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Federica Montseny was born in Madrid, Spain, on 12th February, 1905. Her parents were the co-editors of the anarchists journal, La Revista Blanca (1898-1905). In 1912 the family returned to Catalonia and farmed land just outside Barcelona. Later they established a company that specialized in publishing libertarian literature.
Montseny joined the anarchist labour union, National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT). As well as working in the family publishing business she contributed articles to anarchist journals such as Solidaridad Obrera, Tierra y Libertad and Nueva Senda. In her writings Montseny called for women's emancipation in Spain.
In 1921 Miguel Primo de Rivera banned the CNT. It now became an underground organization and in 1927 Montseny joined the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI).
The Antifascist Militias Committee was set up in Barcelona on 24th July 1936. The committee immediately sent Buenaventura Durruti and 3,000 Anarchists to Aragón in an attempt to take the Nationalist held Saragossa. At the same time Montseny established another anarchist militia, the Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty).
In the first few weeks of the Spanish Civil War an estimated 100,000 men joined Anarcho-Syndicalists militias. Anarchists also established the Iron Column, many of whose 3,000 members were former prisoners. In Guadalajara, Cipriano Mera, leader of the CNT construction workers in Madrid, formed the Rosal Column.
In November 1936 Francisco Largo Caballero appointed Montseny as Minister of Health. In doing so, she became the first woman in Spanish history to be a cabinet minister. Over the next few months Montseny accomplished a series of reforms that included the introduction of sex education, family planning and the legalization of abortion.
During the Spanish Civil War the National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT), the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) and the Worker's Party (POUM) played an important role in running Barcelona. This brought them into conflict with other left-wing groups in the city including the Union General de Trabajadores (UGT), the Catalan Socialist Party (PSUC) and the Communist Party (PCE).
On the 3rd May 1937, Rodriguez Salas, the Chief of Police, ordered the Civil Guard and the Assault Guard to take over the Telephone Exchange, which had been operated by the CNT since the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Members of the CNT in the Telephone Exchange were armed and refused to give up the building. Members of the CNT, FAI and POUM became convinced that this was the start of an attack on them by the UGT, PSUC and the PCE and that night barricades were built all over the city.
Fighting broke out on the 4th May. Later that day the anarchist ministers, Federica Montseny and Juan Garcia Oliver, arrived in Barcelona and attempted to negotiate a ceasefire. When this proved to be unsuccessful, Juan Negrin, Vicente Uribe and Jesus Hernández called on Francisco Largo Caballero to use government troops to takeover the city. Largo Caballero also came under pressure from Luis Companys, the leader of the PSUC, not to take this action, fearing that this would breach Catalan autonomy.
On 6th May death squads assassinated a number of prominent anarchists in their homes. The following day over 6,000 Assault Guards arrived from Valencia and gradually took control of Barcelona. It is estimated that about 400 people were killed during what became known as the May Riots.
These events in Barcelona severely damaged the Popular Front government. Communist members of the Cabinet were highly critical of the way Francisco Largo Caballero handled the May Riots. President Manuel Azaña agreed and on 17th May he asked Juan Negrin to form a new government. Montseny, along with other anarchist ministers, Juan Garcia Oliver, Juan López and Juan Peiró now resigned from the government.
Negrin's government now attempted to bring the Anarchist Brigades under the control of the Republican Army. At first the Anarcho-Syndicalists resisted and attempted to retain hegemony over their units. This proved impossible when the government made the decision to only pay and supply militias that subjected themselves to unified command and structure.
Negrin also began appointing members of the Communist Party (PCE) to important military and civilian posts. This included Marcelino Fernandez, a communist, to head the Carabineros. Communists were also given control of propaganda, finance and foreign affairs. The socialist, Luis Araquistain, described Negrin's government as the "most cynical and despotic in Spanish history."
At the end of the Spanish Civil War Montseny fled to France. She now led the National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT) in exile until her arrest in 1942. She was imprisoned in Perigueux and Limoges during the Second World War and was not released until the liberation of France in 1944.
Montseny moved to Toulouse where she published the anarchist newspaper, L'Espoir. Unlike most other exiles, she decided not to return home after the death of General Francisco Franco and the re-introduction of democracy in Spain.
