The Spanish Restoration (1874 – 1931)

Preface: I am in the process of trying to rewrite the preface historical material for the travel guides, and split it into a separate book. The history part just got overwhelming and hugely disorganized. Doing this requires combing a 189 page document with a 169 page document with a fair bit of overlapping text and information between them. This will be a work in progress, with that work in progress posted as blog posts. After having done the first three eras, the 189 page document is down to 150 pages so progress! Yay!

The Spanish Restoration (1874 – 1931)

On 17 May 1886, the reign of Alfonso XIII started with his birth as a result of his father dying while his mother, Maria Cristina of Austria, was pregnant.  She would go on to serve as his regent until he was formally enthroned on his sixteenth birthday.  The regency period saw the diminishment of Spain as a global colonial power, as it lost possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States following the country’s loss in the Spanish-American War or Desastre del 98 in 1898.

The early and mid-Spanish Restoration period largely saw references to homosexuality, both male and female, disappear from public discourse.  Homosexuals as a rule were very closeted, using coded language both on the streets and in writing to refer to their romantic and sexual desires. Such language by homosexual writers was often only shared among a small group of intimates, making it hard for modern readers to identify. Male homosexuality continued to be more visible, with more places for men to meet other men as many of their meeting places were in places like the Institución Libre de Enseñanza founded in 1876, and Residencia de Estudiantes founded in 1910, which had no comparable women’s form until 1915 when the Residencia de Señoritas opened on Calle de Fortuny with 30 students in its inaugural class.  The Residencia would go on to play an important, though much less visible than in feminist circles, role in supporting lesbians of the period. Wealthy Spaniards in this period were also frequently going to Germany. The country and Berlin more specifically was at the Western vanguard of homosexual tolerance and advocating for homosexual rights, with Karl Heinrich Ulrichs urging for the repeal of criminal penalties for homosexuality at the Sixth Congress of German Jurists on 29 August 1867.  By the 1880s, a Berlin police commissioner had opted for a more tolerant route by choosing not to prosecute sodomy. In 1896, Der Eigene became the first gay men’s magazine in the world. Trips to Germany exposed Spaniards to a culture more accepting of homosexuality, and questioning of and breaking of established gender norms.

With many parts of Spanish society including the church, government and medical establishment engaged in active condemnation of female homosexuality, many lesbians of the era picked up and internalized this negative thinking. Many lesbians felt mentally tortured, unhappy and unable to be themselves in public; the ones who escaped this often came from more liberal, affluent families.  Because of a historical lack of visible lesbians and with no comparable gay male culture to draw upon, many felt alone, isolated and lacking in role models.

Spanish translations of Sappho’s work continued in this period, bringing greater exposure the ancient Greek poet. Estudios poéticos by Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo in 1878 contained additional translations of the works of Sappho’s poems.  That same year, Víctor Balaguer published a tragedy titled Safo. Antiguos poetas griegos. La musa helénica. Traducido en verso por D. Ángel Lasso de la Vega was published in 1884 and contained additional poems by Sappho.

Up until the early 1900s, Spanish literary discussion around Sappho continued to remove her sexuality or to change translations or would not translated materials which suggested Sappho had sex with women. Carolina Coronado was one of the first authors to challenge the prevailing interpretation and translations in Spain around Sappho’s work.

Agustina Otero Iglesias, better known as Bella Otero, was born in 4 November 1868 in the parish of San Miguel de Valga to a single mother who did manual labor in the town of Valga. Otero was both a beautiful and intelligent woman, using these to assist her in escaping a life of manual labor in Galicia and to gain fame in Paris. In 1879, when she was an 11-year-old, she was raped at Monte Terroeira. The rape was so brutal that she needed to be transferred to Real Hospital de Santiago for treatment as she hemorrhaged large amounts of blood. Her rapist was ordered to appear before the courts in Pontevedra on 9 August 1879. This horror left a permanent physical and mental mark on the rest of her life. She appeared a few years later in Catalonia and then in Paris as a dancer in masculine attire. Despite acquiring much wealth, she lost most of it in casinos in Monte Carlo. She was well known in the Sapphic circle of Paris, cultivating relationships with high level women in Parisian society. She died on 10 April 1965 at the age of 97, leaving her remaining wealth to the poor people of Valga.

