Soldaderas were female soldiers who went into combat alongside men during the Mexican Revolution, which initially broke out in opposition to the conservative, authoritarian Díaz regime. The term is derived from the Spanish word soldada which denotes a payment made to the person who provided for a soldier's well being. This payment would usually be for the everyday tasks, much like a wife would perform, or for sexual relations. Soldaderas had been a part of Mexican military long before the Mexican Revolution, however, numbers increased drastically once the revolution began. As well, the revolution saw the emergence of the female soldier, whereas before, soldaderas would have only been what we now call camp followers and performed tasks such as taking care of the male soldiers; cooking, cleaning, setting up camp, cleaning their weapons and so forth. For soldaderas, the Mexican Revolution was their greatest time in history. Even though female soldiers were numerous during the revolution, the majority of soldaderas were still what would be considered camp followers, and whether a soldier or camp follower, the majority were lower class, rural, mestizo and Indian women. There has been a lot of emphasis on female soldiers but without the camp followers, the armies fighting in the revolution would have had a lot harder lives. Joining the revolution happened for many different reasons, however, it was not always voluntarily.
- 1 Reasons For Joining
- 2 Roles
- 3 Differences Between Army Factions
- 4 Treatment
- 5 Famous Women
- 6 Corridos
- 7 Portrayals in Modern Day
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Reasons For Joining
One reason for joining the revolution was through brutal force. Male soldiers would often kidnap women and force them to join the fight. Other times soldiers would turn up at villages and demand that all the women there join. If the women refused they would be threatened until they gave in or else would be shot and killed. These kidnappings were no secret in Mexico and were frequently reported in the country’s newspapers. In April 1913, the Mexican Herald newspaper reported that 40 women were captured from the town of Jojutla, by Zapatista armies, as well as all the women from a neighboring town two kilometers away. However, literacy rates for women, especially in the countryside, were extremely low, only averaging around 9.5% of the women. This meant that majority of the women would only be able to get information about all the kidnappings by word of mouth. This process would mean that it was probably too late to help yourself by the time revolutionary armies showed up in your town. Another form of forcefully making women join the revolution was by a woman’s husband. He would want a woman to take care of him whilst he was in a war and his wife would seem the perfect person for the job. A famous US journalist John Reed once asked a soldier why his wife had to also go and fight for Madero’s army, and he responded by saying, “shall I starve then? Who shall make my tortillas but my woman?”
Another reason to join the revolution, and probably the most common, was for protection from the men in your family, most often either your husband, father, brother, who had joined one of the revolutionary armies. There was a great need for protection for females as there would be very few males left in their villages, one of the reasons why revolutionary armies had such an easy time going to these villages and forcing the women to join them. It was a very common event for a woman to follow her husband and join whatever force he was fighting for, and she was most likely to be more than willing to do so. Especially once the kidnappings began to be more frequent, women who had initially stayed home decided to join the male family members that were fighting. In 1911 in the town of Torreon, a young female named Chico ended up being the last female left in her household because Orozco’s troops had rampaged the village and killed her mother and sisters. Just like Chico, numerous females joined the forces for the protection of male family members.
Older women would also join the armies as an act of revenge towards the authoritarian regime. These women would have had husbands, brothers or sons killed by the federal army and so with little less to live for she would join the fight for the revolution. Another reason to join was because the women actually supported the ideals that these armies were fighting for, whether the revolutionary or federal armies, and truly wanted to help in some way. More lower class females joined the fight and were fighting on the side of the revolutionary forces. One of the reasons for the revolution was to have some sort of an agrarian reform, and since lower-class people’s lives depended on farming, it made sense to join the side they did.
Camp followers had numerous roles to fulfill, all of which were to look after the male soldiers. Some of the basic roles would be to cook the meals, clean up after meals, clean the weapons and to set up camp for the army. Often, the women would get to the camp site ahead of the men in order to have camp all set up and to begin preparing the food so it was almost ready by the time the men showed up. Foraging, nursing and smuggling were also some of the other tasks they had. Towns that had just previously been fought in were the perfect location for foraging. Once the soldiers had left the women would loot stores for food and search through dead bodies looking for anything that could be of value or use. Taking care of and nursing the wounded and sick was also another important task women had to fulfill. It was an extremely important role since medical care was not available to most of the soldiers and these women were their only chance of survival if they were wounded. If the army was in an area close enough to a hospital, then women would also be responsible to get the soldiers that were badly wounded there, pulling them along in ox-carts. Not only did camp followers perform these duties, but also had a much more war-like task. They would have to smuggle hundreds and hundreds of rounds of ammunition to the fighting forces, especially from the United States into Mexico. They would hide the ammunition under their skirts and were given this duty because they were perceived as harmless women and therefore hardly ever caught.
