Skip Navigation

We are open today from 11 am to 6 pm.

Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Isabel de Guevara

b. circa 1530, Spain; d. after 1556, Asunción, Paraguay

The Spanish crown encouraged women to join colonizing missions to the New World. Isabel de Guevara was one of the few European women to accept the offer in the first wave of conquest and settlement. She sailed in late 1534 (some sources say 1535) with a group of 1,500 colonists—including twenty women—bound for the Río de la Plata region of what is now Argentina. The hardships they endured are revealed in Isabel’s correspondence. Within three months of arrival, at the newly founded settlement of Buenos Aires, the combined effects of deficient supplies, famine, disease, and hostile Indians had killed two-thirds of the original party. The remaining men were so weakened that the women took charge, cooking, nursing, laundering clothes, guarding the fort, clearing land, planting, and harvesting. Then, in 1541, an Indian attack drove survivors up the river to the fortified settlement of Asunción—a perilous 800-mile journey. In a letter of 1556, written to Regent Juana of Spain, Isabel requested a grant of land and Indian laborers for herself, bolstering her case by with a recitation of the role women had played in establishing the settlements. Her request was granted.