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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2015

Chapter Four - The Arrival of Iberian Women


You write to me that ... you have a married daughter and four others to marry off as well as a son. It seems to me that these are many children to have to find positions for with the nobles of Spain. I know something about this, for I had to serve them, and seeing how little future there was in this made me come here ... we decided to come to Mexico City where God has been very gracious to us. The only thing we haven’t been lucky in has been children, because the one that came here with us died, and I have had no others. Thus, because you have so many children ... I would be most pleased if you were disposed to come here with my niece. We will take care of all family members who come here. And if you have any money left over that you don’t need for passage, give it to your married daughter.... If you can manage it, come as soon as possible, for I am old, and as I can no longer go back to Spain, I would love to see my niece and her children before I die.... Please tell my niece not to invent any excuses; I am also a woman, and no stronger than any other, but God graciously brought me here and helped me, and thus will He do for her.

Although the discovery and conquest of America was predominantly a male enterprise, Spanish women did have a role in the early settlements. In general, during the period of Spanish conquest, military expeditions sent to explore and conquer a region were made up primarily of men, for Iberian women were considered superfluous during battle. (Some exceptions to this rule were the woman who arrived in Mexico with Cortés’ fleet and the five women included among the founders of the city of Puebla in 1531.) Once the initial conquest was complete, a handful of Spanish women appeared. In the years following conquest, proportionately more Spanish women made their way to the New World. In comparison, the Portuguese were slower to colonize and to send women to America.

Otte, Enrique, Cartas privadas de emigrantes a Indias, 1540–1616 (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1993), 121–122
Hahner, June E., Women in Latin American History: Their Lives and Views (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1976), 18–20
de la Vega, Inca Garcilaso, Historia general del Perú (Lima: Librería Internacional del Perú, 1959), 1:115
Martin, Luis, Daughters of the Conquistadores: Women of the Viceroyalty of Peru (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1983), 14–15
Soeiro, Susan A., “The Feminine Orders in Colonial Bahia, Brazil: Economic, Social, and Demographic Implications, 1677–1899,” in Lavrin, Asunción, ed., Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978), 176