Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc
The Feminine Brigades of Saint Joan of Arc (Spanish: Las Brigadas Femeninas de Santa Juana de Arco) also known as Guerrilleras de Cristo or (women-soldiers of Christ) is a secret military society for women founded by Mrs. Uribe (also known as Mrs. G. Richaud) on June 21, 1927, in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico.
Formed as a secret Catholic women's society that organized to support the Mexican Cristero War effort, they were affiliated with Unión Popular. Initial membership consisted of only 17 women, but quickly grew to 135 women members within a matter of days. At its height the brigade was composed of 56 squadrons, totaling 25,000 women militants, most active in Jalisco, Guadalajara and Mexico City.
Recruitment, Vows and Duties
Recruitment began in Catholic women's colleges, but quickly spread to among the indigenous population and across all social classes. Each member was to take vows of faith and absolute secrecy. The primary function was the securing of funds, food, information, shelter, and the nursing of the wounded Cristero rebels. Though as the group increased, so did their duties to the extent that they were often in the field of battle.
Women from urban zones purchased arms and other resources. Women mostly in the Union de Empleadas Catolicas (Union of Employed Catholic Women), young, single, between 15 and 25 years old were señoras. Many of the feminine brigades were working class, young women from the city. Soon more women from rural regions joined too, and it was easier for them to navigate the areas where Cristeros were, facilitating munition delivery.
Recruitment began in Catholic women's colleges, but quickly spread to among the indigenous population and across all social classes.
The women took a vow of faith/absolute secrecy, in front of a crucifix promising to die rather than betray the secrets and the cause of the Cristeros, even if tortured or promised the most riches. Keep record of their work, confess no detail, not even to family. There is a lack of evidence to support that the vow was ever broken. The women in the brigades sent President Calles letters and petitions explaining their concerns on Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution. They also protested, carried out boycotts (boycotted businesses that discriminated against its employees based on religion) and publicly criticized government action, including the expelling of priests. Additionally, the women spread teachings on the church (which included educating their children and teaching catechism). One duty was to spread propaganda with pamphlets that they sent throughout Mexico regions explaining la Liga’s work; La Dama Catolica was a newspaper they published which also served as propaganda and a way to recruit women to the cause of the Cristeros.
In general, the women also provided moral strength and encouragement for battlefield men, motivating the men in their families to follow and defend their beliefs, even if they worried about their well-being. Aside from this, an important duty Secure funds(for arms, resources, for Cristeros, be it bail, unemployed families, food, clothes, etc.), food, info, orders in bags books, food (staff soup kitchens, breakfast programs for kids taught included), etc., shelter, nurse wounded, provide medical supplies and surgery, sometimes on battlefield
“Señoras” were the women associated with the brigades that were part of the UDCM (Union de Damas Catolicas de Mexico). They were usually the married, city-residing, middle and upper class who could afford resources. They would offer religious teaching and childcare to working women and their families, donate food and clothes to charities and needy, support seminars and vocations, and open Catholic schools and libraries. All the women marched in protests but only señoras placed demands to the government ministry; señoras were the main “mouthpiece” for women of the Cristero cause.
“Religiosas” had to be less public than the señoras, going underground provide place for worship, sanctuaries for Blessed Sacrament, hiding it, making small altars for/organizing mass, and hiding wounded and fleeing Cristeros or families whose fathers died in war. They turned their homes into asylum, propaganda, and meeting centers for priests to minister secretly, to hold mass, bless marriages, officiate funerals, baptisms, and other events for communion or for sacraments. Aside from this, they provided food, clothing, shelter, they provided for mass, offered spiritual advice and religious devotions for Cristeros. The penalty for being discovered was jail time and facing trial. When discovered, the religiosas were searched aggressively, pillaged, stolen from by government troops. The officials found items from blessed marriages, coffins with bodies from funerals, baptism papers and others for communion and other sacraments.
The religiosas were also responsible for a spy communication system (via mail, telegraph, in person, silk in shoe soles between units, etc.) warning Cristeros about soldiers’ movements. The women also nursed, performed surgery, provided medical equipment, were directly involved in the Feminine Brigades. They often moved frequently to avoid government troops.
The “jovenes” were usually young woman active revolutionaries, who included some “religiosas” that were sometimes on the battle field with the Cristeros.