Language around lesbians continued to evolve in this period, picking up speed compared to earlier periods. The definition of marimacho remained unchanged from its initial inclusion until 1884, the same year that word lesbio would appear for the first time in the Diccionario de la lengua española, where lesbio was defined as “homosexual woman”. Borrowing from the English word invert, invertida had begun to be used in Spain by 1897 at a time when homosexuality continued to be pathologized as unnatural and sexually deviant. By the end of the 19th century, desviada had entered the Spanish vocabulary to refer to Spanish homosexuals with a meaning of sexual deviant. Tríbada had begun to be defined around its modern usage to mean lesbian in the context of female homosexual in this same period.

mig-home was used in the Valencian language by 1891, appearing in the writing of Father Gadea.  Referring to lesbians, the word meant a woman who is like a man and has an aversion to men. Father Gadea’s text about a girl from Balones, Alicante in 1850 said, “A manly girl, that due the fond of to do all the tasks of men she was called half a man” “He said to his mother: Mother, make me a trousers”.[1]  Later in the same text, Father Gadea used the phrase again, writing, “We have never wanted to marry any dog man, even if they had been shitting gold doubloons because they are all a bunch of bad-working bums”..[2] 

Invertida was being used in the Valencian language by the last years of the 1800s, having been derived from the English word Invert that was used by Havelock Ellis in 1897’s English language translation of Sexual Inversion.

Elena Fortún spent summers of her childhood period in the 1890s in Abades, Castile y León with her grandfather Isidro. Her work would later play the same role for many Spanish children as Richmal Crompton, Mark Twain or Roald Dahl did for British and American kids.

Consuelo Berges was born in 1899 to a single mother, whose family was full of freethinkers and Republicans.  As a child, she did not attend school but was educated in the home instead, learning Spanish and French.  She went on to become a journalist, writer, biographer and translator in the Second Spanish Republic period. She was also a member of the Círculo Sáfico de Madrid.

Men in this period sometimes wrote about lesbians in fiction. La mala vida en Madrid: estudio psico-sociológico was a book by Constancio Bernaldo de Quirós first published in 1901.  The book discussed lesbianism. Del jardín del amor by José María Llanas Aguilaniedo published in 1902 featured a lesbian protagonist named María de los Ángeles Pacheco, who would represent a new type of female heroine in Spanish literature of the day. Some of his work drew inspiration from the works of French writer Pierre Louÿs and his stories like Les chansons de Bilitis published in 1894.

The 1900s in Spain saw Alfonso XIII ascend the throne in 1902.  The monarchy’s role by this time in history was to act as a referee legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Alfonso XIII largely rejected this role, with the result being that Spain went through a period of extreme political instability. At the same time, Catalonia was agitating for independence, and Spain’s working classes began to organize and to protest their lack of representation in government. Alfonso XIII did little to address these issues.

Spanish erotic literature in the early 1900s disappeared lesbians almost completely. When lesbianism did appear in these works, it was always presented as a transitory sexual practice, not as a choice for life or an intrinsic part of who a woman is. Victorina Durán, a Spanish lesbian writing in that period, said in Semblanza de una escenografía del 27, “Normally it is understood as a transitory practice, not a definitive one; that is to say, as entertainment or game as long as there is no man by the side, which is equivalent to denying a proper entity to the relationship between women, which is not perceived as an authentic love-sexual relationship.”

Spanish feminism in the early 1900s and into the Second Republic period often focused on the education of women as a primary tool for the emancipation of women and for bringing about structural changes in society. Lesbians across Spain benefitted from these efforts when made available to them as they helped expand their outlook and knowledge, and provided them a network of support for dealing with misogyny and patriarchy present in Spanish society. One of the leading proponents of these efforts was lesbian Carmen de Burgos.

While countries like England and Italy were trying to use science to de-pathologize homosexuality early in the twentieth century as a means to naturalize homosexuality and make it more acceptable, Spain went in a different direct; they were trying to use science to prove the existence of homosexuality and then device legal punishments for it.  Consequently, the English and Italian languages developed new vocabulary and concepts around homosexuality in this period while Castilian Spanish did not.  Spanish culture also failed to bring in new concepts around homosexuality, instead rehashing old ideas and concepts, reinterpreting them and trying to fit scientific concepts onto religious views and government policies.  Safismo was mentioned, but only to define homosexual between two women, a practice distinct from same-sex activities between two men.  Gregorio Marañón would be the greatest influencer in this period up until the start of the Civil War.

In August 1901, Carmen de Burgos left her husband; she took her daughter María de los Dolores Ramona Isabel Álvarez de Burgos, who was born in 1895, to live in Madrid. Her early time in the city was spent in the home of her uncle Senator Agustín de Burgos y Cañizares. After disagreements with him, she moved out. By 1903, de Burgos would become the first recognized female journalist in Spain, working for the Madrid based Diario Universal. Writing as a columnist, she campaigned for a number of feminist issues, including the legalization of divorce. She left Madrid in 1905, traveling to France, Italy and Monaco to study how the educational systems worked in those countries.

