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Forging a Gender Path in Modern Mexican History

  • Mary Kay Vaughan (a1)


In 1975, Richard Graham asked me to give a paper on Mexican women at the Southwestern Social Science Association meeting. Surely, he asked me only because he thought that as a woman I would know something about women—I am sure that was my only qualification in his mind. Thankfully, he also asked Dawn Keremitsis, who had done work on Mexican women workers. Fortunately, I had included in my 1973 dissertation a chapter on women's vocational education. I wrote my entire dissertation on José Vasconcelos's educational crusade in a state of shock at the race and class biases I encountered in the documents. In the case of women, my outrage soared, propelled by my second-wave-feminist conviction that women had to be liberated from the slavery of the home. So I had written a dogmatic chapter and paper on how revolutionary educators wanted to remove women from the workforce, restore them to domesticity, train them to work in small, badly paid, home-based industries, and subordinate them to men and motherhood. Middle-class women prescribed class practices of motherhood and domesticity as if, I argued, women of the subaltern classes knew nothing of homemaking and mothering.



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1. Keremitsis, Dawn, La industria textil mexicana (Mexico City: SEP-Setentas, 1973).

2. The paper was published as “Women, Class, and Education in the Mexican Revolution,” Latin American Perspectives 4:1-2 (1977): 63–80.

3. I first presented the essay at a conference on gender and the state in Latin America, held at the University of London's Institute of Latin American Studies in 1996. It was published as The Mexican Revolution and the Modernization of Patriarchy in the Countryside, 1930–1940,” in Hidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America, Dore, Elizabeth and Molyneux, Maxine, eds. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 194214 .

4. Vaughan, Mary Kay, Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–1940 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1997).

5. Vaughan, Mary Kay, Portrait of a Young Painter: Pepe Zúñiga and Mexico City's Rebel Generation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015).

6. The bibliography is very long now and I cite here just a portion of it. See, among others on women in labor struggles, María Teresa Fernández, “The Political Mobilization of Women in Revolutionary Guadalajara, 1910–1940” (PhD diss.: University of Illinois Chicago, 2000); Fernández, , “Once We were Corn Grinders. Women and Labor in the Tortilla Industry of Guadalajara, 1920–1940,” International Labor and Working Class History 63 (2003): 81101 ; Fernández, “The Struggle between the Metate and the Molina de Nixtamal in Guadalajara, 1920–1940,” in Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics and Power in Modern Mexico, Jocelyn Olcott, Mary Kay Vaughan, and Gabriela Cano, eds. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 147–161; Susan Gauss, “Working Class Masculinity and the Rationalized Sex: Gender and Industrial Modernization in the Textile Industry in Post-revolutionary Puebla,” in Sex in Revolution, 181–198; Olcott, Jocelyn, “Miracle Workers: Gender and State Mediation among Textile and Garment Workers in Mexicós Transition to Industrial Development,” International Labor and Working-Class History 63 (2003): 4562; Heather Fowler Salamini, “Gender, Work, Trade Unionism and Working Class Women's Culture in Post-revolutionary Veracruz,” in Sex in Revolution, 162–180; and Salamini, Fowler, Working Women, Entrepreneurs, and the Mexican Revolution: The Coffee Culture of Córdoba, Veracruz (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013). On women and the Communist Party, see Olcott, Jocelyn, Revolutionary Women in Post-Revolutionary Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006) and Verónica Oikión's biography of María Refugio García Martínez (forthcoming). On the struggle for women's rights, see Bliss, Katherine, Compromised Positions: Prostitution, Public Health and Gender Politics in Revolutionary Mexico City (University Park, Penn State University Press, 2001); Sarah A. Buck, “Activists and Mothers: Feminist and Maternalist Politics in Mexico, 1923–1953” (PhD diss.: Rutgers, 2002); Buck, “New Perspectives on Female Suffrage,” History Compass 3 (2005),; Cano, Gabriela, “Debates en torno al sufragio y la ciudadanía de las mujeres en México,” in Historia de las mujeres en España y América Latina, del siglo xx a los umbrales del xxi , Deusa, Isabel Morant, ed. (Madrid: Cátedra, 2005–6), 535551 ; Jaiven, Ana Lau, “Mujeres, feminismo y sufragio en los años veinte,” in Un fantasma recorre el siglo. Luchas feministas en México 1910–2010, Damián, Gisela Espinosa and Jaiven, Ana Lau, coords. (Mexico City: UAM-X, CSH, Departamento de Relaciones Sociales, 2011); Macias, Anna, Against All Odds: The Feminist Movement in Mexico to 1940 (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1982); Porter, Susie, From Angel to Office Worker: Women, Middle Class Identity, and the Emergence of a Female Consciousness in Mexico, 1890–1950 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming); Olcott, Jocelyn, Revolutionary Women; Carmen Ramos Escandón, “Womeńs Movements, Feminism, and Mexican Politics,” in The Womeńs Movement in Latin America: Participation and Democracy, Jaquette, Jane S., ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), 199221 ; Smith, Stephanie, Gender and the Mexican Revolution: Yucatán Women and the Realities of Patriarchy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Soto, Shirlene, Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman. Her Participation in Revolution and Struggle for Equality, 1910–1940 (Denver: Arden Press, 1990); Pablos, Enriqueta Tuñón, Por fin!—ya podemos elegir y ser electas (Mexico City: Plaza y Valdez, 2002); and Pablos, Esperanza Tuñón, Mujeres que se organizan: El Frente Único pro Derechos de la Mujer, 1935-38 (Mexico City: UNAM/Porrua, 1992).

