October 1, 1931 is not only the day that Clara Campoamor (Madrid, 1888 – Lausanne 1972) goes down in history as the woman who carried on her shoulders the weight of the defense and achievement of women’s suffrage in Spain, but also it is also the day when Spain matures; the day that allows women “to participate in the space of the common”, in the words of the writer and PhD in Philosophy Marifé Santiago. Before 1931, Campoamor was one of only three female deputies in Congress, along with Margarita Nelken and Victoria Kent. And before 1931, Spain was a country in which “women were not people because, to be one, you have to be a legal person.” After October 1, 1931, Campoamor became the spearhead and main person in charge of one of the most relevant political changes in the history of our country, if not the most. After 1931, Spanish women ceased to be second-class citizens. For this reason, Clara Campoamor’s ‘Before’ transcends the deputy herself. Everything that happened to her before that October 1931 is the path that, without knowing it, all the Spanish women in history walked with her.
Clara’s father was a journalist. There Marifé Santiago sees a seed of her daughter’s concern for the present and the issues of her time. The mother, a seamstress. “And there I want to see”, the writer points out, “that she learned from her the need to spin all the loose threads in order to create something that shelters and dresses us”. From these two seeds a girl was born who had to stop studying very soon because her father died when she was only ten years old. It was in 1898. “Very soon she was forced to stop studying”, third Marifé Santiago. Perhaps that was one of the determining things to shape his thinking and prop up the meaning of his struggle. “She was clear,” Santiago continues, “that if she had been a man, her father’s death would not have condemned her to have to dedicate herself to sewing, for example.” In other words, he experienced in his own flesh that any setback condemned a woman to put aside her ambition.
However, she did not. After working as a dressmaker, telephone operator and clerk in order to collaborate with the family finances, in 1909 she ran for the opposition for the Telegraph Corps and got a job. “It was the only opposition to which women could present themselves,” says Santiago, “and that explains that many women from that period who, later, would write their own lines in history, all worked there.” Later, he acceded to a position in the Ministry of Public Instruction and in 1920 he enrolled in the Baccalaureate. Just four years later, Clara Campoamor already had a law degree and would soon open her own office. Somehow, he was already putting into practice what he would later understand how to get rid of the brake that many men considered that women should have incorporated. In one of the many scenes and experiences that he recounts in his book The female vow and I: my mortal sin, Campoamor explains something she heard, once she had already become a deputy, from a “ardent republican, with a keen liberal sense and, moreover, a respectable and respected man”, that is, from someone with whom, in principle , shared political chord. The deputy snapped: “It is good that women have the Church’s brake.” For Campoamor, these words reveal “all the deep male contempt for the female, who is considered to be in need of a brake.” She dedicated her life to removing that brake – to destroying it – although, to do so, she even had to confront her own co-religionists.
The day Victoria Kent didn’t go to Congress
“This is one of the greatest dramas in the history of the world,” jokes Santiago. “Victoria Kent and Clara Campoamor were friends,” he continues, “and they loved each other. They admired each other.” What happened, in the words of the writer, is that “Victoria Kent, who was part of a party other than Clara, voted in party code and not in conscience key.” A widespread opinion at that time was that the vote of women could end the Republic, since, according to that current, they would always vote what the Church said and, therefore, the meaning of their vote would be conservative. Victoria Kent was part of the Socialist Radical Republican Party, which, based on those principles, was opposed to universal suffrage. “That October 1, the day the vote took place, Victoria Kent did not appear in Congress,” says Santiago. What happened that day is already part of history. The yeses beat the noes and the women won, thanks to the 161 deputies who voted in favor, but, above all, to Clara Campoamor, that legal citizenship that made them people.
After that, as he explains in the aforementioned book, his political career came to an end. To have led the fight for suffrage was “a mortal sin”, as she herself described it. The Civil War forced her into exile and she could never return to Spain. She died in 1972. She worked translating texts by Victor Hugo and Émile Zola and practiced law until she was blind. The head of women responsible for voting in Spain died in Lausanne (Switzerland) after 36 years away from her country.