Before same-sex marriage became legal in Spain, a pair of women engaged engineered a solution to marry, in what was likely Spain’s second same-sex marriage after that of Elena de Céspedes and María del Caño around 1570. Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Gracias Ibeas’s story is much more widely known and credited as the first such marriage after they were wed before relatives at the San Jorge church in Dumbría, A Coruña on 8 June 1901 after Elisa presented herself as a cousin of Elisa named Mario, was baptized under that name, and later that day married his pregnant bride Marcela.  Elisa and Marcela first met at the Escuela Normal de Maestras in 1885. Marcela’s family disapproved strongly of the relationship, and briefly sent her to live in Madrid in an attempt to separate the pair.  They would be reunited later after having given teaching positions in Galicia within walking distance of each other, and picked up their relationship where it had been left off.  Following their marriage, couple subsequently had their deceit discovered by neighbors and were repudiated by their families who were unaware of the Elisa’s transformation into Mario.  The pair then fled to Porto, Portugal where Marcela gave birth to a baby girl named María Enriqueta and the couple were then arrested based on a warrant from Spain. Seeking to avoid prison, in 1902 they then separately fled to Buenos Aires, Argentina via ship possibly via the port of Cádiz in southern Spain where details of their activities are largely lost to the annals of history.  Marcela changed her name in Argentina, going by the name of Carmen, and took up work cleaning houses and doing sewing work.  Elisa appears to have abandoned Marcela soon after arriving, attempting to marry an older, wealthy Danish man named Christian Jensen before those plans fell through after he accused her of fraud in trying to marry him after he learned of Elisa’s marriage to Marcela. In 1909, Elisa died in Veracruz, Argentina after committing suicide.  What happened to Marcela after that is largely lost to history. Her daughter would go on to marry, have ten children and then run away in 1941 to never be heard from again. Despite the sad end to the couple’s relationship, their marriage survived this history though, still listed as valid in the parish register in 2011.  The couple’s story in Spain was not well known until after it was made into a movie, in part because the couple were women as male homosexuals at that time and in the period that followed were much more widely recognized and discussed in the media.

Despite the frequency of cultural interactions between Spaniards and Germans in this period, Spaniards never developed a homosexual rights movement similar to the one taking place in Germany.  Homosexuality remained a taboo subject.  The first homosexual rights organization, founded and supported by men, would not come into existence until 1932 with the name Liga española por la reforma sexual.  Compared to their European peers across the continent, Liga española por la reforma sexual was fundamentally socially conservative and did not look to challenge the powers of the day.

While there was no active homosexual rights movement in Spain, there were occasionally homosexual rights activists, primarily men, who spoke out on the need for increased protections by the state. In 1904, one such activist, a military pharmacist, novelist and journalist named José María Llanas Aguilaniedo, spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage in an article titled “Matrimonios entre mujeres” in the Madrid newspaper Nuestro Tiempo. In the article, he asked, “Can it be inferred from here that society should officially look with indulgence -and nowadays does not sanction them- these homosexual couples?”[3]  He goes on to say, “The molecule, the true social element, are as closed in this case as in ordinary marriage, because there is love in the couple, there is help and support, a place of repair for the struggle and perfect satisfaction of the instinct, the only one desired.”[4]  His use of molecules in this context inverts the normal usage, which suggested free floating molecules were degenerate things, unnaturally separated from the whole.  This makes his proposal for marriage equality inclusive of both gay men and lesbians both revolutionary from a societal perspective and from a literary perspective.

Caterina Albert i Paradís, better known by her pen name Víctor Català, is a Spanish and Catalan writer who was a member of the Modernisme movement in Spain, earning the Jocs Florals in 1898. In 1907, Català published a short lesbian coming-of-age story, one of the first of its kind in Spain and the first of its kind in Catalan literature. Carnestoltes, published in a compilation of storied called Caires vius, was the story of love between two women, a woman and her female servant prevented from happening because of death. She used male names in writing to preserve her own freedom and to be considered a legitimate writer. She never married or had children. While her body of work suggests she likely was a lesbian, little evidence of this exists as Català was a very private individual.

In 1908, a manual published in Spain described a lesbian as “an active, courageous, creative type, of fairly determined temperament, not too emotional; lover of life outdoors, science, politics or even business; good organizer and pleased with positions of responsibility …. Her body is perfectly feminine, although her inner nature is largely masculine.”

Dr. L. Crocq published a medical journal article in Belgium’s Le Progrés Medical Belge that was reviewed by Revista de especialidades médicas in 1908 that said there were two types of lesbians.  The first were the invertidas verdaderas or true inverts also known as bolleras pata negra and lesbians who are viciosas, that is women who chose to have sex with other women to annoy and offend people; the second type were not lesbians so much as heterosexuals engaging in deliberately destructive behavior.

Zezé by Ángeles Vicente, published in 1909 in Madrid, was the first Spanish novel to deal extensively with lesbianism. It was also among the first of its kind in both Europe and the Americas. The author had spent much of her life in Argentina, only returning to the country of her birth when she was 28 years old. A coming-of-age novel, most of the action takes place in Madrid, though the plot revolves around a trip between Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Zezé was rescued from oblivion in 2005 by Ena Bordonada and is now considered one of the founding milestones of gay literature in Spain.

