Oct 262011

Article by Christian Vega, University of Mary Washington, April 2011

Gasper Melchor de Jovellanos, one of the most influential figures during the Spanish Enlightment period, voiced his support of women’s abilities and potential contributions to Spanish society in his article Discurso sobre si se debían o no admitir las señoras en la Sociedad Económica de Madrid,” published in the journal Memorial literario in April of 1786.   Jovellanos was one of several intellectuals (including Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes, Francisco de Cabarrús, and Josefa Amar y Borbón) who debated publicly the benefits and dangers of women’s admission as members of the Royal Economic Society of Madrid, an important institution of political, economic and social reform in the late Enlightenment period in Spain.

Jovellanos was born to an artistrocatic family in Gijion in Asturias, Spain in 1744. At 13 he received a scholarship to study law at the Universidad de Alcalá where he also began his poetic career. He wrote numerous poems including  satires which reflected his colorful personality. In 1788 he gained a judicial post in Madrid where he wrote many influential works for Sociedad Patriotia, La Academia de Historia among others.   Exiled from Madrid to Gijón (Asturias) from 1790 to 1797, he founded the Instituto Asturiano, an institution to promote reform in Asturias and also completed his Diario, which was his biographical account.   Because of his political views and opposition of the  Catholic Church and the Inquisition he was imprisoned (1801-1808). When released the Peninsular War was taking place and France invaded Spain, which saw Joseph Bonaparte take the Spanish throne in Madrid. Jovellanos turned down positions in the French government and instead joined the Junta Central (patriotic party) and contributed to reorganizing the Cortes Generales (Legislature).  But when it fell under suspicion he was driven out by the French and he returned to a celebrated welcome in Gijón.  Upon his arrival he was driven out by the French and took refuge in a port of Vega, where he died in November 1811.

Known as a man of letters Jovellanos was a wide-range writer and while he is known to have written some of the finest poetry of his century, his rise to literary fame is attributed to his published works in the fields of politics, economics, education and other prevalent issues.  During a time when many thought Spain was falling behind intellectually in Europe (England, France, Germany), Jovellanos remained a passionate patriot devoted to the betterment of his country. He constantly provided concern on how to reform existing intuitions by proposing new ideas on how to improve socially, economically and educationally.

He was also an active member of La Sociedad Economica de los Amigos del Pais during his tenure in Madrid. The society was created when many Spaniards recognized that Spain was falling behind other European countries economically and socially. It was composed of many brilliant intellectuals, statesmen, and economists that included, Pedro Rodríguez de Campomanes.  Here they discussed important issues and collaborated to try and stimulate development in Spain.

Some of his most known works from his vast collection include the  Informe sobre la Ley Agraria  (Report on the Agrarian Law, 1794), where he emphasizes the importance of education. He proposes the creation of ‘useful sciences’ be taught by instructors, because these interests derive from human need to attain knowledge and reason. Essentially saying that “knowledge is power” and if ascertained widely it will enhance Spanish prosperity. These methods were met with criticism because they were by no means trivial matters,and involved changing the educational system.  Other works by Jovellanos that focussed on education were his Memoria sobre la educación pública, Tratado teórico-práctico de enseñanza (Report on Public Education, Theoretical and practical treatise on education 1802 ), his Bases para un Plan General de Instrucción Pública (Foundations for a general system of public instruction 1809) and Reglamento para el establecimiento de escuelas gratuitas (Regulations for the establishment of non-fee-paying schools), where he extended his broad reach to include the topic of women and education.

Jovellanos was one of the leaders of the movement that helped see women gain admission into “Sociedad Economica de los Amigos del Pais”. In his work Discurso sobre si se debian o no admitir las senoras en la Sociedad Economica de Madrid” (1786) he makes his stance on the issue clear: women should be allowed admission with the same formalities and with the same powers as the other members, without making another separate institution.”  History shows that his proposition didn’t go exactly as planned and though at first women were initially admitted to the Sociedad,  a separate class was soon created for them called Junta de Damas. La Junta de Damas, which was the first civic organization for women, saw increasingly positive strides, where upper class women focused on charity and humanitarian work. This kind of work was seen as an acceptable form of contribution to the Spanish Enlightment reform. The Junta de Damas deserves praise because it was one of the first steps forward for social equality.  In 2011, two centuries after Jovellanos’ death,  one can see the historic results of these early efforts, when for the first time a European country (Spain) has a government where more women than men held positions in power under Prime Minister Jose Rodriguez Zapatero.



