Franco’s female political prisoners: Tomasa Cuevas

Franco’s female political prisoners: Tomasa Cuevas

Although the victory of the Nationalist army on 1st April 1939 at the hands of leader General Francisco Franco[1] officially put an end to the Spanish Civil War[2] (1939-1939), the violence was far from over.

Now formally instated, the Francoist dictatorship, which had begun establishing control over the country since the start of the Civil War, was faced with the task of rebuilding the nation. This would be done through a combined focus on the regeneration and implementation of National-Catholic values through legal reform, propaganda, and public morality, and the elimination of the so-called enemies of Spain – particularly communists, republicans, and masons – through social denigration, mass imprisonment, torture, and execution. For women, Francoism meant a return to the ideals of Christian motherhood, with the downfall of the nation attributed to female emancipation.

The ‘hungry’ years of the 1940s were bleak with oppression and denunciation, yet the defeated vanquished continued to fight Francoism in clandestine operations regardless of the very real threat of political imprisonment for their actions. Officially, law prohibited the imprisonment of women for political actions. However, women were arrested and incarcerated in their thousands for all manner of crimes against the state, including associating with a suspected radical, and participating in political parties and activities. Disciplined for political and gender transgressions, these women were exemplified as cases of social and moral decrepitude; punishments included naked parades through the streets, violent torture behind bars, and execution.

In spite of such a fate, female activists of the Spanish Communist Party, continued fighting the regime in any way they could. Many, however, were arrested and subjected to the brutalities of prison, including Juana Doña, Soledad Real, and Tomasa Cuevas who together survived a combined total of 55 years in Francoist jails.

Tomasa Cuevas (1917-2007) was born into a working class family in Guadalajara, Spain. She was forced to leave school aged 9 to work 3 jobs and support the family, and shortly thereafter became involved in the Spanish Communist Party. In 1939 she was arrested and spent five years in prison. Released in 1944 and exiled to Barcelona, she continued her involvement with the Communist Party only to be re-arrested the following year and imprisoned again.

After her release a year later, she went into hiding and had her first child in 1947, all the while continuing her participation with the Communist Party. Facing persecution from authorities, she fled Spain in 1953, leaving her daughter, whom she wouldn’t see until 1957. She returned to live clandestinely in Spain in 1961 and only obtained legal documentation in 1976, after the death of Franco and the end of the dictatorship.

Her experiences of prison are documented alongside those of her fellow inmates in her collection of testimonies, available edited and in translation as Prison of Women.[3]

Written by Holly Pike, a PhD student at the University of Birmingham, who can be followed on twitter @hjpolyglot


For more information on this topic see

Video on female political prisoners from research at the University of California and the University of Sheffield:

My blog:

Detailed information about female political prisoners can be found here:





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