Federica Montseny died in 1994.
Prostitution presents a moral, economic and social problem that cannot be resolved juridically. Prostitution will come to an end when sexual relations are liberalized; when Christian and bourgeois morality is transformed; when women have professions and social opportunities to secure their livelihood and that of their children; when society is set up in such a way that no one remains excluded; when society can be organized to secure life and rights for all human beings.
We have confirmed something we only knew in theory, namely that revolution, in which uncontrolled and uncontrollable forces operate imperiously, is blind and destructive, grandiose and cruel. How much is wrecked in the heat of the struggle and in the blind fury of the storm. Men are as we have always known them, neither better nor worse from the hearts of rogues there springs a latent honesty, from the depths of honest men there emerges a brutish appetite - a thirst for extermination, a desire for blood.
Federica Montseny Mañé was born on 12 February 1905 in Madrid, Spain. Montseny was, in her own words, the daughter of a family of old anarchists her father was the anti-authoritarian writer and propagandist Juan Montseny Carret (alias Federico Urales) and her mother, Teresa Mañé Miravet (alias Soledad Gustavo), was herself an anarchist activist. Her parents were the co-editors of the anarchists journal, La Revista Blanca (1898–1905). In 1912 her parents returned to their native Catalonia and later they established a publishing company specialized in libertarian literature.
Montseny joined the anarchist labor union CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and wrote for anarchist journals such as Solidaridad Obrera, Tierra y Libertad and Nueva Senda. In 1927 Montseny joined the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI).
With Josep Esgleas Jaume (alias Germinal Esgleas), she had three children: Vida (1933), Germinal (1938) and Blanca (1942).
Federica Montseny - History
During my dissertation research, I spent lots of time searching for several, quite obscure short novelas written throughout the 1920s by Spanish anarcho-feminist Federica Montseny. Somehow I came across the website for The International Institute for Social History , located in Amsterdam. The Institute has an impressive archival collection, including books and periodicals, documentation, and audio-visual materials “with a thematic emphasis on social and emancipatory movements.” Check out the collections via the IISH catalog . Or go right to their “highlights,” including virtual exhibitions , labor history resources , and “ the item of the day .”
My research centers on women’s movements and strategies of social reform and resistance in 1920s Spain, and the IISH houses collections of two of the most influential Anarchist journals published in Barcelona during this time: La novela libre and La novela ideal. Federica Montseny was one of the few women writers who frequently contributed to these publications. In her autobiography, Montseny confirms that the apparently frivolous, folletín -esque narratives appearing in these journals were in fact powerful ideological vehicles directed at Spanish youth, and at women in particular. The themes were neither traditional nor uncompromised, and boasted elements of libertarian propaganda, anti-clerical sentiments, free love advocacy, and emphasis on social reforms. Here is a sample of a few Spanish titles from this series that caught my attention. What’s not intriguing about prostitutes, desperate desires to flee, and of course women’s constant, all-powerful maternal instinct?
Tres Prostitutas Decentes . by Mariano Gallardo
Barcelona: La Revista Blanca, n.d.
Ansias de volar . by Ángela Graupera.
Barcelona : La Revista Blanca, s.a. – 63 p.
La novela libre 40
La infinita sed. by Federica Montseny.
Barcelona : La Revista Blanca, s.a. – 32 p. La novela ideal 181
Numerous authors penned short fictional novelas for these journals, and many were men Montseny was not only one of a small group of female authors, but also one of the most prolific contributors. For the goals of my book project, I focus on two of Montseny’s short novelas, “Maternidad” (1925) and “El derecho al hijo” (1928), as part of a larger effort to position her anarcho-feminist understanding of motherhood within the broader context of first-wave feminist activity in Spain. Quite revolutionary for their time, these texts reveal a complex, often philosophical conception of motherhood as a female art form, an individual right, and a powerful vital force that ensures the futures of both the nation, and humanity.
In any case, with the scope of my current research and my teaching responsibilities, I unfortunately do not have the time or resources to obtain and read Tres prostitutas decentes. Bummer! I will have to put it on my list of future academic b each-reads. In the meantime, if any readers are lucky enough to have an electronic copy of this random text, feel free to contact me and share the wealth!