Carril, Angeles Galino. Gasper Melchor de Jovellanos. UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, 2000.

Jovellanos, Gaspar Melchor.  “Memoria sobre si se debían o no admitir las señoras en la Sociedad Económica de Madrid.” Memorial literario  8.28(April, 1786): 475-488.

Negrín Fajardo, Olegario.  Ilustración y educación.  La Sociedad Económica Matritense.  Madrid: Nacional, 1984.

Polt, John HR.  Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos.  New York:  Twayne, 1971

Oct 262011

Article by Lucia Morey, University of Mary Washington, April, 2011

In Oda a la beneficencia” (Ode to Beneficence), Spanish playwright and poet María Rosa Gálvez praises the charitable efforts of the womens’ organization the Junta de Damas (Board of Ladies), in particular their work with the Inclusa, an orphanage in Madrid. The poem elegizes a speech given by María Josefa Gálvez, the author’s cousin and Condesa (Countess) de Castroterreño.

María Rosa Gálvez was born in Málaga in 1768. Her family had ties with the court of the Bourbon king Carlos III. The reign of Carlos III was characterized by reform—economic, social and political changes that brought Spain more into line with the political atmosphere of the rest of Europe at the time. Among the reforms was a shift in the way women were viewed. The secondary role in society to which they had been relegated was increasingly reevaluated and the century saw more and more women receiving an education.  They contributed to movements in the arts, literature and music and formed groups (tertulias) to showcase their own works and provide a forum for discussion of contemporary culture. They also created charitable societies such as the Junta de Damas, which was the female answer to the male dominated economic reform group the Real Sociedad Economica de Madrid (Royal Economic Society of Madrid).

In short, Gálvez’s alliance with the liberal royal court was ­­­important in getting her plays distributed. Over the course of her career, Gálvez wrote 16 plays, 14 of which were published and seven performed. “Obras poeticas” (Poetic Works), a series of three volumes, was published in 1804 at the Court’s expense. The first volume of Obras poeticas contains 18 lyrical poems, one of them being Oda a la Beneficencia. As mentioned previously, the poem is dedicated to the author’s cousin, María Josefa Gálvez, a member of the Junta de Damas.

The Junta de Damas was the first official non-religious women’s group in Spain, formed in 1787 as an auxiliary organization to the Real Sociedad Economica de Madrid, which excluded women. The Junta occasionally undertook projects in conjunction with the Real Sociedad, but was better known for its efforts with local charities. For example, one project focused on reforming women’s prisons, while other time and money went into working with orphanages in Madrid. One such children’s home was called the Inclusa.

Founded in 1572, the Inclusa was a place for Madrid’s abandoned or illegitimate children (called niños desgraciados or “wretched children” in Oda a la Beneficencia). It was a “shelter where an unwanted infant could be brought, baptized and sent out to nurse” (Sherwood 4). Conditions in the Inclusa were less-than-ideal. In 1740, the nursery contained two large straw mattresses which held up to 40 babies at a time (Sherwood 11). The death toll was enormous over the course of the 18th century: according to Sherwood, an average of 58% of infants abandoned to the Inclusa died in the beginning of the 1700s; by the time the Junta de Damas took over the running of the orphanage in 1799, that figure approached 87% (Sherwood 125). One of the first things that the Junta did was to replace the straw mattresses with woolen ones that could be washed more easily (Sherwood 11). They also stationed two nurses at each bed, and instead of having 30 or 40 babies per mattress, they kept infants two to a bed. They doubled the number of staff working at the Inclusa, including hiring another doctor and a surgeon. Rooms were disinfected regularly and windows kept open to let in fresh air (Sherwood 196). Before the Junta de Damas took control, the Inclusa was run as though it were a “domestic industry where infants were sent out to be processed” (Sherwood 193); one of the main problems was that the wet nurses were inattentive (Oda a la Beneficencia refers to them as “vile”) and neglectful of their charges. Under the direction of the doctor hired by the Junta de Damas, the wet nurses were kept on a much more regulated schedule. The doctor, Santiago García, even succeeded in starting a program of “artificial feeding” (wheat paste and bread dipped in milk) (Sherwood 202).

