The struggle of Mexican women for political rights has been long and difficult. Although they began the fight for suffrage around the same time as their North American and European counterparts in the early twentieth century, there have been many events that have frustrated the fulfillment of feminist goals and the development of a strong and unified feminist movement.

Many groups and individuals have supported feminist ideas and attempted to create legislation to improve the position of women in Mexican society and though success appeared imminent several times, many of the attempts to obtain recognition of women as equal and full Mexican citizens ended in failure. A major reason that Mexican women were denied the right to vote was the belief (or excuse) of the strongly anti-clerical Revolutionary leaders that the Catholic Church would control the government through the female vote. Despite these failures, in 1953 Mexican women were granted the political equality for which they had struggled for over half a decade.

The goal of this chapter is to show the political participation of Mexican women during the first part of the twentieth century up to 1953, when they were included in the Constitution as full citizens with the right to vote and hold political office at all levels. This chapter will discuss Mexican women's legal status, social, professional and political activity during the years before 1953, beginning with the regime of Porfirio Díaz.(1)

The Porfiriato: Roots of an Incipient Feminist Movement

The regime of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1910), or the porfiriato, brought many changes in the Mexican economy and society. Díaz tried to implement changes that would raise Mexico to the level of other countries that were industrializing at the end of the nineteenth century. Under Díaz, Mexico's railroads, ports, and mines were expanded and telegraph and postal systems were established. Foreign investment was encouraged during the porfiriato, resulting in domination of several important sectors of the Mexican economy by foreign investors. However, very few Mexicans were able to enjoy the benefits of this development and the lower classes were hard hit by an economic depression at the turn of the century. Despite the apparent stability and progress, "wages and living standards were deteriorating for many, and probably more than four in five Mexicans remained illiterate." (2)

The Legal Status of Mexican Women During the porfiriato

While the Mexican Constitution of 1857 did not specifically discriminate against women, it had always been interpreted in a discriminatory manner as would later versions. Semantics invariably proved to be either a smoke screen for the Liberals under Benito Juarez or a convenient loophole for later politicians to deny women the right to citizenship. Since the Constitution was written in "general" terms using the masculine forms of nouns such as mexicanos and hombres, the equivalent to "males" rather then "men" in English and was interpreted by many as pertaining only to men.

However, others disagreed and felt " . . . there is no fundamental reason to interpret Article 34 of our Constitution in a restrictive sense. In the first place, a proper grammatical analysis of the terms used in this article does not justify in any manner the opinion that the adjective todos (all) refers strictly to men . . . ".(3)

The Civil Code of 1884 granted single women nearly the same rights as all adult males although they were legally required to live with their parents until they were thirty years old. A married woman did not have any rights: she could not divorce, vote, draw up a contract of any kind, dispose or administer her personal property, make decisions about the education of her children, or engage in lawsuits. Married women were considered imbecelitas sexus by the government and the law. A married woman could not even tutor anyone other than her husband. Because of this, female school teachers who did not want to leave their jobs would not marry. The Civil Code of 1884 also discriminated against children who could only investigate their maternal lineage and men were not allowed to legally recognize their illegitimate offspring.(4) In 1904, a bill legalizing divorce finally passed the Chamber of Deputies.(5)

Women's Educational and Professional Opportunities under Díaz

Educational opportunities for a minority of Mexican women, those in the middle and upper classes, increased considerably during the porfiriato. The foundation for these gains was laid in 1867 by President Benito Juarez who "declared primary education obligatory and laid extensive plans to expand educational facilities nationwide."(6)

Although Juarez was not able to follow through on all of his plans for creating a broad and inclusive educational system, Díaz continued his plans and further expanded educational opportunities for all Mexicans, including women. However, many schools that were established for girls limited their education to traditional subjects and arts and crafts such as tapestry and needlework, photography, bookbinding and offered few courses in science.(7)

Despite opposition and because of a lack of funds to open special universities for women, several women were admitted to the National University to study for degrees in medicine, law, pharmacy, chemistry and dentistry. Among the first women to hold professional degrees from Mexican universities are: Margarita Chorné, dentistry (1886), Matilda P. Montoya, medicine (1887), María Sandoval Zarco, law (1889), María Guerrero, public accounting (1908). However, traditional sex roles limited these women in their duties. The first two female medical doctors, Montoya and Columba Rivera, specialized in women's diseases but were prohibited from making house calls because women of their social standing were not permitted to go out alone or at night. The first female lawyer was restricted to practicing civil law after her first criminal case scandalized the gente decente.(8)

Middle and upper class women had a little more freedom as writers and journalists; many women began feminist and women's magazines and newspapers. Mexican women have always been active in literature and journalism, but began to express a greater interest in national political life.

