Tag Archives: women in Mexican History

Women in Mexican History–Sor Juana de la Cruz

Did you know that a radical feminist Mexican woman poet is featured on the 200 pesos bill? So even though Frida’s gotten the boot (she and Diego have been replaced by Benito Juarez on the new 500 pesos bill), there is still some representation!

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Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born on November 12, 1648, near Mexico City in San Miguel Nepantla which is now called Nepantla de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Her mother,  Isabel Ramírez de Santillana de Cantillana, belonged to the Criolla section of the Mexican population. Her father was a Spanish Captain by the name of Pedro Manuel de Asbaje y Machuca. As she was illegitimate, her baptism lists her as ““hija de la Iglesia” (a daughter of the Church) rather than her father’s daughter.  She was the second of three daughters born to Pedro and Isabel. Her mother had three more children with Diego Ruiz Lozano later, whom she didn’t marry either.

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Juana was raised on her grandfather’s hacienda in Amecameca which is pictured on the reverse of the 200 peso bill. She was somewhat of a prodigy if the accounts are to be believed. Educating females was strictly forbidden however somehow Juana was able to write in Latin by age three, do account by age five and composed a poem on the Eucharist at age eight.

Her astonishing accomplishments didn’t stop there. As a teenager, she was versed in Greek philosophy, teaching Latin to younger children and fluent enough in Nahuatl, which she learned from the slaves on the hacienda, to write poems in that language.

In her teens unable to attend the university because of her gender, she became a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy’s court. The Vicereine Leonor Carreto became her patroness. She declined several offers of marriage and instead entered the St. Joseph Monastery in 1667 as a postulant. She took her vows in 1669 at a different monastery, El Convento de San Jerónimo, because she desired “Vivir sola… no tener ocupación alguna obligatoria que embarazase la libertad de mi estudio, ni rumor de comunidad que impidiese el sosegado silencio de mis libros” (to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study).

Although she was a favorite of the court and had several powerful patrons, she wasn’t beloved by all. One of these, the bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, told her she should give up writing as it was not befitting for a woman. Her vehement defense of education for women earned her other enemies in the church.

For her scandalous words and activities (writing heresy in the form of promoting educational opportunities for women and other such nonsense), she was forced to do penance which included giving up her books, musical and scientific instruments.

Sor Juana contracted the plague during her ministrations to other nuns and died on April 17, 1695.

Mexico remains a misogynist country and yet Sor Juana has been honored, not only by being featured on the 200 pesos bill but also by having her name inscribed in gold on a wall at the congress building in 1995. Furthermore, numerous schools throughout Mexico have taken her name including the convent where she spent most of her life.

Sonnet #145.jpgYou have to admit, some of her poems are pretty intense. You can find several translations of Sonnet #145 here. You can also find an English translation of Hombre Necios (Foolish Men) here. I don’t think I’m up to the task myself. If you would like a more extensive selection of Sor Juana’s poetry, check out Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works.

Two highly recommended books about Sor Juana as both product and prisoner of her time include  Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith by Octavio Paz and The Answer/La Respuesta by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Electa Arenal.



Filed under women in Mexican History

The Girl who Inspired a Revolution

In honor of International Women’s Day, and in light of Yalitza Aparicio Martínez’s moment in the sun at the Oscars, I’d like to talk about an illegitimate, indigenous girl from Cabora who inspired a revolution and became a saint.hummingbirds daughter

Teresita Urrea was born on October 15, 1873. Her birth name was Niña García Noña María Rebecca Chávez. Her father, Tomás Urrea, was the hacienda owner of Rancho de Santana, Ocoroni in Sinaloa, Mexico and her mother, Cayetana Chávez, was a 14-year old Tehueco servant on the ranch.

In 1880, Urrea moved his ranch to Cabora, Sonora because of some issues he had with Porfirio Diaz. After arriving in Cabora, Teresita had some sort of fit and lapsed in and out of cataleptic states for several months.

She began to do healings as a curandera shortly after she recovered, mostly ministering to the poor, downtrodden indigenous people of the area. People came to her for healings which she performed in the name of the Virgin de Guadalupe.

The Mayo and Yaqui referred to her as La Santa de Cabora which angered the Catholic church officials. The press got wind of all this and started to include regular articles about Teresita in the Mexico City newspaper El Monitor Republicano.  Her legend became intertwined with the events that led up to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 beginning around this time.

Drought prompted the Tarahumara village of Tomochic, Chihuahua to ask for her intervention with the powers that be. While she was there, the village inhabitants had a violent confrontation with federal officials after the auspicious battle cry ‘Viva la Santa de Cabora!” or so the story goes.

Teresita and her father were exiled from Mexico by Porfirio Diaz in May 1892 as the cause of the indigenous insurrections. They were escorted to the border by the Eleventh Regiment and Twelfth Battalion of the Mexican army led by General Abraham Bandala.

After she was exiled, Teresita’s name and sainthood continued to be the rallying call for the Tomochitecos. Federal troops finally destroyed the village and killed at least 300 villagers. The Mayo also united under her banner and attacked Navajoa, Sonora after their lands had been seized by the government.

Meanwhile, Teresita and her father settled in El Bosque near Nogales, Arizona. Teresita began practicing her healing arts again.

