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Santolalla, Irene Silva de (1902–1992)

Santolalla, Irene Silva de (1902–1992)

Peruvian educator and first woman senator in Peru. Born Irene Silva Linares on May 10, 1902, in Cajamarca, Peru; died on July 30, 1992, in Lima, Peru; daughter of Oscar Silva Burga and Susana Linares de Silva; attended Liceo del Carmen in Cajamarca, Peru; attended Colegio Sagrados Corazones in Lima, Peru; married Fausto Santolalla Bernal, on June 4, 1922; children: Irene Santolalla Silva; Maria Teresa Santolalla Silva; Javier Santollalla Silva; Nelly Santolalla Silva.

Founded and was first president of the Peruvian Committee for Collaboration with the United Nations (1949); led movement to enfranchise Peruvian women (1955); was the first woman elected to the Peruvian senate (1956); named "Woman of the Americas" by the Unión de Mujeres Americana (1956); awarded Peru's highest honor, the Order of the Sun (1982).

Irene Silva de Santolalla was born Irene Silva Linares in Cajamarca, Peru, in 1902. Her parents, Oscar Silva Burga and Susana Linares de Silva, were well-to-do and respected in the academic circles of northern Peru. Irene, the eldest of 13 siblings, grew to be industrious, energetic, and independent. She attended the Catholic school, Liceo del Carmen, in Cajamarca, and Colegio Sagrados Corazones (Sacred Heart College) in Lima, Peru.

On June 4, 1922, she married engineer Fausto Santolalla Bernal. Unlike many upper-class Peruvian mothers, Santolalla chose to care for her four children herself rather than leave them in the care of servants. She believed that mothers should involve themselves in every aspect of child-rearing in order to raise well-adjusted children, and did not embark on her teaching and writing career until her youngest child was old enough to attend school. At first, Santolalla wrote extensively about early child development and pre-school education. In 1940, she published Por La Felicidad de Nuestros Hijos (For Our Children's Happiness).

Although Peruvian women did not receive the right to vote until 1955, Santolalla advocated issues related to women and children in international political circles well before then. She was a regular attendee at major conferences, such as the Lima Congress for the Protection of Children (1943), the First International Congress for the Protection of Children in Rural Areas, held in Montevideo, Uruguay (1945), the first Feminine Spanish-American Congress, held in Madrid (1951), the International Study Congress, held in Oxford (1952), and the World Movement of Mothers, held in Bonn, Germany (1954). Santolalla's international perspective inspired her to organize the first non-governmental committee in the United Nations in 1949. That same year, she taught family education as a professor at the Catholic University of Peru. In that capacity, she relied heavily on her own writings to develop a curriculum.

Santolalla opened her publicly licensed school, El Instituto de Orientación Matrimonial y Familiar (School of Preparation for Marital and Family Life), in Lima on June 2, 1952. She offered courses in child training, nutrition, interior decorating, and nursing. From an initial enrollment of 8 students, Santolalla's institute grew to 112 students plus a nursery school annex (El Jardín de la Infancia) by June 1955.

Three months later, the Peruvian legislature passed an equal-rights bill for women, after which Santolalla received an appointment from President Manual Odría to organize a women's contingency within the party El Partido Restaurador. She was subsequently elected the first woman senator in Peru, on June 17, 1956. In her six-year career as senator, she continued her crusade on behalf of women and children by authoring a law on family education in 1957. She also helped to found government teacher-training institutes in Peru.

Irene Silva de Santolalla was honored numerous times by a variety of organizations. In 1954, she received a medal from the Ford Foundation for her efforts in disseminating family education. She received the Woman of the Americas award from the Unión de Mujeres Americanas in 1956; in conjunction with that award, a "Day of the Woman of the Americas" was held in her honor on May 5, 1956, including a reception in New York with a salute from the Peruvian ambassador to the United States. She served as the president of Cruzada Pro-Educación de la Futura Madre Peruana and honorary president of the Peruvian National Association of Girl Scouts. In 1982, the Peruvian government honored her with its most prestigious award, the Order of the Sun. Santolalla died on July 30, 1992, in Lima, at age 90.

sources:

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1992.

The New York Times (obituary). August 4, 1992.

Gloria Cooksey , freelance writer, Sacramento, California

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