Women Out of Control
Powerful women—from the Virgin of Mercy to Teresa Claramunt—wielded various kinds of influence in early-twentieth-century Barcelona. Yet in a society in which apparitions of the Virgin Mary were worshiped, powerful women not under the control of men were generally suspect. It is hardly surprising, then, that prostitutes, who sometimes became leaders of resistance, and nuns, who ran almost all social service institutions in Barcelona, were much disparaged by adversaries. The virginity of the nuns and the sexuality of the prostitutes were equally problematic. Prostitutes who were not perceived as pliantly sensual came across as pathetic, and nuns who were not perceived as nobly selfless and self-effacing appeared malevolent: the popular range of female stereotypes allowed no other options.
While views of nuns and prostitutes might vary from one community to another, there was a remarkable consensus among men of all classes about poor, working women. An innocent female victim was, they agreed, an object of pity, especially if she was a virgin or a dedicated mother. But what about the woman who seemed to have chosen the streets over the sweatshops, or the one who struck back at her exploiter?
Although the cultural ideal among men, whatever their social rank, seems to have been the docile and submissive wife, daughter, or nun—or the sort of sexually submissive women Picasso often drew at this time—in fact, early-twentieth-century Barcelona was filled with remarkably strong, self-reliant women from all walks of life. There were the vendors at the flower market and the fruit peddlers; there were the
barmaids and the factory workers, the domestic servants, and the wealthy women who managed charities; there were the mothers superior who ran schools, prisons, and orphanages. And there were, as we shall see, the women of the poor neighborhoods who banded together to take matters into their own hands when their community was threatened by war. Flesh-and-blood women, ranging from nuns to procurers and prostitutes, made their own history, often in opposition to other women. The spectrum of possible female behavior in Barcelona circa 1900 was far more ample than the common representations of women would imply.
The left was no different from the elite or the avant-garde when it came to myopia about the range of women's activities: leftists were equally preoccupied with the image of poor women as victims whom men had to protect. For labor leaders, the symbol of the young virgin victimized by poverty helped legitimate the struggle for social justice. Leftist male culture in early-twentieth-century Barcelona never ceased to idealize purity, casting the dishonored female worker or the suffering poor mother as the secular equivalent of the Madonna.
The republican and leftist press frequently recounted stories about employers' victimization of working-class women. In 1908, for example, a radical newspaper printed an account of a sexually exploited working woman who lived with her mother and two brothers. At one point, during a strike, the family was suffering financial troubles; in the same time interval, the employer molested the woman and then offered her money. To avenge their sister's honor, the brothers murdered the employer. How the strike figured in the relationship between the woman and her employer, how the men came to find out that their sister had been abused, and what the woman herself did are not considered important to the story and are not reported. The moral of the story seems to be as much about poor men's family honor as about social justice or sexual harassment.
Bombing the Rambla of Flowers
In the city whose patron was the Virgin of Mercy, violence against citizens could be seen in sexual terms, especially if the victims were young, seemingly pure working women. If the maidenhood of the body politic was assaulted, it had to be ritually purified.
The whole city of Barcelona responded to an outrageous attack on September 3, 1905, when a bomb went off at the flower market along the Rambla at 1:20 that Sunday afternoon. Pedestrians filled the narrow promenade as female flower sellers pursued their most active trade of the week. The bomb, which evidence suggests was set by a police provocateur, exploded in an outdoor urinal behind Petxina Street just off the Rambla. People fell over one another in confusion, and blood ran in front of the Trillo watch shop, whose large sign, a local landmark, had shattered along with the store's windows. Among those gravely injured were the wife of an army colonel and his two daughters, several flower vendors, and other young women. The explosion wounded sixty and killed four.
The brutal attack on the most beautiful and widely frequented section of the city on a Sunday afternoon, when crowds were teeming in the streets, had a special pathos for the public because it caused the death of two poor, young, unmarried women—sisters out for a stroll with their cousin, who was wounded. Rosita Rafa, age nineteen, had lived with her sixteen-year-old sister, Josefa, and their mother in poverty in the Gothic Quarter. The mother, who went to the morgue to mourn one daughter, discovered there that the other was also dead.
The bombing was a direct result of the 1902 general strike and its repressive aftermath, even though it occurred three years later. Once forced underground, the labor movement had become increasingly infiltrated by police agents. In the spring and summer of 1905, bombs had been discovered before they exploded at the Palace of Justice and on fashionable Ferdinand Street, not far from the flower market. The police blamed "anarchists," although their failure to name specific suspects lent credence to rumors that they themselves or one of their informers was responsible. Anarcho-syndicalists charged that police and "shameless separatists" again seemed to be fanning the flames of terrorism in order to round up dissidents.
