Biography of Benita Asas Manterola (1873-1968)

Essayist, educationist and Spanish feminist movement activist, born in San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa) in 1873 and died in Bilbao (Biscay) in 1968.

Educated in the precarious education Spanish of late 19th century society dedicated to girls (based on the learning of household chores and, with a little luck, the teaching of letters and some rudimentary knowledge of arithmetic), showed, however, from his childhood an innate intellectual curiosity and a strong vocation for teachingthat end up driving it up to the classroom as a teacher. Despite so many drawbacks, Benita handles Manterola sought is a self-taught allowing in 1910, when he/she was already thirty-seven years of age, access to higher education and become one of the first Spanish women who were enrolled in university studies (which, until this year, had been virtually closed for the female population, under multiple and anachronistic legal impediments).

It was also in 1910 when San Sebastian game writer gave to printing the essay volume entitled God and universe, a splendid work whose intellectual openwork and analytical rigor hinted one of the strongest figures of thought of the time, unfortunately veiled until then by the contempt with which were received deliveries creative and essays written by women. But since then, Benita handles began to occupy a prominent place among the intelligentsia of the Basque country, where soon went on to extend his thought for the main forums and cultural cenacles of the capital of Spain. And so, in 1913 was invited to intervene in the heated discussions in the section of moral sciences and politics of the Ateneo de Madrid, in where, in the company of other prominent thinker of his time, Julia S. of Trellero, addressed boldly and severity the problem of women's education, from an overtly feminist approach that came to denounce the great obstacles imposed on females when it comes to access to education andas a result, the world of work. In the opinion of both rapporteurs - which caused such admiration as rejection at the Ateneo madrileño-, these impairments did not but increase the ancient inequality which had been distancing the roles traditionally allocated to men and women, giving foot, according to Benita wings and his partner, coexistence in society of two genres with varying degrees of participation in public life: that of political citizens (exclusively reserved for men) and the social citizens (composed of, basically, women). In line with these ideas, in the course of that year of 1913, Benita handles and Julia S. de Trellero founded and assumed the co-direction of the Rotary the thinking women, a feminist newspaper, within its overall purpose of improving and promoting the status of social, political and economic of the women of the time, it argued in particular by the introduction of women's suffrage.

Converted into the second decade of the 20th century, in one of the most representative of Spanish feminism voices, Benita handles finished integrating in the Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Españolas (ANME), a group founded in 1918 by María Espinosa de los Monteros in order to defend from the ideological postulates of liberal Catholicism, the rights of women. Disseminated by its principal organ of expression (female magazine), the proclamations of the ANME dragged a strong component (anchored in its attachment to Catholicism) religious and nationalist (based on the need to maintain at all times a strong love of country that, according to the ideologas of the Association should be instilled by mothers in their offspring from his earliest childhood); but, at the same time, showed a sharply progressive spirit in all aspects related to the social and legal status of women, non-stop lie in the greater or less political or religious affinity who constituted an obstacle to the promotion of women (as demonstrated, v. gr., was in confronting the ANME women with Catholic unionsdominated by men who were opposed to the access of women to the workplace). Among the initiatives by this combative Association of women (whose address was Benita handles in 1924), recalled his bold proposal for reform of the Civil Code, their fight to broaden the horizons of the State education to girls, their demand for financial aid to cover the costs of literary and essayistic publications written by women, his angry claims of equality in the world of work (which included as "outrageous" demands - to the feel of the time - how the Equalization of wages) and the free access of women to the liberal professions and the performance of public officials, as well as other short-term actions that had great resonance in the Spain of the first third of the 20th century (as their confrontation with the Royal Board for repression and trafficking in white, which did not see with good eyes the proposal of the ANME of creating havens of collection for prostitutes ruled by religious).

At the forefront of this brave group of women, Benita handles imposed in the bosom of the Association more progressive than the founder of criteria; and so, in 1924 almost all efforts of ANME and female world oriented themselves towards the demand of suffrage women, only half that, according to the San Sebastian battle-hardened fighter, would allow women equal political treatment with a male group who, by very liberal to come to show, never spoil motu proprio equal rights in all areas of life. Under the maxim of "a woman without a vote is Doña nobody", Benita handles Manterola promoted an intense campaign suffragist who, in the course of that year of 1924, the newly released dictatorship of Primo de Rivera got a Royal Decree recognizing women the right to vote, provided they weren't married, because, in this case - and always according to the legislators of the time -It was in danger of a wife to use his free right to go to the polls to vote against the political advice of her husband. Despite these disparate claims, the promulgation of this Royal Decree was received by suffragists as the biggest win of the feminist cause that until then had been in Spain.

