The pioneer of Spanish feminism: Concepción Arenal

The pioneer of Spanish feminism: Concepción Arenal

By Isidoro Laso

It’s well known that Spanish people often forget their most relevant figures in favour of foreign ones. As we have written in the previous entry, Mary Wollstonecraft stands out for being a deep thinker about feministic ideas. But we have an activist we can’t ever forget: Concepción Arenal. This is the first woman we can say that worked (in a modern feminism context) to get better social conditions for women and writes a lot about this important matter (and not only for women, also for poor and imprisoned people and children).

ºArenal was born in Ferrol, Galicia, in 1820 and died in 1893. She was one of the first women who was able to attend A University in Spain. Her father stood out for his opposition to the regime of Ferdinand VII, probably the worst king that Spain has ever had.

When she started attending University she was forced to wear masculine attire. She married and had three children. In 1859 she founded a feminist group called Conference of Saint Vincent of Paul, whose mission was to help poor people. In 1861 the Academy of Moral Sciences and Politics awarded her a prize for one of her works, titled Beneficence, philanthropy and Charity. It was the first time the Academy gave a prize for a woman. Some of her works are devoted to this matter, as Letters to delinquents (1865) or Convicts, the people and the executioner (1867). She always manifested against the death penalty.

She was named Inspector of Women’s Correctional Houses in 1871. Her achievements were outstanding in a largely traditional Spain, focusing always on those marginalised in society.

Her feminism and philanthropic activity can be considered grounded in really Spanish roots, due to the fact that she was always inspired by catholic principles of charity. In spite of these inspirations she was always considered as an heterodox by traditionalist catholic people.

Her works has made her as the founder of the feminism movement in Spain, aside her intense commitment activity in improving the bad conditions of women and helpless people in general. These are some examples: The Woman of the Future, The Education of Women, The current State of Women in Spain, The work of Women, The Women of the House and Domestic Service.

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