At the time, conflict between the anarcho-syndicalists and the Catalan nationalists was clearly on the rise. Supported by many leading industrialists, Catalan nationalism was gaining ground as a political movement in the early twentieth century. Blaming the anarcho-syndicalists for bombings dating back to the nineties, these nationalists wanted more police; but in the highly centralized Spanish monarchy, Barcelona lacked power to determine the size of the force. Viewing social disorder as the result of the monarchy's neglect (or even its active encouragement of terrorism, which would divide the Catalan people), Catalan nation-
alists argued that a measure of autonomy—at least the power to rule in their own area—would reduce the violence. Although there is no evidence that they themselves were promoting social disorder as a way of winning local and regional self-government from the monarchy, labor militants thought them suspect.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Catalan nationalists, led by the tall, frail Enric Prat de la Riba, were attempting to unite all local citizens, regardless of status, against the state centered in Madrid. In 1886, when Prat was a young man studying law, he and other students (among them Josep Puig i Cadafalch) had organized the Catalanist Scholars Center. A year later, in 1887, they broke with cultural Catalan nationalists and founded a group known as the Catalan League (Lliga de Catalunya), whose task was to wage political propaganda campaigns in support of Catalan political rights. This became the Catalan Union, which Prat directed. In 1897, the Catalan cultural magazine Renaixença (Renaissance, founded in 1881) collapsed, and two years later Prat participated in founding the influential Catalan nationalist newspaper Veu de Catalunya (Voice of Catalunya). He also helped organize the Regionalist League political party (Lliga Regionalista) in 1901, becoming one of its deputies to the Cortes. In 1907, he was elected president of the Regional Government of Barcelona, a largely ceremonial position, since the civil governor appointed by Madrid actually ruled the region.
The fear of civil unrest and the elite's sense that they could maintain control only if they could make their own laws, collect taxes regionally, and establish their own police force contributed to growing antagonism between the wealthiest industrialists and the national government, which otherwise they might have loved to support. In the words of historian Jordi Solé-Tura, Prat and his colleagues "were a basically reactionary class that played a revolutionary role in the Spanish context; a conservative and corporatist class that proposed to Europeanize, modernize, and liberalize the country." Although few in the working classes bought into the image of Catalan nationalists as protectors, the sense of violation that the nationalists felt because of the bombings quickly spread to the population of Barcelona as a whole.
Prat responded to the 1905 bombing on the Rambla as one would expect. Proclaiming Catalan nationalist leaders the "fathers" and rightful overseers of Barcelona, he argued that the Spanish state was deliberately promoting violence in the city. By limiting the number of police when Prat and other regionalists wanted the force increased above its
current manpower of 170, Madrid was, Prat claimed, nurturing the "criminal population."
Collective mourning at political funerals is a civic ritual that unites a community, enables it to reclaim sacred spaces, and permits it to cleanse itself of death. In Barcelona, pageants of mourning dated back at least to the bombing of Corpus Christi Day in 1896. During these funerals (which of course drew on the imagery of religious processions, such as the coronation of the Virgin of Mercy as patron of the city), contending forces attempted to place their own imprint on the civic community. In the case of the Rafa sisters' funeral, city officials controlled the overt political message; yet the female flower sellers presented their own views through a ceremonial act as well.
The funeral was arranged by officials of the municipality, acting in their roles as "city fathers." First they notified male relatives (not the mother) of the two slain girls that the city would organize and pay for the final rites. Then they turned the ceremony into a civic pageant, one that symbolically cleansed death from the city streets with the live bodies of demonstrators.
The cortege started from the morgue on Hospital Street, just behind the Rambla, and moved down the Rambla to the Columbus monument before proceeding back through the Parallel to the cemetery on the west side of Montjuich (see Appendix, map 3). Civic leaders led the procession, thus proclaiming that the city itself was the chief mourner. There was a mounted escort for the luxurious hearses that carried the girls, who had previously lain in state and on view at the hospital. Their heads crowned with flowers, they resembled Madonnas as they rested on fine white satin of the kind they had probably never even touched in life. The city officials and the girls' uncles followed the hearse; after them came the captain general and three other generals. The procession curled onto the Rambla, attracting crowds of poorly dressed, weeping women. The swelling cortege passed the black-draped stalls of the flower vendors, who had lined up as an honor guard for their slain sisters (figure 8). In so doing, they informally replicated a ritual the captain general had introduced into the 1893 Virgin of Mercy celebration and the 1896 Corpus Christi procession; thus the flower sellers reclaimed their space along the Rambla. Balconies above the street displayed black crepe, and closed shops bore signs such as one that said: "Closed due to the death of the innocent victims of a repugnant attack on the Rambla of Flowers. The city of Barcelona protests."
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Like the funeral after the 1896 Corpus Christi Day bombing, this one united the entire community, but it also had a specifically gendered meaning. If the women killed had been union activists and had died in a bombing, authorities might have held them responsible for their own deaths. If the young women had had known lovers, it is unlikely that they would have received the civic burial they did. Their deaths certainly would not have caused the same degree of outrage had they been prostitutes. Politically and sexually, the women had to be "innocent" victims. The wretchedness of the Rafa sisters' lives, together with their presumed virginity, made them appropriate symbols of transgression against the city; the authorities took advantage of this situation, Teresa Claramunt maintained, to justify a reign of terror against the anarcho-syndicalists.
Prostitutes and Barcelona's Working-Class Community
In fact, the bombing victims could easily have been prostitutes, since the Rambla, Ferdinand Street, and the Royal Plaza near the flower market were frequented by such women. Early-twentieth-century Barcelona had a reputation as one of Europe's major centers of vice. It teemed with streetwalkers and had more than its fair share of brothels, patronized by sailors from around the world. In 1912, 95 percent of Barcelona's prostitutes were from poor families, and 70 percent were under twenty-one. Judging by the number of prostitutes alone—some 10,000, out of a total population of 560,000 in 1912—one might expect that they would play a large role in any insurrectionary movement in downtown Barcelona—as they certainly did in 1909, in what would be called Tragic Week.
To be sure, most working women were often only a few weeks' wages away from prostitution, which was the only social security they had when joblessness hit. Many women became occasional, clandestine prostitutes: they neither registered (as all prostitutes were legally required to do), nor did they work exclusively in the profession. Among working women, domestic servants were particularly vulnerable, not only to fate as a prostitute, but also to sexual mistreatment. Maids discovered to have been raped or seduced by the men of the employer's family were often dismissed. Looking for work under such circum-
stances, they had few choices: they could move one step down and become servants in boarding houses or hotels, or they could join brothels.