In 1901, two writers and political activists, Juana Belén Gutiérrez and Elisa Acuña y Rossetti, began the anti-Díaz periodical Vesper. They criticized the condition of the miners in Guanajuato, the Catholic Church, and the government. Despite being jailed several times, Belén Gutiérrez continued her petitioning for social justice and the end of the Díaz regime.(9)

In 1904, Dr. Columba Rivera, María Sandoval de Zarco and a normal schoolteacher, Dolores Correa Zapata founded the feminist magazine La Mujer Mexicana, which was published monthly until 1908, a victim of economic problems. This magazine is credited with beginning an incipient feminist movement at the end of the Díaz regime, and criticized the Civil Code of 1884, the exploitation of workers and other problems of women at this time such as the double standard for men and women.(10)

These are only a few of the periodicals established by women at the end of the porfiriato. Women also collaborated on other periodicals established by the opposition to the Díaz regime, and in political clubs and discussion groups that were essential to the development of the ideas that ignited the Revolution in 1910.

Las precursoras: Pre-Revolutionary Political Activity Among Mexican Women

Many middle and upper class women attended tertulías and political clubs, and contributed to the efforts of politically oriented newspapers and magazines, particularly those opposed to the Díaz regime. One example is the Club Ponciano Arriaga, founded in San Luis Potosí in 1900. The club served as the organizational and political base of the Flores Magón brothers. During the same year, the Flores Magón brothers also established the newspaper Regeneración, the mouthpiece of their opposition party, the Partido Liberal Mexicano (Liberal Mexican Party [PLM]). All these elements of the Flores Magón-led opposition depended on the support of both men and women.

The first meeting of the Club Ponciano Arriaga made proclamations in support of gender equality as to salary and work.(11) In 1903, important feminist writer, Juana Belén Gutiérrez, and another, Elisa Acuña y Rossetti, acted as the leaders of this club. Both women played important roles in the development of Mexican feminism and the ideology of the Revolution.

Margarita Magón de Flores, the mother of the Flores Magón brothers, selected the subtitle of the newspaper Regeneración and played an active role as their collaborator. Her influence was so clearly visible that when she was dying Díaz offered to free her sons from jail on the condition that she would ask them to renounce political activity. She responded to the messenger, "Tell General Porfirio Díaz that I would rather die without seeing my sons Ricardo and Jesús and even see them hanging from a tree than to know that they have retracted or repented for something they have said or done."(12)

Other women who supported the PLM cause include Dolores Jiménez y Muro who is credited with writing the "Political and Social Plan" of the Complot de Tacubaya which sought to replace Díaz with Francisco Madero.(13) Teresa Arteaga, one of the earliest participants in the PLM and later wife of Enrique Flores Magón, spent several months in jail for collaborating with the PLM.(14) Many women participated and collaborated in opposition parties on all points of the political spectrum as writers, propagandists, teachers and journalists. These women dedicated their lives to social justice but the majority found lives of persecution, imprisonment, and poverty. Most died poor and forgotten.

The PLM was only one of the politically oriented organizations that supported women's political activity and rights. Working class Mexican women played active roles within the Gran Círculo de Obreros Libres (Great Circle of Free Workers [GCOL]), an anarcho-syndicalist union affiliated with the PLM. Women participated in strikes and protests sponsored by the PLM at mines in Cananea, Sonora, in June 1906, and at the textile mills in Orizaba, Veracruz. Some of the protests ended with hundreds of fatalities as did the strike at the Río Blanco textile mills in 1907.

Although organizations such as the PLM and GCOL could not begin an armed revolt, with all their strikes, propaganda and other efforts they helped to discredit the Díaz regime. Díaz responded by supporting a lockout of the workers that resulted in "93 of the nation's 150 mills being closed and thirty thousand laborers out of work in twenty states."(15)

The strikes, lockouts and subsequent violence against the working class by the government that occurred all over the country in 1907 served to weaken the authority of the Díaz regime considerably and set the stage for the Revolution.