Carmen de Burgos , journalist, feminist and women’s rights activist, arrived in Malaga in August 1909, ahead of her planned trip to Melilla to cover the war Spain was participating in near the city in the Rif. Her reporting was commissioned by El Heraldo de Madrid. de Burgos arrived in Melilla aboard the steamer El Siglo or Cabo Nao, reports conflict as to which ship exactly she used, on 24 August 1909 having departed from Málaga. She was in the city to cover Spanish war efforts in the Rif for El Heraldo de Madrid, making her the first newspaper war correspondent in the world.

On 8 March 1910, Alfonso XIII authorized some of the most important legislation for women in the history of Spain when he issued a Royal Order that allowed women access to higher education.

Lucía Sánchez Saornil was a published poet by 1913, with her first poem Nieve being published in Avante, a weekly newspaper based in Ciudad Rodrigo.

In 1915, the erotic comedy novel La Coquito was published in Madrid.  The work was by male author Joaquín Belda and featured a lesbian love storyline. It was another example of the typical popular depictions of lesbians in that period.

By the late 1910s and early 1920s, middle class and upper-class lesbians had begun to form their own intellectual circles for socialization, both in Madrid and in Barcelona. The Madrid group included Carmen Conde, Victorina Durán, Irene Polo and Lucía Sánchez Saornil.  The Barcelona group included Ana María Martínez Sagi and Carmen Tórtola Valencia.

Círculo Sáfico de Madrid came into existence around 1916, existed during the 1920s and came to an end around the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Victorina Durán was the primary organizer and leader of the group. The founding of the group may have been inspired by similar ones that were already in existence in London and Paris. While the word lesbiana had entered the Spanish language by 1870 and was interchangeable with “sáfica” y “sadismo”, it was not a word that lesbians in this period in Madrid could safely use in Madrid society to describe themselves. Hence, the word Sapphic was used instead; it gave credibility because it drew on the historical works of a well-known Greek writer.

The group came out of feminist circles in the city, specifically Residencia de Señoritas and Lyceum Club Femenino. The name of the group was chosen by its founder, Victorina Durán, to denote it as a network of intellectual women. It played an important social and cultural role for members of a minority group. Despite the group having a name, members did not have any nickname for themselves, nor did they view themselves as part of a dissident culture. Instead, members viewed themselves as intellectuals and women who just happened to be united by their interest in women. Their network enabled them to navigate the complexities of living in a modern city.

Members of the group lived in Madrid. Active members of the Círculo Sáfico de Madrid included Victorina Durán, Elena Fortún, Rosa Chacel, Victoria Kent, Matilde Calvo, Margarita Ruiz de Lihory y Resino, Margarita Xirgu, Marisa Roësset Velasco, Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Carmen Conde, Irene Polo, Carmen de Burgos, Consuelo Berges, Gabriela Mistral, María de Maeztu, Marisa Roesset Velasco and Matilde Ras.

Many members held or would later hold high level positions in Spanish society. Victoria Kent would be one of the first of three women in the Congreso de Diputados and be appointed the director general of prisons in the Second Republic, Matilde Calvo was a teacher at the Escuela del Hogar de Mujeres, and Victorina Durán was the cátedra of indumentaria at the Real Conservatorio de Música y Declamación de Madrid. Most of the members were heavily closeted, with their relationships only being known after they went into exile following the end of the Spanish Civil War or following their deaths. Victoria Kent said and wrote little on the topic. Founder Victorina Duran being so publicly out was a rarity for its time. Relationships existed between members, who either met through the group, similar feminist groups or through publishing. One such relationship was between Matilde Ras and Elena Fortún.

The group took some efforts to hide their existence because of society at the time, and self-censorship. Later, their stories were ignored because of the general erasure of lesbians in later periods and because of likely destruction of primary source materials by the women at the end their lives or by family members following their death. Three works by members of the group detail its existence firsthand during its latter stages, namely Así es by Victorina Durán written between 1970 and 1980, Acrópolis by Rosa Chacel published in 1984 and Oculto sendero by Elena Fortún which circulated underground for many years before being published in 2016.

Self-censoring and a desire to be silent because of internalized misogyny meaning women viewed themselves as less valuable play a role in lack of larger amounts of documentary evidence about the group. This is something that both Durán and Chacel lamented in their own writing, even as they sometimes engaged in it themselves. Durán said of this in Así es, “Men, not many, have already faced the world regarding their problems. The woman has said nothing yet.”[5] El pensionado de Santa Casilda and Oculto sendero by Elena Fortún were both almost burned twice at the request of the author before her death.

Teatro Juan Bravo, in Segovia had a live production of Tiro la Molina’s work El vergonzoso en palacio in 1919. The work focused on female sexual typology, with one of the three main female protagonists in the comedy being a latent lesbian and was written in the early 17th century. The work still being presented demonstrates a carry over of earlier views on female homosexuality still being spread in Spain and exposure of these ideas in more rural locations in Spain; the concept of female homosexuality even in the abstract was not just confined to Spain’s big cities.