When a woman employed in a factory or sweatshop was dismissed during the slack season, she, too, frequently turned to prostitution. As one late-nineteenth-century physician and social reformer described the situation: "The woman who is accustomed to earning her living by doing paid labor is proud to be able to support her aged father or her younger brother. . . . Then the workshop or factory in which she works closes down because there is too little work, striking her a mortal blow. At first she hopes to find work elsewhere. She may even have a little savings. But a week passes without work. Her savings disappear. She has one hope: she pawns the good clothes she has for special occasions." When that failed, he added, she became a prostitute.
Even if a working woman kept her job, an illness in the family generally meant that the household income—which was normally insufficient to meet all the family's needs anyway—would not stretch far enough. The recourse for a poor woman, again, was prostitution, and the opportunities were endless.
Grown women were not the only ones who suffered these cruel choices. Barcelona shared with Shanghai and Algiers the dubious distinction of having child prostitutes widely available in brothels and on the streets. Many surely came from the ranks of the girls under fourteen who worked in the textile and clothing industries—11,408 in 1905. Layoffs were frequent owing to overproduction and the loss of markets for textiles in Cuba, Spain's former colony.
The reality was that working girls and women shared the responsibility for supporting their households. And with women earning one-quarter to one-third of male workers' already low wages for an average twelve-hour-day, it is no wonder that a relatively large number of women engaged in prostitution at some time in their lives. Some enterprising women, forced to choose between one form of exploitation and another, probably chose to be prostitutes of their own free will. "Teresa, or the Daughter of District V," a woman described by the journalist Paco Madrid, is drawn to the streets and to cabarets such as the Eden Concert. She becomes a kept woman but then, bored with her lover, takes up with a student who gives her a more exciting life. Betrayed by him just after giving birth to his child, she returns to the cabarets to earn a living.
Knowing how few options working women had, one might think
that prostitution would have been less stigmatized among socially conscious workers than it was. But even the left required that a prostitute redeem herself in some way before she could be welcomed back to the fold. In School of Rebellion , a novel by the anarcho-syndicalist leader Salvador Seguí, a former barmaid and prostitute named María Rosa forms a monogamous relationship with a labor union militant. A woman with a past that includes a long-term masochistic relationship with a violent lover, she distinguishes herself from other women with tarnished reputations by "her discretion, her natural elegance, her delicate and aristocratic air." The couple is very poor, but they manage to get along until, true to melodramatic form, she becomes ill and dies. During their life together, because she is repentant, she is accepted as his "wife" by all of their friends.
Prostitutes fell into at least three different categories, depending on where they worked. The women who earned the least were the streetwalkers. They catered to dock workers, sailors, and farmers who brought their produce to the town markets. Standing near the markets or the harbor, they gestured to the men, who would follow them to cheap rooms the women rented by the hour. Because all working women spent a certain amount of time away from home every day going to market or drawing water from fountains, these women could easily pass as simple housewives. Women who plied their trade at night, however, made more money than the day workers because their clientele was larger. In 1899, Pablo Picasso painted one such streetwalker, known as "Pug Nose." Dressed in the long skirt and shawl of any poor woman in the neighborhood, she marked herself as a prostitute by dangling a cigarette from her lips (plate 6).
Another group of prostitutes and their female procurers worked in the cabarets. Cafés were the subject of harangues by those who disapproved of modern life in Barcelona: "once fountains of culture," one social critic wrote, "[they] have turned into dens of prostitution." Here, as in Paris, poor women bought cheap drinks and sat and waited for customers—as two of them do in Picasso's 1902 painting Cocottes in the Bar .
It was widely believed that all the waitresses and barmaids at cafés and bars such as the Excelsior, Palace, and Alcázar served their customers sexually. One sentimental story in the workers' press underscored how difficult it was for women who worked in bars to avoid their customers' sexual advances. Adelina, orphaned at fourteen, went to work in a tavern owned by her aunt. The family relationship did not protect
Adelina from rough treatment by male customers, however. When she became pregnant at eighteen, her family rejected her. To earn a living, she became a prostitute in a bordello; ultimately, she wound up in a hospital with a venereal disease.
Streetwalkers and bar prostitutes worked outside brothels and so needed help finding rooms and protection from violent clients. For this purpose, some women kept pimps (ganchos ), who were frequently gamblers. True to stereotype, they found the prostitutes rooms and took a portion of their earnings, often abusing them in the bargain. Other prostitutes kept their independence and used the services of enterprising older women like Carlota Valdivia, whom Picasso portrayed as The Procuress or The Celestina in 1904 (plate 7); living above the Eden Concert, she undoubtedly rented out rooms.
The third type of prostitute worked in brothels that were scattered throughout downtown Barcelona. Among the best known were the houses on Robador and Ramalleras streets, across from the maternity hospital; the one on El Cid Street; and the one on Avinyo Street, later immortalized by its French name in the Demoiselles d'Avignon; the houses on the small, dark, winding alleyways that ran from Ferdinand Street to the harbor; and the elegant brothel on New Street of the Rambla, at number 12, above the Eden Concert, which served a better clientele than those who frequented Carlota Valdivia's rooms (see map 1). Men from stevedores to bohemian artists to long-married patriarchs spent considerable time and money among prostitutes in brothels that became their homes away from home. Although some brothels cultivated exotic images, many provided middle-class comfort. The proper madam of one particularly wholesome house was appalled by the drunken raucousness of journalists whose offices were next door and tried to get them to modify their behavior. Amused, the newspapermen scornfully referred to their neighbors as "homecooking whores" (putes d'escudella i carn d'olla ).
