Category: Gender Issues in the Basque Country (page 1 of 5)

February 9, 1918: Birth of raquetista Irene Ibaibarriaga

Arguably the most emblematic sport of the Basques is pelota in its many varieties, one of which, Jai-Alai, was especially popular in the United States at the close of the twentieth century. Another variety, played with tennis racquets by women, was also popular in the twentieth century, from the 1910s to the 1980s. One of the leading raquetistas of her generation, Irene Ibaibarriaga Ormaetxea, was born in Ermua, Bizkaia, on February 9, 1918.

She learned the sport in nearby Eibar, one of the strongholds of Basque pelota and at the age of fifteen she moved to Madrid, where her older sister Pili played professionally, to begin a career in the sport. She was offered a contract to play professionally in the Americas but turned down the opportunity and, despite her career suffering as a result of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), she still managed to make a living from the sport, playing in tournaments in Valencia, Barcelona, and later Donostia, often playing doubles with her sister. Later in her career she suffered a serious injury when a ball damaged her ear. She subsequently retired from the sport.

In 2013, a special tribute was paid to her on the occasion of the 7th Women’s Pelota Day held in Irura, Gipuzkoa. Ibaibarriaga died in 2014 at the age of ninety-six.

Check out Olatz Gonzalez Abrisketa’s Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

February 1, 1903: Birth of philosopher Maryse Choisy

The journalist, writer, and philosopher Maryse Choisy was born in Doinibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on February 1, 1903. She was most renowned for founding a polemical response to surrealism: the suridealism movement.

Maryse Choisy (1903-1979).

Maryse Choisy (1903-1979).

Raised in the Basque Country by wealthy aunts, Choisy studied philosophy at Girton College, Cambridge in the aftermath of World War I. After a brief period of treatment by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s, she became a journalist  and began a prodigious publishing career that also included novels, poems, and essays. Most famously, she took up a position against surrealism, which, she thought, was based on a false interpretation of Freud’s concept of the unconscious. In turn, she published her “Suridealist Manifesto” in 1927. In 1946, she founded Psyché. Revue internationale de psychanalyse et des sciences de l’homme ( Psyche: International Review of Psychoanalysis and Human Sciences) and she subsequently established, together with  Father Leycester King of Oxford,  the Association Internationale de Psychothérapie et de Psychologie Catholique (International Association of Catholic Psychotherapy and Psychology). She was an especially important intellectual figure in interwar Paris and gained even wider renown after founding Psyché. She died in 1979.

A unique case in the world of football: Athletic Bilbao women’s team attracts record stadium attendance

On Wednesday, the quarterfinals of the Spanish Cup between Athletic Club and Atlético de Madrid made sport history for record attendance in Bilbao`s San Mamés stadium. 48,121 fans attended the game, and Athletic Club`s women`s team broke its own record of sixteen years ago, when 35,000 spectators showed up to cheer their team to its first Super League title against Híspalis. Bilbao`s women’s  soccer attracts by far the greatest number of fans in Spain, and probably in Europe, as this new record shows. By comparison, the Spanish national team game against the United States attracted 9,182 fans in Alicante only a few days before.

Record attendance of 48,000 in San Mamés stadium

There is much to celebrate about Bilbao`s penchant for women`s soccer in a country where men dominate the game.

“Twenty-first century Spain. You are born a woman, and you can become whatever you want: you can be a hunter pilot, a marine captain, a minister – but can you become a soccer player?” Cuestión de Pelotas, 2010

The question of a 2010 documentary on women’s soccer was rhetorical. That year, the film argues, women were still not granted professional status by the Spanish Football Federation. They were unable to make a living even if their clubs were willing to pay them, which lead to semi-legal minimum wage-like benefits for female athletes. “In Spain, things happened,” coach Vicente del Bosque said after the men’s national team won the 2010 World Cup. “We have become a modern country, and that is also reflected by our sport.” By men’s sport, that is. Women’s sports in Spain are still thwarted by institutional inequalities, social disinterest and almost no media visibility.

The 2003 game in Bilbao was a milestone for women’s soccer. It turned women’s play into a sport of mass spectatorship, and conquered fans. The prospect that women’s soccer can attract such attendance sent new energies through the frustrated ranks of this sport. Athletic Bilbao coach Iñigo Juaristi said that the turnout in Bilbao “should be a wake-up call for the Spanish Football Federation to take women’s soccer seriously.” La Puebla coach Isidro Galiot said that Bilbao “set the standards very high,” and contributed to the overall development of women’s soccer in Spain. Híspalis coach Sebastián Borras hoped that this was just the beginning of a new epoch in women’s sport: “I would like everyone in Europe to see what Athletic has achieved. I would like this not to stop here.” Fermín Palomar, then responsible for Athletic Club women’s soccer, spent that month responding to a flood of congratulatory phone calls and messages. “They want to know how we managed to attract 35 000 spectators for women’s soccer. I myself had to breathe deep not to break out in tears.” On Wednesday, Atlético de Madrid coach José Luis Sánchez Vera and his players left the field happy with their 0-2 victory, but even more perplexed by the crowd in the stadium. “This is a memory for all my life. It is something unforgettable to beat Athletic with 50,000 spectators on the stands.”

