Clara Campoamor

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Biography of Clara Campoamor, from Madrid, the daughter of a seamstress and an accountant, was born in 1888, when even the most fortunate women counted only to take care of their home or for modest jobs as dressmakers or typists, the most instructed.

The greatness of Clara Campoamor lies in the fact that, from these humble beginnings, and having been born in an absolute macho social environment, she became a brilliant lawyer, notable writer and renowned political leader.

Clara Campoamor fought decisively for her ideals

She was a determined defender of the rights of Spanish women, and one of the main promoters of women’s suffrage in Spain.

She herself later said that “the only good thing that has remained in Spain from the Second Republic is universal suffrage“.

Indeed, from 1931 to the present day, Spanish women have been able to vote in equal rights with men.

Her life has since been remembered as that of a brave and fighting woman, who did not hesitate to dedicate all her efforts to defending the cause in which she fervently believed.

Acknowledgments to her worth and hard work

Once the stage of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco ended, numerous tributes and recognitions have been made:

  • Now various institutes, schools, cultural centers, women’s associations, parks and streets bear her name.
  • In 1988, Correos issued a stamp commemorating the First Centennial of her birth.
  • In 1998, the Andalusian PSOE instituted the Clara Campoamor Awards (one in each of the 8 provinces), with which each year personalities or groups that have excelled in defending equal rights for women are rewarded.
  • Similarly, the Madrid City Council created an annual award in 2006 with her name.
  • In 2007, the Ministry of Public Works launched the “Clara Campoamor” Multipurpose Vessel, named after her.
  • In 2011, on the occasion of the centenary of the establishment of International Women’s Day, the National Mint and Stamp Factory minted a commemorative coin, in silver, worth 20 euros, showing the effigy of Clara Campoamor.
  • That same year 2011, a sculpture by the artist Dora Salazar, representing life-size Clara Campoamor standing with a book in hand, was placed in the “Plaza Clara Campoamor” in San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa.
Bust of Clara Campoamor
Bust of Clara Campoamor, in the Plaza de los Guardias de Corps, in front of the Conde Duque Cultural Center. Credit: Diario de Madrid

Childhood and early years of Clara Campoamor

She was born in Madrid, on February 12, 1888 (in the Maravillas neighborhood, today Malasaña), and was baptized Clara Campoamor Rodríguez.

Her father’s family, Manuel Campoamor, came from Cantabria and Asturias; that of her mother, Pilar Rodríguez, was from Madrid and Toledo.

She had two younger brothers than she, of whom only Ignacio survived, who held positions of political responsibility during the Second Republic.

Her father passed away in 1898; and, at the age of ten, Clara was forced to leave school to collaborate in the family economy.

First, she was helping her mother at home; then as a dressmaker, shop assistant and telephone operator.

Clara Campoamor’s working life and studies

When she was 21 years old, in June 1909, she stood for opposition and got a place in the city of Zaragoza, as a second-class assistant in Telegraphs of the Ministry of the Interior.

After a few months, Clara Campoamor was assigned to San Sebastián; She was there for four years.

Zaragoza on the banks of the Ebro and famous for the Basilica del Pilar. Credit: Web

In 1914, she entered competitive examinations at the Ministry of Public Instruction and won, with the first position, a place that allowed her to return to Madrid, as a special teacher of shorthand and typing at the Adult Schools.

During the following years, she alternated this work with those of a French translator and a typist assistant, in the Civil Construction Service of the Ministry itself.

She also worked as director secretary in the conservative newspaper “La Tribuna”.

With only primary studies, Clara Campoamor had no chance of better jobs; therefore, in 1920 she decided to start secondary school.

Once she obtained a bachelor’s degree, she enrolled in the Law School and, on December 19, 1924, became the second woman to join the Madrid Bar Association.

The first was Victoria Kent. Clara Campoamor was 36 years old and had achieved the first part of her dreams. All this in just over 4 years, and combining studies and work !!!

Clara Campoamor founded her law firm

That a woman graduated from the Faculty was anecdotal and strange; but that in addition it tried to exercise, it left the pot completely.

It was the summum when Clara, as a lawyer, founded her own office and defended two very famous divorce cases at that time: a) that of the writer Concha Espina with Ramón de la Serna; b) Josefina Blanco Tejerina’s with Ramón María del Valle-Inclán.

In addition, Clara Campoamor was the first woman to appear before the Supreme Court and to carry out jurisprudence works on issues related to the rights of the legal situation of women in Spain.

Keeping due democratic proportions, her struggle has a certain parallel with that of Emmeline Pankhurst in England.

Valle Inclán
Ramón Valle-Inclán was a Spanish playwright, poet and novelist. Credit: Laurall

Activities in defense of women’s rights

From 1925, Clara Campoamor maintained a great activity as a lecturer, always defending the equality of rights and the political freedom of women.

In 1928, along with colleagues from other European countries, she participated in the creation of the “International Federation of Women in Legal Careers“.

She also worked alongside Victoria Kent and Matilde Huici in the Juvenile Court. In 1930 she contributed to found the “Spanish Women’s League for Peace“.

Also in those years, together with Manuel Azaña, she was part of the board of directors of the Ateneo de Madrid and was a collaborator in the newspaper “La Libertad“, where in a section of her own entitled “Mujeres de hoy“, she presented and analyzed women’s lives.