What fascinating texts or archives have you come across recently that temporarily derailed or redirected your research?
Seven of the most important women in Spanish history
As macho Spain votes in a Magnificent Seven of influential Spaniards, every one of them male, Nina Chausow asks: where are all the women?
IT’S a tired old joke that Spain is the home of macho Iberico.
But after an online poll to select ‘Seven Spaniards who changed the world in recent history’ was released this week, it seems the ugly rumour may be true.
There was just one problem with the list, voted for by 21,000 Spaniards. There wasn’t one woman on it.
To rectify this egregious overlooking of half of the population, The Olive Press has created its own role call of honour – seven sensational Spanish senoras who deserve a list of their own.
These women have not only been outstandingly successful in their fields they first had to break down every sexist barrier and macho mindset – one that apparently still exists to some extent in Spain – to gain their place on the international stage.
Clara Campoamor Rodriguez
Clara Campoamor Rodriguez, the only woman shortlisted during the recent poll, was an Emily Pankhurst of her time. Born in Madrid in 1888, she was the lead advocate on women’s rights and suffrage during the creation of the Spanish constitution in 1931. After receiving her law degree from the University of Madrid, she was elected to the 1931 Constituent Assembly, despite the fact that women couldn’t vote at that point. She is credited with insisting upon the clause in the constitution that ensures gender equality today.
Federica Montseny was a unique combination of revolutionary and dedicated social reformer who became the first female Cabinet minister in Spain. Born in Madrid in 1905 to anarchist parents, she worked for several anti-establishment journals before being appointed to the position of Minister of Health in 1936, a lone woman in the then all-male world of Spanish politics. As a minister, she improved orphanage conditions, created schools for prostitute rehabilitation, and attempting to safely regulate abortion.
Carmen Amaya was responsible for gaining worldwide recognition for one of Spain’s most beloved traditions – flamenco. Born in the poverty-stricken Barcelona slum of Somorrostro in 1913, at age five she began to accompany her guitarist father in flamenco tablaos in order to put food on the table. Discovered by critic Sebastian Gasch, he described her as the embodiment of ‘pure soul’. Fleeing the war, her subsequent tour through Latin America and the US was a sensation, landing her on the front cover of Life Magazine and taking her to meet President Roosevelt
Pianist Alicia de Larrocha immortalised the works of great Spanish composers through her adept and extraordinarily long fingers. Born in Barcelona in 1923, she was one of the most renowned interpreters of Spanish composers of her time – Isaac Albeniz, Francisco Granados and Federico Mompou, to name a few. At five, she made her solo debut at the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona. She was the first Spanish artist to receive the UNESCO Prize in 1995.
Margarita Salas continues to forge her astounding path through the field of biochemistry. Born in 1938 in Asturias, she received her BSc and PhD in chemistry from the Complutense University of Madrid in 1963. Four years later, she travelled to America to work with renowned Spanish scientist, Severo Ochoa. She holds the patent on the DNA synthesis of bacteriophage phi29, which has long-reaching consequences in biotechnology and medicine. In 2008, she received the noble title, Marquise of Canero (her hometown), from King Juan Carlos I.
Rosalia Mera Goyenechea’s incredible trajectory from humble beginnings to explosive success rivals the best rags-to-riches stories. Born in A Coruña in 1944, she left school at 11 to become a seamstress but died the richest woman in Spain and the richest self-made female entrepreneur in the world. What happened in between was Zara, which is now part of Inditex, her and her husband’s multi-billion euro corporation, known for its unique production and marketing techniques. A renowned philanthropist, Goyenechea launched the Paideia Galiza Foundation to assist marginalised groups, and fought against anti-abortion laws.
Rosa Montero broke completely new ground for female journalists working in Spain. Born in 1951 in Madrid, she suffered from tuberculosis as a child, when she developed her passion for reading and writing. She started working for Spanish national newspaper, El Pais, in 1976, and was the first woman awarded the prestigious Manuel del Arco Prize two years later for her Sunday edition interviews. She was later awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Association of Madrid, a Spring Novel Prize and two Que Leer awards.