At the time that suffragist was delivered to this cause, Benita handles continued developing an intense teaching and pedagogical activity which, in the middle of the third decade of the 20th century, resulted in an essay entitled practical way to teach the native language to the children of the first national schools (1925). At the same time, some of his major articles on education came to light, at that time, between the pages of the modern school magazine. But his active role in the life the Spanish public returned to the political arenas in 1929, when, as a result of the extension of the first consequences of the New York stock market crisis, the world entered a phase of dangerous instability that threatened to lead to a new war of devastating proportions.

Indeed, at the end of 1929 Benita handles attended as a delegate of the Spanish female League, a series of meetings held at Headquarters which had in Geneva, the League of Nations, which transacted a proposal to call for a World Congress of women which, in the opinion of many feminists from all corners of the world, would bring all necessary means to prevent conflict. The postulates of the San Sebastian teacher found an exceptional hospitality in the heart of the movement of liberation of women, whose pacifist proposals contributed in part to the support of the precarious political situation dominant in much of Europe and America.

In 1931, as a result of the implementation of the second Republic, Benita handles and other qualified representatives of the ANME took active part in the discussions concerning the desirability of universal suffrage, which had been authorized in article 34 of the Constitution. The writer, painter, journalist and policy Margarita Nelken, a feminist path out of suspicion, strongly opposed in Parliament the universalization of women voters, since - in his opinion - much of the female population of Spain was devoid of political consciousness and remained subject to the dictates of fathers, husbands, and spiritual Directors (according to Nelken, only educated women and those belonging to the working class were free of this powerful male influence). In front of it is lifted up her voice angry ClaraCampoamor, a member of the Radical Party, who, from a feminist as legitimate as his opponent postulates, cried out in defense of universal suffrage. Curiously, most conservative and reactionary of the Spanish political spectrum sectors assumed welcomed proposals for Clara Campoamor, thereby giving consistency to the fears hosted by Margarita Nelken; for his part, Benita handles and the women of the ANME participated actively in these discussions on behalf of the theses of the Deputy of the Radical Party, and handed out leaflets in defense of unconditional suffrage in Parliament. Apart from the consequences which would soon become patent in the political events that bloody country, the truth is that this debate was planted numerous disagreements and rifts in the feminist movement Spanish during those first bars of the second Republic, leading to a heated exchange of accusations that included the latest feminist cares of Benita handles. Among them, one of the most notable was the oversubscribed in 1931 following the adoption of a decree by means of which was authorized to feminize the names of public officials and professional qualifications (medical, lawyer, Minister, etc.), Decree nor liked all feminists; against those who opposed this feminization of language directed their latest attacks Benita handles Manterola, embodied in some articles where was branded them of "ungrateful usufructuarias feminism" and "feminist reluctantly".

Fifty-nine years of age, tired of so many efforts on behalf of women and, above all, of the clashes emerged among the various currents of feminism, the San Sebastian master signed his last article in female, which returned to ratify in their conviction that the vote of women was essential to achieve a total equalization with the male population. Shortly after dropped their charges in ANME, after receiving a warm tribute of their correligionarias, which gave him a plaque in which was recorded the text of article 28 of the Constitution of 1931, which recognizes the equality of voting rights. Removed from active militancy, it was already sixty when he/she had to suffer the hardships of the Civil War, in which he/she suffered the persecution of the reactionary forces. With the victory of Francoist troops, his long old age (which still would prolong until 1968) passed through the humiliating process of being expelled from the body of teachers and all the rights that by exercising for so many years the teaching profession; When he/she died in Bilbao, five years before reaching a century of existence, already nobody remembered the achievements of 20th century Spanish women had achieved thanks to his active militancy in the feminist cause.


Sunday BALLARIN, Pilar: "teachers, innovation and change", in Arenal, no. 6, 1, Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1999.

TEN URE, Ana-RODA HERNÁNDEZ, Paco: "handles Manterola, Benita", in MARTINEZ, Candida-PASTOR, Reyna-Easter, José Mª de la-TAVERA, Susana (directors): women in the history of Spain, Madrid: planet, 2000, pp. 408-412.

MARTÍN GAMERO, Amalia: Anthology of feminism, Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1975.

SAN JUAN, Regina: "Benita handles, Basque suffragist", in Emakunde Ekaina 1991, Vitoria-Gasteiz: Basque women's Institute, 1991, pp. 58-59.