March is Women’s History Month, a celebration that traces its roots back to the first International Women’s Day in 1911 (check out this article by Time to see how this annual event all came about). We at the Center are delighted to be able to share stories of women’s experiences in both the Basque homeland and diaspora, especially in light of the fascinating, important, and often hidden tales such stories reveal. That’s why we’re dedicating special attention this month to recounting some of these stories. Keep checking in with us here at the Center’s website, or via our Facebook page, to read about these amazing women.
Today we’re going to talk about Teresa de Escoriaza (1891-1968), a pioneering journalist, broadcaster, writer, translator, and college professor, who–on becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1938–we may reasonably and proudly also celebrate as an influential Basque-American woman.
Teresa de Escoriaza y Zabalza was born in Donostia-San Sebastián on December 7, 1891. She studied in both Madrid and Bordeaux, obtaining a primary education teaching certificate, before going on to attend the Universities of Madrid and Liverpool in the UK (interestingly, another Basque connection with this great port city, as covered in a previous post here). Thereafter, she first embarked to the US in 1917 as an independent woman traveler, aged 25, to teach Spanish and French in schools in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Staying in the US, between 1919 and 1921 she took up a position as the New York-based foreign correspondent for the Madrid daily La Libertad, tellingly at first under the male pen name Félix de Haro. Having established her reputation, though, from 1921 onward she wrote under her own name.
During this time, she reported back on multiple facets of American life: women’s participation in US elections, the incessant activity and movement she observed in the great New York train stations, the different laws on marriage and divorce in different US states, religion in the US, prohibition, stores and shopping American-style, the freedom of American women compared to their counterparts in Spain, and the burgeoning flying craze that would sweep the US and Europe in the 1920s.
Returing to Madrid, she then wrote for both the Women’s section of the same newspaper and took on another pioneering role: that of war correspondent during the Rif War of the early 1920s between Morocco and Spain, in a series of articles that would later be published in book form as Del dolor de la guerra (Crónicas de la campaña de Marruecos) (On the pain of war (Chronicles from the campaign in Morocco)), published in 1921. Thereafter she continued to write on women’s issues and in the mid-1920s began a radio broadcasting career, exploring many of the same topics on Radio Ibérica. Indeed, she has been described as imparting the first feminist discourse on Spanish radio, a medium that she saw as a liberating vehicle for women’s education, and this during the era of the conservative dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-30). If that were not enough, she shared these labors with an intense period of publishing books: specifically, the translation of a French novel, an anthology of women poets, and a short novel of her own.
In 1929 she moved to the US once more to take up a position as a professor of Spanish and French at Montclair State Teacher’s College (now Montclair State University) in New Jersey, where she taught there for 30 years until 1959. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the ensuing triumph of Franco meant that she would remain in the US for most of the rest of her life, becoming a US citizen, as noted above, in 1938. She never married, preferring an independent lifestyle, and after retiring in 1959 she moved to California. Right at the end of her life, she returned home, to the Basque Country and Donostia-San Sebastián, where she died in 1968.
Affectionately known as “Scory” at Montclair, her legacy there was celebrated in May 2012 with the dedication of the Teresa de Escoriaza Seminar Room in honor of her enduring legacy at the university. Quoting the Montclair State University article celebrating this dedication:
“There was something about her that commanded your attention and respect,” says her former student John T. Riordan ’59. “She was a larger than life person who played an important role in inspiring people. Her former students had enormous impact on the teaching of foreign languages in the United States, not just in New Jersey. Every publishing house was full of Montclair State alumni from the late 1940s and 1950s, as well as the New Jersey and national Departments of Education.”
Note: Much of the information here was collected from an excellent article by Marta Palenque, “Ni Ofelias ni Amazonas, sino seres completos: Aproximación a Teresa de Escoriaza,” in Arbor: Ciencia y Cultura 182, no. 719 (May-June 2006): 363-376. Available at: http://arbor.revistas.csic.es/index.php/arbor/article/view/36/36