Harriet Tubman: a woman who fought for liberty and the first woman to lead combat assault
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”– Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman was born and raised in Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a slave. In the place where she grew up, people often dismissed the fine line between freedom and slavery. It was not uncommon for families in the Maryland Eastern Shore to include family members who were both enslaved and free. John Tubman, who was Harriet’s husband, was a free black man living his life peacefully. However, she did not attain freedom until 1849 – when she fled to Pennsylvania.
Harriet’s husband refused to escape with her and remarried after her departure. Over the next decade of her fleeing, Harriet would often return to Maryland, but it was only to rescue individuals held captive for slavery. That is how she earned her nickname “Moses” because she left a single passenger behind in none of her journeys. The work she did was not easy. There was a fear of her being caught. She put her life on the line to rescue the innocent, and in the year 1850, the slaveholders placed a bounty for whoever caught her. Severe punishments were imposed on those individuals who assisted her to escape in any way.
Despite all of that, Harriet Tubman fought for the right to freedom and did the right thing. She was not afraid of the wrongdoers, nor was she afraid of someone coming after her. She fought for justice, and now, she is a source of inspiration for all those women who are threatened for speaking the truth. If she can do it, living in an era of no rights for the minorities, why can’t you?
The antagonists: rivalry in art
Most significant developments in art history often result from the fierce competition between genius masters. In this series, we discover the fruitful rivalries between renowned artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci versus Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh versus Paul Gauguin and Emil Nolde versus Max Liebermann, Caravaggio versus Giovanni Baglione and Joseph Turner versus John Constable. The 500 year death Anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci will be celebrated in 2019.
A whole section of the Florentine Renaissance revisited by the prism of the artistic rivalry that opposed Leonardo da Vinci to Michelangelo in the sixteenth century.
In 1888, Van Gogh and Gauguin are ready to create a group of artists that will form a new arts school, but the two men keep arguing and then separate.
Liebermann vs Nolde
In Berlin in 1911, Max Liebermann (1847-1935), naturalist converted to impressionism, opposes Emil Nolde, who wants to free colors and brushes.
Caravaggio vs Baglione
In Rome, in 1603, Caravaggio and Giovanni Baglione clashed in court, after having challenged themselves artistically: an episode that illustrates the quarrelsome atmosphere of the time.
Turner vs Constable
Contemporary painters William Turner and John Constable, the two greatest English landscape designers of the Romantic period, have revolutionized the look on nature.
Federica Montseny - History
Andrew H. Lee, New York University
This paper focuses on Federica Montseny Mañe (1905&ndash1994) to examine the cultural history of Spanish anarchism. The young Montseny wrote several hundred articles and works of fiction, all published by La Revista Blanca (1923&ndash1936). Anarchist culture is an outlier in most historical studies rather than a participant in the process of constructing the ideologies and myths that form &ldquoimagined communities.&rdquo I evaluate anarchism in its own terms and through its own sources, rather than seeing it as a primitive, mythic, or failed ideology. Examining Montseny&rsquos contribution to anarchist culture before the Spanish Civil War illuminates Spanish anarchism&rsquos participation in a global anarchist network.
Montseny&rsquos writing reached an audience in Europe and the Americas. La victoria and El hijo de Clara, her first two novels, were at the center of a lively trans&ndashAtlantic debate. I focus on these and Montseny&rsquos novellas to examine her use of fictional exemplars to work out and theorize her ideal man and woman while making her own anarchist interventions in Spanish debates about the new woman, paternity, and gender roles.
I examine the ways gender converges with science in Montseny&rsquos fiction and
journalism and mutually constitute key components of her anarchism. I also examine how gendered conceptions of humanity, based in contemporary understandings of science, led to her conception of an alternative maternalism. Montseny shared her contemporaries&rsquo conviction that motherhood was the pinnacle of a woman&rsquos life but her ideal mother was in the public sphere.
