Social History and Spanish Anarchism: Prostitution, Motherhood, and Free Love

During my dissertation research, I spent lots of time searching for several, quite obscure short novelas written throughout the 1920s by Spanish anarcho-feminist Federica Montseny. Somehow I came across the website for The International Institute for Social History, located in Amsterdam. The Institute has an impressive archival collection, including books and periodicals, documentation, and audio-visual materials “with a thematic emphasis on social and emancipatory movements.” Check out the collections via the IISH catalog. Or go right to their “highlights,” including virtual exhibitions, labor history resources, and “the item of the day.”

My research centers on women’s movements and strategies of social reform and resistance in 1920s Spain, and the IISH houses collections of two of the most influential Anarchist journals published in Barcelona during this time: La novela libre and La novela ideal. Federica Montseny was one of the few women writers who frequently contributed to these publications. In her autobiography, Montseny confirms that the apparently frivolous, folletín-esque narratives appearing in these journals were in fact powerful ideological vehicles directed at Spanish youth, and at women in particular. The themes were neither traditional nor uncompromised, and boasted elements of libertarian propaganda, anti-clerical sentiments, free love advocacy, and emphasis on social reforms. Here is a sample of a few Spanish titles from this series that caught my attention. What’s not intriguing about prostitutes, desperate desires to flee, and of course women’s constant, all-powerful maternal instinct?

Tres Prostitutas Decentes. by Mariano Gallardo
Barcelona: La Revista Blanca, n.d.

Ansias de volar. by Ángela Graupera.
Barcelona : La Revista Blanca, s.a. – 63 p.
La novela libre; 40

La infinita sed. by Federica Montseny.
Barcelona : La Revista Blanca, s.a. – 32 p. La novela ideal ; 181

Numerous authors penned short fictional novelas for these journals, and many were men; Montseny was not only one of a small group of female authors, but also one of the most prolific contributors. For the goals of my book project, I focus on two of Montseny’s short novelas, “Maternidad” (1925) and “El derecho al hijo” (1928), as part of a larger effort to position her anarcho-feminist understanding of motherhood within the broader context of first-wave feminist activity in Spain. Quite revolutionary for their time, these texts reveal a complex, often philosophical conception of motherhood as a female art form, an individual right, and a powerful vital force that ensures the futures of both the nation, and humanity.

In any case, with the scope of my current research and my teaching responsibilities, I unfortunately do not have the time or resources to obtain and read Tres prostitutas decentes. Bummer! I will have to put it on my list of future academic beach-reads. In the meantime, if any readers are lucky enough to have an electronic copy of this random text, feel free to contact me and share the wealth! 

What fascinating texts or archives have you come across recently that temporarily derailed or redirected your research?

About Dr. Rebecca Bender

Spanish professor
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5 Responses to Social History and Spanish Anarchism: Prostitution, Motherhood, and Free Love

  1. ensondeluz says:

    Hello Rebecca !

    Maybe here you have something of interest and pertinent bibliograph (they mention Gallardo novels):

    and the mention of a recent book :
    Palabras rebeldes de anarquistas españolas, en González de Sande, Estela – Cruzado Rodriguez Angeles (eds.), Las revolucionarias – Literatura e insumisión femenina, ArCibel Editores, Sevilla, 2009.

    El correo de las editoras de este libro (la seguna parece ser la más interesante):

    Quizás tengan el libro que buscas…



    • rebeccambs says:

      Wonderful – thanks so much; I’ll have to check them out – I am not familiar with either text, and I am planning to revise some of my work on Montseny for publication at some point this academic year. In fact, I have a Fall Break coming up and I’ll have an opportunity to work a bit more on my research since I will have a reprieve from teaching that week – I might just go ahead and request these books from our library, or see about purchasing them for myself/my classes. One of the most recent books I found on this topic a year or so ago was Antonio Prado’s, Matrimonio, familia y estado. Escritoras anarco-feministas en la Revista Blanca (1898-1936). Madrid: Fundación de Estudios Libertarios Anselmo Lorenzo, 2011. Do you know it?
      Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. ensondeluz says:

    Sorry, the first mail wasn’t complet, this is the correct one:

  3. Pingback: Assassination of the Modern Woman: Hildegart and Aurora Rodríguez | Rebecca M. Bender, PhD

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