Women and Independence in Latin America

Women and Independence in Latin AmericaDuring the early nineteenth century, Latin America was shaken to its foundations by social and political upheaval, war and revolution. From Guanajuato to Buenos Aires, insurgent forces who opposed Spanish rule participated in a series of bloody and protracted Wars of Independence which spanned the period between 1810 and 1833.

The immediate trigger of the conflict was the French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1807 and 1808, but its roots also lay in the growing discontentment of American-born Creole elites with the restrictions imposed by Spanish imperial rule. This disenchantment was shared by Indian and mixed race populations, but from very different perspectives and social positions. Those who opposed Spanish rule, who came to be known broadly as the ‘Patriots’ as the conflict unfolded (as opposed to their enemies, the ‘Royalists’) , were influenced by the political and intellectual climate generated by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the French and North American revolutions.

In deeply patriarchal societies which radically restricted the opportunities available to women from across the social spectrum, the protagonists of the struggle for Independence were, in their overwhelming majority, men. However, women did play a significant role in the Wars. They assumed supporting, non-combinative roles, but they also donned military uniforms and fought on the battlefield and as part of guerrilla campaigns. Micaela Bastidas, who led an unsuccessful rebellion against Spanish rule in Peru in 1780 alongside her husband, and Policarpa Salavarrieta, who offered logistical support to the Patriots in Colombia, are just two examples of these stereotype-shattering women.

The political status of Latin American men and women changed radically during the nineteenth century. From subjects of Iberian absolutism without political rights, they became potential citizens of independent republics founded on the principal of liberty. This ‘liberty’, however, never took women in to account: as a social sector, they were denied political rights under the new republican constitutions declared after the Royalists were defeated. Confined to the domestic sphere and denied a public voice, Latin American women would have to fight for two centuries in order to achieve the presence which they now enjoy in the public spheres of their countries.

In the present day, in societies where at times restrictive cultural stereotypes still exist, Latin American women can still  encounter economic, cultural and social barriers. The mould-breaking women who took up arms for the Independence cause, or who lent logistical and economic support to it, fought to defend their beliefs and demolished powerful stereotypes in the process. They thus have pertinent contemporary relevance for modern women.

This page is part of an interactive and community-driven research project hosted by the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Nottingham. The project explores the long-overlooked role played by women in the Wars of Independence in Latin America.

Historvians are invited to upload pictures and descriptions of sites and monuments which relate to this dramatic and intriguing period in Latin American History, especially those which deal with the part played by women in the conflict.

Why not explore the map of those places which played a vital role in the Wars of Independence. Alternatively click on the title of each site below for more information. You can also join the conversation on the project's Facebook page.

Women and Independence in Latin America: Site Index

Photo by Historvius

Estatua de Policarpa Salavarrieta

The estatua de Policarpa Salavarrieta is a statue in central Bogotá, Colombia. It was erected in honour of Policarpa Salavarrieta, a well-known heroine of Colombian Independence.

The Estatua de Policarpa Salavarrieta, which is situated in Colombia´s capital city, Bogotá, depicts a woman who is considered by many Colombians to be a heroine of the country’s Independence movement: Policarpa Salavarrieta Ríos. The statue was commissioned, sculpted and erected in celebration of the first centenary of Colombian Independence. It... Read More

Photo by Historvius

Museo Casa de Hidalgo

This museum in the town of Dolores Hidalgo is the former house of the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the father of the Independence movement in Mexico.

Museo Casa de Hidalgo, which is housed in a large late eighteenth-century building, was the dwelling place of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. The Creole priest, who lived in the town of Dolores in the early nineteenth century, is widely viewed as the ‘Father of Independence’ in Mexico. The house... Read More

Photo by Historvius

Museo de la Independencia

The Museo de la Independencia is a museum devoted to the struggle for Colombian Independence, housed in the building where the "Cry of Independence" was uttered on 20 July 1810.

The Museo de la Independencia (Museum of Independence) in Bogotá is housed in a late sixteenth-century colonial building in the lively central barrio of La Candelaria. Founded on 20 July 1960, the museum is also known as the Museo del 20 de Julio de 1810 (Museum of 20 July 1810)... Read More

Photo by Historvius

Museo de la Mujer

The Museo de la Mujer is a museum devoted to women’s culture and history, especially that of Argentina/Latin America. It pays special attention to women’s historical experiences of independence and liberation.

The Museo de la Mujer, or Women’s Museum, is a museum in central Buenos Aires, Argentina. Its historical and artistic exhibitions deal with themes of women’s culture and history, primarily in Argentina and other Latin American countries. The museum, described by its directors as “a proposal of art and culture from... Read More

Photo by Historvius

Puente de Boyacá

Puente de Boyacá is the site where the most decisive battle of the Wars of Independence in Colombia occurred.

Puente de Boyacá, in the department of Boyacá, Colombia, is the site where Colombian troops finally achieved the country’s definitive independence from Spain. The Battle of Boyacá, which took place on 7 August 1819, was a decisive moment in the bloody struggle for Independence from the Spanish Empire which had been... Read More