If you’re taking a trip to the 19th century and thinking about Latin American independence movements, there might be a particular stereotypical image that comes to mind. Valiant soldiers on horses, politicians in stuffy 19th century attire, and those hairstyles which I think can only be described as hairy. You might not be thinking about the role that women played in the fight for independence, but you should. They were just as proud to join their fellow male compatriots on horseback and were often the brains behind political decisions. Here’s how these nine inspirational mujeres played critical roles as Latin American libertadoras.
If it weren’t for this libertadora, Simon Bolivar may have never become “El Libertador.” By thwarting an assassination attempt against him and serving as a trusted advisor, she was just as critical a figure in the fight for Gran Colombia’s independence. After her death in 1856, she was buried in a mass grave, but more recently has been honored as a true heroine. She received an official burial in 2010, images of her on horseback have become a symbol of the importance of women in South American history, and there is a museum dedicated to her in Quito.
Wife of the first Emperor of Brazil, Pedro of Braganza, Maria Leopoldina actually played a bigger role than her husband did in freeing the country of its imperial ties. It was only after she wrote a letter of demands to Lisbon in 1822 when Emperor Pedro declared Brazil’s independence. She wasn’t afraid to stand up to Pedro’s infidelity either—when he requested her attendance at a military reception in Uruguay alongside his mistress, she had no hesitation in declining.
Luisa Caceres de Arismendi
A fierce Venezuelan patriot, Luisa Caceres held strongly onto her ideals and love for her homeland. Her family fought alongside Simon Bolivar, and although she was ultimately captured by Spanish forces, she refused to pledge her loyalty to the Spanish crown or denounce her involvement in the Venezuelan liberation movement. She was the first woman to be buried in the Panteon Nacional in Venezuela, she has a university in Caracas named after her, and is featured on the 20 bolivar note of Venezuela’s new currency. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the first woman to join the likes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the U.S…
Salomé Ureña de Henríquez
Our fave Dominican feminist, Salomé was instrumental in the creation of a national Dominican identity at the time of independence through her descriptive poetry of the country’s landscape. A scholar and educator, she not only opened the first schools for women in the Dominican Republic, but was also often the voice behind her husband’s policies.
Juana Azurduy de Padilla
This Bolivian revolutionary was quite the badass. Although she joined a convent, it seemed that being a revolutionary was more her jam since she was expelled at age 17. As a mestizo, she spoke Quechua and Aymara in addition to Spanish, with a commitment to securing a place for indigenous populations in Latin America’s future. Her guerilla warfare tactics and inclusion of women in active duty was instrumental in securing independence for the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata (parts of modern day Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay). While initially forgotten after the battles for independence, modern day leaders are making up for lost time. In Buenos Aires, a statue of her has replaced one of Christopher Columbus. The Azurduy province in Bolivia is also named after her.
María Dolores Bedoya
A vocal supporter of liberation in Central America, Guatemalan native Maria Dolores Bedoya was a staunch independentista. Though she risked shame on her family for her radical ideals and involvement in politics as a woman, that’s how she ultimately made her mark in #herstory. Parades throughout Central America still celebrate Bedoya’s legacy with lanterns—commemorating how she rallied the troops on the eve of September 14 prior to Guatemala City’s announcement of independence from Spain on September 15, 1821.
Born around 1750, the oldest and perhaps más chingona lady on our list is Bartolina Sisa. While not part of the many liberation movements that began in the early 19th century, she was actually an indigenous Aymara woman who fought against Spanish colonization at its inception. She led an army of 40,000 people in La Paz Bolivia against the invading Spaniards. If you want some perspective, George Washington’s army measured a (mere) 27,000 at it’s height. Although her legacy lives on through the celebration of the International Day of Indigenous Woman every September, it took the world 201 years to first recognize her accomplishments in 1983 after she was assassinated in 1792.
Also known as “La Pola,” this lady is Colombia’s favorite libertadora. In 1817, Policarpa snuck into Spanish stronghold Bogota from the countryside using fake documents to join revolutionary forces. An outsider at a time when it was difficult to gain access to the Colombian capital, it was easy for La Pola to act as an unsuspecting spy and recruit forces to the revolutionary army. However, she was eventually caught for sequestering soldiers from the royal army—and ultimately executed. But her legacy lives on—“Day of the Colombian Woman” is celebrated in her honor every November 14, and she is featured on the 10,000 peso note.
Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez
This lady sped up Miguel Hidalgo’s call for independence in Mexico. She infiltrated the Spanish government through her husband who was the Corregidor (Mayor) of Queretaro. Under control of the Spaniards, the mayor was asked to conduct a search for the rebel independence leaders, and had to imprison his own wife in their home since she was conducting rebel meetings there. But she had already planned for this, and alerted her co-conspirators in the room next door by stomping her foot three times on the floor. The Mexican Revolution then began right away with the famous Grito de Dolores. How’s that for getting things done?