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The Role Of Women In The Mexican Revolution

Photo courtesy of Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia


The Mexican Revolution is celebrated annually on November 20. This national holiday marks the fall of Porfirio Diaz’s regime, which was characterized by electoral corruption and social disparities. 2022 marks the 110th-anniversary of the revolution, which promoted an institutional change in Mexico. Furthermore, the revolution made progress by integrating women in military efforts. For instance, Las Adelitas or Las Soldaderas fought alongside men during the seven-year revolution culminating in 1917. The following sections will dive into the conditions that led to the revolution and highlight the role women played. 


The Porfirio Diaz Regime


Porfirio Diaz came into power during a transformative period in Mexico. For more than 30 years, Diaz mobilized Mexico into a global and industrial economy, mirroring the infrastructure of European countries. The post-independence era in Mexico was for the most part modernized. However, the social fabric was immensely divided under Diaz. According to EDSITEment!, “motives for waging the Mexican Revolution grew out of the belief that a few wealthy landowners could no longer [uphold the encomienda system].” 


The encomienda system was a byproduct of Spanish colonialism that obligated indigenous people to provide free labor under an encomendero [holder of a land grant]. This institution created political and social classifications that vastly disparaged criollos [Spanish-blood upperclass minority], metizos [half-indigenous, half-Spanish], and indigenous individuals. Furthermore, the encomienda system centralized wealth and forced both cultural assimilation and religious conversion. Nevertheless, it was indigenous minorities that fueled revolutionary efforts. 


How Did the Revolution Start? 


The Mexican Revolution began in 1910, with both intellectual and local leaders challenging Diaz’s regime. For example, Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata rose as prominent leaders in the northern and southern regions of Mexico. They created a militarized effort to overthrow the authoritarian government with the end goal of securing social and agrarian reform. 


These efforts were further fueled by Francisco I. Madero, an intellectual statesman that later came to succeed Diaz. Madero drafted a political document titled, ‘The Plan of San Luis Potosí’. This document called for institutional transformation and an uprising against Diaz, who was characterized as a dictator for violating the Constitution.  


Madero successfully resonated with revolutionaries and created a coalition amongst all parties. By 1911, northern revolutionaries claimed territorial power and support in states like Chihuahua. Amongst these militarized strategists were women, famously known as Adelitas. 


Who Were The Adelitas? 


The Adelitas were women who [freely or forcefully] joined men during militarized operations. According to Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, “soldiers paid women to work on their behalf as servants…Many women were expected to follow [the men] into the military. Yet, others fought in battle as soldiers, generals, and colonels.” In addition, many battles were fought solely by Adelitas, who rendered the fear and respect of male counterparts. 


Adelitas were known for their “cartridge belts around [their] torso, [which carried] rifles and [their] use [of] a serious expression to portray [themselves as] tough, courageous women,” Gracia stated. Others dressed like men, using pants rather than skirts. Although their contributions heavily influenced the outcome of the revolution, Adelitas were devalued. 


Many of them received the general term of soldaderas, which classified them solely as wives. Others never received a military pension, and, according to Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia, “Women who did not receive pensions could not re-marry nor officially participate in the military.” Furthermore, Adelitas were romanticized. “Soldaderas were characterized as either self-sacrificing, sexually carefree, sweethearts, or soldiers,” Garica stated. 


Why is Recognition Important? 


Mexico is celebrating the anniversary of its revolution, an event that could not have been possible without the role and support of women. Women, for the most part, have historically been seen as second-class citizens in Mexico, with levels of femicides increasing annually. Thus, recognizing the history of Adelitas helps to acknowledge their profound national history and uplifts the following notion: “Sin mujeres no hay revolución” [without women, there is no revolution].


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