The lives of individual lesbians continued on in this complicated period, bringing up their own problems that needed addressing regardless of the woman’s orientation. Elena Fortún’s son Manuel died in 1920. Two years later, Fortún was offered a lifeline to her deep depression where her husband was posted to Tenerife. The 1922 move also allowed her to be close to her good friend and Tenerife native Mercedes Hernández, who had provided her a large amount of emotional support following the death of her son. Fortún lived there for two years with her husband and oldest son. There, she was given the sense of family she had never experienced herself, and, with it, a great deal of inspiration for her Celia stories. A major downside was that her son Luis lost vision in one eye as a result of a shotgun accident while in Tenerife.

In 1920, problems with the monarchy would become untenable with the Rif War starting between the Berber tribes of the Rif mountains in modern day Morocco and the colonial Spanish government.  This too would fuel protest and unrest across Spain.  It was initially supported by the monarchy and a faction of Spain’s military as a way of trying to reclaim Spain’s lost colonial prestige in 1898. Alfonso XIII ended up getting the blame by the Cortes in 1922 for the Battle of Annual in 1921 that saw Spain have one of its worst military defeats in its history while the King played golf in France.

Spanish society was aware of lesbians in their society in the period between the Rif War and the Civil War. The marriage between Elisa and Marcela had been widely read across the peninsula, and because of the medicalization and pathologizing of homosexuality thanks to the works of doctors like Gregorio Marañon. Still, lesbian remained a dirty word.

The Catholic Church continued to play an outsized role in defining people’s attitudes around homosexuality.  Many of Spain’s more affluent lesbians and gays immigrated to Paris, and a climate they viewed as less repressive and more accepting.

The Spanish left was often equally intolerant of homosexuality as the Spanish right.  Their rationale for condemning same-sex sexual relations stemmed from what they saw as overly decadent and sexually immoral and hypocritical behavior of the Spanish court and upper classes, and hypocrisy on the part of the Catholic Church who they viewed as sheltering and facilitating homosexual relations inside convents and monasteries.

The medical establishment too turned against homosexuality, with new prevailing attitudes considering such desires to be a form of mental illness.   This view by the doctors of lesbian love shifted from non-sexual lesbian love between women being an idealized part of the cultural imagination of the closeness between women to a perversion and mental illness.  This view would then be adopted by broader society.

Lesbians were sometimes mentioned in sexology publications of the era. In one, they were described as “congenital inverts”.  A second described them as “pseudoinvestidas”, suggesting they would have been heterosexuals had they not been lured into inversion by others. Another from the period said lesbians could not be women, because women existed only for reproductive purposes, making women to binaries paired with men, which excluded the possibility of lesbians as such relationships lacked reproductive purposes.

Criminologists at the time also supported this view, viewing homosexuals as being innately guilty of crimes because of their degenerate desires.  This view though appeared to apply mostly to women because they were viewed as unnaturally trying to be men.

Broader society, in listening to many of these voices, often blamed parents for their daughters becoming lesbians.  The belief was parents failed to be adequate role models and failed to provide daughters with the right type of education.

Lesbians in the 1920s and 1930s risked ruptures with their families if their relationships were discovered. Families would offer the choice of ending any suspected relationship or being cut off from the family; for many lesbians in the 1920s, this wasn’t a real choice as few could support themselves. Despite this, some lesbians like Victorina Durán were able to carry on affairs, including ones that were casual, physical relationships.

Influenced by the creation of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud in Vienna, many Spanish medical practitioners of the day believed that curing homosexuality was possible.  Despite a later paper in 1920 by Freud titled “The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman” that said female homosexuality could not be cured, Spanish doctors made attempts anyway.  The included chemical and surgical approaches.  Women were given hormone treatments.  Others were then given chemicals designed to decrease their sexual libidos.  When this failed, some women were subjected to shock therapy.  In more extreme cases, medical doctors attempted to cure lesbianism by removing a woman’s uterus or ovaries.  In a few documented cases, lesbians had lobotomies performed on them to try to cure them of homosexuality.  Consequently, many Spanish lesbians, out of a need to protect themselves, went into states of deep denial.

The Valencian language continued to evolve its language around lesbians even if Spanish appears to have stagnated some. The Valencian language phrase Aficionada a les del seu sexe, meaning “fond of her sex” was first recorded in reference to lesbians in Bulbena Tosell’s 1921 work Flora pornogràfica francesa: suplement al argot francès.

The Valencian word Bagassa was first documented being used in Antoni Bulbena Tosell’s 1921 Flora pornogràfica francesa: suplement al argot francès.  The word was slang for prostitute, while referring to female-female sex.  Bagassa’s usage would fall out of favor, being used only in Catalan in Catalonia by the late 2010s, with a definition of very sexually promiscuous lesbian.

Llepaire, meaning in English a woman who performs cunninglus, was in use in the Valencian language by 1921, appearing in Antoni Bulbena Tosell’s Flora pornogràfica francesa: suplement al argot francès.  It is a notable exception in the Valencian language in that it did not refer to lesbians using a gender-based definition.

