Mexico’s First Feminist: Elvia Carrillo Puerto
If you’re a feminist who hungers to learn more about the struggle for equality that women have been fighting for all their history, you’re going to love the story of Elvia Carrillo Puerto.
Born over a hundred years ago in a country known for its cultural machismo, Elvia Carrillo Puerto had an uphill battle to fight during all her life. However, she was the moving force behind the campaign that ultimately granted Mexican women their right to vote and hold office.
Keep reading to learn more about the life of the woman known as Mexico’s first feminist, her inspiring fight, and her extraordinary achievements.
Who Was Elvia Carrillo Puerto?
Elvia Carrillo Puerto was a Mexican activist that fought for women’s rights in the first quarter of the 20th century. She’s known as Mexico’s first feminist, although the fans of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz may have something to say about that.
However, the difference between these two extraordinary Mexican women is that Sor Juana stayed only in the realm of ideas, whereas Carrillo Puerto was an activist that fought for her ideas to become reality.
When in 1953 Mexican President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines finally put into law women’s right to vote, most people recognized Elvia Carrillo Puerto as the person most responsible for that huge achievement of Mexican women.
Elvia Carrillo Puerto Biography
In this short biography of Elvia Carrillo Puerto, I’m introducing you to the most important life events in this Mexican feminist inspiring story.
Elvia Carrillo Puerto was born on December 6, 1878, in the little town of Motul in the southeastern state of Yucatan. She was the sixth child of a middle class Yucatan family. Her brother Felipe went on to become Governor of the state and would work together with Elvia for the rights of women in Yucatan.
In school, Elvia Carrillo Puerto had the poet Rita Cetina Gutiérrez as a teacher who would leave a strong mark in her life, as she was the first one to introduce Elvia into the concept of gender equality. Thanks to Cetina Gutiérrez, Elvia was able to study the writings of women’s rights theorists such as Flora Tristán, Victoria Woodhull, and Mary Wollstonecraft.
By the age of 13 she got married to Vicente Pérez Mendiburo, and just six years later she became a widow, being just 21 years old. From that point in her life, she worked tirelessly for the rights of women and founded many suffragette leagues in her permanent struggle to earn women’s recognition to vote.
Elvia Carrillo Puerto was the first ever woman to be elected to the state legislature of Yucatan in 1923. When her brother was assassinated, she was forced to relocate to the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, where she was elected to the Mexican Congress. However, she was denied the seat as office-holding at the time was restricted to males.
Elvia Carrillo Puerto died on April 15, 1968, in Mexico City. She’s buried in the general cemetery of Merida, Yucatan, and is considered a Mexican icon in the feminist movement. The Mexican Senate created an award with her name to recognize Mexican women that fight for the rights of women, and give it every day on May 8, International Day of Women.
What Did Elvia Carrillo Puerto Do?
Throughout her life, Elvia Carrillo Puerto never stopped fighting for women’s rights and to create a more equal society than the one Mexico had at the time. She had success in her most important cause of them all, the right to vote, which was granted in 1953 to all women older than 18.
However, she did much more than just earning women the right to vote.
Female Peasants Organization
In 1912, Elvia Carrillo Puerto founded the first organization of female peasants that fought for women to get the same rights as men when it came to land distribution.
Rita Cetina Gutiérrez Feminist League
In 1919, she was also involved in the creation of the Rita Cetina Gutiérrez Feminist League, named in honour of her mentor and teacher.
This organization campaigned against prostitution, alcoholism, the use of drugs, and promoted child care, hygiene for poor women, and family planning.
As a result of this work, Mexico became the first country in the Western Hemisphere to legalize birth control.
Women’s Right to Vote in Yucatan
When her brother Felipe became governor of Yucatan, she campaigned and achieved that her brother granted women the right to vote and hold office in the state. Then, in 1923, she became Mexico’s first woman ever to be elected to a state legislature.
Sadly, soon after that great achievement, her brother was killed and she had to flee Yucatan due to different death threats that she received.
The progress made by Elvia Carrillo Puerto and her brother Felipe was erased from Yucatan law and women in the state lost their right to vote and hold office.
First Woman Elected to the Mexican Congress
In 1925, Elvia Carrillo Puerto was voted as representative of the state of San Luis Potosí in the Mexican Cámara de Diputados, which is the equivalent of the House of Representatives in the United States.
In doing so, she became the first woman ever to be elected to a national office by popular vote. The problem was that, at the time, some states had legalized female voting and the right to hold office, but the nation hadn’t taken that step yet. So, she was denied her right to sit in the Mexican Congress and work in the creation of equal laws for all Mexicans, men and women included.
Today, the Mexican Congress has a 50-50 distribution between male and female legislators as required by law. In that regard, Elvia Carillo Puerto was way ahead of her time.
Elvia Carrillo Puerto Quotes
Here are some of the most famous quotes by Elvia Carrillo Puerto:
“Igualdad, respeto, reconocimiento.”
“Equality, respect, recognition.”
“No reprochamos a los hombres el alejamiento en que nos han tenido, todo es consecuencia de los prejuicios rancios y de los viejos moldes en que nuestras costumbres se forjaron, pero tiempo es ya que exigimos a los hombres que experimenten métodos nuevos.”
“We do not blame men for the estrangement in which they have kept us, everything is a consequence of stale prejudices and the old molds in which our customs were forged, but it is time now that we demand that men experiment with new methods.”
Visit Mexico and Practice Your Spanish
Known as La Monja Roja or “The Red Nun,” due to her activities associated at the time with communist causes, Elvia Carrillo Puerto literally changed the course of Mexican history by bringing to the national discussion women’s right to vote.
Speaking Spanish allows you to learn more about Mexican feminist icons and the rich history of this country. When traveling to Mexico, if you speak Spanish it gets easier to communicate with the locals and learn about their culture and history.
Take a trip to Mexico where it all transpired. Sign up for a free class with one of our certified, native teachers from Guatemala before your trip to Mexico. They teach over 24,000 actively enrolled students every month, offer flexible scheduling and tailored Spanish programs.
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