Dec 192012

Article by Madeline Albrittain, University of Mary Washington, December 2012.

Concepción Arenal, a pioneer for women’s rights and for social and economic justice in Spain, was the founder and editor of a the bi-monthly publication The Voice of Charity(La voz de la caridad) (Cambria 8-9). She began publishing the journal in 1870.  Arenal focused and published many articles on poverty, education, charity, prison reform, and critiquing war. Arenal defined her goals for women as wanting “complete civil rights” (Cambria 11) which she outlined in publications such as La mujer del porvenir, La voz de la caridad y La educación de la mujer. These publications aforementioned advocated for women’s rights and education. Arenal also saw an important role for women in solving important social problems of her day.  By allowing women to contribute to social reform, Arenal believed society would improve.

One of the arenas where women could promote social reform was through the establishment of las Juntas Provinciales y Municipales. This establishment, similar to a board of visitors, was created to administer the 1849 Law of Beneficence. This law aided in the delivery of social services provincially and municipally outside of church aid. Various women groupsassociated with these provincial boards oversaw maternity homes and helped orphans and those who were homeless, while municipal boards organized and promoted all kinds of home relief. Objectives of this women’s group included aiding the government in beneficiary services and acts of charity (Símon Palmer 185). Arenal also listed functions of the Ladies Board in a 1875 issue of “The Voice of Charity” to include: visiting associations and establishments related to beneficence and invoking the aid of charity, caring for girl’s schools and women’s hospitals, and communicating with women’s associations dedicated to the common good (Símon Palmer 185-186). Concepción Arenal herself assisted in reforming hospital systems through field studies, where she could identify deficiencies in such systems (González 168).Concepción Arenal’s progressive actions guided women in their charitable actions, providing relief to many.

Another issue that Arenal treated frequently in The Voice of Charity was a critique of the cruelties of war, seen in her articles “Cuadros de la Guerra.” She was also one of the earliest advocates for the foundation of the Red Cross, which sought to supply aid to all wounded soldiers regardless of nationality or cause. The word ‘ambulance’ was first used during the Franco-Prussian War to describe any type of aid for the wounded soldiers (Moorehead 67). Toward the end of the 1860s, Red Cross societies “began to organize their ‘ambulances’ for the wounded of both armies” (Moorehead 67). La Sección de Señoras de Caridad de la Cruz Roja en España was formed June 7, 1870, allowing women to be delegates of the Red Cross (Símon Palmer 197). There were many criticisms of the Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War by the anti-liberals.

Image courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional de España



Concepción Arenal devoted various writings published in her journal The Voice of Charity to defend the work of the Red Cross. Arenal states that women must have peace of mind while relieving the wounded, although it may be difficult among those that slander their intentions (Símon Palmer 198). In other words, the women of the Red Cross continued to work for the fallen soldiers despite criticisms from anti-liberals. Furthermore, the Red Cross allowed for a new wave of international relations which Arenal hoped would bring peace (Símon Palmer 198).


The Carlist Wars over succession to the Spanish crown, occurred during the 19th century between 1833 and 1876, dividing Spain into conservatives and liberals, a division that would eventually lead to conflicts that caused the Spanish Civil War in 1936. In The Voice of Charity, Concepción Arenal wrote a sonnet titled, A la ambulancia navarra de la Cruz Roja (“To the Navarre ambulance of the Red Cross”).  Navarre, a northern region in Spain, played an important part in the Third Carlist War. Brutal fighting took place in the Basque Country and Navarre when several Carlist troops entered Spain through France and tried to seize the cities. Arenal focuses on the charitable actions that provided hope to the fallen in this battle. “The weak voice,” she writes, “echoes” (3-4) and provides a small glimmer of light in a field of wounded soldiers. The Red Cross is a sign of health and alliance among the poorly wounded during the war (10-11).

Works Cited

Arenal, Concepción. La cuestión social: Cartas á un obrero y Cartas á un señor. Madrid: Librería de Victoriano Suárez, 1895. Print.

Cambria, Rosario. Women’s rights in Spain: It all began with Concepción Arenal. Asociación Internacional de Literatura y Cultura Femenina Hispanica, 1977. Print.

González, José Siles. The Influence of Concepción Arenal in Spanish Nursing: A Study from the Perspective of Cultural History and Structural Model Dialect. Revista de Pesquisa, 2009. Print.

Moorehead, Caroline. Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross. London: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

Símon Palmer, María del Carmen. Puntos de encuentro de las mujeres en el Madrid del siglo XIX. Revista de dialectología y tradiciones populares, 2001. Print

Thomas, Steven. “Timeline of the Third Carlist War.” Military History. 2001. Web. 23 November 2012.