However, despite the reforms enacted by the Junta de Damas, infant mortality rates in the Inclusa continued to rise until in 1804 the death rate hit 100% (Sherwood xiv). As much as the Junta had done for the Inclusa, the changes put in place were no substitute for the medical advances that came late in the 19th century. Oda a la Beneficencia is an ode to the “’noble and pious heart” of María Josefa Gálvez, who worked personally on the Inclusa project. To a larger extent, the poem is a letter of gratitude to the Junta as a whole for their efforts to “aliviar a los mortales” (relieve the deaths /fatalities) and improve conditions for the children.


Bergamini, John D. The Spanish Bourbons. 1974.

 Gálvez, María Rosa. “Oda a La Beneficencia.” Obras Poeticas De María Rosa Gálvez De Cabrera. Madrid: Imprenta Real, 1804.

Grinstein, Julia Bordiga.  La Rosa Trágica de Málaga: Vida y Obra de María Rosa de Gálvez. Dieiciocho. Anejos de Diecicocho 3. The University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. 2003.

Lewis, Elizabeth Franklin. “Crying out for Feminine (Un)happiness.” Women Writers in the Spanish Enlightenment: the Pursuit of Happiness. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2004.

Sherwood, Joan. Poverty in Eighteenth-Century Spain: The women and Children of the Inclusa. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

Oct 262011

article by Lauren Guzinski, University of Mary Washington

April, 2011

María Rosario Cepeda delivered her Elogio de la Reyna, Nuestra Señora, in 1797 at the tail end of the enlightenment. In the 18th century, it became custom for women in the Junta de Damas to deliver elogios to the queen every year. As their patron, the Junta honored her legacy annually through these elogios.

Eighteenth century Spain was a revolutionary time for the female intellectual. Spanish society saw the arguments of Feijoo arguing for a woman’s right to an education and Carlos III’s promotion of intellectual freedom through the education of young females. Highly intellectual women received degrees while still in their teens, such as María Isidría de Guzman who received a doctorate at 17. The “Junta de Damas” was a group of 14 females who embodied these societal elements. Their motto was “socorre enseñando;” literally bettering while teaching. They focused many of their efforts on charity through education and had many successful projects that changed more than concept in society (Lewis 7-12).

Cepeda was born January 10, 1756, in Cadíz to Don Francisco de Cepeda, alderman of the city (Serrano 268). As a child she was deemed gifted and received an education that involved a study of classic and romance languages as well as history (Jaffe 24). Her extensive knowledge in the arts and sciences lead to her recognition by the city (Serrano 268). Cepeda married General Gorostiza, with whom she relocated to Madrid (Quintanilla 129). In Madrid, Cepeda joined the original women in the Junta de Damas and served as the society’s second secretary (Jaffe 208). In 1816, Cepeda died at the age of 70 (Serrano 268).

            Cepeda uses the article to capture the personality of “Agusta Reyna”, a positive public influence who was both a charming and dutiful figure for society. As queen she cared for the king and the well being of society and captured society’s attention through her caring personality. She used her influence to establish schools that had a political influence, but also a side of beneficence and moral education. Overall, Cepeda uses her Elogio to motivate society to mirror the Queen’s example and motivate charity among the general public (Cepeda1-16).



 Glendenning, Nigel. A Literary History of Spain: The Eighteenth Century. Ernest Benn Limited. London. 1972. Print.

Jaffe, Catherine M., comp. Lewis, Elizabeth M.F., ed. Eve’s Enlightenment: Women’s Experience in Spain and Spanish America 1726- 1839. LSU Press. 2009. Print

Lewis, Elizabeth M.F. Women Writers in the Spanish Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness. Ashgate Publishing Company. Burlington, VT. 2004. Print

 Cepeda y Gorostiza, María del Rosario. “Elogio de la Reyna N.S. “ Imprenta de Sancha. Madrid. 1797. Print.

Quintanilla, Paloma Fernandez.La Mujer Ilustrada en la España del Siglo XVIII. Ministro de Cultura. Madrid. 1981. Print.