Female soldiers were considered to make up around 200 of the soldaderas throughout all the different revolutionary armies. In general, they were women holding a more upper class status because for the most part you would have to supply your own horse. An officer in the army would not give a female soldier a horse over a male and so if you joined an army not under disguise as a male, you would have to have enough money to own a horse. Other women would become a female soldier by first joining the army as a male trying to achieve equality. They would talk in deep voices, wear men’s clothing and wrap up their breasts tightly to try and hide them. The most obvious role they had was to fight against the male soldiers in battles. However, that was not all, at least for the soldiers that were known to be female and not under disguise. One task they would have to perform would be to spy on enemy armies. They would dress up like proper women and join the camp followers of an enemy army to try and gain inside information. They would also be given important information that they would have to relay between generals of the same army. Some would say they were given this task because they were trusted, but more likely the reason would be because males still did not see these women as equals and being messengers seemed like a more feminine role of a soldier.
Differences Between Army Factions
There were many differences on how each of the army factions during the Mexican Revolution utilized soldaderas. The roles of camp followers and soldiers remained largely the same but the amounts of each differed. The federal army had large amounts of camp followers but very few soldiers. It was somewhat frowned upon to bring your wife or family along with you and so there was a lack of women taking care of the men. As a result, finding women to supply food and cook for them was important and so it became a massive business for numerous women. Supplying food became an opportunity for these women, and a better opportunity than anything else promised them in their villages. Within the Madero army and Orozco army things were completely different. Both of these troops also lacked camp followers but they did greatly utilize female soldiers. They lacked camp followers because there was not much need for them. They mostly operated locally and so it was much easier to return home for food and to see your woman. As well, when they did travel further distances, they relied on travel by horse rather than trains and so it was not possible to bring along the women. But they would have taken their female soldiers with them as they would have had their own horses and there was very little division of labor between male and female soldiers in these armies. Within the Zapatista army, things were again different. He barely had any camp followers and was rare for him to have any female soldiers. His army faction was considered the forces of the people and so wherever they went, it was most likely that villages would help out and feed the troops. However, because of this lack of women, and lack of going home to your own woman, there was a huge desire for sex from the army troops. As a result, the Zapatista army was known and famous for raping women in these villages.
The treatment of women varied between different leaders, but in general they were not treated well at all, and even the horses were treated better than they were. They were valued much higher and so when travelling by train, the horses would get the time to rest peacefully in the train carts and the women would be surrendered to travel on the roof. Travelling by train was already risky enough as Villa was infamous for blowing up trains and railroads. Then on top of that, having to be on the roof in plain sight made it even more dangerous. There are also stories of women not being valued with high regards and were used a shield to protect Obregon and his male troops. Life for a soldadera, camp follower or soldier, was already extremely hard and so on top of this, not being treated well made their lives even worse. Their lives would cause them to be drained and fatigued, as well as their mistreatment causing them to no longer having a femininity or sweetness about themselves.
Massacre of Soldaderas
The most horrific event that took place showing the appalling treatment of women during the Mexican Revolution is known as the massacre of the soldaderas. The massacre happened in the hands of Villa, who had been known to treat women the worst, but the event that took place was terrible even for his standards. It took place on the 12th of December 1916 and he and his men captured and killed around 90 women. The story goes that there was a shot fired from the group of women, towards the direction of Villa. None of the women, whether they actually knew or not, gave anyone up as the culprit. Villa then ordered his men to kill every single female in the group. Orders were given and shots were fired until every last person was dead, including children. Once Villa's troops had obeyed their orders they were then told to rummage through the bodies looking for valuables. During their search they found a baby still alive, brought the baby to Villa, but again was told that their orders were to kill absolutey everyone, including that baby. This event that took place was not part of the revolutionary war, but a complete massacre.
Rising above the ideals of the norm, there were some women that gained fame during the fight for a revolution. One of the most famous female soldiers was a woman named Petra Herrera. At the beginning she disguised herself as a male and took the name of Pedro Herrera and joined the ranks of Villa’s army. She kept her identity a secret until she had been acknowledged as a great soldier only to be disappointed. According to one of Villa’s troops, Herrera was the person who should have been credited for the siege of the town of Torreon. However, Villa was not willing to have a female take credit as an important role in a battle and therefore she was never given what she deserved. As a result of her lack of acknowledgment, Herrera left Villa’s troops and formed her own troop of all female soldiers. She became an ally of Carranza and his army and became a legend for all females around the country.