The most well-known LGBT figures during the Spanish Restoration were gay men.  These included Emilio Castelar, José Lázaro Galdiano, Álvaro Retana, Miguel de Molina, Federico García Lorca, Luis Cernuda and Alfonso Hernández Catá.  On the literary scene, there were few lesbians. Lesbian writers in this period were often erased in multiple ways as part of a broader issue of women’s erasure in society. They were often forced to use male pen names to be published or had to remove female characters from stories.  In order to get published, women suspected of being lesbians were often forced to remove female characters from their work or to publish using male nome de plumes. Ultramodern avant-garde aesthetic writer Lucía Sánchez Saornil was the only visible lesbian writer, and she did not begin publishing until 1919. Sánchez Saornil’s lesbian themed work demonstrated both nationally and internationally that Spanish society was backward in its thinking and out of touch compared to the rest of Europe.

Primo de Rivera successfully came to power in 1923 following a coup d’etat in Madrid which forced Alfonso XIII to abdicate.

Anarchist movements often had strong historical ties to gay and lesbian communities across Europe dating back to the late 1890s in places like Germany and Ireland.  The explicit queer anarchist movement was created in parallel to this movement, with a goal of using social revolution and anarchism to combat homophobia, heterosexism, patriarchy and sexism.  In this early period, it was mostly led by affluent or educated gay men, with the notable exception of Emma Goldman in the United States.  It would not be until the 1930s, with the freedoms of the Second Spanish Republic, that queer anarchism would gain traction in Spain, and like the USA be led by a woman, Lucía Sánchez Saornil in Spain and Emma Goldman in the United States.

The War of the Rif went from bad to worse, and Spanish troops began to mutiny by early 1923, refusing to disembark in Morocco and later refusing to even embark on boats for Morocco. Miguel Primo de Rivera successfully came to power on 13 September 1923 following a coup d’etat in Madrid as a result of military opposition to the war with support of Alfonso XIII, and he would remain in power until 1930.  Primo de Rivera established a military dictatorship and would retain absolute power until 1925, following which he allowed civilian involvement in government.  Repression, traditional patriarchy, censorship and lack of universal suffrage were the rule of the day.

A lesbian subculture was in place by the start of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship. Lesbians tended to be divided into one of two groups, flappers imitated Carlota, from the novel Sab or butch lesbians with mannish manners. The flapper subset identified as European women, often worked outside the home where the found a degree of personal freedom, and were portrayed by outsiders as being almost Grecian in appearance. Because of their comportment with gender norms of the day, this group of lesbians faced much less societal degeneration as they were largely indistinguishable from their heterosexual peers. Butch lesbians were often associated with cigar smoking, alcohol consumption and imitating male behavior.

Carmen de Burgos, born on 10 December 1867 in Rodalquilar, Almeria, would become one of Spain’s most important pre-Second Republic feminists even if she despised the term, and played an important role in the Silver Age of Spanish literature.  In 1901, she fled an abusive marriage that she had entered into as a 16-year-old, took her daughter with her and settled in Madrid where she eventually started writing for important newspapers of the day including ABC, El País, El Globo, Diario Universal and El Heraldo de Madrid.  While she often wrote about women’s topics in this period, she did so with a social conscience and would later fight for them.  She would also be the first war correspondent in Europe to go to Morocco to cover the Rif War.  In 1927, de Burgos published La mujer moderna y sus derechos, one of the most important feminist works of the era.  She died on 9 October 1932 at a meeting of the Círculo Radical Socialista supporting her Republican causes.  While later being relatively open about being a lesbian, it was tolerated as a decadent vice and she kept this part of her life relatively discrete, though de Burgos was linked romantically with fellow feminist and Portuguese suffragette Ana de Castro Osório.

The Rif War and Primo de Rivera period of 1920s Spain were not liberating ones for women in general as Spain continued to be culturally Roman Catholic, including accepting the repressive Catholic gender norms of the time.  These gender norms meant women were socially discriminated against in almost all parts of daily life and had view rights of their own.  The law meant women were essentially wards of their male family members, with women being unable to freely choose their spouse nor being able to divorce.

Women in general in the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera were influenced by cultural movements taking place in other countries.  This included by Anglo-Saxon flappers and the French garçonnes, who helped redefine Spanish womanhood, femininity and masculinity.  Both these countries had been involved in World War I, a war which required women to forgo traditional gender roles in order to support war efforts.  The end of the World War I saw both countries attempt to return to normalcy of the earlier period, including gender norms that demanded femininity of women.  Spain’s women were repurposing new trends emerging from these movements for their own domestic needs.

A lesbian subculture was in place by the start of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship. Lesbians tended to be divided into one of two groups, flappers imitated Carlota, from the novel Sab or butch lesbians with mannish manners.  The flapper subset identified as European women, often worked outside the home where the found a degree of personal freedom, and were portrayed by outsiders as being almost Grecian in appearance.  Because of their comportment with gender norms of the day, this group of lesbians faced much less societal degeneration as they were largely indistinguishable from their heterosexual peers.  Butch lesbians were often associated with cigar smoking, alcohol consumption and imitating male behavior.