L'any 1936, Frederica Montseny es va convertir en la primera dona que exercia un càrrec de ministra a l'Estat espanyol i a tota Europa quan va assumir la cartera del Ministeri de Sanitat i Assistència Social del Govern de la Segona República Espanyola. La decisió, presa a contracor perquè no era partidària de les formes de poder, es va veure condicionada pel gran impacte social de l'anarcosindicalisme, per la necessitat d'aturar l'ascens del feixisme en el context bèl·lic de la Guerra del 36 i, sobretot, per les potencialitats que oferia el càrrec a l'hora de contrarestar l'avenç de les tropes del bàndol franquista després del cop d'Estat. 
No obstant, un cop va finalitzar la guerra, es va veure obligada a exiliar-se a l'Estat francès com a part del bàndol dels vençuts. En terra d'exili va ser detinguda per la Gestapo i sotmesa a un judici d'extradició que la duria a una mort segura si queia a mans de les autoritats franquistes. Si bé en el judici calia que es mostrés com una gran defensora de la Segona República Espanyola, es va negar a fer-ho i es va penedir de la decisió d'entrar al govern.  Independentment de la seva postura davant del tribunal va aconseguir evitar l'extradició perquè estava embarassada de la seva tercera filla, Blanca. 
El repartiment d'intèrprets de la pel·lícula va ser: 
|Màrcia Cisteró||Frederica Montseny|
|Emilio Gutiérrez Caba||Francisco Largo Caballero|
|Miquel Gelabert||Federico Urales|
|Òscar Muñoz||Germinal Esgleas|
|Ivan Benet||Joan García i Oliver|
Altres intèrprets de l'obra van ser: 
|David Bagés||Joan Peiró|
|Fran Nortes||Juan López|
|Candela Moreno||Mercedes Maestre|
|Vicente Genovés||Manuel Azaña|
|Jaime Linares||Juan Negrín|
|Sergi Torrecilla||Jesús Hernández|
|Òscar Intente||Lluís Companys|
|Rolando Raimjanov||Marcel Rosenberg|
|Òscar Bosch||Vladímir Antónov-Ovséienko|
|Timothy Cordukes||comissari Taupin|
|Pau Vercher||Anton Carlet|
|Isabel Rocatti||Soledad Gustavo|
|Manu Valls||José María Ruiz Robles|
La pel·lícula es va començar a enregistrar l'octubre de 2020 i es va allargar durant diverses setmanes,  en les quals es va triar com a lloc de rodatge diversos indrets del País Valencià, com ara Sueca (la Ribera Baixa), Sant Isidre de Benaixeve i València (l'Horta), i més concretament, edificis de renom com el Palau de la Generalitat Valenciana i el Palau consistorial de València. 
El cost de producció va oscil·lar els 1'2 milions d'euros i la direcció de l'obra va anar a càrrec de Laura Mañá. El llargmetratge va comptar amb els guions de Rafa Russo i Mireia Llinàs i va ser produïda per Distinto Films, en coproducció amb Televisió de Catalunya i Voramar Films.  També va rebre la participació d'À Punt Mèdia, el suport del programa de la Unió Europea Creative Europe Media, i la col·laboració de l'Institut Valencià de Cultura i l'Institut de la Dona i per a la Igualtat d'Oportunitats d'Espanya. 
El 8 de març de 2021, coincidint amb el Dia Internacional de les Dones, es va retransmetre simultàniament i en horari de màxima audiència, als canals À Punt del País Valencià, IB3 Televisió de les Illes Balears i TV3 de Catalunya.  D'aquesta forma es va convertir en la segona obra produïda i emesa simultàniament per les tres corporacions de televisió pública en català, després que el 2 d'octubre de 2020 es va fer exitosament amb La mort de Guillem. 
L'estrena de la coproducció al canal de televisió pública catalana TV3 va tenir 376.000 espectadors i una quota del 16,2%. Aquest resultat li va permetre liderar la franja horària i va acabar tenint una audiència acumulada de 913.000 espectadors.  Així mateix, el canal de televisió pública valenciana À Punt va reunir a 135.000 espectadors i una quota d'audiència del 6,8%.  En el cas insular, el canal de televisió pública balear IB3 Televisió va obtenir un resultat de 9.000 espectadors i una quota del 3,2%. 
