Peruvian Female Thinkers of the 19th Century

By National Library of Peru

National Library of Peru

In the twentieth century the status of women in the public sphere changed. Women were not considered capable of participating in political debates or as having rights. In Peru, this started to change with enlightenment thinking. The press and literature played a central role in women´s emancipation. Women writers built particular models of femininity and, in certain cases, by doing so provoked scandals, rejection, and even exile.

A Pariah's Pilgrimage (1938) by Flora TristánNational Library of Peru

Flora Tristán, a liberating journey

We can find an early and exceptional example of a critical examination of the world from a woman's perspective in French-Peruvian writer Flora Tristan’s (1803 -1844) works. In 1938, in Paris, she published an autobiographical chronicle of her travel diaries in which she denounced the social inequalities and the conservative customs of Lima and Arequipa and revealed her situation as a pariah, a disinherited working-class woman.

A Pariah's Pilgrimage, Flora Tristán, 1838, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Peregrinations of a Pariah appeared in Peru in the twentieth century. The first translation was made by Emilia Romero in 1936 and was published in 1946. Later, in 1959, the text was translated by Catalina Recavarren who also dedicated to its author her book Flora Tristan: A Messianic Woman (1942). Magda Portal learned about her works while in exile in Chile and dedicated to her the essay Flora Tristan, the precursor in 1945. Luis Alberto Sánchez wrote her biography A woman alone against the world (1961).

A Pariah's Pilgrimage, Flora Tristán, 1938, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Today, Flora Tristan is well-known as the precursor of Peruvian feminism. Among her other writings, we can find The Workers' Union (1843) in which she proposes a socialist program that recognizes
the right to work and the creation of a universal union of workers. Also found are Promenades in London (1840) and The emancipation of Women (1845), a posthumous work.

Photograph of Mercedes Cabello Llona de Carbonera with a fan in her hands (1889) by Eugenio CourretNational Library of Peru

A Woman Writer

Through the 1840s, novels and other writings by women authors begin to appear. Among them is the Argentinian writer Juana Manuela Gorriti (1816-1892) who went into exile in Peru. In 1845 she published her first story “La Quena” in the magazine Revista in Lima. In her writings, she introduces marginal characters and positions women as part of the historical drama.

Photograph of Juana Manuela Gorriti Zuviria, Unknown photographer. Engraver: David Lozano Litographer: P. Schindler, Ca. 1889, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Between 1876 and 1877, Juana Manuela Gorriti opened the doors of her home to host literary evenings. These soirees ratified women as intellectuals. There were spaces of discussion about women’s education and the place of women in society. Renowned writers like Ricardo Palma and Manuel Gonzales Prada also attended these meetings.

Birds without nest (1889) by Clorinda Matto de TurnerNational Library of Peru

Beginning in the 1870s, literature written by women in Peru gave rise to the realist novel. Unlike the romantic movement, which portrayed an apolitical and a non-critical femininity, the realist novel is characterized by social critique and employs the principles of positivism to understand human nature.

Photograph of Clorinda Matto Usandivaras de Turner., Eugenio Courret, 1887, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Between 1887 and 1888, during the reconstruction after the War of the Pacific, Clorinda Matto de Turner (Cusco 1854 - Buenos Aires 1909) resumed organizing literary soirees at her home. In 1889 she published Aves sin Nido (Birds Without a Nest), her first novel. There she denounces social injustice, oppression, and the church’s abuses against the indigenous population of the Andes. Aves sin Nido is considered the first indigenist novel. The National Library of Peru preserves one original copy dedicated to Ricardo Palma.

Birds without nest, Clorinda Matto de Turner, 1889, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Between 1889 and 1891 Clorinda Matto directed the weekly El Perú Ilustrado. She founded the newspaper El Recreo and her own printing press, La Equitativa, in which she published a newspaper, Los Andes, which favored the Caceres movement. In 1895, during the government of Nicolás de Piérola, her home was raided and her press destroyed. In consequence, she went into exile in Buenos Aires, where she published El Búcaro Americano (1896 - 1901). The National Library of Peru preserves her correspondence with Ricardo Palma and El Recreo Newspaper.

The modern novel. A philosophical study (1892) by Mercedes Cabello de CarboneraNational Library of Peru

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, newspapers were essential mediums of creation, reflection, and debate for women writers. For women, access to the literate world was no longer only thorough domestic topics. Mercedes Cabello Carbonera (Moquegua, 1845- Lima, 1909) was one of the writers who in many articles advocated for equal education for men and women as well as women's access to paid work.

Photograph of Mercedes Cabello Llona de Carbonera with a fan in her hands, Eugenio Courret, 1889, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Bust photograph of Mercedes Cabello Llona de Carbonera., Eugenio Courret, 1889, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Photograph of Mercedes Cabello Llona de Carbonera wearing a black outfit., Eugenio Courret, 1889, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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The Modern Novel. Philosophical Study (1891) is a book of essays for which Mercedes Cabello received the La Rosa de Oro award at the Hispanic-American Competition of the Literary Academy of Buenos Aires. In this volume, the author reflects on romanticism and naturalism as aesthetic currents that contribute to the construction of the novel. She argues that the novel is a quest for truth and understanding of the condition of being human.