A women’s fashion change took place in the 1920s and 1930s, echoing a shift in broader Western society that saw women wearing styles more traditionally associated with masculinity of an earlier period.  Some clothing among middle- and upper-class women was more lose, allowing greater movement.  For all women, fashion began to embrace more straight lines and rectangle shapes. This shift gave lesbians of the day more freedom to express themselves through their clothes and to challenge gender norms of the day through their dress.

Both lesbians and feminists in this period were linked as many male cultural, civic, medical and military leaders saw the two as intrinsically linked and not separable.  Both groups challenged patriarchy by challenging women’s gender roles and supporting activities like women’s involvement in sport.  People promoting this theory included prominent medical doctor Gregorio Marañón.

The Lyceum Club Femenino de Madrid was founded in 1926 by María de Maeztu as a place where women could meet, socialize, express opinions, engage in activism and start to mobilize for the broader rights of women. It was modeled after the Lyceum Club founded in London in 1903. The organization would soon attract some of the most prominent lesbians of the period, of the Second Republic and Spanish Civil War.  These women included Margarita Xirgu, Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Irene Polo, Elena Fortún and Carmen de Burgos.  The Lyceum Club faced opposition from many on the right including the Catholic Church and Falangists, along with left leaning male intellectuals.  Lesbians in the club often presented themselves to society as heterosexuals to avoid discrimination, repression and imprisonment for their orientations.  There were a few women who defied this, including Lucía Sánchez Saornil and Irene Polo who were both visibly out lesbians in this period. The club was a place where members of the Circulo Safico would meet friends and lovers, and to have flirtations. Lesbians though were not always welcome by club members with Federica Montseny explicitly denouncing their participation and Carmen Baroja rejecting it. Members of the Circle were viewed by some members of the Lyceum as being too masculine.

In the mid-1920s and early 1930s, Círculo Sáfico de Madrid included Marisa Roësset, Victoria Kent, Carmen de Burgos, Irene Polo, Carmen Conde, Matilde Ras and Elena Fortún.

Slowly, Spanish language dictionaries began to acknowledge the existence of lesbians, Tortillera, having been in use since before 1831, was finally included in the Diccionario de la lengua española in 1927.

Medical doctors were still discussing homosexuality and its causes in newspapers in 1928, with Luis Astrana Marín saying in La Libertad that children became homosexuals either when they were around 5 years old or when they entered in their teenage years.  Girls could develop an Oedipus complex, making them turn into lesbians.  Teenage girls turn into lesbians because they are not rewarded by fathers and male teachers in their life with proper attention.

The criminalization of same-sex sexual acts occurred again in Spain, with the introduction of the 1928 Penal Code, Article 616, Paragraph X after having been absent since 1822.  Applying to both men and women, it read “Those who routinely or with scandal, commit acts contrary to modesty with persons of the same sex, will be punished with a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 pesetas and special disqualification for public office from six to twelve years.”[6] Lesbians were explicitly dealt with in Article 613 that said, “In cases of crimes of indecency without publicity or scandal among the females, the denunciation of one of them would have been enough, but if carried out with advertising or produced scandal, by any person. For cases committed by men we will proceed automatically.”  Article 601 resulted in two to twelve years in prison for people engaging in dishonest abuses of people of the same sex. The punishments for these acts, not homosexuality as understood as a sexual orientation, largely meant that rich, affluent male and female homosexuals could avoid prison by paying a fine while poor homosexuals were forced to serve prison sentences.  This practice of unequal treatment of lesbians and gay men based on societal status mirrored earlier patterns of tolerance towards homosexuality in Spain. The law would remain on the books for only four years, and came about as a result of Miguel Primo de Rivera’s disgust towards homosexuals in the Spanish military.  In making the practice illegal in the Spain’s criminal code, Primo de Rivera sought justification in Spain’s Roman Catholic past, in the period right after Reconquista and during the Inquisition where homosexuals were punished by both civil and religious authorities.  Despite these new laws, few people were ever brought to trial as understanding of homosexuality in this period was changing as a result of prominent medical practitioners like Gregorio Marañón, who believed homosexuals had a form of mental illness.

