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Unsung Heroes: Hermila Galindo and Adelita

2011 October 26

A slight change from the usual format today as we look at two people. One a gifted writer and political activist, the other a folk-hero bringing together the deeds of many actual people into a single inspirational composite.

Pre-Revolutionary Mexico was not a good place to be female. The Mexican Civil Code of 1884 strongly curtailed the rights of women at home and in the workplace, placing almost unbelievable restrictions on them compared to men. Between this and the heavy influence of the Catholic Church, President Porfirio Diaz’s regime was not one that fostered female freedom of expression. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that young Mexican women were so keen to become involved in the revolutionary activities of the early 20th century. Women like Hermila Galindo.

black and white photo of a young mexican woman with a white puffed sleeve dress. She is seated and has flowers in her hair. Image used under fair use guidelines. Copyright unknown.Born in the small town of Lerdo in 1896, Galindo was still young when Mexico began its long period of revolution in 1910. This didn’t stop her from quickly becoming a political writer and advocate for Venustiano Carranza – she was a gifted writer and public speaker, producing many political tracts. Following the removal of Victoriano Huerta, Galdino gained Carranza’s attention whilst giving a speech to welcome him into the city. Recognising her eloquence, and the importance of having women support his cause, Carranza made her a part of his new government.

As a part of Carranza’s government, Galindo pushed heavily for improvements to women’s rights. She argued for the provision of sex education and increased rights with regards to divorce, both topics that caused friction with the influential Catholic church. Indeed, Galindo repeatedly prompted controversy by openly opposing the social influence of the church and describing Catholicism as one of the main barriers to female progress in Mexico. Although unsuccesful, she also campaigned for female suffrage in Mexico.

Ultimately Galindo grew disillusioned with politics as it became apparent that Carranza would not bring about the changes she had hoped for, and as the corruption of the new regime grew more evident. Although she ceased to be politically active after 1919, her tactics, and the arguments she put forth in her journal, Mujer Moderna, would continue to be used by Mexican feminists of the ’20s and ’30s.

Hermila Galindo did not suffer imprisonment for expressing her ideas. However, she did have to face a great deal of hostility, scorn and ridicule from both men and women for expressing unpopular views and for speaking up on subjects which still remain taboo in Mexico. Her willingness to face strong opposition gave heart to the more advanced feminists of her own, and to the succeeding generation

– Anna Macias, Women and the Mexican Revolution


As well as the political contributions of women like Galindo, the Mexican revolution saw many women taking part in the armed conflict itself, known as the soldaderas (‘soldier women’). From their ranks emerged the figure of Adelita, almost certainly a composite of the deeds of many different female soldiers. (Indeed, many of her reported feats are mutually exclusive. Josefina Niggli‘s play about the soldaderas shows Adelita sacrificing herself to protect vital supplies from the Federales early in the revolution, for example.)

Adelita functions as something of a folk hero, an example of bravery in combat and the extraordinary will to fight for one’s cause. The term became something of a label of courage in post-revolutionary Mexico: The young Marisol Valles Garcia, for example, was nicknamed ‘Adelita’ after becoming the police chief of one of Mexico’s most dangerous regions in late 2010, a job no one else dared take.

Modern depictions of the Adelita figure vary, ranging from the cold and efficient soldier, no different to her male counterparts, through to a hypersexualised figure reminiscent of the pin-up girls painted on American planes. This contrasting representation is due in part to the unfortunate lack of records regarding a lot of the actual soldaderas, making it hard to know the true scope of their activities and easy for later writers and artists to impose their own spin on the tales of Adelita.

Black and white print of a female calavera as a soldier, on horseback. Jose Posada, 1912

Jose Posada's depiction of a soldadera as a calavera.

For more on both Galindo and the Soldaderas take a look at Anna Macias’s Against All Odds and Shirlene Soto’s Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman.

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