From literature to history
Intellectual women of the first Centenary of the Republic
Angela Luna and Luis Sihuacollo
After Peru’s declaration of independence, power struggles caused economic difficulties, amidst the profound inequalities that characterized the life and customs of the society at the time. The liberator José de San Martín inaugurated the Primera Escuela Normal de Varones (First Normal School for Boys) (1822) and decreed in the First Constituent Congress of Peru (1823) the obligatory nature of primary education for all. Likewise, in 1826, the government of Simón Bolívar ordered the creation of schools for men and women in Lima and other cities, but due to successive crises many of them did not function regularly.
The courses the girls received in these schools were religion, reading, writing, arithmetic, music, geography, history, and domestic work. It was President Andrés de Santa Cruz who decreed, in 1836, the levelling of education for both sexes according to the roles that each one played in society. Thus, women were trained in schools run by religious congregations to be mothers, wives, and home administrators.
The Frenchwoman Flora Tristán (Paris, 1803-Bordeaux, 1844), daughter of Arequipa colonel Mariano Tristán y Moscoso, arrived in Peru in 1833 and lived in the cities of Arequipa and Lima. On her return to Paris in 1835, she published Peregrinaciones de una paria (Peregrinations of a Pariah) (1838), based on the observations and experiences of the time she spent in Peru. In her work, the author denounced the inequalities faced by women in society and demanded social justice for the oppressed classes.
After 50 years of military governments, and in the midst of the economic crisis produced by the overexploitation of guano, Manuel Pardo y Lavalle, founder of the Civil Party, was elected president. Without economic resources and with a political project to recover the political participation of the citizenry, Pardo y Lavalle became interested in education and decreed a new regulation of public instruction (1876) to put into effect the schools created in the preceding regimes. Free education was established and the years of instruction in primary school were equalized, but not in secondary school. While this new reform improved some conditions for girls’ education, courses in science, law, and politics – taught to boys – remained outside their training.
In this context, intellectual women (whose economic and social privileges allowed them to train as writers), influenced by European liberal thought, questioned the gender roles determined by the society of that time. For this reason, and in view of the need to share their reflections with the enlightened elite, they organized a series of literary meetings in their own homes. Argentinean writer Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892), who had been the wife of Bolivian President Isidoro Belzú, set up one of the best known literary salons/gatherings in Lima – held in 1876 and 1877 – in which the participants discussed the need for an equitable and inclusive education for women in order to achieve the progress of the country.
Among those attending the salon, three groups were distinguished. In the first one was the enlightened elite, formed by Teresa González (1836-1918), Mercedes Cabello (1842-1909), Carolina Freire (1844-1916), Clorinda Matto de Turner (1852-1909), Juana Manuela Laso (1819-1905) and her daughter, Mercedes Eléspuru Laso, Ricardo Palma, Numa Pompilio Llona, among others. The second group was made up of the families that accompanied the women, since only under the pretext of illustrating themselves were they allowed to participate. Finally, the third group was made up of the national press – the newspapers El Nacional, La Opinión Nacional and El Comercio – which documented and made visible such interventions. In these private spaces emerged the texts that Gorriti compiled and published under the title of Veladas literarias de Lima. 1876-1877 (1892). Women’s intellectual production was maintained and disseminated in the public sphere through the newspapers and magazines of the time. Some of them were even promoted and directed by the participants of the talks themselves. Thus, following the example of La Bella Limeña (1872) -the first female cultural magazine created by Arequipa poet Abel de la Encarnación Delgado-, Juana Manuela Gorriti founded with Carolina Freire the literary newspaper El Álbum (1874) and the magazine La Alborada (1874), both printed by the writer Ángela Carbonell.
The Enlightened Women of the First Centenary
After the war between Peru and Chile (1879-1883), our country had to face a new generalized crisis as a consequence of the war, which interrupted the projects of educational reforms that were being developed. One of them was, for example, the one presented by the parliamentarians Francisco Gonzáles and José Manuel Pinzás (1878) to confer university degrees to women, a project that did not prosper. The case is known of Maria Trinidad Enriquez, who, thanks to a resolution issued by the Congress of the Republic (1874), became the first woman in Peru and Latin America to pursue university studies. This Cusqueña had the possibility, at the hands of President Nicolás de Piérola, to receive a degree in Law, but she refused this privilege out of solidarity with the other women who were prevented from obtaining a professional title. Finally, without practicing her profession for lack of an academic degree, she died on 20 April 1891.
In this context of crisis and precarious education for women, Clorinda Matto revived intellectual activity in Cuzco, Arequipa and Lima, through literary gatherings. In a letter that Gorriti wrote to her, the following exhortation can be read: «Sigue el mismo plan que yo impuse a las del 76, interrumpidas por la guerra» («Follow the same plan that I imposed on those of  76, interrupted by the war»). Thus, from 1887 to 1891, Matto again gathered a group of intellectuals, both women and men, to discuss aspects of artistic creation, but also to question the narrow conditions that the indigenous population endured in all areas of Peruvian life. Among the participants and attendees of these meetings we can mention Ricardo Palma and his daughter, Angélica Palma, Jorge Miguel Amézaga, Mercedes Cabello, Flora Orihuela, Teresa González, Lastenia Larriva and Juana Manuela Gorriti.
