Nov 192012

Article by Lara Pugh, University of Mary Washington, December 2012.

During and after the Spanish Civil War,General Francisco Franco and his supporters had a clear vision of the ideal Spain. At the foundation of the fatherland envisioned by Franco’s regime stood fundamental Catholic values which framed strict societal roles for women. These values started with the family. Thus, preparing women to be mothers and educating them in the preservation of Spanish femininity was of the utmost importance.  The Sección Femenina de la Falange (The Women’s Section of the Falange) was founded by Pilar Primo de Rivera in 1934 to support the falangist (fascist) Nationalist cause, while at the same time it carved an important role for women’s social action within the Franco regime.  Their work with injured soldiers and orphaned children, along with  their promotion of better sanitation, nutrition,education, athletics and physical fitness, domestic arts, and more modern child-rearing practices set them as an important and influential organization in Spanish society in the early post Civil War period in Spain.

Francoist ideology promoted traditional feminine values through the preservation of  the domestic arts, and maintaining a happy home were all central parts of the doctrine that framed a Spanish woman’s ultimate destiny: that of motherhood (Enders 55). In fact, according to some Catholic texts, feminism–a movement that had grown during the years of the Second Republic (1931-1939 )under the leadership of women like Margarita Nelken and Victoria Kent– was completely unnatural, and a woman veering from her predetermined role was condemning herself to life as a sinner (Enders 59). Despite these rigid societal roles advocated by the Church and State, Spanish women were not excluded from higher education during the Francoist period, rather the educational system during this time inculcated the student with a sense of individual duty to the Nationalist-Catholic agenda. For women, the Church and the Sección Femenina de la Falange primarily defined these duties (Enders 52). The job of preserving domestic values in university women fell to the Sección Femenina, which prescribed as part of its program required social service for women students (Enders 61).

The Sección Femenina held up as role models to women the historical figures of Saint Teresa and Queen Isabel the First. St. Teresa de Jesús was the Seccion Femenina’s patron Saint (Otero 47). Scholar Inbal Ofer contends that Saint Teresa was not only attractive to Sección Femenina because of her religious devotion but also because of her intellectual independence (Ofer 667).  The Catholic Queen Isabel of Spain also became also one of the designated role models of the Sección Femenina. In fact, the organization’s emblem, the ornately decorated “Y” is named thus for the first initial of Catholic Queen Isabel (Otero 47) and the title of the organization’s monthly journal, published in Madrid between 1938-1946. Ofer argues that this was because Isabel showed that women could be activists in addition to wives and mothers in the name of Catholic and patriotic destiny (Ofer 668). However, the great paradox of the values of the Sección Femenina are best exemplified by the organization’s founder and leader herself.  Pilar Primo de Rivera was the sister of the martyred founder of the Falange Española, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera (Otero 10). She never married or had children of her own,  but instead founded and headed this impressive organization of women intellectuals and athletes. She was an influential figure who traveled to foreign countries and met with leaders of Francoist Spain’s allies (Otero 28).   She was a respected leader accepted by the Falangista male elite, a fact captured visually in a 1939 photo depicting her  as the only woman among a line of male Falange leaders (Otero 42).  Despite her personal choices to remain unmarried and childless, Pilar Primo de Rivera encouraged women to stay within their traditional submissive roles in the family and stressed the importance of motherhood.  Pilar was once quoted saying, “do not pretend to be equal to men, because far from achieving what you want, men will detest you immensely and you will not be able to have influence on them” (Enders 62). This idea of women not transgressing traditional social roles in order to have social impact (influence) was one that permeated all of the activities and publications of the Sección Femenina de la Falange. Medina, a weekly periodical published in Madrid (1941-1945), was one the ways that the  Sección Femenina propagated its ideas of women’s social activism on a national level (Ofer 666). Eight articles during Medina’s publication were solely about women in higher education (Ofer 672).  Still other articles found in Medina reveal a belief that “the true mission of a woman is to give sons to her Fatherland¨ (Otero 31).

The women of the Sección Femenina de la Falange were to play a principle role in the reconstruction of Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939–one of the bloodiest and most destructive wars in Spanish history.  By orders of General Francisco Franco, one of the ways women could assist in the fatherland was through certain activities of social service. Pilar herself stated that service is if the utmost importance and was to be performed “with total diligence and discipline” (Otero 39). She also stated that “the mission of a woman is to serve” (Otero 17).  Rosa Maria Capel aptly pointed out that through its emphasis on social service, the Sección Femenina was able to both indoctrinate young women in Francoist ideology while at the same time it provided free service to the community (“La Sección Femenina”).  For the women of the Sección Femenina, much of the function of servicio social was in providing formación, or the political, religious and social shaping of a woman as a person (Otero 34). At the same time, the servicio social covered a wide range of challenging and empowering options.  Women worked for Spain’s future not only through the rearing of their own children, but also through their efforts in various services aimed at improving the health and well-being of all of Spain’s children.  Auxilio Social (Social Aid) Auxilio social Y 1-Feb- 1938was a concept first put into practice in 1936 by the women of the Sección Femenina in Valladolid, and soon spread to the rest of Spain.  Services provided by the Auxio Social included daycare for children of working mothers, shelters for orphaned children, nutrition advice and healthcare centers, and perhaps most importantly, a dispensary of healthy food for those who could not afford it (Otero 125). Over the years the options for a woman’s servicio was not just limited to child care. The Sección Femenina also promoted literacy by carrying out programs like traveling libraries, where women of the Seccion Femenina brought books to those villages of Spain where reading material was more scarce and read to those who could not for themselves (Otero 207). Nursing was an important aspect of the Sección Femenina’s service from its inception. The Sección Femenina‘s program Soccoro Azul, from 1936 to 1938, worked in hospitals and helped injured Nationalist (Francoist) soliders and their families during the Spanish Civil War (Otero 22-23).

While the concept of servicio social was an important tool to inculcate women with traditional Catholic values and to support Franco’s nationalist and fascist agenda by  strictly limiting women to their roles as mother and a wife, women’s service also allowed them to actively participated in the betterment of a society, something their feminist counterparts on the other side of the political divide also sought.

Works Cited

Enders, Victoria Lorée, Pamela Beth. Radcliff, and Aurora Morcillo Gómez. “Shaping True Catholic Womanhood: Francoist Educational Discourse on Women.”Constructing Spanish Womanhood: Female Identity in Modern Spain. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1999. 51-69. Print.

“La Sección Femenina.” Paisajes De La Historia. RTVE. La 2, 08 Oct. 2006. Rtve.es. Corporación De Radio Y Televisión Española, 7 Sept. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2012. <http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/paisajes-de-la-historia/paisajes-historia—seccion-femenina/642193/>.

Ofer, Inbal. “Historical Models, Contemporary Identities: The Sección Femenina of the Spanish Falange and Its Redefinition of the Term ‘Femininity'” Journal of Contemporary History. Vol. 40. N.p.: Sage Publications, n.d. 663-74. Ser. 4. JSTOR. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036353>

Otero, Luis. La Sección Femenina. Madrid: EDAF, 1999. Print.


 Posted by on November 19, 2012