Even the poorest houses of prostitution afforded the men comforts such as couches or divans from which they could look over the prostitutes. Depending on the customs of the house, the women joined the client either fully clothed or seminaked. In The Divan of 1901, Picasso depicts one such encounter (plate 8). Beneath a painting of a nude woman, a fully clothed man and woman fondle each other as their legs, visible under a table on which a bottle and a pipe rest, begin to intertwine. The woman's left hand stretches out, away from her side and beyond the man's view, holding an object that may be a wallet she has
picked or may be a sum he has paid her. The man wears the navy blue smocked-style jacket of a worker. Hovering in the background is the squat figure of a witchlike crone. Whether or not she is the madam, the woman would be recognizable to most local people as the Celestina.
Born in the High Middle Ages as a character in Fernando de Rojas's Tragi-Comedy of Calisto and Melibea , Celestina, like Don Quijote, had, as we saw in our discussion of puppets, become a cultural archetype. The Celestina can be depicted as the procurer, the woman responsible for birth control, the abortionist, or the madam. Because she is post-menopausal, her powers over the sexual activity of others and potential for sexual rebellion can be viewed as even more potent than those of the woman of childbearing age. Because she is an independent woman, whom presumably men do not desire, the Celestina or procurer adds an ominous note to any sexual scene of which she is a part.
Whatever the image of the procurer or madam, prostitutes themselves were of course in the business of selling sexual pleasure, as Picasso's 1902 comic drawing of the painter Isidre Nonell engaged in oral sex demonstrates (figure 9). In the lower part of the drawing, the torso of a woman appears in profile with her right breast exposed. She wears the topknot hairdo made famous in Toulouse-Lautrec's drawings. The top two-thirds of the line drawing shows the smiling, well-groomed Nonell, wearing a floppy bow tie above his tight collar. He holds his hands at his sides against his neatly pressed jacket. The prostitute, kneeling before him, sucks his penis. A bawdy drawing like this seems to be Picasso's visual equivalent of the verbal witticisms for which the sharp-tongued Nonell was famous.
Group visits to brothels often continued men's social intercourse in the cafés, and seem to have been nearly as public an activity. Picasso and his friends often went from the Four Cats or the Eden Concert to share prostitutes. In 1901 and 1902, in fact, Picasso caricatured his friends at sexual play in a series of erotic drawings. In one, which shows a sex scene, the artist Ángel de Soto, dapper in a dress suit with a long jacket, with two shocks of dark hair over eyebrows and eyes, holds a long pipe in his mouth (figure 10). A nude woman, with striped stockings up to her thigh, black shoes, and a thin body with big breasts, holds an upraised champagne glass in her left hand. De Soto spreads his hand under her upraised left leg, his finger tickling her clitoris. At the center of the drawing is his erect penis, encircled by her right hand.
A group sex scene is seen in Picasso's drawing of the two de Soto brothers and a woman called Anita (figure 11). Ángel de Soto, now
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with his hair combed to the side and his eyes wide open over an elongated, giraffelike neck sits on an iron four-poster bed, under which a wash basin or bedpan is clearly visible. In this quickly sketched drawing, a dwarflike Mateu de Soto takes his place on the lap of a woman whose bare left breast he fondles. He wears an eye patch and a long overcoat, while she is fully dressed except for the bare breast. Although Anita's name appears on the drawing, there is no sense of who she is, nothing to acknowledge her personality like the bow tie, pipe, long neck, or overcoat Picasso uses as affectionate details to highlight the identities of the men in his drawings.
If Picasso's sexually active women lack character, they are still not pathetic like the poor mothers or absinthe drinkers he depicted at around the same time. Occasionally a woman is abused, as in the drawing he called The Virgin , which depicts a woman clearly in pain as she is mounted from behind. In general, however, he presents prostitutes as sexual confections available for their clients' pleasure. When they are not pliant and docile, they are as terrifying as the prostitutes in his Demoiselles d'Avignon of 1907. Despite his avid interest in prostitutes, then, Picasso resonated the fear of sexually active, independent women that was so widespread in the society.
Prostitutes' lives and attitudes were far more varied than those who portrayed them apparently imagined. This fact is most evident when we look at their leadership role in what became known as Tragic Week.
In the spring and summer of 1909, as labor antagonism in Barcelona mounted, so did pacifism. Spain's disastrous defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898 had hammered deeper the wedge between rich and poor in the city. Among the most hated of the city's rich businessmen were the marquis of Comillas and his son-in-law, the count of Güell, who commissioned many buildings from Antoni Gaudí. Comillas and Güell each had large shares in the iron mines of the Rif in Spanish Morocco. Before the war, their holdings had also included the Transatlantic Steamship Company, the General Tobacco Company of the Philippines, and the Spanish Northern Railroad Company, which were managed through the Hispano-Colonial Bank. With the loss of Spanish colonies in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines in the war,
however, Güell and Comillas had readjusted their empire and placed a large measure of their holdings in the Hispano-African Society, centered on the Moroccan port of Melillas.
