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Women School Teachers in the Mexican Revolution: The Story of Reynas Braids Mary Kay Vaughan The Mexican Revolution of 1910 was reputedly not a revolution for women: women did not vote in national elections until 1958, they were marginalized from industrial work, discriminated against in divorce cases, and told that domesticity and motherhood constituted their citizenship.1 Yet this revolution opened a field for creativity and self-realization for hundreds of Mexican women of humble, provincial backgrounds who became rural school teachers. They filled the ranks of the only profession opened to women since the nineteenth century and took up a crusade for "civilization." The school of the Mexican Revolution was not a simple school for teaching people to read and write. It aimed at a social and political literacy that would change the way people ate, raised children, relaxed, worked, and viewed the world, themselves, and their Patria. In this essay, I probe the lives of three women school teachers, Reyna Manzano Carmona, Socorro Rivera Rodriguez, and Isaura Martinez Guzman, to understand their empowerment as women, professionals, and revolutionary teachers.2 I ask what difficulties accompanied women's entry into the teaching profession in a fundamentally agrarian society in which only 25 percent of women over 12 years of age were literate in 1910. Because rural school teachers were part of a revolutionary process of change and state formation, I probe the experiences of these women to gain insight into a central issue in Mexican revolutionary historiography: the interaction between the individual, socio-political movements, and the revolutionary state in the period 1920 to 1940. Revisionist historians treat the state as the organizer and victor of the Mexican Revolution. They marginalize the role of popular forces to focus attention on state formation and on ambitious politicians who manipulated mass organizations and issues to gain power.3 A number of works, including my own, have interpreted public education as a channel for state domination and the imposition of a western, capitalist paradigm on the peasantry and working class.4 As historians question the revisionist approach and explore ways of understanding the role of individuals and social movements in the revolutionary process, teachers and schooling offer an intriguing field for study. Teachers were individuals who became employees of a revolutionary state. Many worked among peasants, or campesinos, major historical actors in the revolutionary process who were beneficiaries of land reform, and subjects to be co-opted by the emerging © 1990 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring) ___ 144 Journal of Women's History Spring state. Education was a mechanism of incorporation. The process of empowerment of the school teacher was bound up with what may be viewed as a process of subordinating the campesino. However, I hypothesize here, on the basis of data limited to the Mexican state of Puebla, that teachers and campesinos had negotiating power in the formation of the state and that their revolutionary participation resulted in their simultaneous empowerment and domination. Oral history is an approach to understanding the interaction between social subject, popular movements, and the state.5 These teachers' testimonies capture the bravery, imagination, terror, and commitment with which they confronted opportunities and obstacles created by the revolution . Oral history uncovers the ideological notions they learned in childhood from families, teachers, and others and carried into the teaching profession. It conveys their sense of autonomy in relation to the state and the communities in which they worked. It reveals their willingness to subordinate themselves to the state and the peasantry and their ability to negotiate with both. Oral history also has limitations as a source for historical analysis. The experiences of Reyna Manzano Carmona, Socorro Rivera Rodriguez, and Isaura Martinez Guzman are unique and may not be generalized. Like many rural teachers of the 1920-40 period, they came from modest, smalltown backgrounds and semiliterate to literate families, separated in some way from precapitalist social formations or what Francois-Javier Guerra calls traditional organic collectivities (villages of subsistence farmers, indigenous communities, haciendas).6 However, the specificities of these teachers' experiences require definition . One specificity is temporal. Born between 1914 and 1922, they began their careers between 1935 and 1940 during the...


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