El crític Joan Burdeus, a la revista Núvol, va manifestar que tenia una «il·luminació diàfana, el pla contraplà amabilíssim, i una dicció teatral que faria plorar d'alegria a la meva professora de català».  També va considerar que es tractava d'«un producte tan recontraclàssic, amb tan poques ínfules i d'una vocació pedagògica tan fàcil d'abraçar, que fins i tot em va semblar subversiva». 
Federica Montseny apologises.
Can anyone point me towards the document (book in english?) where she apologises for joining the government (general defence comitee).
Um, did she? I always thought she defended that right up until her death.
Hey boul maybe i made it up, but i seem to remember something from years ago, anyroad wheres voline when you need him.
perhaps you're thinking of juan garcia oliver, or diego abad de santillan? dont think i've heard of montseny backing down from it.
cheers feighnt, nah, wrong steps gives a garcia oliver pragmatic view or so he says, "i didn't want to but. ", i've not got around to diego's one, i'm trying to get a handle on the individuals (major players) in the FAI, very mysterious i know.
I just seem to remember something, but when i saw bouls reply i started questioning my memory or perhaps it was a sarcccy artical.
in an interview on Spanish TV in about 1983 she said that joining the government was a mistake.
Cheers cat. For an intellectual thats not much of an analysis.
Garcia Oliver proposed, just before the 19 July ir a por el todo (going for everything), but the decision was other, and with "militant responsibility" he obeys.
Also it seems that he enjoyed being in government as Justice Minister.
A strange and fascinating guy and his memories "El eco de los pasos" (The echo of the steps) are a must. Here you have it in spanish:
Federica's position during civil war was called "circunstancialism", and it was hegemonic in cnt. In exile she was against collaboration with (forming part of) the spanish republican government in exile. I think that the video sindicalistcat mentions can be seen at christiebooks. If is the same that I seen time ago, when she is asked about being minister she replays something as: "Always the same question, I've explained it a lot of times. the circumstances, the circumstances. "
Yeah, I saw that as well some time ago and interpreted it in the exact opposite way to syndicalistcat (if we are indeed talking about the same thing here at all) - that she was blaming circumstances but NOT saying that joining the government was wrong.
i think blia is referring to something other than what i had in mind. the TV interview in 1983, according to a Spanish person who mentioned this to me, she said that joining the government of the Generalitat was a mistake. That took place Sept 26 1936, and was the opening wedge that led to the CNT joining the national government in Nov.
also, the comment about Garcia Oliver implies the CNT voted to join the government in July 1936 when the federation of Catalonia voted to "temporarily" cooperate with the antifascist militia committee. but that's a mistake in two ways. first of all, Garcia Oliver continued to oppose joining the government throughout August and September, and the decision in July was part of a slippery slope that led from merely collaborating with the popular front parties, to joining the government.
but the key issue really was failing to overthrow the government. but to do that they needed a plan for what to replace the government with. just criticizing them for joining the government without looking at what the alternative would have been is inadequate. in a letter quoted in Abel Paz's biography of Durruti, Garcia Oliver says that "going for broke" was a euphemism for the unions taking power.
Yes, Garcia Oliver argues that from the moment that the cnt doesn't go to "total revolution" and collaborates with frentepopular's parties, the logic consequence is entry at the government.
I'm looking for Federica's declarations in the web.
Others, from example Jose Peirats argued that it was a way between the two options.
And (he didn't appreciate so much Federica) here, in 1977, said
Es decir, que sin extremismos, sin hacer de niño terrible, sin encerrarnos en una posición intransigente al cien por cien desde el punto de vista filosófico, l a CNT, con la palanca económica en sus manos , con las colectividades, y con tantas cosas que tenía a su alrededor, habría podido haber hecho una oposición eficaz, mientras que del otro modo los contrarios consiguieron matar la oposición de la CNT y volver contra sí misma el arma confederal. En conclusión, la participación en el gobierno fue negativa desde todos los puntos de vista .
Federica ahora dice que las cosas no se podían haber hecho de otra manera. Esto significa que en una situación igual volvería a hacer lo mismo. Yo me pregunto: ¿cómo puede llamarse una persona anarquista cuando acepta no solamente que ha sido, sino que incluso puede llegar a ser otra vez ministra?