“It should be a medium-term plan that we play in San Mamés regularly,” Athletic Club player Garazi Murua said after the game.

There is perhaps one last thing for Athletic Club to kick off a new era in women`s soccer: play all women`s games in San Mamés. It`s hard to overestimate the legitimizing effect of place.

“How do you remember your great jump into the town square?” first ever female bertsolari champion Maialen Lujanbio was asked in an interview in 2009. “I started to be known by everyone,” she answered. “Because they put us… where we didn`t belong.”

Will San Mamés become the town square where female players belong for regular league games too? The magic of the Cathedral is such that it would turn women`s play into a serious adventure for those who still dismiss it as “anti-aesthetic,” or ni fútbol, ni femenino.  In May 2003, when Athletic femenino debuted by winning their first Superliga title, coach Iñigo Juaristi was thrown in the jacuzzi. Eskerrik asko he said at the press conference, dripping with water. “This can only happen in Bilbao.” When Bilbaínos first turned up by the tens of thousands to cheer their women players in San Mamés, arguments that women’s soccer can’t mobilize masses no longer counted. Bilbaínos had always thrived on challenges, and now they sent a powerful message. They were ready for their greatest bilbainada yet: turning women’s soccer into a mass spectator sport in a country where men monopolize it. If anywhere in Spain or indeed in Europe, it could happen in Bilbao. And there would be yet another reason to call Athletic un caso único en el fútbol mundial.  

The 2003 champion team

 

 

June 29, 1854: Death of first Basque-language woman writer Bizenta Mogel

On June 29, 1854 Bizenta Mogel died in Abando, Bizkaia at the age of eighty-two. She should be considered not just the first women to publish a book in Basque, but the first author in children’s literature in the language.

Bizenta Mogel (1772-1854)

Bizenta Antonia Mogel Elgezabal was born in Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa, in 1772. She came from a literary family. Her brother, Juan Jose Mogel (1781-1849), was also a writer, while her uncle, Joan Antonio Mogel (1745-1804), was the author of what is generally considered to be the first novel in Basque, Peru Abarka (published posthumously in 1881).  Indeed, it was the latter who would play a pivotal role in her education. Orphaned at an early age, together with her brother she went to live with her uncle in Markina, Bizkaia. He taught both siblings how to read and write in Latin, Spanish, and Basque, and she impressed with her obvious intelligence and love of learning.

She married Eugenio Basozabal, with whom she went to live in Abando (now part of Bilbao). He later inherited a printing press on the death of his father, and this helped immensely in her efforts to publish her work.  In 1804 she published Ipui onac (Moral tales), which, according to Jose Manuel López Gaseni, “Translated Basque Literature,” in Basque Literary History (p. 315):

brought together fifty of Aesop’s fables that she translated thanks to her knowledge of Latin, learned from her uncle—the sort of training few women of the period could obtain. The intent of this collection was moralistic and educational, as can be deduced from its subtitle: “Good stories in which young Basque people will find edifying lessons that will help them lead their lives down the right path.” It attempted to substitute traditional stories that, according to the prologue, were considered pernicious and were rejected by the educational institutions of the period.

Moreover, as Mari Jose Olaziregi notes in “Worlds of Fiction: An Introduction to Basque Narrative,” also in Basque Literary History (pp. 140-41), its

significance as the first published work written by a woman also signals the birth of children’s literature in Basque. Although the didactic style and sense of moral purpose is prevalent in the text, we should underscore the importance of the book as a primary example of a new type of fiction as well as being an exponent for a new type of reading public, more literary but still somewhat removed from a more controlled aestheticism. Ipui onak is in fact a translation and adaptation of Aesop’s fables and proved an inspiration for a whole group of fabulists, although in most cases verse was the preferred form of writing. Bizenta’s case is altogether exceptional since it is estimated that only 15 percent of women were literate in the Basque country at that time … It is important to note that Bizenta subscribed to John Locke’s educational model in her work, a model that perceived fables as a useful resort to educate children.