The Participation of Mexican Women in the Revolution of 1910

It is clear that at the beginning of the twentieth century that many Mexican women across all social classes were politically conscious and active through their participation in strikes, protests, political clubs and parties and journalism. Many women sought social justice on a multi-dimensional scale and demanded that women's needs and equality be considered specifically, to avoid being lost in gender neutral language.(16)

The rising tide of feminism was not unnoticed, and on the eve of the Mexican Revolution it was increasingly criticized. Claims which have been heard in response to feminism in other countries were also heard in Mexico, such as the claim that feminists were not "feminine", and that an educated women was condemned to live alone because intelligence diminished her beauty. At the same time, there were many men who supported feminist ideas and helped advance the feminist cause as part of the overall program of social justice that was to be carried out with the Revolution.

During the Revolution, women served in many capacities: as officers, spies, couriers, snipers, saboteurs and warriors on the battlefield; as propagandists, teachers, journalists, collaborators and conspirators; founders of periodicals and hospitals. The new roles assumed by women during the Revolution gave them a place from which they could begin to fight for their own rights as well as for their country. For the women, the two struggles were the same; they fought for a society where they could cultivate social justice.

Although women of the middle and upper classes were able to avoid the violence of the Revolution, poor and lower class women had little or no refuge. Many women were raped and victimized and had to survive in a chaotic and hostile environment. Women who followed their husbands and lovers during the Revolution were called soldaderas or galletas (cookies). Generally, the soldadera fed her man, carried his things, looked for food, munitions and a place to put up the tent. It was not uncommon to see women fighting in the battles alongside the men.(17)

Women who fought in the Revolution had to exist in a world of chaos, sadness, insecurity and death. Many turned to prostitution to survive, others put on pants and fought as men. Some of these women were thrown out of the army upon discovery of their true sex. Others were assimilated and respected since they had proved their valor in battle.

Margarita Neri is one such woman, and though many conflicting tales about her life exist, some details are clear. She rapidly rose in ranks to become and officer and commanded her troops with much success. She was not the only woman to do so during the Revolution.(18) Many women dressed as men and took on the stereotypical traits and characteristics of men: fighting, smoking, gambling and killing without fear of anyone (men in particular). While not all women rose to prominence as guerrilla leaders, many achieved respect for their valor in battle or for their skill with dynamite or their marksmanship.

On the other hand, the soldaderas who were camp followers fulfilled the traditional female role. Because of the mundane activities of these sacrificing and suffering women, they have not been as celebrated as the heroic women who fought as men during the Revolution.

The Yucatan: Leading the Nation in Women's Rights (1915-1924)

Many revolutionary leaders tried to establish advanced programs to improve the condition of women politically and socially. During the period of 1915-24, the State of Yucatan took the initiative in granting rights to women under the leadership of General Salvador Alvarado.

When Alvarado was named as governor in 1915, the counter-revolutionary government of Ortiz Orgumedo ended and a period of experimental and revolutionary change began. Alvarado was a radical and moral man, and "...considered the fight for the emancipation of women as an integral part of the struggle in Mexico to help the weak and oppressed."(19)

Alvarado declared the intention of his government to help women support themselves economically and followed up those words with actions. His labor law reforms helped many working women by establishing a minimum wage and maximum hours for domestic workers and prohibited employers from requiring domestic help live in the place of work. Educated middle and upper class women were also given opportunities in the Alvarado government as he actively sought qualified women to fill positions as clerks, cashiers, and accountants in the state government.(20)

So that middle class women could work in civil posts, Alvarado changed the civil code to permit them to leave the family home at the age of twenty-one, like men.(21) He insisted that the old law kept women in an inferior condition that was not in agreement with the ideals of the Revolution. He wanted to help women to be free of religious and superstitious ideas, so he implemented programs to train women in secondary and vocational schools.

Alvarado was a moralist who campaigned against gambling, alcohol and drugs. He reformed prostitution by prohibiting brothels and opening free clinics where prostitutes would be required to be examined by doctors on a regular basis. While Alvarado realistically could not expect to stop prostitution altogether, he had hoped to end the exploitation of prostitutes by procurers and vice officers and to control the spread of venereal diseases through legal reforms and state sponsored programs.(22)

Alvarado's successor, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, carried out these plans until his assassination in 1924. After that all the progress in women's rights in Yucatan was reversed. Under Carrillo Puerto, women obtained the right to vote and hold office at the municipal level. They were provided access to family planning and birth control information, and were encouraged to join the Socialist Ligas Feministas under the leadership of his sister Elvia Carrillo Puerto.(23)

The First and Second Feminist Congresses (1916)

Alvarado tried to bring to light feminist concerns by supporting a feminist congress in 1916. The congress was the first of its kind in Mexico, and was organized completely by women. While he left the organization and planning to women, Alvarado selected four themes for consideration during this congress: (1) the best way to liberate women from the yoke of tradition; (2) the role of primary education in preparing women for their lives; (3) which kinds of careers and offices the government should help women train for, and; (4) what public offices women should and could fill.(24)

More than 600 women attended the congress, mostly school teachers and members of the educated middle class. These women represented a broad spectrum of opinions, from Catholic anti-feminists to radical feminists and anarchists. As was to be the case in later congresses of this type, moderate feminists set the pace and had the greatest influence over the final statements that were issued.

The moderates believed lay education should be offered to all women, that a women should marry by choice rather than economic necessity or familial coercion, that men and women were already intellectually and morally equal, and that women should have the right to vote in the near future. The moderates and the radicals agreed about the need to revise the Civil Code of 1884 in every aspect that discriminated against women. The influence of these demands can be seen in the changes in the code put forth by President Carranza on April 9, 1917.

The most important agreement of this congress was the proposition submitted by more than two dozen of the radical delegates to the congress proposing a change to the constitution of Yucatan that would permit women over twenty-one years old to vote and hold office at the municipal level. The radicals also asked that the state government initiate an appeal to amend the national constitution to allow municipal-level suffrage to women in all states.(25) Alvarado wanted clearer mandates and support for his programs, and immediately called for a second congress.

The Second Feminist Congress took place in November 1916, and was similar to the first. The participants discussed marriage, the rights of divorcees and their children, primary education, and the right to vote and hold office at the municipal level. Both congresses showed that the women at this time did not view suffrage as their most important concern. Even the radical feminists aspired to political participation only at the municipal level. Instead, they sought equality in a more methodical manner, demanding equality of quantity and quality of education, followed by equal opportunity in work. Only once women achieved educational and professional equality would they ask for political equality. These congresses also placed the women's concerns in the forefront of public awareness at the national level, thus representing a great advance for the feminist movement in Mexico.

The Carranza Administration

Upon taking office as president, Venustiano Carranza made clear his support of women's rights. He included several intelligent and outspoken feminist women in his government, hoping to solicit the loyalty of Mexican women through them. These women included Artemisa Sáenz Royo, Margarita Robles de Mendoza, and his most visible and outspoken critic, Hermila Galindo de Topete.(26)

In 1915, when the carrancista government returned to Mexico City, Galindo and Sáenz Royo founded the feminist magazine Mujer Moderna. Galindo and other writers of Mujer Moderna demanded political rights for women, equality in education, and expounded very advanced ideas about divorce, female sexuality, religion and prostitution.

Galindo served as editor of Mujer Moderna during its publication (1915-1919). She was invited to speak at the Second Feminist Congress after a presentation of her paper at the First Feminist Congress ignited controversy among the delegates there.(26)

The Constitutional Congress of 1917

When the Constitutional Congress convened in Querétaro in December 1916 and January 1917, no serious consideration was given to political rights for women, although it did not specifically deny women's political rights.(28) Important rights for working women were included in the Constitution, entitling working women, particularly pregnant women, protection against certain types of work. Galindo had sent a request to the Congress asking them to consider the rights of women, reminding them of their participation in the Revolution.(29)

Several male delegates, including General Francisco Múgica of Michoacan and Luis G. Monzón, both of whom were considered radical, and conservative Félix F. Palavinci, actively lobbied for the women's right to citizenship, suffrage and public office-holding.(30) However, the First Committee on Constitutional Reforms concluded:

The fact that some exceptional women have the qualifications necessary to exercise political rights satisfactorily does not justify the conclusion that these should be conceded to women as a class.(31)

The report further stated that because women had been traditionally restricted to the home and family, they had not developed a separate political consciousness and "do not understand the necessity of participating in public affairs, which is demonstrated by the lack of any collective movement for this purpose."(32)

Disappointed with the decision of the Constitutional Congress, Hermila Galindo made the announcement that she would run for a seat in the Chamber of Deputies in the next election. According to Macías, she announced her candidacy to the leading newspapers in Mexico and was backed by hundreds of supporters:

Galindo made it clear that she had no hope of being elected, but that she had two other objectives in mind. One was to bring to the attention of the nation and its leaders the large number of women who wanted to vote. The other was to set a precedent for the next generation.(33)

Galindo won the election but was rejected by the Electoral College of the Chamber of Deputies when she appeared to claim her seat because they claimed the electoral law of 1918 specifically limited the vote to men.(34)

The Law of Family Relations (1917)

While laws promulgated in 1917 did not give women political rights, Carranza's divorce decree of 1915 improved women's legal status slightly. The Law of Family Relations which legalized divorce and gave women the right to alimony and child support.

Specifically, changes in the law guaranteed the rights of married women (1) to extend contracts; (2) to seek legal counsel; (3) to act as tutors; and, (4) to have the same rights as men in the custody of their children. Women would also have equal authority in matters concerning family expenses. The law would also permit judgement of paternity and gave men the right to recognize illegitimate children.(35) The moderates believed that Carranza only legalized divorce because his friends asked him to do so. As written, the law discriminated against women and harmed them more than it would help them. The law:

...permitted legal separation to the spouse whose spouse committed adultery, under certain conditions...upon committing adultery in the home, keeping a lover and provoking public scandal by mistreating or permitting the lover to mistreat the other spouse.. a man could remarry immediately after having been granted a divorce, but a woman could not do so until after 300 days after the divorce was legalized to guarantee to a man that she was not pregnant by her first husband.(36)

There were other inequities as well. While a man could acknowledge paternity of illegitimate children born before or during his current marriage, regardless of his wife's sentiments, a woman could not.(37) Single women under thirty could not leave home without their parents' consent, and a married woman could not engage in any profession or business without the consent of her husband.(38)

Many women did not take advantage of the divorce law because divorce was still considered very unacceptable and many women were economically dependent on their husbands. Further, many women in the lower classes weren't married to their partners. According to the 1930 census figures, nearly 700,000 women were living in free union.(39)

Catholic women resisted divorce, and despite a strong anti-clerical sentiment following the Revolution, many women joined Catholic circles and organizations and supported conservative ideas. They established and distributed pro-clerical periodicals, formed soup kitchens, and distributed clothing among the poor.(40)

Despite setbacks in the fight for suffrage, the governor of San Luis Potosí granted to women who could read and write the right to vote and stand for office at municipal elections in 1924 and state elections in 1925. Under these changes, Elvia Carrillo Puerto ran for office as deputy in 1925. She and her female alternate won the election with a majority of over 4,000 votes but they were rejected when by the Electoral College when they presented their credentials at the Chamber of Deputies.(41)

Other states continued to grant suffrage to women, and in 1925 the state legislature of Chiapas passed a bill that provided equal political rights to women, including voting and holding office. But in San Luis Potosí, the women's suffrage granted in 1923 was repealed under the next governor who was opposed to political rights for women.(42)

The 1927 Reform of the Civil Code

The series of successes and setbacks in the fight for legal and political equality for women was continued in the 1927 reform of the Civil Code, which equalized the legal status of men and women and afforded certain protection to married women. It implemented features of the Law of Family Relations of 1917 that gave women the right to take part in lawsuits, draw up contracts and act as guardians. It also permitted Mexican women to practice law without any restrictions. Single women were now allowed to leave the family home at twenty-one years old, the same as men.

The previous change in the Law of Family Relations of 1917 which allowed married women to administer their property, also kept them from administering their husbands' property, putting at a disadvantage women who had no property or income of their own. This was corrected in 1927, requiring couples to draw up a prenuptial agreement to specify whether the couple would administer their property jointly or separately.