Complex Logistics Network
They operated in squadrons to "ammunitions in various ways, including manufacturing it themselves and distributing it through a complex network of supply routes" The Feminine Brigades, considered to be very independent, nonetheless credited by field commanders as a major reason "for the rebellion's success in sustaining itself". Enrique Gorostieta y Valarde, the leader of the National Defense League for Religious Liberty (Liga Nacional Defensora de la Libertad Religiosa - LNDLR), the main coordinating Cristero group, had to smooth out relations with the Feminine Brigades. By 1928 the Brigades had grown in numbers and efficiency and had become an important part of the Cristero effort. The Brigades at this point obeyed the LNDLR leadership only occasionally. The feud between the Brigades and the LNDLR resulted in a "serious decrease in the flow of ammunition." Eventually, the friction was resolved and the Brigades increased the supply of ammunition to the field of soldiers. With the decline of the rebellion and demobilization, the Feminine Brigades dissolved.
The extensive logistics network run by the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc, a Catholic women’s organization. These women devised creative and clandestine ways to keep soldiers supplied: special vests for smuggling ammunition out of federal factories and secret workshops for the production of homemade explosives, such as grenades made out of jelly tins. These courageous twenty-five thousand ladies also carried messages—written on silk and hidden within the soles of shoes—between units. All of their activities were carried out under an oath of secrecy. No evidence indicates that the oath was ever broken. The heroic efforts of the Joan of Arc Brigades notwithstanding, the Cristero army never had enough ammunition to win a decisive victory. Too often, in the heat of battle; they had to disengage so as to live to fight another day.
Milestones/Events[edit | edit source]
Damas collected funds, spread propaganda, and protested the government's action. Protests included that of government expelling priests since the Constitution guaranteed “exercise of all cults” and there weren’t enough priests to do so. Even months after when the Pope’s representative Jorge Jose Caruana was expelled, they protested but were unanswered.
The Feminine Brigades bought, delivered arms and munition (gunpowder, cartouches, etc.) between 1927 and '29 bc la Liga had trouble doing this without too many arrests or deaths.
Two women were discovered 1929 in Sahuayo for having the special vests with munition on. After this, the government slowly started becoming aware of their presence and the magnitude of their role in the Cristero war.
Even after the religious leader running a religious school being closed by the government fled, it continued to run with Doña Amada Diaz del Torre becoming the new director of a religious school that had been closed (one of many) down by the government in response to a misunderstanding about the Archbishop opposing anti-clerical laws being enforced (forcing many students to find housing elsewhere, including private homes and US embassy. As a result, mothers sent a telegram to Secretary of Government asking for religious equality rights and the Damas of Guadalajara protested the school (Visitation School) closing, and sent petitions and letters but neither were heard by Calles.
When not in hostilities, the Feminine Brigades “turned their energy to Catholic social action under the direct supervision of Archbishop Pascual Díaz” Minister of the Interior Adalberto Tejeda said to Sagrada Familia Church that if a similar case happened, he’d use firehoses on women, machine guns on men. In this Visitation school in Coyoacán, 48 nuns refused to give up habits. The women used their influence as mothers teaching the next generations as a threats against polio imllic’s. Elena lascurain gave critters asylum. In the Sagrada Familia Church event and protest, two women were killed at protest, 16 wounded. In March 1926, when Catholic schools were closed to carry out the Calles Law prohibiting public Catholic religious practice and instruction, the Damas of Guadalajara rallied to support a petition signed by hundreds of mothers sent to the secretary of government as a telegram. The government sent troops to close Church of the Sacred Family in Colonia Roma because they thought foreign priests were working there. The Damas wrote a letter to Calles and physically protested government troops in front of Sacred Family Church. UDC members and Servants of St. Zita blocked the entrance, refusing to move when the soldiers demanded. They were shot down with waterholes and got up, throwing rocks at soldiers, until the men charged them away. A Feminine Brigade army of 5000 women went to governor’s secretary and asked to meet Colonel Tejada. They were denied and a similar event happened to them, with the Police Inspector General Roberto Cruz lashing his whip at some of the women.
The señoras issued the statement “Men of the whole Republic, there are your models. Go hide your shame in the dark caverns of our forests.” Many Mexicans seemed shocked at the use of force.
Women were not permitted in politics but could have moral influence, trying to help morally in society with values (guiding or educating the people they believed were losing morals) and charity, education, health, etc. They threatened the government with their educating power they had as mothers. The downturn of the economy limited how much the women could donate but they tried to donate services and staff soup kitchens. They set up schools in factories El Buen Toro (cigarettes) and Talleres Britania (shirts), taught academics and Catholic faith. Both factories fired the mothers whose children were being educated, under pressure by gov-affiliated unions. So, they boycotted those places.
The Feminine Brigades joined with la Liga but they still worked independently and supported Enrique Gorostieta who questioned la Liga’s ability to direct guerrilla war from Mexico City. Luis Beltran y Mendoza, was a Liga representative who criticized the Feminine Brigades, saying it was unnatural and dangerous to have women following military orders, since they would possibly show favoritism. Archbishop Orozco y Jimenez threatened to excommunicate the women if they kept running autonomously without religious male church leaders, they changed their name to add Saint Joan of Arc, Gregorio Aguilar then Fr Rafael Davila Vilchis were added to be the leaders by archbishop.After the rebellion, many of the women married and stayed home.