When guerrillas in the Rif attacked the railroad leading from the lead mines to the port on July 5, 1909, killing four workers, the Spanish government retaliated by sending a column of soldiers to pursue the guerrillas and by reinforcing positions on nearby Mount Atalayon. The Spanish soldiers suffered enormous losses, and the minister of war decided to augment the troops with six more battalions, made up mostly of reservists from Barcelona. The embarkations of Catalan soldiers began on July 9 from Barcelona; by July 25, twenty-four thousand illtrained Spanish troops were facing about eight thousand guerrillas from the Rif. The conflict became known in Barcelona as the Bankers' War. Such an unpopular military engagement, especially one that called primarily on poor married men, was bound to lead to strong opposition. The embarkations from Barcelona that July, in ships belonging to the marquis of Comillas—who also, it should be noted, administered the finances of the Jesuit Order in Spain—could not have been better calculated to outrage the city's working-class population, particularly the women seeing off their male relatives.
Ever since the institution in 1885 of a rule that permitted an annual indemnity to be paid in lieu of military service, most prosperous people had managed to save their sons from the draft. The fee was 1,500 pesetas —roughly three years' salary for a worker. The reason Picasso, for example, could come and go in early-twentieth-century Spain without doing military service was that his uncle in Málaga had paid a bounty for his freedom.
On Sunday, July 18, at 4:30 P.M. , as the local people of downtown Barcelona awoke from siesta to stroll in the cooler hours of the evening, Catalan reservists marched through the central part of the city, down the Rambla to the harbor, where they were scheduled to embark. There the troops broke ranks to join their families in one last embrace. Police, massed along the way, tried to break up the emotional partings, while wealthy Catholic matrons—whose own sons and husbands had paid the bounties and so did not need to go—distributed religious medals and cigarettes to the departing troops.
This misguided bit of charity was the last straw. Many soldiers grabbed the medals and threw them into the water as crowds began to chant, "Throw down your arms." "If the rich don't go, no one goes." "Let the priests go." "Send Comillas." The transport ship Catalunya ,
owned by Comillas, was ordered to pull out as the guards shot into the air to prevent the crowd from stopping its departure. The crowds swelled, circulating down the Rambla and throughout the downtown area protesting against the war the next day. In ever-increasing numbers, the multitude gathered before the palace of the marquis of Comillas on the Rambla to shout, "Long live Spain and death to Comillas." The protesters then moved to the offices of the Poble català , the Radical party newspaper. The journal, one of the leading republican publications in Barcelona, defined anticlericalism in the city. Its staff came to the windows to applaud the demonstrators, who moved on to the plaza in front of the university. There the police held the line and arrested eight youths. This pattern continued night after night until July 23.
In an effort to reduce the animosity, King Alfonso XIII issued a royal decree granting a wage of fifty céntimos a day to the families of reservists fighting in Morocco. Otherwise they received no combat pay. Yet that sum was clearly far from adequate: a family of four in Barcelona required at least 3.50 pesetas daily to get by. Moreover, the families of reservists killed in action became eligible for a pension only when another royal decree was issued on August 6—too late for many.
Acts of largesse by elite women only exacerbated popular distress. On July 22, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Navigation urged his colleagues to continue paying the salaries of those workers who were among the reserve troops fighting in Morocco. The conservative Catalan nationalist political party, the Regionalist League, had already urged the government to call the Cortes to discuss the problem of the Catalan troops and related matters. On the evening of the twenty-second, the marquise of Castellflorite, an aristocratic Catholic philanthropist, who had initiated the distribution of religious ornaments and cigarettes at the pier, gathered local civic and cultural leaders to discuss raising private money to pay the salaries of those in active service. None of these efforts were of any avail.
A general strike, scheduled to last one day, was called for Monday, July 26, with the support of Socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, and Radicals. In Barcelona, where the Socialists had only a small following and the anarchists opposed political action in favor of either organizing labor syndicates or associating in cultural and educational organizations, many working people gave their political allegiance to the republican Radical party, directed by the journalist and orator Alejandro Lerroux. The party drew workers through its system of community centers,
known as Houses of the People, where people gathered to socialize and gain skills; the centers also offered cheap food, health and old age insurance, night school, and frequent theatrical entertainments.
As historian Joan Connelly Ullman shows in her now classic study The Tragic Week , which appeared just as the new women's movement emerged in the United States in 1968, women played a crucial role in every aspect of the insurrection that erupted on July 26, 1909. Like other general strikes, Tragic Week was an assertion of community solidarity as well as of labor grievances, one in which poor women took an active part. Women joined men at 4:00 A.M. on the roads to the factories to urge all workers to stay home. Although many did report for work, women, wearing white bows symbolizing the strike, urged them to walk out. The factory owners, fearing violence, told workers to go home, thus assuring the success of the strike.
At the Plaza of Catalunya at 6:00 that morning, a woman named Mercedes Monje Alcázar called on the men to prevent the drafted troops from leaving for Morocco. The Civil Guard intervened and arrested her, despite the large number of people around. By 10:00 other women, joined by young men, were demanding that merchants close their shops. All kinds of women joined the fray. Some had already participated in Radical party politics as the Red or Radical Women (Damas Rojas or Radicales). Others were active in street politics. Among these was "Forty Cents," the nickname given María Llopis Berges, a prostitute: she led a group that strong-armed shopkeepers along the Parallel, forcing them to close in support of the general strike or face destruction of their windows and furniture. Some two hundred men and women attacked the police station on New Street of the Rambla, where they liberated a woman who had just been arrested. From there they fled to Union and then Ferdinand streets, where the mounted Civil Guard charged the crowd and dispersed it.
