Picture your modern version of a radical feminist: She is smart. She is educated. She is politically active. She uses her pen as her sword and the written word as her shield. She believes that men and women are equal, with no exceptions. She believes in reproductive rights and sexual freedom. She despises machismo.
Now imagine this woman in turn-of-the-century Mexico. You would be imagining the iconic Mexican feminist Hermila Galindo.
Hermila Galindo is the type of woman whose picture appears in the dictionary next to the phrase “ahead of her time.” Considered the “first feminist in Mexico,” she may not have the same household-name recognition of Frida Kahlo or Dolores Huerta, but she espoused such vanguard beliefs that she should be recognized up there with the other greats of Latinidad.
In her time, Galindo was known for her journalism as much as for her political activism. In 1915, she founded the weekly magazine La Mujer Moderna, a feminist publication aimed at women.
She used her writing to spread the feminist word and promote the revolutionary ideas of her mentor Venustiano Carranza, who would eventually become President of Mexico. It was in La Mujer Moderna that Galindo tirelessly advocated for progressive feminist policies. In addition to her journalism, she also authored several books, including a biography of Carranza.
While many feminists of old are remembered for their fights for fundamental rights like suffrage and reproductive rights, Galindo was even more radical.
Although she firmly believed that women should have the right to vote and hold political office, she also believed in free love. She wanted women to be liberated from the oppressive confines of patriarchy and the Catholic Church.
She preached that if women were to truly become equal to men, they must be educated about not only sex and birth control but pleasure and desire. She argued that a woman’s sexual instincts were just as strong as that of a man’s. It must be noted that her views were controversial in her time (and arguably still are), and some of her contemporaries condemned her beliefs as “immoral.” Nevertheless, she persisted.
Born in 1896 to a middle-class family in the city of Lerdo in the Durango State, Galindo came of age when Mexico was in chaos. Although the country had gained independence from Spain decades before, it was nonetheless experiencing the growing pains of a young nation.
A series of revolutions from 1910 to 1920 left the country in near-constant civil unrest. Growing up in such an uncertain time made Galindo’s outlook inherently political. She studied accounting, shorthand, typing, and English at an industrial school in Chihuahua.
It was at school that the activism bug first bit her. The story goes that she was enlisted to transcribe an inflammatory speech made by a local lawyer that was strongly against the then president, Porfirio Díaz. The city’s mayor instructed her to destroy all the speech copies, but, ever the rebel, Galindo secretly kept a copy for herself. She later widely distributed the copies as a form of resistance. From that point forward, she was an activist.
Galindo moved to Mexico City at the age of 15, and it was there that she fully blossomed into the feminist that history would remember her as. In Mexico City, she became even more involved in politics, joining a liberal club that supported presidential hopeful Venustiano Carranza, who was also strongly anti-Diaz. Impressed by her capabilities, Carranza offered Galindo a job as his private secretary. This position would eventually make her reach the highest political levels a woman could aim at the time.
Through her relationship with Carranza, whom she respected and admired, Galindo asserted her influence over his attitude towards specific policies. Apparently, at Galindo’s suggestion, Mexico’s laws permitted divorce and added the 1917 Law of Family Relations to the constitution, which diminished a husband’s control over his wife.
She also used her influence with Carranza to convince him to let her submit a proposal for women’s equality to the Constituent Congress of 1917. Naturally, the all-male assembly was too threatened by the idea of gender equality, so the item was ultimately stricken from the final agenda. But Galindo’s willingness to push the envelope is a trait in itself worth celebrating.
Believing in her core that women were just as entitled to hold political office as men were, Galindo decided to run for deputy of today’s 5th district of Mexico City. “Her main goal was a simple one: to lay down the foundation for women to decide and conduct elections for themselves,” Galindo’s biographer, Laura Orellana Trinidad, told Teen Vogue. “From her perspective, this benefited everyone as a whole. She saw society as a singular organism in which every component had a good function in order to reach perfect[ion]. Hermila understood that female participation was necessary in the public sphere.”
Hermila launched her campaign for deputy that, to the surprise of many, went shockingly well. Some documents report that she won the popular vote in a surprise upset but was prohibited from holding office as a matter of law. Other reports claim that she came in fourth place out of 26 candidates. It didn’t matter. Hermila was happy to accept her defeat because winning had never been her intention.
Her intention, she stated, hadn’t been to win but to show women (and men, for that matter) that women were perfectly capable of running for political office. In fact, according to reports, she was happy to have lost because she believed that it was important for those with political ambitions to “know how to lose.” (Sounds like someone could learn by taking a page out of Galindo’s book, no?)
Unfortunately, Venustiano Carranza’s political career ended in chaos and death. In 1920, he was murdered in the Puebla State after failing to see-through his promises to help the poor and disenfranchised communities of Mexico.
After Carranza’s death, Galindo married and permanently retired from political life. But her revolutionary feminist spirit continued to leave its mark long after her retirement. She will forever be remembered as the true embodiment of una mujer moderna.