, Alicia Moreau de Justo died in 1986 in her 101st year, after a lifetime that encompassed the entire history of socialism and feminism in Argentina.
Alberti, Blas. Conversaciones con Alicia Moreau de Justoy Jorge Luis Borges. Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Mar Dulce, 1985.
Carlson, Marifran. Feminismo!: The Woman's Movement in Argentina from Its Beginnings to Eva Perón. Chicago, IL: Academy Chicago, 1988.
Hollander, Nancy Caro. "Women: The Forgotten Half of Argentine History," in Female and Male in Latin America: Essays. Ann Pescatello, ed. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973, pp. 141–158.
Masiello, Francine. Between Civilization and Barbarism: Women, Nation, and Literary Culture in Modern Argentina. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Perrone, Alberto M. "Entrevista con Alicia Moreau de Justo," in Alicia Moreau de Justo, Qué es el socialismo en la Argentina. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1983, pp. 182–195.
Miller, Francesca. Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1991.
Newman, Kathleen. "The Modernization of Femininity: Argentina, 1916–1926," in Seminar on Feminism and Culture in Latin America. Women, Culture, and Politics in Latin America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990, pp. 74–89.
Walter, Richard J. The Socialist Party of Argentina, 1890–1930. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1977.
Paul B. Goodwin , Jr. , Professor of History, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut