Let’s learn about four more women of Mexico’s independence story.
One of the parts I love about my job, is researching and disseminating historical perspectives. The role of women in major events has for a long time been under-represented in our history texts.
This is the third year I’ll be sharing stories of some of the amazing women who fought for Mexico’s independence.
If you’d like more info about the history of the independence battles and the origin of the famous Grito de Dolores, you can check out these articles:
I love watching the Grito live from Mexico City. Thanks to YouTube it’s pretty easy!
Here is a clip from El Heraldo de México showing last night’s Grito de Dolores delivered by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
This is the second year the Mexican President delivered the Grito to an empty square due to COVID 19 restrictions. Normally, El Zócalo is packed beyond capacity with cheering Mexican citizens and tourists who come to enjoy the festivities and the fireworks display.
But how did we get to this point?
It’s thanks to the courage and fierce persistence of thousands of Mexican heroes who came before. Let’s discuss the stories of four women of Mexico’s independence story.
Manuela Medina was an indigenous woman from the Mexican city of Texcoco. She joined the independence cause and fought under José María Morelos. In a break from tradition, and gender roles, Medina fought on the frontlines where her valour and vigour were immediately recognised. She was soon made a captain of the rebel forces and was the first officer to lead her troops into battle against the Spanish King’s troops, and provoked the royalists into fleeing several times.
She valiantly fought in seven battles during the independence wars. It is believed in the last of these battles (possibly in early 1821) she suffered two lance wounds. She spent the next year and a half bed-ridden and in pain. She finally succumbed to her injuries and died on March 2, 1822.
After Morelos was executed, in December of 1815, the independence wars entered a protracted and fraught third stage. Victory for the patriots seemed unrealistic but several key players still held out hope. Among this group was Maria Luisa Martínez de Garcia.
She was born in Erongarícuaro, Michoacán and lived there, while running a small store, with her husband, Esteban Garcia Royas. During the wars of independence, Maria Luisa joined the rebels as a spy who carried valuable information and supplies between the guerillas and the leaders of the resistance. She was arrested and fined several times for her activities, after some of her reports were captured by authorities. In 1917, after being arrested and fined yet again, but unable to pay the particularly large fine, Maria Luisa was executed.
At her execution, she asked her captor, “Why are you so determined to persecute me? I have a duty to do what I can for my country. I am Mexican. I don’t believe I have committed any wrongdoing except to do my duty.”
Antonia Nava, La Generala
Antonia Nava was not only willing to literally sacrifice her own body for the sake of Mexican independence but also saw her sons give their lives to the cause.
She was an independence supporter who served under General Nicólas Bravo. During a particularly brutal 50-day siege, the soldiers were left weakened from starvation. The situation was so dire, the insurgents could almost ‘hopefully’ think of surrender.
Bravo was known for his strength and humanitarian character, however, he was pushed to his absolute limit and reluctantly ordered his men to be divided into tens. One in each ten men would be killed and his body used to feed the starving insurgents.
La Generala led several women, including Calatina Gonzáles (whose name is also included on the Wall of Honor) to General Bravo. She explained, “We come because we have found a way to be useful to our country. We cannot fight but we can serve as nourishment. Here are our bodies that can be distributed as food for the soldiers.”
She then pulled out a dagger and held it to her chest. Several soldiers rushed to prevent her from taking her life then and there. The soldiers were inspired by the great sacrifice these women were willing to make on their behalf and for the independence cause.
A new wave of energy to continue fighting flowed through the group and the next day Nava and her female companions armed themselves with machetes and sticks to fight to end the siege.
The majority of the soldiers died in that battle, but none surrendered.
Antonia Nava survived and lived to see an independent Mexico. She died in March of 1843
Despite her actions, her memory rested in anonymity until her story was uncovered and her name, written in gold letters, was added to the Wall of Honor of the House of Representatives (Mexico).
La Mujer Seductora
Maria Tomasa Estévez was from Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico and she worked as an agent for the insurgent leaders by persuading royalist soldiers and officials to defect to the independence cause (the Patriot side).
She came from humble origins and, along with her mother, worked to support her family. When the independence wars began, they immediately joined the side of the Patriots.
Her beauty and formidable skills of persuasion led to her being one of several women who served the rebellion by seducing fighters to the Patriot side. She was also instrumental in establishing the first insurgent front in Salamanca.
Before he took on the cause and fought for the freedom of the Mexican people, Agustín de Iturbide was a loyal and decorated member of the Royalist Army. He sentenced La Mujer Seductora to death upon her capture. Without naming her, Iturbide mentioned her work in the Diario Militar.
Viernes 5 – (August 1814): Three prisoners were put to death, among them a woman from this neighborhood (Salamanca) who has been the main agent in procuring the desertion of the patriots… After she was apprehended and charged, I ordered her into the chapel and to receive the customary punishment for such grievous crimes and to serve as an example to those of her sex.
Maria Tomasa Estévez was shot in Salamanca on 9 August 1814. After her execution her head was displayed in public.
Notable Latin American women: Twenty-nine leaders, rebels, poets, battlers, and spies, 1500-1900 by Jerome R. Adams (1995)
Mexico Viejo by Luis González Obregón (1979)
Kiosco de la Historia (https://kioscodelahistoria.mx/tomasa-esteves-y-salas-la-frine-mexicana/)
Women and Independence in Latin America: An exploration of women’s involvement in the Latin American Wars of Independence (https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/genderlatam/database/search/biography.php?personID=397&lang=en)