As a consequence of these meetings, the 1880s offered an intense feminine editorial work, since some women founded, directed or wrote in newspapers and magazines in Lima and other cities, like Clorinda Matto herself, who assumed the direction of the magazine El Perú Ilustrado (from 1889 to 1891) and the newspaper Los Andes (1892). Other newspapers that published the works of this generation of intellectuals were El Correo del Perú, El Comercio, El Nacional, El Eco del Misti, La Bolsa, La Patria, La Perla del Rímac, La Bella Limeña, La Bella Tacneña, El Semanario del Pacífico, Recreo del Cuzco and El Mercurio Peruano, among others.
Along with this generation of writers, there was another group of women who had access to higher education, in Peru and abroad, such as Margarita Práxedes (1848?-1909), first woman graduate in Arts and Sciences from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (1890); Elvira García y García (1862-1951), who earned a degree in secondary education (1905) also from the Universidad de San Marcos. Likewise, Zoila Aurora Cáceres (1877-1958) graduated from the School of Higher Social Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris with the thesis «El feminismo en Berlín» («Feminism in Berlin»); and, finally, Miguelina Acosta (1887-1933) supported the thesis «Nuestra institución del matrimonio rebaja la condición jurídica social de la mujer» («Our institution of marriage lowers the social status of women») (1920) at the University of San Marcos, to receive her degree in Law.
There were also those women whose work was manifested through biographies, novels, essays and chronicles of specific themes or problems of Peruvian cultural life. Among them we can mention María Nieves y Bustamante (1861-1947), author of the romantic novel of Arequipa: Jorge o el hijo del pueblo; Amalia Puga (1866-1963), Ángela Ramos (1896-1988) and Rosa Arciniega (1909-1999). These works would be used decades later as documentary sources, since, as Raúl Porras Barrenechea already pointed out: «a través de la biografía y del ensayo se han estudiado a veces con más intensidad que en las historias panorámicas algunos periodos de nuestra historia» («through biography and essay, some periods of our history have been studied sometimes more intensely than in the panoramic stories»).
Peruvian Historians of the 20th Century
At the beginning of the 20th century, several events occurred that ended up reshaping the world’s economic, political, social and cultural landscape. Peru was no stranger to these events and university youths followed with great attention the news coming from the Mexican Revolution (1910), the Great War (1914-1918) and the Russian Revolution (1917); however, it was the Cordoba University Reform (1918) that substantially influenced the ideas that a handful of students from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM) raised to modernize this house of studies.
Under these new provisions, many women obtained an academic degree, which even allowed them access to university chairs, such as Rebeca Carrión Cachot (1907-1960), who obtained a doctorate in History and Letters from the UNMSM with the thesis «La indumentaria en la antigua cultura de Paracas» (1931). This research showed the differences in texture, technique and ornamentation visible between the two phases of Paracas (Caves and Necropolis) from abundant examples of its textile art. However, Carrión had already submitted for publication, in 1923, a work entitled «La mujer y el niño en el antiguo Perú» («The Woman and the Child in Ancient Peru»), in which she sought to demonstrate, through iconographic material, the mother-child relationship as a primordial factor in the social advancement of the pre-Hispanic world.
Later, in 1955, she published El culto al agua en el antiguo Perú, a suggestive study that highlighted the importance of the feminine element in the religious thought of our cultures, since, in addition to the Sun, she identified the Moon (symbolized in the sacred vessel called paccha) as a divinity that represents women in the various myths that describe this ancestral rite.
Another outstanding scholar of ancient Peru was Maria Rostworowski (1915-2016), who freely attended various departments at the UNMSM thanks to the efforts of Raul Porras Barrenechea. Her concern about this historical period was materialized in the book Estructuras andinas del poder: ideología religiosa y política (1983), in which she questioned «las graves distorsiones y tergiversaciones impuestas a los esquemas religiosos andinos por los europeos» («the serious distortions and misrepresentations imposed on Andean religious schemes by Europeans»), since «muchos de nuestros errores se inician en las referencias dadas por los cronistas» («many of our errors begin with the references given by the chroniclers»), he said. Likewise, the collation of new sources allowed her to identify a «diarquía entre los incas» («diarchy among the Incas»), that is to say, a dual vision of the world – where the feminine element takes high relevance – that crossed all the spheres of the Inca life. In 1988 she published Historia del Tahuantinsuyu, which meant a discussion with the traditional and current reading of the Inca world.
On the other hand, Ella Dunbar Temple (1918-1998) obtained her doctorate in History and Literature from the UNMSM with the thesis «La descendencia de Huayna Cápac» (1946), a work that, in addition to winning the National Prize of Inca History Garcilaso de la Vega the following year, was a pioneer in ethno-historical studies. This genealogy did not stop «únicamente en las figuras de primer plano […] sino que hemos intentado deslindar también las figuras borrosas e inéditas de una serie de miembros integrantes de ese linaje» («only in the foreground figures […] but we have also tried to make clear the blurred and unpublished figures of a series of members of that lineage»). Likewise, she founded the chairs of Institutions and of History of Geography, and wrote the prologue of several volumes of the documentary compilations that were published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Independence of Peru, highlighting the popular participation in the social separatist movements, since «la Emancipación peruana no significó tan solo el resultado de la influencia del nuevo pensamiento foráneo […], sino, fundamentalmente, la eclosión de una lenta y laboriosa preparación […] de tendencias e ideas fuerzas emanadas del propio y secular fondo histórico peruano» («the Peruvian Emancipation did not mean only the result of the influence of the new foreign thought […], but, fundamentally, the emergence of a slow and laborious preparation […] of tendencies and idea forces emanating from the very own and secular Peruvian historical background»).
In short, a generation of women who reconfigured Peruvian historiography from the use of multiple sources not only documentary, but also archaeological for a better reconstruction and interpretation of history in Peru.