CNT with the economic lever in his hands . could have done a effective opposition. . Participation in government was negative from every point of view.
Federica says now that things coudn't had been done in another way. That means that in the same situation she will do the same again.
Probably both, Montseny and García Oliver, were too much haughtys to recognize they had been wrong in 1936
‘In Defense of Clara’: Contestation of the Female Body in the Spanish Anarchist Press
When twenty-year-old Federica Montseny advertised her first full-length novel, La Victoria, in her parents’ Spanish anarchist journal La Revista Blanca in 1925, she hardly could have imagined the drama that would unfold in its wake. Certainly, La Victoria was a deliberately provocative book. Its romantic plotlines flew in the face of expectation – even by some anarchist standards – but for heated debates about the book to litter the pages of La Revista Blanca for years afterwards was astonishing. So, what was it about La Victoria that triggered such an outpouring of admiration and vitriol from readers? Its politically tenacious, passionately independent, childless female protagonist: Clara.
Anarchism was a broad church: anti-statism was solidly at its core, but currents of anarchist thought that built on this principle, such as individualism or naturism, were more divisive. This meant that anarchists’ personal stances on gender relations varied considerably. Federica had joined her parents as a regular writer at La Revista Blanca, an anarchist journal centred on sociology, science and art, in 1923. Throughout the 1920s, she often, though not exclusively, penned articles that discussed women’s experiences through the lens of anarchist thought. For instance, she endorsed life-long monogamous relationships, but spurned institutional marriage and advocated for collectivised public childcare. Even before La Victoria, therefore, she had made this anarchist journal into a space where the female body was contested.  Letters to the editor were a particularly fertile space for this contestation.  Readers of the journal wrote in to comment on articles, not only to raise criticisms or point out inaccuracies, but sometimes to share how a particular text had moved them. This spectrum of responses was never more obvious than in the case of Federica Montseny’s character, Clara – especially considering that many of the letters discussing Clara published in La Revista Blanca were penned by women. Historians rightly note that sexism was a real problem in the anarchist movement however, this example of female political engagement through letter-writing presents a much-needed challenge to typical assumptions that anarchist women’s voices were uncommon, ignored, or confined to designated women’s organisations. 
In Federica Montseny’s own words, Clara represented ‘the antithesis of the archaic conception of women: submission. Submission to society, first submission to men, next submission to her instincts, after that. Clara is rebellion’.  Clara, well-read and politically conscious, defied societal expectations by championing her own autonomy instead of succumbing to pressure to settle down and conceive. Several female readers responded so strongly to her character that they felt compelled to write to La Revista Blanca to sing her praises. For instance, María Ferrer wrote that Clara ‘has revived, in the souls of many (though not all) women, the confidence in themselves that they never should have lost.’  Joaquina Colomer wrote that ‘Clara appeared, noble and determined, to confront obstacles and fight with her own willpower, rising up to a height of great dignity and giving us an example of the idea of a woman.’  These two letters were published in La Revista Blanca in 1925, in a section titled ‘In Defense of Clara’ they were the first of many. Not only was Clara a strong female protagonist, but she was also a tenacious anarchist who represented a beacon of hope for women like María and Joaquina, who were looking to find their purpose in the anarchist cause.
The need to ‘defend’ Clara stemmed from the unrelenting (usually male) criticism of her character presented in other letters to the editor. One of the most striking examples of such criticism was when a male reader, calling himself ‘A Rural Doctor’, wrote in to argue that Clara should not be elevated as a role model to women because her denial of male sexual advances and refusal to form a partnership ready to raise a family was in fact some sort of mental illness. He claimed, ‘Clara is not a tomboy, a being whose femininity is turned off, with a dormant sexuality. She represents a curious case of sexual perversion. Without wanting to, Montseny has depicted masterfully a masochist character… Viewed like this upon discovering her psychology, her amorous rejections lack any value.’  Notwithstanding this comment’s reflection of contemporary mishandlings of mental illness, it also speaks to the quite conservative discourses around gender expression and sexuality that continued to circulate among anarchists – even those advocating ‘free love’. Federica Montseny responded to these directly in the periodical, opening the debate for continued discussion in print. She responded to the ‘Doctor’ not by challenging his ‘scientific’ diagnosis, but by re-framing it, retorting that humanity ‘is divided in two: normal people and abnormal people’, and whereas normal people never experience great passions or dreams, she deliberately – ‘with great pride and radiant happiness’ – depicted Clara as abnormal.  These debates around the fictional Clara’s love life continued for years – Montseny even wrote sequels to La Victoria which spurred further discussions.