Victoria Kent, born in 1898, was one of a number of highly visible women in this 1920s and early 1930s.  In 1924, she became the first woman in Spain to join the Colegio de Abogados de Madrid and second woman in Spain to become a lawyer.   Two years later Kent was appointed vice president of the Lyceum Club Femenino de Madrid. Kent also became the first woman in the world to represent someone, Alvaro de Albornoz, before a military tribunal after he was charged in 1930 with treason by the Supreme Court of War and Navy. In 1931, she became one of three women elected to the first Congreso de Diputados in the Second Republic. Kent gained fame in the drafting of the constitution for her opposition to women’s suffrage through her public battled in the Congreso with Clara Campoamor who supported universal suffrage. Kent’s status as a lesbian would not become well known until well after the Spanish Civil War. In the 1950s, Kent became involved with multimillionaire American woman named Louise Crane. The couple worked together on the Spanish intellectual exile magazine Ibérica: por La Libertad between 1954 and 1974. The magazine was one of the most important publications among Spanish moderates living in exile.  It served to pressure the US Government to end its ties to Franco, even as the US sought to strengthen to combat the perceived communist threat. The couple only moved in together in 1974 following the death of Crane’s mother and the closure of Ibérica.  Kent died in New York on 25 September 1987.

Radcylffe Hall’s 1928 book The Well of Loneliness was read by some middle- and upper-class lesbians in Spain during the late 1920s and the Spanish Second Republic period. The book would be influential, with writers like Victorina Duran using it as inspiration for their own work and trying to meet with Hall when they traveled to Paris or London.

Elena Fortún, born in Madrid on 17 November 1886 with the name María de la Encarnación Gertrudis Jacoba Aragoneses y de Urquijo, was another prominent woman in the 1920s.  Known in this period for her vividly written children’s stories that were first published in 1929, her work would later play the same role for many Spanish children as Richmal Crompton, Mark Twain or Roald Dahl did for British and American kids.

Fortún had an unhappy childhood and never managed to fit in.  As a young child, she knew that she never wanted to marry and never wanted to bound herself forever to a man; she wanted the ability to make her own decisions without male interference. Despite these beliefs, in 1908 she married a cousin, a playwright and member of the Generation of 1914, with whom she went on to have two children.  It was her husband her encouraged her to take up writing.  In this period and later in the Second Republic and Civil War periods, she remained Republican sympathetic but largely apolitical, allowing her to later avoid imprisonment by the regime.  Around 1935, Fortún became involved with Matilde Ras.  In 1950s, her lesbian novel Oculto sendero would quietly begin to circulate inside Spain among the country’s lesbian and would not be officially published until after her death.

Ana María Martínez Sagi was a Catalan poet, feminist, sportswoman, journalist and trade unionist. She was also the first woman to be a member of the board of Fútbol Club Barcelona. As a journalist, she was one of the most important of the Second Republic. The great love of her life was Elisabeth Mulder Pierluisi, another Spanish writer. Their families kept them apart to prevent scandal. In 1929, she published her first book of poetry, with poems that expressed disgust at the idea of sex with men. One of her poems would be dedicated to Mulder. At Easter time in 1932, the women went holiday together in Alcudia, Mallorca.

The Primo de Rivera period began its decline in 1928.  The dictator suffered diabetes, which he had difficulty controlling and would eventually play a role in his death after leaving power.  After coming to power, Primo de Rivera had also failed to establish a new regime with a clear support base.  This created a situation where he found internal opposition to his rule inside the army, where his regime had to deal with numerous conspiracies and plots challenging his leadership.  His 1923 promises to the public of only being a temporary leader to implement change had become obvious lies by 1928, and he had lost support of trade unions, intellectuals and nationalist elements.  Primo de Rivera faced an attempted coup from the right and José Sánchez Guerra in January 1929.  At the same time, the left and Republicans were becoming much more organized starting in 1926, beginning to form much more workable and viable alliances by 1929. By the end of December, even as he tried to strengthen his military position, Primo de Rivera fully understood his grasp on power was collapsing and his health was in a bad way; he presented Rey Alfonso XIII with a leadership transition plan that included an assembly of 250 senators and 250 deputies. Alfonso XIII soon appointed General Dámaso Berenguer head of government. and Primo de Rivera resigned.  The Second Republic period was then imminently ushed in.

[1] Valencian: “Una chicota homenenca, que de la afisió tan gran que sempre ha tengut a fer totes les faenes dels homens li tragueren mich-home” “li digué a sa mare: Mare, fásam uns sarahuells”. 

[2] Valencian: May s ́ham volgut casar en nengún perro de home, per més que mos haveren vengut cagant dobletes d’or, perque tots son un hato de gosos malfaeners

[3] Spanish:¿Se podrá inferir de aquí que la sociedad haya de mirar oficialmente con indulgencia –ya que hoy por hoy no las sancione– estas parejas homosexuales?

[4] Spanish: La molécula, el verdadero elemento social, quedan tan cerrados en este caso como en el matrimonio corriente, pues hay en la pareja amor, hay ayuda y sostén, lugar de reparo para la lucha y satisfacción perfecta del instinto, la única apetecida.

[5] Spanish: Los hombres, no muchos, han dado ya la cara ante el mundo respecto a su problema. La mujer nada ha dicho aún.

[6] Spanish: Artículo 616. El que, habitualmente o con escándalo, cometiere actos contrarios al pudor con personas del mismo sexo, será castigadio con multa de 1.000 a 10.000 pésetas e inhabilitación especial pará cargos públicos de seis a doce años.

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