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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Maria del Refugio Garcia

b. circa 1895, Uruapán, Michoacán, Mexico; d. 1973 (?), probably Mexico City

“The gunpowder from the battlefields passed through our hair many times without making us turn back, but our country’s Government, when the Revolution was ended and they had taken advantage of our services, sent us back home, saying that ‘the woman’s place is in her home.’”

— María del Refugio García, quoted in Olcott, Revolutionary Women, 177

María del Refugio García, also called Cuca García, was a girl when she became involved in the nationalist insurrection that began in 1910; by the 1930s, she was a leading figure in both the Communist party and the burgeoning movement for women’s rights. She arrived in Mexico City in 1913 as a spokesperson for the Michoacán revolutionary movement, representing a constituency of workers and campesinas. She joined the CP in 1919, that same year founding, with Elena Torres, the Consejo Feminista Mexicano (Mexican Feminist Council), and its house organ, La Mujer (Woman). The presence in Mexico City of Soviet ambassador Aleksandra Kollantai spurred the formation of organizations devoted exclusively to women’s issues, and young feminists consulted her frequently. Throughout the 1920s, Mexican feminists struggled to develop a plan of action. A defining moment came in 1935, with the launch of the Frente Único Pro Derechos de la Mujer (FUPDM; Sole Front for Women’s Rights). An umbrella group for women of all social classes and political orientations, the Frente combined opposition to fascism with a broad-based package of demands: women’s suffrage, equal rights for the indigenous and the poor, reform of labor laws and the civil code. Leadership of the Frente was firmly in the hands of working-class urban women and Cuca García was its first secretary-general. Starting in 1937, the Frente focused on obtaining the vote. Meanwhile, Cuca García and Soledad Orozco were selected in electoral primaries as candidates for the chamber of deputies; both women won. The government then ruled that a constitutional amendment would be required before women could vote or run in national elections. Cuca García and a group of some fifty women descended on President Cárdenas’ house, threatening a hunger strike. Cárdenas relented and sent an amendment to the Senate providing for women’s suffrage. The chamber of deputies simply adjourned without acting on it. Feminists were thwarted again when the chamber used the same tactic of inaction, even though every state in Mexican had endorsed the suffrage bill. Women would not gain full political rights in Mexico until 1958.