By noon, men and women from New Town, east of Citadel Park, arrived downtown. Wearing white bows and sashes emblazoned with the phrase "Down with War," the women led an attack on the trolleys. Thirty-four streetcars were damaged and two totally destroyed when the crowds stoned, overturned, and set fire to them and tore up the tracks.
A Radical woman, Carmen Alauch Jerida, launched an assault on the police station in Clot–Saint Martin between 3:00 and 4:00 P.M. Two civil guardsmen and seven security guards were wounded, and two men and two women demonstrators killed in the onslaught. With women
and children proclaiming the Radical slogan "Down with War" in the lead, a group from New Town marched down the Rambla to Columbus Pass and the captain general's headquarters. In hopes that the soldiers would ally with them, the demonstrators hailed the army but attacked the war in Morocco. Between three and fifteen people died when the security guards shot into the crowd. General Germán Brandeis ordered his troops to fire on dockworkers supporting the demonstrators. And when the workers called, "Don't fire, companions; we are fighting for you," the possibility that the soldiers might mutiny seemed real.
By 11:00 the next morning, the general strike had become an insurrection. The narrow cobblestone streets of the Parallel district, with its slums, factories, music halls, brothels, and the port, provided the ideal place for barricades, as well as the population to serve on them. Local men and women used manhole covers and the streets' cobbles to construct barriers against the troops, who were certain to attack and did.
During the night of Monday, July 26, and all day Tuesday, religious institutions burned throughout the city, especially in areas of Radical strength, with the convents especially hard hit. A long tradition of anticlericalism followed by nine years of anticlerical agitation by the Radicals and their demagogic leader Alejandro Lerroux had succeeded in focusing popular distress and wrath on the religious orders. The violence of Lerroux's rhetoric and its way of attacking the church by attacking nuns contributed to the climate that turned the general strike into an anticlerical rebellion. The most famous example of Lerroux's style comes from a speech he gave in 1906:
Young barbarians of today, enter and sack the decadent civilization of this unhappy country; destroy its temples, finish off its gods, tear the veil from its novices and raise them to be mothers to civilize the species. Break into the records of property and make bonfires of its papers that fire may purify the infamous social organization. Enter its humble hearths and raise the legions of proletarians that the world may tremble before their awakened judges. Do not be stopped by altars nor by tombs. . . . Fight, kill, die.
Downtown, the first church to go was the Romanesque Saint Paul in the Fields, right in the middle of the Parallel district. A barricade designed to protect the demonstrators attacking the church had been leveled Tuesday morning. When the Civil Guard mysteriously withdrew at noon, the barricades immediately went up again. Under the direction of Adela Anglada and Rafael Fernández, nicknamed "Son of the Wind," the crowd of locals burned the building; they then left for the Hierony-
mite convent known as the Royal Monastery of Saint Matthew. The twenty-eight cloistered and reputedly wealthy nuns of this order fled out the back, where their poor neighbors stood jeering at them. The nuns escaped to the home of a wealthy industrialist and, wearing borrowed clothes, found refuge in the homes of sympathetic Catholics throughout the city. Charges that the nuns hoarded their money rather than distributing it to the poor seemed to be substantiated when the crowds uncovered enormous wealth, which the nuns claimed to be guarding for the faithful.
Evidence supporting additional popular grievances against nuns surfaced when the crowds invaded other convents. Working women who sewed garments and linen at home had long complained that the convent labor of nuns and their orphan and student wards undercut piece rates. (There must have been some merit to the charges; a few years later, devoutly Catholic women established a boycott of goods prepared by religious institutions, in order to steady and raise the wages of poor women who worked at home.) The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception faced such charges when their poor female neighbors around the Parallel attacked the convent at 2:00 Tuesday afternoon and uncovered fifty heavily embroidered communion dresses. Denying that these had been produced for sale, the mother superior claimed that wealthy patrons had donated them for the use of poor girls. As the nuns attempted to flee the convent, a man tried to rip the habit off one, saying he intended to search her for hidden guns. The crowd then destroyed the building. Later that night, a nun hiding stocks and bonds escaped to Gracia, where a crowd led by a woman named Francisca Norat forced her to remove her clothes, thereby revealing the documents. Norat proceeded to drive the nun down the street in her underwear as people around shouted insults.
The cloistered Augustinian nuns of the Convent of Santa Magdalena, on Saint John's Ravine just behind the Four Cats Café, had also attracted neighborhood suspicion. They now faced angry women neighbors, who forced them to leave the convent at 6:00 P.M. on Tuesday, July 27. The neighbors then "discovered" torture chambers in the basement, including a "martyrdom room" with a metal bed made up of tubes connected to a gas pipe. The prioress later tried to explain that an insane nun, Sister Teresa Bonsom, was kept in that room; after spending three years in the insane asylum of the Holy Cross in Saint Andrew of Palomar, she had returned to the convent and, it was claimed, suffered a relapse. The neighbors and the nuns disagreed about whether she had
been the victim of sadistic treatment at the hands of her secretive coreligionists.
Another mystery surfaced at Our Lady of Charity. Despite public health regulations forbidding the practice, it was still common for monks and nuns to be buried in the walls of their cloisters. In ransacking the tombs of that convent, the neighborhood women were shocked to find bodies bound hand and foot with scourges by their sides. No one could explain, moreover, why male and children's bodies were also found in the crypt.
