Article by Lauren Guzinski, University of Mary Washington, December 2011
Concepción Arenal was born January 30, 1820 in Ferrol, Galicia. During her childhood she lost her father, a liberal who was jailed for opposing views to the conservative government. Due to economic problems, Concepción, her mother, and her sister moved to El Ferrol where their grandmother was in 1823 for financial security. At the age of 10, Arenal witnessed the death of her sister Armaño in 1830, at which point she dedicated her life to the Christian faith (Martin).
In 1847, Arenal married Fernando Garcia Carraso, a journalist for La Iberica and lawyer. The two lived near Potes, and because of Carraso’s involvement in the publication of La Iberica, Arenal was able to publish some of her own articles (Martin). Also due to her marriage, Arenal enjoyed an elevated position in society and was able to attend various tertulias-meetings where participants gathered together to discuss current affairs and relevant issues. During her time in Madrid, Arenal attended the prominent tertulia held on Calle Real with Juana de Vega and the Condesa de Esposa y Mina (Gomez-Bustillo). During her marriage, Concepción Arenal mothered three children: a daughter in 1849 who died in January 1851, son, Fernando, in 1850, and son, Ramón, in 1852 (Alange). Carrasco died in 1857, with Concepción serving as editor of his column during the last year of Carrasco’s life. After Carrasco’s death, Arenal supported her children through her publishing activities and her position in several government posts she held. In 1863 she became the overseer of women’s prisons in La Coruña. In 1868, she was named provisional inspector of womens’ correction houses. During 1873, Arenal faced a period of poor health. She died in 1893 (Alange).
The education Concepción Arenal received differed from that of any other female in Spain at the time. As a young woman she was enrolled in Tepa to study “the work of women” where she learned typical domestic skills that women of the 19th century were expected to know. During her study in Tepa, she also found a passion for Romantic Literature, including: Goethe, and Silvia Pellico. These early influences formed Arenal’s interests as well as appeared in her later works, including La Voz de La Caridad.
Having discovered books early on, Arenal became fascinated with the penal code that she read about in many of the books her father left behind. Her interests from reading convinced her to enroll in the Academia de Ciencias y Politicas Morales to study to be a lawyer. Her coursework included philosophy, sociology, history, and rights (Martin). During these studies she was able to read the works of Benito Feijoo, a great influence in Arenal’s later works (Gomez-Bustillo). Many believe that in order to study as the first female in Spain at a University, Arenal dressed as a man to enroll (Alange). Arenal focused on two main areas: philanthropy, and the prison system. These early interests paved way for Concepción Arenal’s career.
In her work, Arenal focused on many of the hardships she experienced as a child. Her earliest publication, La Beneficencia, La Filantropía y la Caridad, was published in the Academia de Ciencias y Politicas under her 10-year-old son’s name, Fernando García Arenal.ConcepciónArenal led many charitable initiatives, including her role as Philanthropic Correspondent for the Academia de Ciencias y Politicas Reales. She also joined the Associación de Señoras who began Las Magdalenas: a group of women who visited prisons. The experience with Las Magdalenas inspired the series Cartas a los Delincuentes. The series, dedicated to don Antonio Mena Zorrilla, focused on letters from the perspectives of prisoners(Alange, Martin). Arenal served as the Secretary of the Red Cross during the Carlist wars in Spain, exposing her to both war and the charity in war. Her life experiences, both philanthropic and in prison systems, lead to the beginning of la Voz de la Caridad:a publication Arenal used to display the greater good and charitable acts that were to inspire others. Antonio Guerola served as co-editor of the journal (Martin). La Voz de la Caridad published from 1871 to 1884, ending its course due to economic hardships.
One of Arenal’s most notable contributions was her early work as a feminist. Arenal offered very concrete ideas about womens’ rights, as expressed in her 1869 publication Mujer del Porvenir. Among her ideas was the idea that men and women were not equal, but that each had his or her contribution to society. She proposed the need to rid society of the antiquated woman, meaning that there was a need to get women outside of the house. Arenal believed that even though outside of the house, women were supposed to continue doing work that pertained to the role of mother and spouse. Women were to be industrially educated, but not participate in physical work as that was considered appropriate for men. These ideas proposed the early beginnings of the feminist movement (López).
Martin, Elvira. Tres Mujeres Gallegas Del Siglo XIX. Barcelona: Editorial Aedos, 1962. Print.
Gomez-Bustillo, Miguel. Concepción Arenal: Su Vida y Obra. Buenos Aires: Depalma, 1981. Print.
Alange, Maria Campo. Concepción Arena: 1820-1893. Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1973. Print.
López, Manuela Santalla. Concepción Arenal y el feminismo católico español.. Coruña: Edicios de Castro, 1995. Print.