Publishing letters from her fans and critics was, to some extent, a marketing strategy Montseny used to sell more copies of her book, but it had wider implications. Between 1923 and 1930, Spain was under the dictatorial leadership of Primo de Rivera. He outlawed Spain’s major anarchist organisation, the Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT), and even though La Revista Blanca positioned itself as an alternative model of anarchism to that of the CNT, its editors and writers were no less vulnerable to state repression. In this context, it was revolutionary that anarchists in Spain and overseas communicated with one another through letters to the editors of La Revista Blanca, which would be openly published and engaged with on the same page. Furthermore, the platforming of ideas around femininity, maternity and sexuality achieved through these conversations would evolve over the following decade, culminating in Catalonia’s 1936 anarchist sex-reforms which legalised sex education, contraception and abortion.  Fittingly, it was Federica Montseny herself, then appointed Minister of Health and Social Care, who would oversee this extraordinary legislation.
All translations of La Revista Blanca are the author’s own.
 A great starting point for researching contestation of the female body in this context is Victoria Lorée Enders and Pamela Beth Radcliff, ‘Contesting Identities/Contesting Categories,’ 1-18 and Mary Nash, ‘Un/Contested Identities: Motherhood, Sex Reform and the Modernization of Gender Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Spain,’ 25-50, in Constructing Spanish Womanhood: Female Identity in Modern Spain, ed. Victoria Lorée Enders and Pamela Beth Radcliff, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999). For discussion of Spanish literature as a site of contestation see for example Daria Cohen, Demystifying the Female Body in Hispanic Male Authors, 1880-1920: Overcoming the Virgin/Prostitute Dichotomy (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008) and Mar Soria, ‘The Erotics of Urban Female Work in Anarchist Kiosk Literature and the Contradictions of Modernity,’ Hispanic Research Journal, 19:6 (2018): 620-635.
 The key existing study of La Revista Blanca largely overlooks letters to the editor, instead focusing on the periodical’s regular writers: Antonio Prado, Matrimonio, Familia y Estado: Escritoras Anarco-Feministas en La Revista Blanca (Madrid: Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo, 2011). This is not so much the case in studies of other anarchist periodicals, however. For instance, see Alejandro Lora Medina, ‘Sexualidad, Desnudismo y Moralidad en el Anarquismo Español de los Años Treinta: De los Debates en la Prensa a la Aplicación de la Ley del Aborto Durante la Guerra Civil Española,’ Hispania, 78:260 (2018): 817-846, or Xavier Diez, Utopia Sexual a la Premsa Anarquista de Catalunya: La Revista Ética-Iniciales (1927-1937) (Lleida: Pagès Editors, 2001).
 Sexism in the anarchist movement is discussed throughout the historiography, but for a specific study on this see: Sharif Gemie, ‘Anarchism and Feminism: A Historical Survey,’ Women’s History Review, 5:3 (1996): 417-444. The seminal text on the anarchist women’s organisation in Spain is: Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women Of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women (Chico: AK Press, 1991).
 Federica Montseny, ‘Intermedio Polémico: Armand y “La Victoria”’, La Revista Blanca, 1 July 1927.
 María Ferrer, ‘En Defensa de Clara,’ La Revista Blanca, 15 November 1925.
 Joaquina Colomer, ‘En Defensa de Clara,’ La Revista Blanca, 15 November 1925.
 Un Médico Rural, ‘Tribuna de Criterios Opuestos,’ La Revista Blanca, 15 June 1928.
 Federica Montseny, ‘Tribuna de Criterios Opuestos,’ La Revista Blanca, 15 June 1928.