Events at the Plaza of Padró on Wednesday, July 28, further revealed the depth of antagonism popularly felt toward the convents (see map 1). The small square, deep in the downtown section west of the Rambla where the first textile factories had grown up in the nineteenth century, was a symbolic center of old Barcelona, once the point of origin of many of Barcelona's festivals. Until hygienic reforms led to the construction of the glass-covered Saint Anthony Market in 1886, it had been one of the city's central marketplaces. At the turn of the century, women still frequently gathered in the Plaza of Padró, near the central stylus topped by a statue of Saint Eulalia, the gooseherd, to gossip and discuss events of the day. On July 28, a large number of local women assembled when an excited neighbor claimed that her sister, a nun in the nearby Hieronymite convent, "had been tortured" for being more attractive than the other nuns. The crowd swelled as it drew close to the convent. Once there, it proceeded down to the crypt, lifted the marble that covered the tombs, and exhumed twenty-five to thirty mummies.
The women were outraged by the unhygienic convent burials. It was poor people who died of typhus, spread by a flea carrying bacteria believed to live on cadavers and other damp organisms, and of cholera, caused by the bacteria in waste products, including decomposing bodies. Furthermore, the crowd was horrified to find that the mummies' hands and feet were bound. Taking matters into their own hands, the women dragged the bodies to the Plaza of Padró, where they were displayed. Then a macabre demonstration began as they dragged the mummies to various places in the city (figure 12). One cadaver was propped up like a prostitute with a cigarette in her mouth in front of the Church of Saint Mary of the Pine Tree. Two more were left as calling cards before the Güell Palace on New Street of the Rambla. Eight mummies were carried by young boys to City Hall and deposited in front of the troops there. The procession was headed by a large white sign with black letters that read: "Martyred Nuns." A few women took on the
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task of exposing the cadavers to a broader public. They dragged them to the barricade on Carmen and Roig streets, and from there men transported a few more to the Güell Palace. Clearly the crowds thought they had proved their point about the cloistered nuns' evil deeds.
It is worth noting here that digging up corpses is not uncommon in cultures in which death—particularly a good death, as in a bullfight—and its ceremonies are so much part of civic and religious life. In a society in which bodies of heroes are kept in glass showcases and saintly purity might be alleged when a body "miraculously" failed to decompose, one finds a legacy of fascination with the condition of bodies. In fact, just before Tragic Week, in June 1909, local heroes who had re-
sisted the Napoleonic invasion of Barcelona in 1808 were exhumed and reburied following a mass in the cathedral.
The last act of Tragic Week could have been a Mardi Gras rite. Toward the end of carnival in Barcelona, the mock king, symbolizing authority, sickens and dies despite the best efforts of physicians and clergy. Then the king, who in health is a harlequin, in death becomes a straw man, a dove, or a sardine, which is ritually buried. By parodying the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the burial affords the crowd a chance to ridicule death itself. During Tragic Week, a retarded twenty-two-year-old coal tender, Ramón Clemente García, unconsciously imitated this carnival ceremony. He carried one of the mummies exhumed from the Hieronymite convent along the Rambla to the house of the marquis of Comillas, where the tattered youth, covered in the soot of his trade, committed an act of sacrilege: as the crowd cheered, he danced with the cadaver—an act that would cost him his life when he became one of five people executed in connection with the insurrection.
Carnival week was a period when "the cheerful vulgarity of the powerless [was] used as a weapon against the pretence and hypocrisy of the powerful." The way Clemente García played to the crowd provided them with a sense of community. Thanks to his sacrilege, he and those around him were able to attack "class hierarchy, political manipulation, sexual repression, dogmatism and paranoia. . . . [This act] of creative disrespect [showed] a radical opposition to the illegitimately powerful"—to use the words of R. Stamm regarding carnival rituals. But, in Barcelona, carnival was always followed by the reimposition of authority.
By Monday, August 2, the insurrection had petered out as more and more troops moved into the city. Before the task of mopping up could begin, working women of Clot–Saint Martin demanded the release of all prisoners taken as a result of the insurrection. But despite the women's threats to keep the factories closed until the amnesty was complete, workers returned to their jobs on Monday morning. Barcelona remained under martial law until November.
During the unrest of 1909, local women showed a strong sense of being neighborhood guerrillas, guardians of their communities. Enriqueta Sabater, for instance, known as "the Big One," cut down electric poles and telephone lines in the Parallel after directing the construction of barricades. One military leader, the Valencian Rosa Esteller, waved her revolver as she toured the neighborhood making sure doors were open so that resistance fighters could get to the roofs to attack police.
In nearby Clot–Saint Martin, Carmen Alauch, a fishmonger, who the day before had led an attack on the police station, recruited teenage boys to fight alongside her. Back in downtown Barcelona, Teresona, a woman who sold fruit and vegetables illegally in the street near the convent on Saint Anthony Street, upheld the neighborhood honor. When a gang entered the convent, they found the nuns kneeling in the chapel with their arms crossed over their chests. One nun screamed: "Kill us! Kill us! But don't violate us! We are ready to die! . . . We are ready to be martyrs!" Teresona intervened to defend the nuns. She entered the convent and berated the sisters for losing control: "What kind of martyrdom are you talking about? Don't you see that these boys, our kids, aren't capable of killing a fly? Quiet down. Come with me and nothing bad will happen." Then she, with the help of other neighborhood women, led the nuns to safety.