The work was a major success and went through several reprints. Bizenta Mogel went on to publish other books, and she was also a renowned writer of traditional Christmas bertso-paperak (printed verses for popular consumption), but she was most remembered for her first and groundbreaking work. She was also a teacher and interestingly, she was known for her wide knowledge of medicinal plants, a knowledge she put to great use in helping people with illnesses who came to her in search of a cure.

The Center publishes Basque Literary History, edited by Mari Jose Olaziregi, an ambitious work that traces the evolution of various literary styles in the Basque language.

Check out this charming representation of Bizenta Mogel’s life in illustrated form (with commentary in Basque):

 

June 6, 1849: Death of Basque guerrilla leader Martina Ibaibarriaga

On June 6, 1849, Martina Ibaibarriaga died in Oña, Burgos. She gained renown as a young woman among the guerrilla ranks fighting the occupying French forces during the Penisnular War (1807-1814).

Martina Ibaibarriaga (1788-1849)

Maria Martina Ibaibarriaga Elorriaga was born in Berriz, Bizkaia, on January 26, 1788, although the family later moved to Bilbao, where her father ran a pharmacy. When French troops invaded and occupied the Basque Country during the period 1807-1808, the initial response of the Basque population was to form bands of guerrillas to fight the occupiers, with these bands being overseen by the guerrilla leader from Navarre, Francisco Espoz Ilundain (aka Francisco Espoz Mina). Martina initially joined a group led by Juan de Belar, alias “El Manco” (the one-armed man), which fought the French in the district in around Durango, but soon she rose to command her own guerrilla group, leading some fifty men in operations against the French.

However, several local authorities then complained that her band were appropriating rations and supplies by force and without paying for them. She was subsequently captured by Espoz Mina’s men in Mungia, Bizkaia, in July 1811, and judged before a meeting of guerrilla chiefs in at Villarcayo, Burgos. Eight of her men were executed by firing squad, but she was spared and, indeed, during the rest of war served in another group under the command of fellow Bizkaian Francisco Tomás Anchia, aka Francisco Longa. In 1812, she met Félix Asenjo, a delegate of the Spanish government from Oña, Burgos, sent to instruct the guerrillas. The two married that same year, although she continued to fight, taking in part in the important Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813, after which, it seems, she came to meet the Duke of Wellington.

After the war, she settled in Oña with her husband, and there she died in 1849.

 

May 29, 1893: Birth of Basque adventurer Marga d’Andurain

On May 29, 1893, Marguerite Clérisse was born in Baiona. Known by her married name, Marga d’Andurain, she would go on to gain a certain degree of fame and even notoriety  in interwar Europe as a libertine adventurer.

Born into a bourgeois family in the capital of Lapurdi, she received a religious education, including some time spent at the Ursuline institute in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa. In 1911 she married her cousin, Pierre d’Andurain, a member of the Andurain family, owners of the Château de Maÿtie or Château d’Andurain in Maule, Zuberoa. Pierre was a lover of exotic travels and on marrying the couple immediately traversed Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Algeria. In 1912 they embarked on a journey to Latin America, where they intended to take up cattle ranching. However, the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 brought Pierre back to Europe to enlist in the French army and he was wounded in 1916.

After the war, the couple, now with two sons, Jean-Pierre and Jacques, settled in Cairo where they were involved in trade and commerce. With Pierre unable to travel because of his war wounds, Marga decided to carry on exploring the world on her own. In the company of an Englishwoman, Baroness Brault and a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service, she visited Palestine (under a British mandate after World War I) and Syria (under French Mandate), falling in love with the Syrian city of Palmyra. She relocated the family there in 1927, with the intention once more of establishing a cattle ranch. However, the couple ended up running a local hotel there. Here, in the context of the escalating tension of interwar Europe and in a highly sensitive geopolitical area, rumor has it that she was involved in espionage on behalf of Britain, although nothing seems to have been verified on that count. Visitors to the hotel included Agatha Christie and King Alfonso XIII of Spain.

In 1933, she came up with a daring plan to be the first Western woman to visit Mecca, the holiest city in Islam and only accessible to Muslims. In order to do so, she legally divorced Pierre and entered into a marriage of convenience in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a Bedouin, Sulaiman Abdulaziz Dikmari, although he died soon after. Subsequently, her plans to visit Mecca, Medina, and Unaizah, before crossing six hundred miles of desert to Hofuf and going on to the island of Bahrain, turned into a nightmare. She was arrested in Jeddah and accused of having killed her new “husband.” In the trial under Koranic law the prosecution demanded that she be stoned to death, but ultimately she was declared innocent and, through French diplomatic pressure, released. The trial itself was somewhat of a cause célèbre, attracting press attention from all over Europe and the US.

