Women’s stories haven’t always had a place in history. “It’s the inconvenient truth that women have always been 50 percent of the population, but only occupy around 0.5 percent of recorded history,” said British historian and author Bettany Hughes. “Physically the stories of women have been written out of history, rather than written in.”
Herstory is our small attempt to compensate for this. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we look at eight women who have made their mark in Ecuador:
Ambato-born Hermelinda Urvina lived a long life. Urvina, who lived until the age of 103, is recognized as the first female pilot from South America. She and her husband Rosendo Briones lived in New York for many years, which is where her career in aviation began. As an original member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization made up of licensed women pilots, she hobnobbed with Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh, according to The Star.
Born to a slave in Baba, María Chiquinquira became an important historical figure who fought for her freedom in court. According to Elvia Duque Castillo’s Aportes del Pueblo Afrodescendiente: La Historia Oculta de América Latina, in 1794, María Chiquinquira argued that she was free since her mother no longer had an owner; he had abandoned Chiquinquira’s mother because she suffered from leprosy. Chiquinquira died before the court reached a decision, but she made history with her brave actions.
The trailblazing Matilde Hidalgo made history over and over again. She became the first woman to finish high school, graduate from medical school and hold office in Ecuador, as well as the first to vote in all of Latin America. A. Kim Clark’s Gender, State, and Medicine in Highland Ecuador: Modernizing Women, Modernizing the State explains that Matilde’s father died just before her birth, and that her sisters took jobs to make it possible for her brothers to attend school.
Matilde wanted to continue her education after she finished primary school, but no secondary school for women existed at that time. So she petitioned the boy’s school, Colegio Bernardo Valdivieso, and won – even though this made her an outcast among other women.
At 24, she applied to Quito’s Universidad Central. The school rejected her and suggested she try a midwifery or pharmacy program instead. Instead, Matilde successfully applied to the Universidad de Azuay and received a licentiate in medicine. After that, she once again applied to Universidad Central – and this time was accepted.
In 1924, Matilde became the first woman to vote in Ecuador and possibly in all of Latin America. She asked her lawyer husband to review the 1906 constitution, and he found nothing explicitly prohibited her from voting.
Indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso founded the Confederación de los Pueblos de la Nacionalidad Kichua del Ecuador. The group organized the first assembly for indigenous women. Chancoso played an important roles in the ousting of President Adbalá Bucaram, who was eventually deemed mentally unfit for the presidency. She has fought to put indigenous communities at the forefront. And she hasn’t slowed down.
In 2015, she wrote an open letter to Evo Morales, rebutting his allegations that indigenous communities were being manipulated by the right wing. In August, Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) – which Chancoso co-founded – marched more than 200 miles to protest President Rafael Correa.
“You should remember that those who occupy the presidential office will one day be replaced,” she wrote. “Correa’s term will one day end, but the indigenous communities will always be here…”
Luz Argentina Chiriboga
Luz Argentina Chiriboga is credited with being one of the first writers to explore what it means to be both Latin American and black. In 2012, she won the Medalla Bicentenario for her writing. In a 1998 interview with the Afro-Hispanic Review, Luz admitted that books dealing with blackness were a rarity in Ecuador.
“It’s something that flows out of me because I’m authentic defending my cultural identity,” she said almost 15 years later. “I write about these topics because they come from my soul and it’s what I am.”
Zoila Ugarte de Landívar
Zoila Ugarte de Landívar served as the national library’s director, and she also became known as the editor of Ecuador’s first women’s magazine, La mujer, in 1905. In Women’s Movements, State Restructuring, and Global Development in Ecuador, Amy Lind wrote, “La mujer played an important role in creating a public dialogue about the condition of women and their educational and legal rights.” In 1922, Zoila founded the Sociedad Feminista Luz del Pichincha.
Ana de Peralta
Ana de Peralta fought against a Spanish law that made it illegal for mestizas to use indigenous or Spanish clothing. According to the law, wearing indigenous clothing made them “mujeres de mal vivir,” according to El Comercio.
In 2011, the Pichincha government committed to bringing de Peralta’s biography to life.
Rosa María Vacacela Gualán
In 2012, Saraguro-born Rosa María Vacacela Gualán won the Medalla Bicentenario for her work in bilingual education. The indigenous leader developed teaching materials in both Quechua and Spanish, and made the literacy of older indigenous members a priority, according to PP El Verdadero.