Before the Revolution

Before the Revolution: Women's Rights and Right-Wing Politics in Nicaragua, 1821–1979

VICTORIA GONZÁLEZ-RIVERA
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v554
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  • Book Info
    Before the Revolution
    Book Description:

    Those who survived the brutal dictatorship of the Somoza family have tended to portray the rise of the women’s movement and feminist activism as part of the overall story of the anti-Somoza resistance. But this depiction of heroic struggle obscures a much more complicated history. As Victoria González-Rivera reveals in this book, some Nicaraguan women expressed early interest in eliminating the tyranny of male domination, and this interest grew into full-fledged campaigns for female suffrage and access to education by the 1880s. By the 1920s a feminist movement had emerged among urban, middle-class women, and it lasted for two more decades until it was eclipsed in the 1950s by a nonfeminist movement of mainly Catholic, urban, middle-class and working-class women who supported the liberal, populist, patron-clientelistic regime of the Somozas in return for the right to vote and various economic, educational, and political opportunities. Counterintuitively, it was actually the Somozas who encouraged women's participation in the public sphere (as long as they remained loyal Somocistas). Their opponents, the Sandinistas and Conservatives, often appealed to women through their maternal identity. What emerges from this fine-grained analysis is a picture of a much more complex political landscape than that portrayed by the simplifying myths of current Nicaraguan historiography, and we can now see why and how the Somoza dictatorship did not endure by dint of fear and compulsion alone.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05534-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  7. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-21)

    In 1979, Nicaraguans overwhelmingly supported the overthrow of the repressive and corrupt Somoza family, who—backed by the United States—had been in power for forty-three years. Nicaraguans’ support for the leftist Sandinista guerrillas who toppled the dictatorship, however, waned over the course of a prolonged counterrevolutionary war waged against the Sandinistas throughout the 1980s. In 1990, the U.S.–backed anti-Sandinista candidate, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, won the presidential election. The Sandinistas, who had come to power through violent means, relinquished power peacefully after their defeat at the polls.

    The Sandinista revolution lasted only eleven years. Nonetheless, it radically altered...

  8. ONE FEMINISM BEFORE SOMOZA
    (pp. 22-37)

    In 1940, teacher Josefa Toledo de Aguerri, a self-proclaimed feminist, suffragist, and advocate of women’s education, published a series of essays entitled “Feminism and Education.” In one of them, she wrote, “One of feminism’s characteristics is to consider it possible for woman to find in her own self ‘her means and end,’ to be able to live independently of man, if she so desires, and earn her own living.”¹ She concluded the piece by noting: “The world will march toward justice … when each woman is able to express her mind’s vigor, [and] her impulse for action.”² Toledo de Aguerri...

  9. TWO FROM FEMINISM TO PARTISAN SUFFRAGIST POLITICS
    (pp. 38-58)

    Turning to the period from the 1930s to the 1950s, this chapter examines suffragist efforts, the divisions within the suffragist movement, and the eventual dominance of partisan politics in the larger Nicaraguan women’s movement. In addition to covering the last political battles of Josefa Toledo de Aguerri, Juanita Molina de Fromen, and María Gámez, the chapter documents the activism of Nicaragua’s second generation of suffragists, focusing on the discourse used by three separate—yet often overlapping—groups of women: the Central Women’s Committee (Comité Central Femenino), Conservative suffragists, and Liberal suffragists.

    The Central Women’s Committee was made up of nonpartisan...

  10. THREE THE AFTERMATH OF WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE
    (pp. 59-84)

    Although the Somozas maintained themselves in power through a dictatorship, they held periodic elections, which had great symbolic value for Somocistas despite their fraudulent nature. These elections were especially important for the women supporters of the regime, who first cast their votes in a national election on February 2, 1957, four months after Anastasio Somoza García was assassinated by the revolutionary poet Rigoberto López Pérez.

    Not many Nicaraguans voted in 1957, but Liberal women did so in large numbers (fig. 8), helping to elect Somoza García’s eldest son, Luis Somoza Debayle.¹ TheNew York Timesreported that the turnout for...

  11. FOUR SOMOCISTA WOMEN’S LIVES
    (pp. 85-112)

    “Luis Somoza was my political mentor.” Those were the first words Marta García (pseudonym) shared with me after I told her why I was interested in interviewing her. Significantly, this remark represents not only one woman’s personal experience with the Somoza family but also that of an entire generation of Somocista female leaders: Liberal women born in the mid- to late 1920s who came of age politically under Luis Somoza Debayle’s rule (1956–61). These urban women occupied important posts under the Luis and Anastasio Somoza Debayle administrations while providing leadership for the Women’s Wing (Ala Femenina) of the Nationalist...

  12. FIVE THE ACTIVISM AND LEGACY OF NICOLASA SEVILLA
    (pp. 113-126)

    We cannot properly understand the Somocista women’s movement unless we take into account Nicolasa Sevilla’s support for the Somoza regime. This chapter documents the role Sevilla played in the dictatorship. Unlike the Ala, which originated as a means to channel middle-class women’s political participation into “proper” and acceptable expressions, “la Nicolasa” symbolized the unrestrained manifestation of working-class women’s political passion.

    The middle-class respectability of the Ala depended on the continuous stereotyping of the Ala’s counterpart: working-class Somocista women activists like Nicolasa Sevilla who were accused, justly or unjustly, of being prostitutes, madams, or both. Given their reputation, women like Nicolasa...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. 127-134)
  14. SIX SEX AND SOMOCISMO
    (pp. 135-170)

    Before the advent of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the 1960s, the nation-building project of the Somozas’ Nationalist Liberal Party was the most inclusive ever to be promoted in Nicaragua. But it was full of contradictions for women. It incorporated women into the nation’s economic system, but as low-paid workers, and into the nation’s political system, but as loyal voters organized in pro-government partisan groups. This Liberal legacy—radical in comparison to the Conservative one—resulted in the formation of a populist Somocista Liberalism that rested not on moralistic or maternalist ground but on the public display of exaggerated...

  15. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 171-176)

    The twentieth century was marked by four major women’s movements in Nicaragua: first-wave feminism, a Somocista women’s movement, a Sandinista women’s movement, and second-wave feminism.Before the Revolutiondeals with the first two—and most misunderstood—of these movements.

    First-wave feminism had its origins in the nineteenth century. After independence, some elite men and women became interested in ending women’s subordination, particularly in the educational arena. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century, however, that there were significant changes in women’s status. Feminists like Josefa Toledo de Aguerri (1866–1962) began actively working toward girls’ and...

  16. APPENDIX A: UNION DE MUJERES AMERICANAS (UMA) FOUNDING MEMBERS
    (pp. 177-178)
  17. APPENDIX B: CENTRAL WOMEN’S COMMITTEE MEMBERS
    (pp. 179-180)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 181-204)
  19. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 205-216)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 217-224)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)