She was also a delegate of Spain in the League of Nations.

Clara Campoamor decidedly entered politics

After the Jaca rebellion, against the Alfonso XIII monarchy, in December 1930, in the process against the Revolutionary Committee, Clara assumed the defense of some of those involved, including her brother Ignacio.

On April 14, 1931, after the failure of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (1923-1930), the Second Republic was proclaimed, succeeding the monarchy of Alfonso XIII. Clara Campoamor was already actively involved in politics.

In the 1931 elections, she was elected a deputy for the constituency of the city of Madrid, by the Radical Party, which she had joined. The ideology of this party reflected Clara’s ideas: “republican, liberal, secular and democratic“.

In this period of 1931, she was part of the team of 21 deputies, who prepared the draft of the Constitution of the new Republic.

In the elaboration of this new Constitution, she defended the establishment of non-discrimination based on sex, the legal equality of sons and daughters in and out of marriage, divorce and universal suffrage (that is, the vote of women ).

She got everything, except for the vote on women, an issue that was postponed to be debated in the Spanish Parliament.

It is very curious this to allow or not, that women could vote as full citizens.

Left-wing deputies, with the exception of a few, did not want women to vote, arguing that women, influenced by the Church, would vote conservative.

Those on the right, although opposed to the emancipation of women, supported Clara Campoamor because they agreed with Victoria Kent that the votes of women would be favorable to her formation.

Victoria Kent
In 1931 Victoria Kent was Director General of Prisons. Credit: Wikipedia

She defended the right to vote for women

Clara Campoamor defended women’s suffrage in Parliament’s plenary session, in a memorable debate in front of 470 men and one woman: Victoria Kent.

Outside Parliament, Victoria Kent was a supporter of women’s suffrage; but, in the parliamentary debate, she attacked her, for reasons of opportunity; She said that “the woman deserved the right to vote, but was not yet ready to exercise it“.

In that historic debate, arguments were heard such as “the woman could not vote because she was an essentially hysterical and submissive creature, dominated in her will by the husband, the father or the priest“.

Or that “she could, yes, but at 45, the critical age in which, with the arrival of menopause, she acquired sufficient serenity of spirit to exercise such an important right“. Incredible, if it weren’t in the Acts of Congress !!! ”

Clara was dismantling each one of the arguments of the deputies: “you cannot build a democratic republic without half of the citizenship”. “Don’t make a mistake that you won’t have enough time to cry“.

She obtained the vote for the Spanish women. She managed to make Spain, for the first time, a full democracy.

Clara Campoamor
In 1933, when Clara Campoamor was a member of the Spanish Parliament. Credit: ibtimes

Clara Campoamor entered History as the main architect of the inclusion of the female vote in Spain, included in the 1931 Constitution, which in article 36 states that “Citizens of either sex, over 23 years of age, will have the same rights elections as determined by law”.

Visicitudes in the life of Clara Campoamor since 1934

In 1934, she left the Radical Party a) because she considered that it was subordinate to the CEDA (“Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights“, a coalition of Catholic and right-wing parties, winner in the 1934 elections), and b) for the excesses committed by the republican government in the repression of the revolutionary insurrection in Asturias.

Clara had traveled to Oviedo in order to help the children of the dead or imprisoned miners.

The harsh repression, together with the lack of interest shown by the Radical Party for all questions regarding the situation of inequality of women, decided her to leave it.

Asturias 1934
The workers insurrection shook Asturias in October 1934. Credit: ABC Historia

With the endorsement and mediation of Santiago Casares Quiroga (important leader of the Galician Republican Organization) she asked to join the Republican Left, made up of radicals, socialists, bullies and Galician people.

Clara Campoamor’s admission was denied (183 votes to 68), for fear that she would continue to insist on the active participation of women in politics, which according to them had been the cause of the defeat of the left in 1934.

Then, she began to write articles in the newspapers of the time “La Tribuna“, “Nuevo Heraldo”, “El Sol” and “El Tiempo“. She also published “The right of women in Spain” (1936).

During the civil war Clara Campoamor decided to go into exile

When the Civil War broke out, she was in Madrid; then she went into exile. When, in 1937, she published the book “The Spanish Revolution Seen by a Republican” in Paris, she was critical of the behavior of republicans in Madrid.

She also published “The legal situation of the Spanish woman” (1938), “My mortal sin. The female vote and me”.

Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires street. In the background the obelisk stands out. Credit: Pixabay. Herbert Brant

Subsequently she lived 10 years in Buenos Aires, earning a living with translations, giving conferences and writing biographies such as “The living thought of Concepción Arenal”, “Life and work of Francisco de Quevedo” and “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz“.

She wanted to return to Spain, but did not dare, knowing that she had a pending process for belonging to a Masonic lodge; it was an unjust and unsubstantiated accusation.

Therefore, since 1955, she settled in Switzerland where she worked in a law firm. There she lived, in the city of Lausanne until her death, in 1972.

Her mortal remains were transferred, some years after her death, to the Monsó Riu family pantheon in San Sebastián, since Clara was godmother to the family.

Tomb in San Sebastián
Clara Campoamor’s tomb in San Sebastián. Credit: Amelia Valcárcel

There is no doubt that Clara Campoamor was an extraordinary woman and that she is still in everyone’s memory, as a stellar figure from Spain.

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