Local prostitutes played a role as leaders of the poor community. None was more remarkable than Josefa Prieto, "the Woman from Bilbao." She supervised the battle in the harbor area, aided by her lover, the Radical Domingo Ruíz; her lieutenant, Encarnación Avellaneda, "the Castiza"; and "Boy of the Wind," who had headed the first convent burning on Monday night. A born leader, Prieto ran one of the biggest brothels in the red light district. In and out of jail for defending herself against the police, even before Tragic Week she had a neighborhood reputation for toughness. Once the rebellion was quashed she was exiled to Perpignan, where she joined the Committee for the Defense of Expatriated Spanish Citizens and won an amnesty for herself and other political exiles.
In terms of military prowess, the neighborhood women sometimes met their match in the mothers superior. Mother Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Order of Handmaids, Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity, presided over a wealthy order. Situated on the corner of Casanova and the Council of One Hundred streets in the Extension, it devoted itself to educating poor children and rehabilitating girls from the slums, many of whom probably engaged in occasional prostitution. The word charity might appear in its title, but the order evidently was best known for its stern discipline, which won it the neighborhood nickname "the girls' Bastille." The mother superior clearly accepted the role of general when she organized her students and all the nuns under her command to defend themselves against arson at 5:00 P.M. on July 27. When everyone was forced to leave the convent, many of the girls ran away from the nuns. The mother superior then won the support of the
captain general himself, who ordered soldiers to protect this particular convent all week. All but eight of the escaped girls, having no place else to go, returned "voluntarily" after the insurrection was suppressed. Yet as late as October 1910 a newspaper published an account of a girl's attempted escape from the convent.
Nuns, Prostitutes, and Rebellion
One of the most clerical cities in Spain, Barcelona was home to 4,117 nuns in 348 convents—compared to 187 convents in Madrid and 153 in Valencia. Most of the poor in Barcelona had at least a passing acquaintance with nuns and the convents that dotted the urban landscape. In orphanages, public hospitals, and schools for poor children, nuns were the principal educators and caretakers. According to statistics published in the Catholic press following the insurrection, Barcelona's nuns operated 200 hospitals, 20 insane asylums, 40 foundling hospitals, and 248 homes for children and the aged in 1909, and they taught 56,000 nursery school children, 15,591 elementary school children (whom they educated free of charge), and 880 adults in night school. They also served as nurses and jailers in military hospitals and in prisons. Clearly, they were among the city's most powerful women.
Hidden from view, the religious rituals of cloistered nuns were mysterious and therefore terrifying to many of the poor men and women over whose families the nuns wielded so much power. The nuns themselves, because they were perceived as powerful and secretive, were feared as well. Popular literature in all the Catholic countries capitalized on fascination with convents and their inhabitants. A play entitled The Nun Buried Alive; or, The Secret of That Convent , by Jaume Piquet, was repeatedly staged in Barcelona. Referring specifically to the nuns of the Hieronymite Order, who were widely believed to scourge themselves, the play appeared first in 1886 at the popular Odeon Theater and continued to be revived through the twenties. Titillating, semipornographic stories about nuns torturing others in their orders helped to set off exaggerated fears of these elite virgins, who lived largely under the direct rule of a mother superior rather than any male authority.
There is no doubt that the power and sometimes the self-righteousness of nuns in turn-of-the-century Barcelona were resented by many of those who benefited from their work. It was primarily in the
schools that many of the poor actually suffered at the hands of nuns. Working parents—often single mothers—who were forced to place their children with the sisters may well have been uncomfortable with their patronizing attitudes and the authority they wielded over children and parents alike. In the aftermath of the insurrection, story upon story appeared in newspapers about how the mothers who had to place their children in orphanages because of poverty attacked the nuns, charging wanton neglect. Certainly, the class system continued within the convents.
The participation of prostitutes in many of the attacks on authorities, including their leadership of the working population, has a certain logic. Prostitutes were part of the everyday life of poor neighborhoods, and local people included them in the community. It thus stands to reason that prostitutes would take the side of the insurrectionaries, as the women of the brothel on Robador Street did, cheering on the fighters below them in the street. Because prostitutes were knowledgeable about the police and their operations, they also made skilled protest leaders. It is of course common for authorities to challenge the purity of all women who engage in rebellion; yet in uprisings from the seizure of the Bastille to the Commune in Paris to Tragic Week in Barcelona, fierce women who happened to be prostitutes in fact did come to lead urban rebellions.
It is revealing that within a decade after the Paris Commune of 1871, the French government made prostitution a crime. Part of a European-wide policy of controlling the spread of venereal disease, laws governing prostitutes always claimed to be concerned with public health, not morality or politics. By becoming involved in political struggle, however, prostitutes were elevated to the role of revolutionaries who threatened the political public health. In 1911, a far-reaching proposal was introduced by Barcelona's Academy of Public Health to increase medical control over the lives of prostitutes, a plan that, at least unconsciously, may have been an effort to cleanse the city after Tragic Week. This recommendation is yet another indication that female sexuality, whether suppressed by the women in question, as in the case of nuns; sold, as in the case of prostitutes; or managed, as in the case of procuresses, could be, and often was, perceived as a threat.
Both real and presumed rebels against authority in Barcelona were persecuted in the aftermath of Tragic Week. Four participants and one scapegoat—the libertarian and libertine educator Francisco Ferrer, who
happened to be outside the city during the uprising—were executed, some within weeks of the uprising, Ferrer in November 1909. The roundup that followed was an effort to reassert control through a "purification" process designed to bring unruly men and women under control and therefore channel the energies of the entire working community. Anarchists and free thinkers bore the brunt of the punishment meted out after Tragic Week. Despite the continued efforts to portray good poor women simply as victims, Tragic Week revealed that they—and especially the prostitutes among them—could be something far more terrifying. In one week, they had become people who just might take matters into their own hands.