On July 3 the “Ley Calles” or Calles Law was announced to be enforced officially, alarming the Knights of Columbus and the Asociacion Catolica de Juventud Mexicana (Catholic Association of Mexican Youth). The Damas stated that they would side with bishops no matter what occurred. Sra. Concepcion Lacsurain, Sra. Refugio Goribar de Cortina, and Sra.Juana Pimental de Labat were detained by the chief of police because of their promise to help la Liga with their mission in opposing the new legislature restricting Catholic religious practice.
The Damas of Guadalajara printed propaganda, under Governor Luna Gonzalez’s balcony office, promoting a boycott against the government. The government didn’t know about this and neither did Gonzalez, whose wife hid priests being who were being searched for without him knowing.
In the Plaza of San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, women passing out propaganda were detained by chief of military operations, and were threatened with rape by the soldiers if they kept refusing to give the propaganda, 1000 armed soldiers waiting outside. The Damas requested their release, the crowd yelled “Death to the government and to Calles!”, and the soldiers released the women.
Near Doblado Theater, the ACJM (Association Catolica de Juventus Mexicana or Catholic Association of Mexican Youth) were promoting the boycott of an afternoon show. No one bought tickets, the mayor reprimanded the women and told them to go home but the women’s leader Salvador Vargas was detained. A hostile crowd of people cried and threatened to release Vargas by force so Vargas was released.
Carmen Torres Quesada wrote a letter to her cousin that after the Calles Law was enforced, everything seemed to be dull and people seemed to be sad, places of diversion were closed, including the places boycotted. After the boycotts were called off by bishops in response to Catholic complaints, Damas kept spreading propaganda against the government in processions throughout Mexico but the uprisings turned into wars so Damas were limited to collecting funds to free prisoners used for meal supply and the unemployed.
Doña Luz Noriega de Reguer’s house served as a Cristeros’ asylum and propaganda/local meeting center; she helped la Liga spread propaganda.
Other women housed priests so they could minister secretly. Sra Elena Lascuraín, Sra. Arce, Sra. Pitman de Labarthe (last two, active Damas), and Amparo Morfín housed Cristero soldiers and religious men including Heriberto Navarrete (Lascuraín housed him), 14 Jesuits (Morfín housed them), and Fr Julio Dávila and world renowned French mathematician-priest (Morfín housed them). They were never questioned by police of this and their houses served as a places for mass, marriages, and funerals.
In 1927, the Union of Damas Catolicas (Catholicas Ladies) disassociated themselves from the rebellion when it became a war because it had become too political. Señoras still helped independently of the UDC by distributing propaganda, and housing priests and places of worship.
Las religiosas didn’t become directly involved in war either but did have to go underground. In February 1926, religious schools were being closed. Madre Sample was a North American sister who had to evacuate the Visitation School in Mexico City. Students emptied building carrying mattresses and bookcases. 49 schools closed within a few days and 157 evacuated in the Federal District within a month. The sisters didn’t want to submit and met with archbishops to see what they should do. The sisters published a mission statement that they were willing to fight until their death for reform of the Constitution or not, based on however the bishops willed. The bishops agreed with their mission statement.
In Guadalajara, “Madre Anna” remembers her and her sisters having to remove their habits and disguise themselves in theater clothing to avoid being discovered by government-sent men. The bishops told them to finish school quick and leave the country. Some religious were raped by soldiers. Madre Anna and the 40 women found asylum in Laredo, Texas, taught Mexican children there and in Louisiana then went back to Mexico in 1931, when attacks on Church got worse and Madre Anna said they suffered but “enthusiastically for Christ”.
Sor Maria Esperanza sent a letter to Calles, recalling nuns’ good works (in hospitals, schools, elderly homes), asking him to repeal the Calles Law but he did not respond to it. Sisters were encouraged by some superiors in Rome to leave Mexico but U.S. bishops advised them not to because of Great Depression and language barriers for teaching. Many religiosas found refuge with family and friends because it was dangerous to live as group. In their homes, they hid the Blessed Sacrament behind crockery and behind books on shelves in the day, and prayed at night.
