Federica Montseny

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Federica Montseny
Minister of Health and Social Policy
In office
Preceded by José Tomás y Piera
Succeeded by Jesús Hernández Tomás (Health) y Jaime Aiguadé y Miró (Social Policy)
Personal details
Born (1905-02-12)February 12, 1905
Madrid, Spain
Died January 14, 1994(1994-01-14) (aged 88)
Toulouse, France
Children Vida Esgleas Montseny
Germinal Esgleas Montseny
Blanca Esgleas Montseny

Federica Montseny i Mañé (Catalan: [munˈsɛɲ]; February 12, 1905 – January 14, 1994) was a Spanish anarchist, intellectual and Minister of Health during the social revolution that occurred in Spain parallel to the Civil War. She is also known as a novelist and essayist.

Early years[edit]

Montseny was born in Madrid, on 12 February 1905. Her parents were the co-editors of the anarchists journal, La Revista Blanca (1898–1905). Federica Montseny was, in her own words, the daughter of a family of old anarchists; her father was the anti-authoritarian writer and propagandist Joan Montseny (Federico Urales); her mother, Soledad Gustavo, was herself an anarchist activist. In 1912 her family returned to Catalonia and later they established a publishing company especialized in libertarian literature. Montseny joined the anarchist labor union CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and wrote for anarchist journals such as Solidaridad Obrera, Tierra y Libertad and Nueva Senda. In 1927 Montseny joined the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI).

Spanish Civil War and Minister of Health[edit]

During the Spanish Civil War, Montseny supported the republican government. She rejected the violence in the republican held territory: "a lust for blood inconceivable in honest man before".[1] In November 1936 Francisco Largo Caballero appointed Montseny as Minister of Health. In doing so, she became the first woman in Spanish history to be a cabinet minister.[2] She was one of the first female ministers in Western Europe (but preceded by Danish Minister of Education, Nina Bang and Miina Sillanpää of Finland), and as minister she aimed to transform public health to meet the needs of the poor and working class. To that end, she supported decentralized, locally responsive and preventative health care programs that mobilized the entire working class for the war effort. She was influenced by the anarchist sex reform movement, which since the 1920s had focused on reproductive rights, and was minister in 1936 when Dr. Félix Martí Ibáñez, the anarchist director general of Health and Social Assistance of the Generalitat de Catalunya, issued the Eugenic Reform of Abortion, a decree effectively making abortion on demand legal in Catalonia.

Given her family libertarian tradition, the decision to enter the Popular Front government was especially difficult. Although joining the government was a move encouraged by the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), this collaboration with the government in order to present a united front to the Fascist threat posed by Francisco Franco's rebel armies, was widely questioned during and long after the war was over. Notably, she was involved in polemics with Emma Goldman, and the recipient of the harsh criticism in Camillo Berneri's open letter of 1937. For many anarchists, the topic of collaboration – with both Marxists and governments – is still a contentious one.


Frederica Montseny speaks at the historical meeting of the CNT in Barcelona on 1977, the first one after 36 years of dictatorship in Spain.

She moved to France in 1939 where she wrote many books, only a fraction of which were political.


  1. ^ Beevor, Antony (2006). The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939. London: Penguin Books. p. 87. 
  2. ^ Thomas, Hugh (2001). The Spanish Civil War. London: Penguin Books. p. 458. ISBN 978-0-14-101161-5. 


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