7. Blum, Ann, Domestic Economies: Family, Work, and Welfare in Mexico City, 1884–1943 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009): Cano, Gabriela, Amalia Castillo Ledón: mujer de letras, mujer de poder. Antología (Mexico City: CONACULTA, 2011); Cerecedo, Alicia Civera, La escuela como opción de la vida. La formación de maestras normalistas rurales en México, 1921–1945 (Toluca: Colegio Mexiquense, 2008); Olcott, Jocelyn, Revolutionary Women; Susie Porter, From Angel to Office Worker; Nichole Sanders, Gender and Welfare in Mexico. The Consolidation of a Post-Revolutionary State, 1937–1958 (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2012).

8. Arrom, Silvia, The Women of Mexico City, 1790–1857 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985); Arrom, Volunteering for a Cause: Gender, Faith, and Charity in Mexico from the Reform to the Revolution (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016); López, Francie Chassen, “‘Cheaper than Machines’: Women and Agriculture in Porfirian Oaxaca, 1800–1911,” in Women of the Mexican Countryside, 1850–1990, Salamini, Heather Fowler and Vaughan, Mary Kay, eds. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994), 5173; López, Chassen, “A Patron of Progress: Juana Catarina Romero, the Nineteenth Century Cacica of Tehuantepec,” Hispanic American Historical Review 88:3 (2008): 393426; Francois, Marie Eileen, A Culture of Everyday Credit. Housekeeping, Pawnbroking, and Government in Mexico City, 1750–1920 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006); Florencia Mallon, “Exploring the Origins of Democratic Patriarchy in Mexico: Gender and Popular Resistance in the Puebla Highlands, 1850–1876,” in Women of the Mexican Countryside, 3–26; Porter, Susie, Working Women in Mexico City: Public Discourses and Material Conditions, 1879–1931 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003); Ramos Escandón, Carmen, Industrialización, género y trabajo feminino en el sector textil mexicano: el obraje, la fábrica y la compañía industrial (Mexico City: CIESAS, 2004).

9. Kristina Boylan, “Gendering the Faith and Altering the Nation: The Unión Femenina Católica Mexicana and Women's Revolutionary and Religious Experiences (1917–1940),” in Sex in Revolution, 199–222; Nichole Sanders, Gender and Welfare; Schell, Patience, Church and State Education in Revolutionary Mexico (Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 2003).

10. Fowler Salamini and Vaughan, Women of the Mexican Countryside, 1850–1990.

11. Sex in Revolution; Cano, Gabriela, Olcott, Jocelyn, Vaughan, Mary Kay, eds., Género, poder y política en el México posrevolucionario (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2009); Mitchell, Stephanie and Schell, Patience E., eds., The Women's Revolution in Mexico, 1910–1953 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).