Madre María del Carmen Gutierrez was a Brigada Sanitaria, a branch of the Feminine Brigades. In San Miguel, she was surprised by federal troops; the first time she hid the wounded successfully, the second time she had to flee and all her patients were killed by federal troops. She then taught the Christian doctrine to children in San Jose de la Presa but had to flee when a first communion celebration they were having was attacked by federal troops. She fled to nurse the wounded again until federal troops attacked them again and she left country in July 1929, later returning to Guadalajara to continue nursing. Petra Muñoz & Vicenta García, Sisters of Charity, also nursed wounded Cristero soldiers and couldn’t build fire because it could compromise their location to federal troops. Therefore, they lived on a diet of maize and wheat. They didn't have water so they drank animal urine and liquid from uncultivated plants.
Madre Rosita was also in Feminine Brigades, and as a member, carried munitions and equipment to soldiers in field in special vests. Her companions were caught and sent to Islas Marías, she huddled in her seat and wasn’t caught. Some sisters, including one of fifteen novices Madre Espinosa, didn’t know much except that there was government opposition; they didn’t face this directly since they stayed within the convent. Other religiosas were beaten and some died of illness and other conditions, when discovered. Madre Remedios of Jalisco (who was ill) and her sisters were evacuated by soldiers, beaten, and Madre Remedios died soon after. Madre Rosa was taken prisoner with her sisters, was isolated, and, starving, fell ill and died April 3. Religiosas in Mexico held fear of rape. One of these women was Ester Torres Quesada. Soldiers attacked her convent, raped her sisters, and her and a friend escaped and fled to Cuba.
Refugio Goribar de Crotina, active propagandist and UDC leader said they’d keep teaching catechism, consoling the sick, visiting hospitals but focus on strengthening the Christian family. In response to Pius XI emphasis on this, she said that “All other work of women is useless”, and that they would obey what Church said.
The archbishop of Guadalajara offered to destroy documents to protect the identities of the women who survived after 1929 when the war ended. Historian Jean Meyer claims they controlled 54 towns of Jalisco, Colima, Durango, Nayarit, and San Luis Potosí.
Enrique Gorostieta y Valarde, the leader of the National Defense League for Religious Liberty (Liga Nacional Defensora de la Libertad Religiosa - LNDLR), the main coordinating Cristero group, had to work on making relations with the Feminine Brigades less tense. By 1928, the Brigades had gotten larger and more efficient and had become an important part of the Cristero effort. The Brigades at this point obeyed the LNDLR leadership only occasionally. The feud between the Brigades and the LNDLR resulted in a "serious decrease in the flow of ammunition." Eventually, the friction was resolved and the Brigades increased the supply of ammunition to the field of soldiers.
Once the war started ending, the Feminine Brigades dissolved.
Social Effects and Controversy
The UDCM (Union de Damas Catolicas Mexicanas or Union of Mexican Catholic Ladies) published La Dama Catolica to recruit more women to the cause. Its editor claimed that, even though the women did this, their place was still “in the home” teaching children Christian values, not in politics but that their help with social activities to help with the cause would be helpful, which they followed by having a national assembly and through involvement with social and religious groups like Asociacion Catolica de Juventud Mexicana and la Liga. La Semana Social called feminism “irreligious”.
in 1919, a Catholic worker’s organization called La Semana Social stated that feminism in the form of social activism and mainly politics was irreligious and that women should be restricted to teaching about Catholicism within traditional roles. For saying that they would carry out the mission of restoring their religious practice and opposing the enforced Article 130, the women often faced “fines, confiscation of property, arrests, and imprisonment” in unhealthy conditions.
Archbishop Jose Mora y del Rio may have founded the UDCM or appointed Jesuit Carlos Heredia to. The UDCM focused on helping the poor and working class through education (while remaining within the Church-accepted realm of charity, children, the home). Protestant and liberal critics accused the church of making women into “things” simply for husbands’ sexual interest, to which the UDCM responded by calling women to stop being “beautiful animals” and actually help socially; they saw it as “reasonable feminism”.
Father Medina told the women they couldn’t be indifferent or retain wealthy egoism but the señoras rewarded themselves as “generous” and believed their “altruism” would soften the poor’s attitude towards the rich. Historians have said that UDCM could be seen as clergy’s puppet organization but others say that Father Leopoldo Icaza couldn’t oversee all 15 regional sections. Some Catholic groups didn’t find it proper for women to be so socially involved in the war.
Some Catholic groups didn’t find it proper for women to be so socially involved in the war. Leobardo Fernandez and Roman Martinez Silva sent details to the Vatican, which created insecurities and inner divisions on the side supporting the Cristeros, which left them more vulnerable to government attack. In June 1929, General Tesia Richaud (Luz Laraza de Uribe) was one of the women detained, captured, beaten, and tortured, who died saying the slogan of the Cristeros "Viva Cristo Rey" or "Long Live Christ the King", asking Christ to save her.
Even though the flow of resources by the women helped, the Cristero army never had enough ammunition to win “a decisive victory”. They usually had to disengage to avoid being fatally injured in battle.
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