Author: Romina Lo Schiavo FM Argentina – GEC Co-Global Principal
One of Argentina’s most distinguished and long-lived feminists and socialists, Alicia Moreau de Justo was a teacher, doctor, socialist activist, and journalist and was closely involved in the foundation of several human and women’s rights organizations. She has come to be viewed not only as a seminal figure in the first wave of the Latin American women’s movement but also as a reformer who was ahead of her time.
Moreau was born in London in 1885, where her French socialist parents had been exiled after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. The family emigrated to Argentina in 1890, where Moreau’s father worked as a journalist and Social Party activist. Early in her life, she began to write in the Socialist media, focusing on inequalities created by capitalism and the need to uplift the living conditions, as well as the civil rights of workers of both genders and all ages. By 1910, she was engaged in public lectures and writing on behalf of feminist organizations and the Social Party, a path that she followed during the next four decades.
Alicia Moreau studied medicine, taught anatomy, graduated from the University of Buenos Aires in 1914, and practiced in working-class clinics. Always politically and socially at the forefront, Moreau put the fight for social-justice issues above individualistic goals.
In her teens, the young Alicia helped set up the Centro Femeneno Socialista (Feminist Socialist Center) with her faithful friends and colleagues Fenia Chertkoff de Repetto and Gabriela Laperrière de Coni. She was a staunch advocate of women’s suffrage and a firm believer in women’s intellectual capacity to engage themselves in civic life. During that same period, she held childcare and hygiene courses at the Buenos Aires Center and fought assiduously against prostitution.
In 1918, she helped found the Unión Feminista Nacional and its journal, Nuestra causa, in which she published many of her articles on women’s political rights. Moreau’s early writings also covered themes of pacifism, antialcoholism and health. In 1919, she attended the International Worker’s Congress of Women Physicians in New York.
She married Juan B. Justo (after the death of Justo’s first wife), who was the leader of the Argentine Socialist Party, and had three children with him. This marriage tied her to the party’s fate. After Justo’s death in 1928, she maintained her commitment to suffrage through the Socialist Committee for Women’s Suffrage. The influence of the Socialist Party began to wane in the 1930s, divisions in the party and political repression increased. Although they belonged to different political camps, Moreau and the writer Victoria Ocampo led the women’s movement in the 1930s and fought proposed changes in the Civil Code.
The vote for women came close to being approved in 1932, when it was endorsed by the House of Representatives. During the 1930s Argentina chafed under a military cuop d’état. Moreau was among those commenting on the political scene in Vida femenina, a Socialist journal founded in 1933 and lasting through 1943. Throughout these years, she assumed a pacifist posture, foresaw the rise of European fascism and militarism, and criticized Argentine political corruption. WWII gave Moreau the chance to define the democracy-fascism dyad and sponsor inter-American solidarity. When she published La mujer y la democracia (1945) she was convinced that only democracy would enable women fully to achieve their rights.
When women’s suffrage was approved in 1952, it was not the result of the work of the first-generation feminists such as Moreau but of the political will of Juan Domingo Perón and his wife Evita Perón (better known with the diminutive “Evita”). Under the Perón administration, Socialists bore the brunt of governmental attacks. However, the suffrage law generated considerable controversy, including from supporters of the movement. Harsh criticism came from the Left, especially from the Socialist Party, the earliest advocate of women’s suffrage in Argentina. Also, feminists who had done so much to build the case in favor of voting vehemently opposed the reform, viewing the Peronist suffrage plan as a cynical attempt to boost Evita’s political career. Moreau opposed Peronism and said in a 1977 interview that she never understood completely the importance of nationalism to Argentines.
Moreau rode the fate of her party with dignity and the breadth of her writings and activities defy categorization, but her commitment to human rights, the welfare of children, the rights of women and workers, and the principles of democracy make her an outstanding woman.