Angela Jiménez was another female soldier that gained her fame in history. She originally joined the revolutionary forces, joining her father fighting the federal army because there had been a raid in her village by federal troops. A federal officer had tried to rape her sister, was unsuccessful though and her sister managed to kill him but then right after she took her own life. Jiménez then decided to join her father fighting against the federal army and disguised herself as a male. She fought for multiple rebel groups but ended up fighting with Carranza and then revealed her true identity. Even known as a woman she rose to the position of lieutenant and earned the respect from the rest of the troops. She continued fighting the federal army for years under her true identity as a female, and was a true believer that having a revolution would be the start of having justice.
María Quinteras de Meras
María Quinteras de Meras was one of the most shocking female soldiers of the time. She joined Villa’s army in 1910 and by 1913 she had risen the ranks of the army and was a well decorated soldier. She had so much respect as a soldier, that her husband, who served in the same army, was actually lower in rank than herself. Villa was known to be hateful of female soldiers and so this respect from him was shocking. That unexpected respect was also enough for María Quinteras de Meras and so she did not allow Villa to pay her anything for fighting in his army. She gained this respect because she was a very gifted soldier. She was known to fight just as well as any male soldier and was even thought to have supernatural powers.
Corridos are ballads or folk songs that came around during the Mexican Revolution and started to gain popularity after the revolution. Most of these corridos were about soldaderas and originally were battle hymns, but now have been ways for soldaderas to gain some fame and be documented in history. However, in most corridos, an aspect of love was part of the story line and in current day they became extremely romanticized.
The most famous corrido is called La Adelita and was based on a woman who was a soldadera for Madero’s troops. This corrido and the image of this woman became the symbol of the revolution and Adelita’s name has become synonymous with any female soldier. No one truly knows if the corrido based on this woman was a female soldier or a camp follower, or even perhaps that she was just a representation of a mix of different females that were a part of the revolution. Whatever the truth though, in Mexico and the US today, Adelita has become an inspiration and a symbol for any woman who fights for her rights.
Portrayals in Modern Day
Popular culture has changed the image of soldaderas throughout history, however, it has not been a static definition and has made the image ever-changing. Mass media in Mexico turned the female soldiers into heroines that sacrificed their lives for the revolution, and turned camp followers into nothing more than just prostitutes. As a result, it made the idea of a female soldier synonymous with a soldadera and the idea of a camp follower was unimportant and therefore forgotten. However, with more recent popular culture, even the image of female soldiers has become sexualized. Images of female soldiers have become consumerist products portrayed as sexy females rather than portraying them with as the revolutionary soldiers that they were. The modern day images of soldaderas do not maintain the positive, worthy aspects of the real-life soldaderas from history. However, images of soldaderas in popular culture are not always extremely sexualized. Adelita, now synonymous with a soldadera, has also become a part of children’s popular culture. Tomie dePaola wrote a children’s novel called Adelita, a Mexican Cinderella Story. The plot follows similarly to the original Cinderella story, but changes details so that the story fits into Mexican culture and norms. Adelita is the name of Cinderella and she has to have the courage to fight against the evil step mother and
step sisters, and has to fight for the man that she falls in love with. This may not portray soldaderas as fighting for rights, but she is fighting for something and not just a sexy pin-up style girl.
Soldaderas have also regained some of their respect through the arts. The Ballet Folklorico de Mexico did a US tour in 2010 celebrating Mexico's history. When it came time to celebrate the Mexican Revolution, the ballet celebrated it only through the female soldiers. As well, the image of soldaderas has also reverted to a symbol of fighting for women's rights for some adults. Especially for Mexican women and Americans in the United States that come from a Mexican heritage, the idea of a soldadera has gone back to the original meaning of the word and denotes a female soldier. For them, a soldadera holds a spirit of revolution and has become a sort of role model for self-empowerment, especially for Mexican ancestry females in the United States as they are not just fighting as part of the minority of women, but also as part of the chicano minority.
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- "Mexico Tourism Board Promotes Ballet Folklórico de México U.S. Tour". Banderas News. March 5, 2010. Retrieved 2013-12-16.
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