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Where was the romanticism?

16 November 2006


Women who followed the armies during Mexico’s Revolutionary War didn’t look like the women in this scene. They didn’t walk along side their men. They didn’t take long walks down the streets of Chihuahua wearing their finest (clean) colorful dresses. The women were hungry, filthy, tired, overworked, neglected, generally unappreciated, and often suffering from illnesses. That doesn’t take away from the fact that they were devoted, supportive, and played a very valuable role in the fighting forces they “served” in.There hasn’t been a lot of detail written about the role of women in the Mexican Revolution, but among the lower class, many women became soldaderas, fighting soldiers, or victims. Some women actively opposed the revolution because they were strong supporters of Catholicism and the Church held views that strongly contrasted with the goals of the revolution. There were some women from middle/upper classes who lent support to various sides of the war through their intellectual endeavors. These women were often teachers/ journalists, etc. Many of this group were early feminists. The fact that they served as advisors, strategists, reformists led to many of them being beaten, harassed, imprisoned and even murdered.

The following description comes from an excellent article I found at this link:

The soldadera was the most typical role women played in contribution to the Mexican Revolution. It was typical in that it involved a large number of women and that it followed the most accepted gender-based roles for women as caregivers. Although they occasionally fought in battle, these women generally traveled with the revolutionary armies to forage for food, cook meals, nurse the wounded, wash clothes, and other services not provided by the military . Although some authors do not distinguish between the Soldaderas and the female fighters, Andrés Reséndez Fuentes makes a clear distinction between those women who served as a vital support system to the combatants, and those who actually participated in the fighting. Soldaderas endured miserable living conditions, malnutrition, and even childbearing under inhospitable surroundings . Soldaderas whose husbands died in battle often continued in their roles as the soldadera of another soldier . While “no army of the revolution fought without women but each organized female participation in a distinct manner,” . Soldaderas generally remained anonymous and were never recognized for their indispensable contribution to the revolution.

Female fighting soldiers often joined on as soldaderas and moved from that role to one of a full time gun-toting revolutionary. They usually took on masculine roles in their dress, swearing, drinking, and became all around toughs. Female soldiers who showed a lot of skills and had leadership qualities actually did become officers of men and raised in the ranks of the Revolutionary Army.Victims were usually women who stayed home to tend to their children and to protect their homes. Once the armies ran low on rations, the soldiers would raid their homes for food and supplies. The girls/women who lived in those homes were often raped and if the soldiers suspected them of being connected with the enemy, they were murdered. Zapata’s men were especially famous for raping women throughout their territory.

The woman in the photo was a Yaqui scout named Hermilianda Wong Chew who served under Obregon. She was thought to be a fighting soldier/officer because of her pearl handled pistol and her binoculars. (Thanks Rich!)

Soldaderas walked behind their soldiers because officers would not give a horse to a woman. He would give it to a fighting soldier first and the women would have to carry their children and their personal supplies while their traveled by foot. When an army traveled by train, the women often rode atop or outside (the cars) the train as the cars were reserved for the soldiers. Female fighting soldiers usually provided their own horse.The role of women differed depending on who’s army they served with…. Villa, Zapata, Carranza, etc. Villa tended to resent the fact that the soldaderas slowed his men down. He liked the ability to move quickly. Zapata admired/appreciated the support offered by the women, whereas Villa was cool to the idea. Villa reportedly had one of his female soldiers shot because she accidently shot one of his men. Ironically, he had her buried with military honors. On another occasion, Villa executed 80 to 90 enemy soldaderas (including thier children) because one of them took a shot at him.

The early Maderistas and Orozquistas of the north did not bring camp followers to the battlefield because the troops generally remained close to home. Also, the Soldaderas tended to be slow moving and deprived the cavalry units of their much valued swiftness. However, this lack of Soldaderas caused logistical problems when it came to medical needs and obtaining food and ammunition. Provisional support units were often set up by only a few women and some men, to provide nursing, food and other services, but were often insufficient and diverted soldiers from fighting.

A few of the remarkable women of the Revolution:Petra Herrera became an officer or “coronela,” commanding 200 men, according to a report in The Mexican Herald on January 7, 1914. Historian Elizabeth Salas tells us that Herrera, along with 400 other women, took part in the second battle of Torreón as part of Villa’s vanguard. A villista by the name of Cosme Mendoza said, “Herrera was the one who took Torreón on May 30,1914.”

Angela Jimenez, who at 15 witnessed her sister’s attempted rape by a soldier. Her sister grabbed the officer’s gun and killed him and then killed herself. Jimenez joined her father in the army, promising herself to kill the federales. Jimenez became a spy, soldier and explosives expert.
Elisa Grienssen Zambrano of Parral, Chihuahua was a 13 yr. old teacher who commanded men and women of Parral to repel and expel a “punitive expedition” from the American army in April 1916. The American soldiers were on a mission to apprehend Gen. Francisco Villa. Elisa was so indignant that Americans would invade Mexico’s sovereign territory that she organized women and school children to surround the North American commander, Frank Tompkins. Shortly, men in the town joined her and armed only with rocks, tomatoes, and shouts of “Viva Mexico, Viva Villa”, they succeeded in forcing him and his men to retreat. When Villa asked Elisa “how did you do it?” She answered him, “We did it for Mexico”.

*** A faded oil painting of Elisa Grienssen Zambrano is still on the wall of Villa’s museum.

In 1911, Profesora Delores Jiménez y Muro founded the group Regeneración y Concordia from her prison cell. The group’s purpose was to “improve the lot of indigenous races, campesinos, obreros, unify revolutionary forces, and elevate women economically, morally and intellectually,”. In March 1911, Jiménez put together the Political and Social Plan, which was a conspiracy to bring Madero to power by a rebellion near Mexico City. Her Plan was unusual because it outlined the need for extensive social and economic reforms, rather than simply the desire for political change at the top. She specifically recognized in the Plan that the daily wages of both men and women in urban and rural areas needed to be increased, as women made up more of the “economically active” population than was acknowledged by the official census. Emiliano Zapata was very enthusiastic about Jiménez’s Plan, particularly the part calling for the restitution of usurped village lands, and invited her to join his cause in Morelos. She did so after the death of Madero in 1913, and remained there until Zapata’s assassination in 1919, well after her seventieth birthday. Although Dolores Jiménez y Muro was an active revolutionary for almost twenty years and provided significant contributions to history, she has received little attention from academics.

One of the most famous female soldiers was Margarita Neri, who became a legendary Zapatista commander. “So many legends surround Neri that she is portrayed as both commanding Zapatistas in Morelos and as cutting off the ears of Zapatistas sent to recruit her. Despite the mass of contradictory accounts, it seems that Margarita Neri was a capable and respected guerrilla commander.

additional links:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 May 2007 3:55 pm

    Thank you so much for this information. I really liked this, especially because it so hard to look for women’s roles during the Mexican Revolution. I hope you add more things people would never know or imagine!

  2. William Carpenter permalink
    1 March 2011 2:45 pm

    Excellent information! Could you please provide me with primary information concerning the soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution? News papers, letters, pictures, first hand accounts would be awsome…also interviews.


  1. And thank you, Elena Poniatowska! « The Mex Files
  2. ¡Mujeres con moral de vencedor! « The Mex Files

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