Hermila Galindo (1896–1954) was a pioneering Mexican feminist and revolutionary who advocated for women's rights while working as a speaker, writer, and publisher. Galindo cofounded a feminist magazine and authored an incendiary speech for Mexico's first feminist congress. She eventually retired from activism to marry and raise a family, but she lived to see Mexico grant women full citizenship and the right to vote.
Considered extremely radical in her day, pioneering Mexican writer and activist Hermila Galindo advocated for the equal rights of women in both the personal and political spheres. She was born in Lerdo, a small city in the state of Durango, Mexico, on May 29, 1896. Raised by her father, Rosario Galindo, and a paternal aunt after her mother, Hermila Acosta, died, Galindo was part of a growing minority of Mexican women who were educated and chose to work outside the home. She studied at several schools to learn professional skills such as accounting, typing, shorthand, and languages. Although her father planned to send her to the United States to study chemistry, he died well before they could realize that dream. In 1909, at age 13, Galindo went to work as a teacher to support herself and her aunt, while also attempting to continue her studies. Through groups that met to learn revolutionary politics, host speakers, and produce and distribute pamphlets extolling revolutionary ideas, she met local activists and was inspired to join the fight to change Mexico's government. Galindo worked as a tutor in several neighboring communities, and she taught children basic skills, she was also coaching them in revolutionary ideas.
During the iron-fisted presidency of Porfirio Díaz, from 1887 to 1910, sweeping progress had been made in Mexico's infrastructure. Railroads, harbors, and cities modernized and flourished. While Mexico joined the modern world, it left behind much of its working poor, a large percent of its population. For many Mexicans, especially those in rural areas, life remained much the same, and illiteracy among the peasantry spread during Diaz's tenure. As the country's poorer citizens saw elites enjoying the fruits of modernization, resentments built, although most overt protests meant prison or death at the hands of landlords. At the same time, for the first time in Mexico's history, a small but growing minority of women like Galindo, who had benefitted from education and a middle-class upbringing, were applying for school and for jobs.
Throughout Mexico's turbulent history, under the rule of Spain and after independence, women were expected to confine their sphere of influence to marriage and childrearing. They were expected to be submissive within a culture defined by machismo (male dominance) and the standards of the Catholic Church. To be a revolutionary meant to fight for fair and just rule, with equal rights for rich and poor; to be a feminist also meant going against culture, tradition, and the institutional religion that supported both. While Galindo studied hard to get her professional education, she also recognized society's ills and took a stand against the way society and the Church actively oppressed and limited women.
In 1911, now age 15, Galindo moved to Mexico City, where she joined a liberal club and became one of its more articulate members. She was a gifted speaker, and on one occasion in 1914, made it a point to include a hearty welcome to a popular revolutionary politician, Venustiano Carranza (1859–1920), who had just arrived in Mexico City. Carranza was so impressed with her presentation that he asked her to be his personal secretary. She agreed and soon became one of his traveling representatives as well, speaking for him in Cuba and Colombia.
While Galindo worked tirelessly for him as his personal secretary and representative, she also used her job to promote feminist thought, joining others to publish the magazine La Mujer Moderna (“The Modern Woman”) between 1915 and 1919. Elected president after the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz, Carranza in turn supported Galindo's feminist positions, and he also allowed her to speak before the Constitutional Congress of 1916–17 and to present her proposal for advancing women's political rights. That the (male) delegates present were not interested in her agenda was a profound disappointment for Galindo. She had been sure that the revolution would naturally include women's rights.
In January 1916, Mexican women held their first feminist conference, which Galindo was not able to attend. She did, however, send a paper to be read by a friend, called “Women in the Future,” which proved incendiary. In it, Galindo proposed not just legal equality for women, but a wholesale rethinking of woman's place in the world and an end to the culture of machismo. The Catholic Church, she claimed, supported the culture of male domination and feminine subordination, thus maintaining an unhealthy status quo. She suggested that all girls in school receive sex education—instruction in anatomy, physiology, and hygiene—in order to be fully informed and in control of their bodies. Conservatives in the audience were shocked at these radical proposals, and one even shouted that Galindo's paper should be destroyed.
Despite the negative reaction, Galindo persevered. She and her feminist colleagues threw themselves into the effort to revise a law that essentially rescinded a woman's rights when she married. Despite now-president Carranza's hesitancy in advancing the promised social reforms he ran on, the women pressured him to issuing a law addressing their concerns in 1917. Galindo also decided to make a point by running for public office as a district deputy, a surprising move since running for elective office was illegal for women. She campaigned on the idea that women should be able to run for office, and she maintained that she did not expect to be elected. To her surprise, Galindo was elected in a landslide, although the local electoral commission prevented her from taking office. Rather than being the first woman elected to a local office in Mexico, she became the first to try.
Galindo was a tireless activist for social and feminist reform throughout a turbulent period in Mexican history, as the nation transitioned from an authoritarian realm to a republic in which society adopted meaningful reform. She was also a prolific journalist and editor, authoring five books on revolutionary topics as well as a biography of President Carranza, who shepherded Mexico during World War I and left office in 1920. As Carranza's regime faltered due to promises unkept and a climate of corruption, she turned her writing to promoting alternatives. Carranza fled the capital and was murdered (some say committed suicide) on May 1, 1920, leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by interim president Aldolfo de la Huerta and revolutionary general Álvaro Obregón.
After Carranza's regime ended, Galindo continued write and attended one more feminist conference before retiring from political activity. In 1923, she married Manuel de Topete, with whom she moved to the United States and raised two children. She received the Condecoración al Mérito in 1940, honoring her for her earliest revolutionary activities. Together with her family, she returned to Mexico City in later years, dying there on August 18, 1954. In the last years of her life, Galindo saw citizens’ rights granted in full to women, followed by the right to vote. She is remembered as a fearless revolutionary fighter, for Mexico and Mexican women.
Adams, Jerome, Liberators, Patriots and Leaders of Latin America: 32 Biographies, second edition, McFarland, 1991.
Mitchell, Stephanie, and Patience Schell The Women's Revolution in Mexico, 1910–1953, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.
Perez, Emma, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History, Indiana University Press, 1999.
El Siglo de Toreáon, March 14, 2014, José Jesus Vargas Garza, “Hermila Galindo Acosta.”