12. Fernández, María Teresa, Escandón, Carmen Ramos, Porter, Susie S., eds., Orden social e identidad de género. México, siglos XIX y XX (Guadalajara: CIESAS/Universidad de Guadalajara, 2006); Porter, Susie and Aceves, María Teresa Fernández, eds., Género en la encrucijada de la historia cultural y social (Mexico City: Colegio de Michoacán/CIESAS, 2015).

13. Alegre, Robert, Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico: Gender, Class, and Memory (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014); Bachelor, Steve, “Toiling for the ‘New Invaders’: Autoworkers, Transnational Corporations, and Working Class Culture in Mexico City, 1955–1968,” in Fragments of a Golden Age: The Politics of Culture since 1940, Joseph, Gilbert M., Rubenstein, Anne, and Zolov, Eric, eds. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 273326 ; Buffington, Robert, Criminal and Citizen in Modern Mexico (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000); Buffington, A Sentimental Education for the Working Man: The Mexico City Penny Press, 1900–1910 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015); French, William, A Peaceful and Working People: Manners, Morals, and Class Formation in Northern Mexico (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1996); French, The Heart in the Glass Jar: Love Letters, Bodies, and the Law in Mexico (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015); Irwin, Robert McKee, McCaughan, Edward, Nasser, Michelle Rocío, eds., The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico, 1901 (New York: Palgrave Press, 2003); McKee Irwin, Robert, Mexican Masculinities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2003); Macías González, Victor M., “Masculine Friendships, Sentiment, and Homoerotics in Nineteenth-Century Mexico: The Correspondence of José María Calderón y Tapia, 1820s-1850s,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 16:3 (2007): 416435 ; González, Macías, “The Transnational Homophile Movement and the Development of Domesticity in Mexico City's Homosexual Community, 1930-70,” in Gender, Imperialism, and Global Exchanges, Miescher, Stephan F., Mitchell, Michelle, and Shibusawa, Naoko, eds. (Chichester, UK, and Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 132157 ; González, Macías, “Transnationalism and the Development of Domesticity in Mexico City's Homophile Community, 1920–1960,” Gender History 23: 3 (October 2014): 519544; Macías González, “The Lagartijo at the High Life: Notes on Masculine Consumption, Race, Nation, and Homosexuality in Porfirian Mexico,” in The Famous 41, 227–250; González, Macías and Rubenstein, Anne, Masculinity and Sexuality in Modern Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012); Piccato, Pablo, City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); Piccato, Tyranny of Opinion: Honor in the Construction of the Mexican Public Sphere (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); Snodgrass, Michael, Deference and Defiance in Monterrey: Workers, Paternalism, and Revolution in Mexico, 1890–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Stern, Steve, The Secret History of Gender: Women, Men, and Power in Late Colonial Mexico (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997).

14. Hershfield, Joanne, Mexican Cinema/Mexican Woman, 1940–1950 (Tucson: University of Arizona, 1996); Hershfield, Imaging the Chica Moderna: Woman, Nation, and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1917–1936 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008); Rubenstein, Anne, Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation: A Political History of Comic Books in Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998); Rubenstein,“Bodies, Cities, Cinema: The Death and Funeral of Pedro Infante as a Political Spectacle,” in Fragments of a Golden Age, 198–223; Rubenstein, “The War on ‘Las Pelonas’: Modern Women and their Enemies,” in Sex in Revolution, 57–80; Rubenstein, “Locating Male Sexualities in Latin American History: Two Latin American Models,” History Compass 57 (2003): 11–19; Macías, Victor and Rubenstein, Anne, Masculinity and Sexuality in Modern Mexico, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012); Tuñón, Julia, Mujeres de luz y sombra en el cine mexicano: la construcción de una imagen (1939–1952) (Mexico City: Colegio de México–Imcine, 1998); Tuñón, Mexican Women: A Past Unveiled (Austin: University of Texas Press, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1999), Tuñón, “Femininity, Indigenismo, and Nation: Film Representation of Emilio “El Indio” Fernández,” in Sex and Revolution, 81–98.