However, married women still needed the permission of their spouse to work outside of the home while the husband could travel or change residence without his wife's permission. Overall, this reform provided juridical protection for women of the middle and upper classes, but meant little to the masses of impoverished Mexican women for whom daily survival was the most important concern.(43)

The Right to Vote: A Dream Promised, Passed, Ratified and Pigeonholed

During the 1920s and 1930s, several states granted women the right to vote and hold office at the municipal level. Women were slowly gaining greater legal recognition as human beings and were demanding a more active role in national life. However, the traditional religious conviction of women continued to play a role in the repeated denial of these rights.

The increased activity of the League of Catholic Women and the participation of women in the Cristero Rebellion in 1926 served to again increase doubts in the so-called political "maturity" of Mexican women. Mexican men were concerned still that the Catholic Church would control the country through the feminine vote, thus reversing the progress of the Revolution. Another setback was the assassination of President-Elect General Alvaro Obregón León Toral, a religious fanatic, at the instigation of a Catholic nun. The vigorous anti-clerical reaction of President Calles immediately eliminated all prospect of a Church-State settlement and once more there was raised in the minds of Mexican politicians the specter of fanatical women voters dominated by the Church.(44)

During the following presidential administration, women's rights received little attention by Plutarco Elias Calles. The Mexican government's lack of support did not dissuade women who continued to organize congresses and were writing increasingly about political issues. One such writer argued:

I firmly believe that there is no incompatibility between the functions and obligations of citizenship and the sacred duties of the home. Women do not cease to be feminine simply by exercising political rights, simply as they do not when they go to work to satisfy their enormous needs-- because of this there is no danger of failure to fulfill one's role as wife or mother... Women should be granted the right to fully exercise political rights equal to those of men, and it should be demanded of the government to give the same guarantees for the capacity of exercising those rights to women.(45)

The Cárdenas administration (1934-1940)

The tide seemed to turn upon the election of Lázaro Cárdenas who declared his support for women's political rights and asked for the women's support of his campaign in his 1933 candidacy acceptance speech. Cárdenas further stated that women were "beings eminently aware of human problems and sufficiently generous to seek the general interest." However, he later stated that women's rights would be granted gradually and over an unspecified period of time.(47)

Women participated extensively in his campaign, and he followed through on his promise for the inclusion of women in national political life by appointing Palma Guillén as the Mexican minister to Colombia in 1934, making Mexico the first Latin American country to appoint a female diplomat. He then created the Acción Feminina (Feminine Action) as a sector of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (National Revolutionary Party [PNR]) and appointed Margarita Robles Mendoza as director.(48)

After nearly 2,800 women voted in the primary elections in the spring of 1936, the feminist organization Frente Unico Pro-Derechos de la Mujer (Single Front for Women's Rights [FUPDM]) began an active campaign to attain to right of women to vote and to be candidates without restrictions for all elective offices. Other issues on which the FUPDM called for action included the modification of the Civil Code to give women the same rights as men; modification of the Agrarian code to allow women to receive grants of land under the same conditions as men; legal protection of women in government employment; the incorporation of Indian women into national sociopolitical life; the establishment of work centers for unemployed women; the creation of a children's bureau to protect infants and children from neglect, abuse and exploitation; and the initiation of a program of cultural education for women.(49)

At about this same time, in the mid-thirties, several Mexican states again took the initiative to grant women the right to vote in municipal elections, beginning with Guanajuato in 1934, and Puebla in 1936 followed by Veracruz, Durango, Tamaulipas and Hidalgo.(50) In 1937, the PNR supported the candidacy of FUPDM secretary, María del Refugio García in her campaign for deputy in Michoacán and that of Soledad Orozco Avila in Guanajuato.(51) As did Galindo and Elvia Carrillo Puerto before them, they reasoned that the semantics of the Constitution did not specifically deny women the right to vote and stand for office. García and Orozco Avila won the election, but in August 1937, as with their predecessors, they were not permitted to take their seats in the Chamber of Deputies.(52)

The members of the FUDPM staged a protest and hunger strike outside of President Cárdenas' home at Los Pinos in Mexico City, demanding immediate action. Two weeks into the protest, Cárdenas promised in a speech at the Mexican Feminine Confederation that he would submit a bill to rewrite Article 34 at the beginning of the next congressional session in September. He followed through on this promise, and the Senate passed it before the end of the year. By May 1939 all of the states had ratified it. All that remained was the formal declaration of Congress that the change was in force. Mysteriously, it was tabled and did not take effect.