On her release, she remarried Pierre but after he died, she returned to France in 1937. One of the many rumors that surround her life there is the allegation that she was an opium dealer in Nazi-occupied Paris during the 1940s, as a cover for her spying duties. She died in 1948, very much in the same kind of circumstances in which she had lived her life. While sailing off of the coast of Morocco, which some observers allege also had to do with drugs smuggling, she was reputedly thrown overboard by the skipper of her yacht in November that year. She was fifty-five years old and her body was never recovered.

Many stories have circulated about Andurain, most of them unverified. In texts she penned herself, she claimed to have inherited the adventurous spirit of the Basques. Sh spoke fluent Arabic and wrote especially about women’s lives in the Muslim world she knew so well.

The Andurain family name lived on, though. Her son Jacques is said to have fired the first shot in anger on the part of the French Resistance in World War II: on August 13, 1941, from a Baby Browning 6.35 mm gun that actually belonged to his mother.  And her granddaughter, Julie d’Andurain, is a well-known French historian.

 

April 9, 1914: Birth of Feminist Anarchist Militant “Kaxilda”

On April 9, 1914, Soledad Casilda Hernáez Vargas was born to a single mother in Zizurkil, Gipuzkoa. In the 1930s she became a well-known feminist political activist and anarchist militant in Gipuzkoa, taking an active part in fighting at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War as well as later in the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France.

Kasilda (1914-1992)

Subsequently known as Kasilda, Kaxilda, Kasi, or “la Miliciana,” she was raised in  Donostia-San Sebastián in a Bohemian family with strong connections to the anarchist movement. As a young woman in the early 1930s she caused a scandal by bathing nude on the Zurriola Beach in Donostia. Becoming an activist in the anarchist movement, she was arrested in 1934 for distributing propaganda and possessing explosives during the revolutionary strike of October that year.  She was, though, released in 1936 as part of a general amnesty conceded by the newly elected Popular Front coalition government in Madrid. On leaving prison prison, she met fellow Basque anarchist activist Felix Likiano (1909-1982), her partner for the rest of her life.

When the Civil War broke out in July 1936, she joined Likiano in the anarchist militia formed to defend Donostia against the attack of the rebel troops, seeing active service in the Battle of Irun (Aug. 27 – Sep. 5, 1936) and, later, after the fall of her home city, also as part of the Hilario-Zamora Column on the Aragon and Ebro Fronts in 1938. With the triumph of the rebels, however, she and Likiano fled to France, where they were subsequently arrested and sent to the Argelès-sur-Mer and Gurs concentration camps. Released in 1940, the couple then moved first to Baiona in Lapurdi, but ultimately settled in Bordeaux, where their home–nicknamed the “Basque Consulate”–became a well-known meeting place for exiled Spanish Republicans. With the Nazi occupation of France they collaborated actively with the French Resistance.

After a spell in Paris, they returned to the Basque Country, settling in Biarritz. She died in 1992 and on her gravestone one can read the inscription “Andra! Zu zera bukatzen ez den sua!” (Woman! You’re the fire that never goes out!).

March 10, 1784: Birth of Basque Enlightenment Figure Maria del Pilar Acedo Sarria

Maria del Pilar de Acedo y Sarria, Countess of Echauz, Countess of Vado, Marchioness of Montehermoso (1784-1869). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 10, 1784, Maria del Pilar Acedo y Sarria was born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, to José María Manuel Acedo y Atodo, Count of Echauz and Luisa de Sarria y Villafañe, Countess of Vado. Her father was a member of the renowned Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country, an important eighteenth-century Enlightenment institution that fostered scientific, cultural, and economic learning with the aim of contributing to the improvement of Basque society. Raised in an Enlightened aristocratic environment, she spent most of her early years being educated in Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 1800 she married a nobleman, Ortuño María de Aguirre y del Corral, Marquis of Montehermoso, the head of the Provincial Council of Araba and also a member of the Royal Basque Society. They settled in a family palace in Vitoria-Gasteiz and would go on to have one daughter, Maria Amalia, in 1801. Domestic life, as befitted an aristocratic family so connected to the Royal Basque Society, was one of education, learning, debate, and numerous social gatherings. Maria del Pilar Acedo was fluent in several languages, wrote poetry, and played the guitar as well as being an enthusiastic participant in these gatherings with similarly Enlightened company.

