Kickass Women in History: Elvia Carrillo Puerto

While many women in Mexico’s history have been kickass, Elvia Carrillo Puerta is known as “Mexico’s First Feminist.” She campaigned for women’s suffrage and the right to equal access to birth control, divorce, and economic equality. She was especially instrumental in advocating for the rights of Mayan women. Her passion for feminism and socialism led people to call her “The Red Nun.”

Elvia was born in 1878 in Motul, Yucatán. She was one of fourteen children. Her father had Mayan ancestry and was a merchant and rancher who was active in local politics. Elvia was a reader from a young age who was deeply influenced by the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Victoria Woodhull, and Flora Tristán. She was also influenced by her teacher, another kickass woman named Rita Cetina Gutiérrez who was a poet  and activist, and the founder of secular schools for girls and young women.

Elvia married at the age of 13 and was a widow at 21. The internet is startlingly lacking inblack and white photo of Elvia Carrillo Puerto's face details about this marriage. She had one child, a son named Marcial, and she supported herself by teaching typing. She became active in the Mexican Revolution, organizing women into resistance movements. She also began promoting birth control and education for women through feminist leagues, most famously the Liga Feminista Rita Cetina Gutierrez.

An ardent suffragette, Elvia devoted much of her time to Mayan women, educating them about politics with the hopes of one day having Mayan women in government. She was very close to her brother, Felipe, who also campaigned for women’s suffrage. Felipe became governor of the State of Yucatán in 1922. After he became governor, Felipe made it legal for women to vote and to hold office. In 1923, Elvia became the first woman to serve in Yucatán’s state legislature. Unfortunately the rights of women in Yucatán to vote and hold office were not protected at the federal level. When Felipe was assassinated in 1924, the rights were revoked by the incoming governor and Elvia lost her seat.

Despite this, Elvia remained active in working for land rights and for rights for women. During her lifetime she worked as Felipe’s campaign manager throughout his political career. She also worked for suffrage, economic rights and reproductive health, as well as labor rights, land reform, education, and freedom from sexual assault. She survived death threats and assassination attempts and lived to be 89.

Elvia was such an amazing woman and yet there was very little about her online. I was left with a lot of questions. What’s the deal with her getting married at 13? Did she get along with her spouse? What did she do in the last part of her life? There are some writings about her in Spanish, which I’m sad to say I don’t speak. I’m including a link to a paper in Spanish because it looks like a great resource. I ran enough of it through Google Translate to say that a) the paper looks fascinating and b) Google Translate is not great.

I hope this short profile of an incredible woman will encourage others to learn more about the remarkable role of women during and after the Mexican Revolution!

Here are some links:

“Mexico’s first Feminist” Spanish Academy

“Elvia Puerto”

“The Yucatan Governor Who Empowered Women” The Yucatan Times

“Elvia Carrillo Puerto” WordPress

“Elvia Carrillo Puerto” pdf


Comments are Closed

  1. Jodi says:

    She sounds awesome, and I had never heard about her! Now I want to go try to find biographies of Elvia somewhere, even if I have to shine up my Spanish degree to read them!

  2. Barbara says:

    So, the Spanish text says she married at 19 and her husband tried to divorce her twelve years later. The divorce was not granted because Elvia did not want to divorce, even though her husband had turned violent lately. He died shortly after and she remarried and divorced the same guy twice. I stopped reading after that.

    Her mother had her first of 14 children at the age of 14, so she was likely married at 13.

  3. I love how you unearth new-to-me women from history. Students who came through the US school systems are sadly lacking in knowledge about our neighbor to the south, and I love learning more of this feminist history. Thank you for sharing!

Comments are closed.

By posting a comment, you consent to have your personally identifiable information collected and used in accordance with our privacy policy.

↑ Back to Top