In 1895, she was living in Solomonville, Arizona where Lauro Aguirre and Flores Chapa were publishing an anti-government newspaper called El Independiente. In 1896, the two journalists published a pamphlet which referred to the Tomochic rebellion and called for the overthrow of the Mexican government. Flores and Chapa were arrested and tried by the United States government. During the trial, Teresita was named as an accomplice in the drafting of the pamphlet calling for equal rights for all. After the men were acquitted, Teresita moved to El Paso, Texas where again Aguirre was publishing newspapers. She was featured in newspapers in El Paso as “an apolitical spiritual healer.”

In 1896, a group of 60-70 Yaquis and Tomochis attacked the customs house in Nogales, Arizona under the protection of La Santa de Cabora calling themselves “Teresitas”. It was rumored that some carried a picture of Teresita over their hearts as protection.

The Mexican government demanded Teresita extradited back to Mexico, still blaming her for the uprisings. Teresa made a public statement in the El Paso Herald on September 11, 1896, denying she had anything to do with the attack in Nogales.

The Mexican government made at least 3 attempts on her life. Teresita married, Guadalupe Rodriguez, a Yaqui miner, in 1900. Guadalupe tried to kidnap her to return her to Mexico the morning after their marriage. He was arrested, declared insane, and sent to live in an asylum. They were divorced in 1904.

Teresita went on the road with her healing. She signed a contract with either a San Francisco publisher or pharmaceutical firm, sources are unclear which. She performed in public in several large cities, including St. Louis and New York. A conflict over charges the tour promoters had been exacting from those who came to see her ended her contract.

She had a daughter in 1902.  In 1904 she had a second child. Not much is known about the father of these children. She died of tuberculosis on January 11, 1906, and was buried in Clifton, Arizona where her father is also buried.

Whether or not Teresita actively incited the indigenous to revolt against the oppressive regime of Porfirio Diaz, the idea she embodied was an inspiration to thousands. Just four years after her death, Mexico entered a long and bloody civil war.queen

If you are interested in reading more about Teresita’s life, you can read Teresita by William Curry Holden, La insólita historia de la Santa de Cabora by Brianda Domecq, The Astonishing Story of the Saint of Cabora, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America written by Teresita’s relative Luis Alberto Urrea.

You can also read my review of The Hummingbird’s Daughter here.



Filed under Mexican Cultural Stories, Religion, women in Mexican History

Women in Mexican History–Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez


María Josefa Crescencia Ortiz Téllez-Girón de Dominguez

One of the very few women mentioned in Mexican history is Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez. She was born María Josefa Crescencia Ortiz Téllez-Girón on April 19, 1773, in Valladolid which is now known as Morelia, Michoacan. Her father, Juan José Ortiz Vasquez, a captain of Los Verdes regiment, was killed when she was an infant. Her mother, Manuela Téllez-Girón, died soon after. She was raised by her older sister, Maria Sotera Ortiz.

She attended the Colegio de las Vizcaínas in 1789. There she met her husband, Miguel Dominguez, a widower with 4 children, who had toured the school with a group of officials one day. They secretly married in 1791, less than a year after they met. Josefa was 18 years old and Miguel was 35.

In 1802, Miguel was appointed chief magistrate (Corregidor) of the city Queretaro and brought his growing family there to live. Josefa and Miguel’s married life was reported to be happy and they had 14 children together. Their children were Maria Ignacia (1792), J.M. Florencio (1793), Mariano (1794), Maria Dolores (1796), Miguel (1797), Maria Juana (1799), Maria Micaela (1800), Remigio (1801), Maria Teresa (1803), Maria Manuel (1804), Maria Ana (1806), J.M. Hilarion (1807), Maria Magdalena (1811) and Maria del Carmen (1812).


Josefa with fellow conspirators Hidalgo and Aldama.

Both Josefa and Miguel, despite his position, were sympathizers in the Mexican revolution movement. They often hosted political meetings attended by Miguel Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende, and aided in the collection of weapons. The revolution was planned for December 8, 1810, however, on September 13, the plot was betrayed.

Josefa’s husband Miguel was ordered to apprehend the revolutionaries. He locked Josefa in her room to keep her out of harm’s way and prevent her from warning the other. She still managed to get a message out, pieced together with cut out letters from printed text to hide her involvement. This message was eventually taken to Miguel Hidalgo who subsequently moved the date of the revolution up and gave his rousing speech in Dolores (El Grito de Dolores) in the evening of September 15.

On September 16, both Josefa and her husband were arrested. Miguel, because of his government position, was released the following day. However, Josefa (known as La Corregidora) was not released until October 22, 1810. She was pregnant with her daughter Maria Magdalena (born March 14, 1811) during her incarceration.

In December of 1813, Josefa’s husband turned her over to authorities for her role in the rebellion against Spain. She was confined to the Santa Clara Convent in Queretaro for a time, then sent to Mexico City to stand trial. She was found guilty and sent to the Santa Teresa Convent. She was released into her husband’s custody in April 1814 because of poor health. She miscarried her 15th child shortly after her release.

She was arrested again on December 22, 1815, and sent to the Santa Catalina de Sena Convent. She was finally released on June 17, 1817, after swearing an oath that she would no longer participate in any acts of rebellion against the Spanish crown.

She died from pleurisy on March 2, 1829, in Mexico City. Her patriotic acts and sacrifices earned her a place in the roll call of El Grito Mexicano recited each year during the Independence celebrations. ¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!


Do you want to learn more about Mexican holidays and traditions?

Then check out A Woman’s Survival Guide to Holidays in Mexico!



Filed under Mexican Holidays