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Journal of the History of Sexuality 12.1 (2003) 98-109

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The World League for Sexual Reform in Spain:
Founding, Infighting, and the Role of Hildegart Rodríguez

Alison Sinclair
Clare College, Cambridge

HILDEGART RODRIGUEZ, the founding secretary of the Spanish chapter of the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR), is little known today, even by Spaniards and Hispanists. Yet in her time this young woman was a prodigy—a prolific writer, a sexual and legal reformer, a figure in the public eye. 1 The "eugenic" child of Aurora Rodríguez Carballeira, Hildegart was born in 1914 and was murdered on June 9, 1933. 2 In a letter dated June 16 of that year, Norman Haire reported to Havelock Ellis the mode of her murder, which was not widely publicized. 3 Haire told Ellis that he had learned from a final-year medical student who attended the postmortem that "there were two bullet wounds in the head, one in the left breast and one 'au sexe.'" He concluded, "So it evidently was a sexual crime." The event was made more shocking by the fact that the crime was committed not by a lover but by Hildegart's own mother.

A revival of interest in Hildegart occurred in the 1970s with the republication of some of her many works, including two from 1931, El problema sexual tratado por una mujer and La rebeldía sexual de la juventud. 4 Further popularization of her story came in 1977 with the release of Fernando [End Page 98] Fernán-Gómez's film Mi hija Hildegart. 5 While most attention paid to Hildegart since the 1930s has been concentrated on the melodramatic details of her tragic murder, this essay will examine her public life, especially her role in founding the Spanish chapter of the WLSR.

In considering Hildegart Rodríguez's involvement with the WLSR's Spanish chapter (hereafter referred to as the Liga), we are dealing with a narrow window of time. On December 5, 1931, eighteen months prior to her death, a lengthy interview with Hildegart that appeared on the front page of El Socialista makes no mention of the Liga as such, although it provides ample evidence of her interests in sexuality, socialism, eugenics, and feminism. But soon afterward, as we shall see, her name began to be linked with the Liga's.

The main sources for understanding Hildegart's role in the Liga are the following: her letters to Havelock Ellis, which include a draft of her official report as well as her own account of the Liga's founding meeting; 6 public statements that she made in press interviews; and her history of the Liga, which appears along with the organization's statutes at the end of the first issue of Sexus, the journal published by the Liga from 1932 to 1933. Additional information can be derived from notices of her participation in the first of the Jornadas eugénicas españolas from April 21 to May 10, 1933. 7 This event, which was organized principally by those who were instrumental in founding the Liga, succeeded a failed attempt five years earlier to hold a Curso eugénico. Hildegart contributed to the 1933 Jornadas by giving a course on birth control (cursillo 7) in the "technical" section. These sources shed light on the Liga's foundation and subsequent internal dissension as well as on Hildegart's role in both. However, for reasons that will become evident below, they require careful interpretation. Hildegart, their author, identified herself personally as well as professionally with the Liga; she was committed emotionally as well as intellectually to its ideals.

Hildegart Rodríguez and the Founding of the Liga

Although the interview with Hildegart Rodríguez published in December 1931 does not mention the Liga or even the WLSR, this is not because [End Page 99] she lacked knowledge or interest. Her early connections with future members of the Liga are revealed in letters she wrote on October 23, 1931, to Havelock...


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