Clara Campoamor, lawyer and deputy for the Radical Republican Party, and Manuel Becerra Fernández with a group of forest rangers in Congress. Photo: EFE/Díaz Casariego/esl.
Clara Campoamor: 130 years with the mother of women’s suffrage in Spain
Clara Campoamor is a key figure in the history of Spanish politics, best known for her advocacy of women’s rights and suffrage during the writing of the Spanish Constitution of 1931. Her birthday, 12 February, has become a symbol of the fight for gender equality and a reminder of her determination and achievements.
This year marked the 130th anniversary of Campoamor’s birth. The City of Madrid paid tribute to her at Plaza de los Guardias de Corps, where there is a monument dedicated to her, with a floral offering and a speech by the members of the Clara Campoamor Lodge.
Afterwards, there was a panel at the Conde Duque cultural centre, featuring Madrid deputy mayor Mauricio Valiente, Grand Master Patricia Planas, from the Women’s Grand Lodge of Spain, and Natividad Ortiz, a historian specialising in women’s lodges.
About Clara Campoamor
Clara Campoamor was born in Madrid in 1888. In those days, almost 80% women were illiterate. She, however, wanted to learn about everything. She learned to read and improved her reading skills with every newspaper she could lay her hands on.
Her father died when she was 10. She had to drop out of school to help her mother at home. She worked as a seamstress, a shop assistant and a telephone operator, until in 1909 she joined the Body of Telegraphists at the Ministry of Government as an assistant.
After living in Zaragoza and San Sebastián, she returned to Madrid, where she was hired by journalist Salvador Cánovas Cervantes, editor of La Tribuna, as his secretary. Being in contact with the press on a daily basis and familiar with the latest events in the country and the world kindled her interest in politics.
Second woman to join the Madrid Bar Association
Clara finished school and got a Law degree, being one of the few women lawyers in Spain in those days. In 1925, she applied to become a member of the Madrid Bar Association. Only one woman had done this before her: the socialist politician Victoria Kent.
Campoamor fought indefatigably for gender equality and the rights of women. She was a regular lecturer at the Spanish Association of University Women and the Spanish Academy of Jurisprudence and Law, using every opportunity to share her ideas for reform.
Clara first joined Republican Action, the left-wing party led by Manuel Azaña, and then the Radical Republican Party founded by Alejandro Lerroux. After the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic, she was elected deputy for Madrid in 1931. (In those days, women could be elected for public office even when they had no right to vote.)
First woman to speak in Congress
Only two women got seats in that election: Clara Campoamor and Victoria Kent. On 1 October, Campoamor made history as the first woman to address the Spanish people from the Congress of Deputies.
Moreover, she was a member of the committee in charge of drafting the Republican Constitution, where she stood for universal suffrage. However, she came across an unexpected rival: Victoria Kent, who thought the high illiteracy rate among women and the influence of the Catholic Church would lead female voters to choose conservative and right-wing parties.
Their vehement dialectical contest in Congress was the political event of the year. In the end, Campoamor was the winner, getting the right of women to vote approved by 161 to 131. At last, women and men had the same political rights and obligations.
Final years in politics
Unfortunately, Ms Kent was right. In the election of 1933 – the first in which women could vote –, neither she nor Campoamor were re-elected.
One year later, Clara left the Radical Republican Party, placing a death sentence on her political career. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she fled to Paris. In 1955, she moved to Switzerland, where she died in 1972. Several years later, her ashes were repatriated and buried at the Polloe Cemetery in San Sebastián. They are kept at the Monsó Riu family pantheon, for she was a godmother to the family.
After the restoration of democracy, Clara Campoamor got the recognition she deserved. Today, there are statues, streets and parks in her memory in hundreds of Spanish cities. She was, above all, a fighter for equality.