[Image: “Habla usted español” (Do you speak Spanish? Read “La Voz”), La Voz, 119 July 1937. New York Public Library Archives, General Research Division.]
By Ana María Díaz-Marcos, University of Connecticut
Translated by Javier Franco
On December 22, 1937, La voz published the article “Mujeres a la lucha” [“Women, to the cause”], which contained a speech given a few days earlier by Ernestina González Rodríguez (1899-1976) at the Royal Windsor Theater in New York. The event took place during the festival for the militiamen’s bonus, organized by the Comités Femeninos Unidos [United Women’s Committees]. Ernestina González is lesser known than the other three Spanish signatures that appear on La voz’s “Página de la Mujer” [Women’s Page] in those same months (Margarita Nelken, Dolores Ibárruri and Federica Montseny), but she is a highly-relevant figure in the political arena of the time. She was born in Medina del Pomar (Burgos), studied at the University of Salamanca and worked as a librarian at the School of Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking at the University of Madrid when the war broke out. Her first stay in the United States was at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she likely taught Spanish during the 1926-1927 academic year.
This teacher, librarian and activist maintained an active political agenda in the United States, particularly in New York, where she resided for at least two decades. She founded the Comités Femeninos Unidos [United Women’s Committees] and was a member of the Comité Pro Diario Hispano [Hispanic Pro Newspaper Committee] that organized the publishing company The Spanish Newspaper Corporation that began publishing La voz in the summer of 1937. In April of that same year, the Daily Worker newspaper collected a biographical profile highlighting her intense activity in propaganda tasks and support for the republican cause.
The aforementioned speech “Mujeres a la lucha” [Women, to the cause] includes a brilliant exposition of the role of women working both at the forefront and behind the scenes, underlining the impressive task that they carry out in the “despertar político del pueblo español” [political awakening of the Spanish people]. Ernestina lists some of the ambitious conclusions of the 2nd Conference of the Comité de Mujeres Antifascistas [Antifascist Women’s Committee] that was held in October in Valencia: incorporation of women into war production, construction of nurseries and kindergartens to facilitate the work of women, equal pay, creation of schools in the countryside to eradicate illiteracy and vocational training schools in the cities.
Her speech links democratic, anti-war and anti-imperialist values. In her speech, Ernestina highlights that when fascism is imposed in a country, women are the first to suffer the consequences of oppression. She denounces the way that fascist regimes exploit the reproductive potential of women, pressuring them to have children without providing them with the means to maintain them, and argues that many times these children are meat destined for the slaughterhouse of imperialist wars.
For Ernestina, women’s agency is irreplaceable in the political struggle, since no revolution can succeed without their support, just as no national construction project is capable of prospering without their contribution. This conference documents the task and commitment of republican women both in the fighting post and in the rearguard, in the homes and on the streets:
…la mujer española desde el principio de nuestra guerra acudió en defensa de las libertades de España (…) En los momentos de improvisación, cogió el fusil y marchó a los frentes de combate; en la retaguardia invadía los hospitales, las escuelas, los comités políticos, en el hogar alentaba a sus compañeros, a sus hermanos, a sus hijos en la lucha, en la calle organizaba manifestaciones levantando la moral de los combatientes.
[Spanish women from the beginning of our war came to defend the liberties of Spain (…) In moments of improvisation, she picked up the rifle and marched to the combat fronts; in the rearguard occupied hospitals, schools, political committees, at home she encouraged her peers, her brothers, her children to the fight, in the streets she organized protests raising combatant morale.]
As Federica Montseny and Dolores Ibárruri did through La voz, Ernestina González appeals to the women of America in the fight against “el fascismo imperialista” [“imperialist fascism”], emphasizing that the emancipation of women is closely linked to the struggle of the working class. This impassioned speech exalts the role of Spanish women in the fight and is filled with an urgent outreach for anti-fascist Hispanic women to follow her example. In this way, thanks to the determination and effort of its women, the United States could become a symbolic transatlantic rearguard for the Spain loyal to the Republic:
Mujeres españolas de América, imitad el ejemplo de estas compañeras de España, trabajad aquí para que esta retaguardia sea una prolongación de la retaguardia de la España leal. Todas unidas sumemos nuestros esfuerzos a los suyos. Querer la victoria, desearla, no es bastante: es necesario trabajar por la victoria (…) Adelante contra los crímenes del fascismo, contra sus feroces apetitos colonizadores, por la defensa de la paz y la democracia.
[Spanish women of America, imitate the example of these peers from Spain, work here so that this rearguard is an extension of the rearguard of loyal Spain. United, we will add our efforts to yours. Wanting victory, desiring it, is not enough: we must work for victory (…) Onward against the crimes of fascism, against its ferocious colonizing appetites, for the defense of peace and democracy.]
Ana María Díaz-Marcos is Professor of Spanish Literature in the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages at the University of Connecticut. Her fields of work are literature, theater, historical feminism and gender studies. Her latest work on Margarita Nelken, published in the magazine Feminismos of the University of Alicante, is available at the following link: https://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/111723/1/Feminismos_37_10.pdf
Original version in Spanish: Mujeres a la lucha: Ernestina González en el Royal Windsor de Nueva York