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Hispanic American Historical Review 81.2 (2001) 225-257
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Manuela Sáenz Writes Women into the Nation, 1835-1856
Sarah C. Chambers
Manuela Sáenz has not suffered the fate of many women throughout history: she has not been forgotten. But the image of her that has lived on, for all its vivid color, is strangely flat. She is remembered as the lover of Simón Bolívar, the renowned leader of South America's independence from Spain. 1 Novels and biographies alike depict her as the passionate beauty to whom Bolívar wrote, "I also want to see you, and examine you and touch you and feel you and savor you and unite you to me through all my senses." 2 Her passions extended into the public sphere, where she dramatically defended the image of [End Page 225] Bolívar. When his political protégé, Francisco de Paula Santander, turned rival and displayed satiric statues of Bolívar and Sáenz in a 1830 procession, Sáenz and her servants, dressed as men, charged the parade to remove the effigies. 3 Yet, such political actions primarily enhanced her romantic rather than political image. Sáenz undoubtedly would have liked to be remembered as both the lover and defender of Bolívar. After the latter's death in 1830, she exclaimed in a letter, "I loved the liberator; dead, I venerate him." 4 But Sáenz had already begun participating in the movements for independence from Spain before she met Bolívar in 1822 and her activism continued after his death in 1830 and her exile from Colombia and Ecuador by his political opponents. By shifting the focus to the writing of Sáenz in exile in Peru, which has been ignored by her biographers, it becomes clear that she not only continued her political activities but also developed a discourse of friendship to justify the influence of women in the new nations. A role for elite women as friends, rather than primarily wives and mothers, provides an alternative to both the dominant ideology of that period as well as to the central emphasis in the historiography on "republican motherhood."
The dramatic actions of Sáenz earned her a place among the pantheon of heroines of Spanish America. Although much analysis remains to be done, historians have compiled the stories of numerous women who were active in the wars of independence. 5 The assumption of women's apolitical nature, at least in the early years, allowed many the cover to act as smugglers, spies, and seducers who convinced soldiers to switch sides. In addition, elite women donated money and jewels to the cause and participated in tertulias (salons) where politics were discussed and conspiracies planned. Those of a more humble background followed their husbands, fathers, and brothers on the battlefields, providing essential support services and occasionally picking up arms themselves [End Page 226] when necessary. 6 Though we know what women did, however, we know much less about what they thought. Most evidence indicates that women had chosen the patriot (or royalist) cause for the same reasons as men--rather than from a female consciousness--and made no claims for suffrage or citizenship. The lack of either a social or intellectual history of women after independence is even more glaring. Some of the ideas proposed in this essay, therefore, are of necessity tentative but offered in the hope of stimulating discussion and further research.
In contrast to the French and North American revolutions, there are few studies that analyze even dominant gender ideologies in the early nineteenth century, particularly the ideas of the leaders of the independence movements in Latin America. No prominent officials or intellectuals of the new nations advocated granting women full citizenship rights, although their attitudes ranged from harshly criticizing political active women to praising those who fostered domestic virtues. Vicente Rocafuerte justified his order to exile Sáenz from Ecuador by asserting that "It is the women who most promote the spirit of anarchy in these countries." 7 Bolívar...