15. Deutsch, Sandra McGee, “Gender and Socio-Political Change in Twentieth-Century Latin America,” Hispanic American Historical Review 71: 2 (1991): 260276 .

16. Gillingham, Paul and Smith, Ben, Dictablanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938–1968 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

17. Paul Gillingham, “‘We Don't Have Arms, but We Do Have Balls’: Fraud, Violence, and Popular Agency in Elections,” in Dictablanda, 149–172; Wil G. Pansters, “Tropical Passion in the Desert: Gonzalo N. Santos and Local Elections in Northern San Luis Potosí, 1943–1958,” in Dictablanda, 126–148.

18. María Teresa Fernández Aceves, “Advocate or Cacica? Guadalupe Urzúa Flores: Modernizer and Peasant Political Leader,” in Dictablanda, 236–254.

19. Heather Fowler Salamini, Working Women, Entrepreneurs.

20. Silvia Arrom, Containing the Poor; Kristina Boylan, “Gendering the Faith and Altering the Nation”; Nichole Sanders, Gender and Welfare.

21. See Susie Porter, From Angel to Office Worker.

22. For example, see Luis Gónzalez de Alba, “1968: La fiesta y la tragedia,” Nexos, September 1993–Numeralia,; Niebla, Gilberto Guevara, La democracia en la calle: crónica del movimiento estudiantil mexicano (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1988); Hugo Hiriart, “La revuelta anti-autoritaria,” Nexos, January 1, 1988,

23. Soldatenko, Michael, “Mexico '68: Power to the Imagination!Latin American Perspectives 143 (2005): 117 .

24. Frazier, Lessie Jo and Cohen, Deborah, “Mexico 68: Defining the Space of the Movement, Heroic Masculinity in the Prison and Women in the Streets,” Hispanic American Historical Review 83 (2003): 617660 . On gender and 1968, see also Carey, Elaine, Plazas of Sacrifice: Gender, Power and Terror in 1968 Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005).

25. Paco Ignacio Taibo II, '68 (Mexico City: Planeta, 1991), 42–44.

26. As quoted in Poniatowska, Elena, La Noche de Tlatelolco (Mexico City: Era, 1999), 126 .

27. Mary Kay Vaughan, Portrait of a Young Painter.

28. On Pedro Infante, see Anne Rubenstein, “Bodies, Cities, Cinema: Pedro Infante's Death as Political Spectacle,” 199–233; and Monsiváis, Carlos, Pedro Infante: las leyes de querer (Mexico City, Editorial Aguilar, 2008).

29. Paz, Octavio, Laberinto de la soledad (Mexico City: Cuadernos Americanos, 1950), published in English by Grove Press (New York) in 1961; Lewis, Oscar, The Children of Sánchez (New York, Random House, 1961), published in Spanish as Los hijos de Sánchez (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Ecónomica, 1964); Fromm, Erich, The Art of Loving (New York: Harper, 1956), published as El arte de amar (Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1966). Chava Flores's songs are available at See also the excellent essay of Guizar, Eduardo, “Crónica musical en México: el caso de Chava Flores,” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 23 (2004): 5569 .

30. Synthesized from pp. 134–5, Vaughan, Portrait of a Young Painter.

31. Boyer, Christopher, Political Landscape: Forests, Conservation, and Community in Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 13. The contribution of young forestry officials, environmentalists, and NGOs to the rise of community forestry runs through Andrew Matthews's study of forest communities of Juárez, Oaxaca's Sierra, Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).

The CLAH Award for Distinguished Service is conferred upon a person whose career in scholarship, teaching, publishing, librarianship, institutional development, or other fields demonstrates significant contributions to the advancement of the study of Latin American history in the United States. For 2016, the recipient was Mary Kay Vaughan, who specializes in the cultural, gender, and educational history of modern Mexico. She is former coeditor of the Hispanic American Historical Review and past president of the Conference on Latin American History. She has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars (Fulbright), and the Social Science Research Council. She has published three monographs and coedited four collections. Her book, Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–1940, received the Herbert Eugene Bolton Prize and the Bryce Wood Award.

Forging a Gender Path in Modern Mexican History

  • Mary Kay Vaughan (a1)


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