Ecuador was the first Latin American state to enfranchise women, in 1929. The pioneer who symbolised women’s striving for emancipation in a cruelly conservative society was Mathilde Hidalgo de Procel.
She was born Mathilde Hidalgo in Loja, Ecuador in 1889 in a family of six children. Her father died when she was young and her mother was obliged to work as a seamstress to keep the family. Mathilde attended a convent school, and she was an academic child but her education was soon to stop as senior schools were reserved for boys in Ecuador.
She spoke to her older brother, Antonio, who asked the director of the local secular high school for permission for her to attend. He did so, and she studied at the Colegio Bernaro Valdivieso, but the local community acted with outrage to the spectacle of a girl becoming educated – mothers stopped their daughters from associating with her and the priest made her stand outside the church at mass. There was a prescribed distance which she had to stand outside the church – nothing less than two paces outside the church door would do to prevent other girls form being contaminated by Mathilde’s education.
Despite the opposition, she became the first girl in Ecuador to graduate from high school, in 1913. She went on to study medicine at the University of Cuenca, and became the first woman in Ecuador to qualify as a doctor.
Mathilde practised medicine, and added de Procel to her name when she married the lawyer Fernando Procel. She now turned her attention to the political rights of women and signed the register of voters. Her application to vote was queried and referred to the State Council. She argued that the constitution stated that to be an Ecuadorian citizen and to exercise the right to vote the only requirement was to be 21 years old and able to read and write. There was no requirement to be male. The State Council unanimously agreed and in 1924 Mathilde became the first Ecuadorian woman to vote.
She had breached the principle of women voting and opened the way for a new government and a new constitution which would enfranchise women explicitly, on the same basis as men. In 1929 Ecuador became the first Latin American country where women had the vote, ahead of large, powerful countries like Brazil and Argentina.
Mathilde Hidalgo became Ecuador’s first female candidate and the first elected public administrator, for her home town of Loja, in 1941. She died in 1974, and a museum has been established in Loja in her memory.
Written for Sheroes of History by Jad Adams www.jadadams.co.uk
Find out more….
Matilde’s story and that of other Latin American women is told in the book ‘Women and the Vote: A World History’, written by this week’s contributor Jad Adams!
There is also a 1981 biography by Jenny Estrada in Spanish titled Mathilde Hidalgo de Procel: A Total Woman.
Have a look at this interactive map which shows when different countries around the world gave the vote to women.
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