The modern novel. A philosophical study, Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, 1892, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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In 1892, she published the novel El conspirador. Autobiografía de un hombre público. (The Conspirator. An autobiography of a public man). In it, through fiction, she explores the fabric of the post-war political world and criticizes its corruption and caudillismo. Clorinda Matto de Turner's Aves sin Nido and El conspirador are considered the most important novels of the nineteenth century, according to Antonio Cornejo Polar.

The conspirator (autobiography of a public man), Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, 1892, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Mercedes Cabello's work had great recognition and was published in Argentina and Spain. In her works she defends secular education for women and recognizes their intellectual and political capacities. This position caused rejection and she was forced to withdraw from public life. Eventually she fell ill and was placed in a mental institution where she died in 1909.

Photograph of Mercedes Cabello Llona de Carbonera., Adolfo Dubreuil, 1895, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Photograph of Mercedes Cabello Llona de Carbonera., Adolfo Dubreuil, 1895, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Girl reading. (Between 1863 to 1935) by Courret Photographic CollectionNational Library of Peru

Women and education in the 19th century

Women´s education during the viceroyalty of Peru was directed to prepare women for being good wives and mothers, selfless and submissive, but also seductive and beautiful, all of this to the benefit of men. These qualities were prized in the daughters of the elite, while mestiza women or women of the poorest sectors of society were primarily seen as servants.

Reading was a symbol of status and culture. In the case of women, it was a way to gain autonomy. Although the majority of women didn´t know how to read or write, this changed as women took on the role of educator in the home and with the increase of opportunities for education for women.

The construction of the feminine

Nineteenth century women of Lima were called the “fair sex”. Their beauty was an attribute that was appreciated but at the same time feared, and which therefore had to be controlled through moral precepts and displays of power. The discourses praising women for their aesthetic qualities were coupled with recommendations of modesty , industriousness and even the emulation of saints, or failing this, early marriage. As a result, girls' education was directed at making them good wives.

Normal school of preceptors of Lima: first fiftieth anniversary of its foundation, Escuela Normal de Preceptoras, 1926, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Under the influence of enlightenment ideas, the nascent Republic of Peru sought to re-found and build diverse institutions, among them education. Although new schools were created, the education of women continued to have a domestic orientation, and the number of women being educated was far less than men.

The anticlerical character of enlightenment thought led to the debate about the best place and best way to educate girls. Teaching in convents was criticized and home schooling was accepted, conditional on preserving moral principles. The writer Teresa González de Fanning (1836-1918) questioned the ways in which female education was focused on married life and motherhood.

Photograph of Teresa Gonzalez de Fanning., Eugenio Courret, 1886, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Photograph of Teresa Gonzalez de Fanning., Adolfo Dubreuil, 1893, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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In 1881, Teresa González, after losing her husband in the War of the Pacific, created the Liceo Fanning in which she proposed that women should not only be educated for marriage but as citizens. In 1898 she published Educación femenina: colección de artículos pedagógicos, morales y sociológicos (Feminine Education: Collection of pedagogical, Moral and Sociological articles), and in 1914, Lecciones de geografía universal (Universal Geography Lessons).

Lessons of universal geography, Teresa González de Fanning, 1897, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Unity of matter or substantial identity of the inorganic and organic kingdoms (1890) by Margarita Práxedes MuñozNational Library of Peru

The first university women

The design for the education of women covered only the elementary level. Contrary to established norms, some women made a place for themselves in university classrooms, through specials requests and by undergoing challenging exams.

In 1874 the government authorized admittance of the first woman to the university. She was Trinidad Enríquez, from Cusco, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in jurisprudence although not the
title of lawyer to practice, since women lacked that right. Later, other women achieved admittance to the university, including Margarita Práxedes Muñoz y Seguín, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science.

Unity of matter or substantial identity of the inorganic and organic kingdoms, Margarita Práxedes Muñoz, 1890, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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In 1898, Laura Esther Rodríguez obtained a bachelor’s degree, presenting the thesis Estudios Geológicos en la provincial de Chancay (Geological Studies in the Province of Chancay). In 1900 she graduated as a medical surgeon, becoming the first female doctor in the country.

Geological studies in the province of Chancay. Doctoral thesis, Laura Esther Rodríguez Dulanto, 1898, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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At the beginning of the twentieth century, Miguelina Acosta (1877 - 1933) became the first trial attorney. She wrote her undergraduate and doctoral thesis about topics related to the legal situation of women.

Necessary reforms of the Peruvian common civil code, Miguelina Acosta Cárdenas, 1920, From the collection of: National Library of Peru
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Miguelina Acosta, Dora Mayer, María Jesús Alvarado, Zoila Aurora Cáceres, Magda Portal, Ángela Ramos, among other writers, politicians, and artists promoted the defense of political, labor and civil rights of women. The National Library of Peru keeps various documents that attest to the participation of women in the history of the country and their contribution to society.

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