Women's organizations, including FUPDM, protested vigorously from July 1939 to June 1940. In an address before the end of his term, President Cárdenas asked Congress to fulfill its duty and finish the ratification process, but he failed to call a special session to ensure its completion and the amendment failed.

In a 1946, the Chamber of Deputies' Committee on Constitutional Reforms reported to President Miguel Alemán:

This reform, which lacked only the legal declaration, was left abandoned in the archives of the Chamber in an inexplicable form for almost ten years, possibly in fear of the undesirable results it might produce in the political life of the nation.(53)

Many authors attribute this failure to a conservative shift in the Mexican government after Cárdenas, the participation of women in Catholic Church sponsored organizations, and their support for the campaign of the conservative candidate, Juan Andreu Almazán. The defeat of the Spanish Republic by the Francoists in 1939 also affected the mood in Mexico, causing them to become extremely cautious. Spanish women had voted for the first time at both the municipal and national level in 1933. The women voted conservatively spelling disastrous results for socialist center parties supporting the Republic and confirming the worst fears of Mexican politicians. Mexico had supported the Republic government in Spain, but:

The Church, fighting bitterly against the anticlerical reforms of the hated Republic, openly exerted its influence over feminine voters, who in some places marched directly from the churches to the polling places.(54)

Nonetheless, women in several neighboring countries to the north and to the south were granted the full or partial political rights during this period, including: Canada (1917), the United States (1920), Ecuador (1929), Brazil and Uruguay (1932), Cuba (1934), Puerto Rico (1935), El Salvador (1939), Dominican Republic (1942), Venezuela (1945), Panama (1946), Argentina (1947).(55)

Official discrimination against women in the election law continued, including an incident wherein "the Chamber of Deputies answered a request by Señora Castillo Ledón for permission to accept a decoration from the Dominican Republic by declaration, on the 15th [of May 1946], that permission was not necessary since Article 34 of the Constitution did not recognize the citizenship of women."(56)

In a successful attempt to gain women's support and participation in his campaign, Miguel Alemán declared his support for immediately granting the right to vote at the municipal level.(57) He cited the importance of women's potential contributions in local level issues that pertain to their children such as schools, cost of living issues, sanitation and other "welfare and home" matters.(58) While such phrasing might be seen as cautious, humble and necessary to appease the largely uncertain members of Congress, it can also be seen as an affront to the importance of local political issues and the role of women in politics.

No further concessions were made to women during the remainder of Alemán's presidency (1946-1952), although the number of women chosen to represent Mexico in diplomatic posts and in various commissions increased.(59)

PRI-candidate Adolfo Ruiz Cortines promised to submit the amendment to Congress to grant suffrage to Mexican women if he won the election. A week after his inauguration as president in December 1952, he proved to be a man of his word. Before the end of 1953, the change was ratified, passed and formally adopted, granting women the right to vote and to stand for office in the 1954 congressional elections.(60)

The first female deputy, Aurora Jimenez Palacios, was elected from the newly christened state of Baja California. Ruiz Cortines also appointed Paula Alegría as Ambassador to Denmark, and Gloria León Orantes and María Luisa Santillán as Magistrates to the Superior Tribunal of Justice at the Federal District.(61)

The next milestone in women's rights in Mexico was the adoption of an article in 1974 similar to the proposed U.S. Equal Rights Amendment. This revision of Article 135 of the Constitution established the equality of men and women before the law and guaranteed the equality of opportunity in professions, industry, commerce and work. These changes also established equality between men and women in other matrimonial issues, allowing foreign-born spouses of Mexican women to attain citizenship. Protection and rights of pregnant women workers were also established in this legislation, setting work day length, leave time, and overtime payment among other issues.(62)

Mexican women have experienced hard opposition from the male-dominated government in their struggle to attain equal political and legal status. Although they were not permitted to participate within the government on an equal basis with men for much of this century, Mexican women have been politically active through other channels such as feminist organizations, labor unions, the press, and in various professions. Since they were granted equal rights and privileges of citizenship in 1953, women have slowly penetrated Mexican politics, attaining positions at the highest echelons.

What has the rate of this increase been since 1953? What are factors that have affected this rate? Who are the women who aspire to political power in Mexico? These are all questions that will be addressed in the following chapters.


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