The Sixteenth-Century Montehermoso Palace, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Today, the Montehermoso Cultural Center. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1807, Vitoria-Gasteiz was occupied by French troops as part of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), Napoleon’s campaign to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. And in 1808, Napoleon named his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain. On a trip to Madrid that year, Acedo met the elder Bonaparte and he in turn visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, where he stayed at her palace.  The two became lovers and she accompanied him when he returned to Madrid, where she “officially” became his mistress. At the same time, her husband was also welcomed in the king’s trusted circle. But his rule was not a happy one. He was unpopular and had no influence in the ongoing Peninsular War. He ultimately abdicated and returned to France after the French defeat at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813. He was accompanied once more, by Acedo, whose husband had died (while accompanying King Joseph on a trip to France) in 1811. However, shortly after arriving in France, their relationship ended.

Having inherited lands, wealth, and titles from both her parents, Acedo was free to live indepedently in France. She lived temporarily in several places there, including Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) in Lapurdi. In 1816, she remarried a French noble military officer Jacques Amádée de Carabène, and they settled in Carresse Castle in Bearn, where she lived off the income from her estates in Spain and spent the rest of her life carrying out charitable works. She lived a long and full life and died there in 1869.

January 23, 1921: Birth of influential chemist Josefa Molero

On January 23, 1921 Maria Josefa Molero Mayo was born in Izaba, Navarre. She would go on to be an important figure in chemical kinetics and analytical techniques in gas chromatography as well as an important influence on scientific research in Spain.

Born in the picturesque village of Izaba, high in the Erronkari (Roncal) Valley of Navarre, Molero faced a number of hurdles early on in her career. As well as the inherent prejudice against women in professional positions that was a feature of the Franco dictatorship in Spain at that time, she was also from a family that had opposed Franco’s rebels during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and had to live with that stigma and discrimination in the aftermath of the war. Despite all this, she graduated from the Central University of Madrid with excellent grades in 1942. When it came to starting her doctorate, after initially being rejected from joining a research institute in Madrid on the grounds that she was a woman, she was later offered a place at another research center in the city, obtaining her doctorate cum laude in 1948, earning a special award for her work on applications of mercury electrodes in the process.

She then secured a position at the prestigious Rocasolano Institute in Madrid, and from there managed to secure an important grants to go to Oxford, where she worked in the laboratory of Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood, who a few years later would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1956 for his research into the mechanism of chemical reactions. On her return, she used that experience to create the first gas chromatograph in Spain as well as a whole new field of research at Spain’s Institute of Physical Chemistry: Pyrolysis and oxidation gas-phase reactions in organic compounds at low temperatures.  She also set up a department of Chemical Kinetics, which she headed until her retirement in 1986. In 1959 she was a visiting scholar at the University of Sheffield in England, where she worked with George Porter (who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1967) on light chemical reactions. On her return, she put a lot of this experience into practice, pioneering the study of chemical reactions produced by  chromatography in liquid gasses at the Spanish state level.

She won numerous awards throughout her life and was an important figure in establishing important research in key fields of Chemistry in Spain. She died at age 90 in Madrid in 2011.  In May 2013, the city of Pamplona-Iruña designated a Josefa Molera Mayo Street.

P.S. It is interesting to note that the village of Izaba was also the birthplace of renowned Basque physicist Pedro Miguel Etxenike (b. 1950).

Information taken from Uxune Martinez, “Josefa Molero Mayo (1921-2011): Izabatik kimikaren historiara,” Zientzia Kaiera.

“Bringing Women out of the Shadows”

Basque migration to the Americas has been widely documented. From the 15-16th century Spanish colonial pursuits to the 20th century Franco dictatorship, Basques left the home country in great numbers to escape economic hardships and political turbulence in search of a better life. In the United States, the image of the lonely Basque sheepherder has become an important figure in the iconography of the American West, and Basque bars, restaurants, and cultural centers continue to thrive as descendants of the once ubiquitous Basque boarding houses.

Women, however, are conspicuously missing from the grand narratives of Basque migration, Ph.D. student Edurne Arostegui argued at her lecture at the CBS Seminar Series. “We need to make an effort to bring female immigrant experiences out of the shadows.” Even canonical works of Basque migration suffer from this lacuna, Edurne argued, while women came in great numbers, and worked just as hard as any man: they were sheepherders, boarding house managers, cooks, translators, housewives, bar tenders, and waitresses, etc. “Basque women immigrants are not given due credit as long as they are featured as mere appendices to their husbands who came to this country with no agency of their own. They did have their own dreams and aspirations about their new lives, and worked very hard for them.” Furthermore, the lecture featured pioneering women who affected gender breakthroughs by taking up traditionally masculine jobs like sheepherding or becoming pivotal figures, as leaders, in their communities. “We need to reach out to these women before their stories get lost,” Edurne concluded.

 

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