Dolores Ibarruri Gomez, better known as “La Pasionaria” (the passionflower, an early pseudonym), was born on December 9, 1895. She became one of the leading figures in the Civil War of 1936-1939 and gained fame for her use of the slogan “No pasarán!” (They shall not pass!).
She was born in Gallarta, Bizkaia, into a mining family and, although she had been encouraged to train to be a teacher, she was forced to leave school at fifteen because her parents could not afford any further education. She subsequently did a variety of jobs including being a seamstress, housemaid, and waitress. In 1915 she married the labor union activist Julián Ruiz Gabiña, and got involved in left-wing politics. The couple joined the Communist Party of Spain and Ibarruri became a member of the provincial committee of its Basque branch. Over the next few years, as well as raising a family, she also rose up through the party ranks and in 1930 was appointed to its central committee. The family then relocated to Madrid where she became a prominent leftist activist in the turbulent decade of the 1930s, taking part in strikes and demonstrations and gaining a reputation as a stirring orator and committed anti-Fascist.
When the Civil War broke out in 1936 she gained international renown for a series of radio broadcasts against the military uprising, employing inspirational terms like the famed “They shall not pass!” as well as “Better to die standing up than to live kneeling down!” With the definitive fall of the Republic, however, she fled the country in 1939, first to Paris and then on to the Soviet Union. While in Moscow, she worked on propaganda radio broadcasts against the Franco regime in Spain and in 1942 she also became secretary-general of the Spanish Communist Party-in-exile. She ceded that position in 1960, retiring from active politics at the age of sixty-five and accepting the honorary post of president of the party.
Following Franco’s death in 1975, she returned to Madrid in 1977, appearing at a Communist general election rally in Bilbao less than two weeks later in front of more than thirty thousand people. However, she subsequently retreated from active involvement in politics. She died in November 1989 at the age of ninety-three.