Maria Teresa Fontela Goulart

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Her Excellency
Maria Teresa Fontela Goulart
Maria Teresa Goulart.jpg
First Lady of Brazil
In office
September 8, 1961 – April 1, 1964
President João Goulart
Preceded by Sílvia Pitaguari Serra
Succeeded by Sílvia Pitaguari Serra
Personal details
Born Maria Teresa Fontela
(1940-08-23) August 23, 1940 (age 76)
São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Nationality Brazilian
Political party Brazilian Labour Party
Spouse(s) João Goulart
(1956–1976; his death)
Children João Vicente
Denize Goulart
Religion Roman Catholic

Maria Teresa Fontela Goulart (born August 23, 1940) was the wife of the 24th president of Brazil, João Goulart, and served as First Lady during his presidency from 1961 until 1964, when he was deposed by a military-led coup d'état.


Early life[edit]

Maria Teresa was born on August 23, 1940 in São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul. She was educated at the Colégio Metodista Americano (American Methodist High School), a traditional boarding school in Porto Alegre. Her parents lived next door to Jango (João Goulart) in São Borja. According to her, despite the fact that they were neighbors, she only met him personally at the age of 14, when Dinarte Dornelles, uncle of then President Getúlio Vargas, asked her to deliver a letter to Jango, who was the Minister of Labour and Employment at the time. Maria Teresa tried not to fall in love with Jango, because she thought someone as important as he would not be interested in her.[1]

Maria Teresa encountered Jango once again at her debutante ball, which took place in the house of her aunt, América Fontela, the wife of Vargas' brother Spartacus Dornelles,[2] in Rio de Janeiro. One of América's daughters and, thus, Maria Teresa's cousin is Yara Vargas, who later helped Leonel Brizola establish the Democratic Labour Party and was elected to Rio Grande do Sul's House of Representatives.

Marriage and children[edit]

In 1955, when Maria Teresa finished her studies, she and Jango started dating. They got married in the following year when Maria Teresa was 16 and Jango was running for the Vice Presidency. At that time, there were separate elections for President and Vice President in Brazil and Jango would receive more votes than Juscelino Kubitschek, who was elected President. After her marriage, Maria Teresa became sister-in-law of Leonel Brizola, who was married to Jango's sister Neusa.

In 1960, Jango was re-elected Vice President, which allowed Maria Teresa to serve as Second Lady from 1956 to 1961, when Jânio Quadros resigned from the Presidency. When her husband assumed office, Maria Teresa became the youngest First Lady of the history of Brazil, at 21 years of age.

Maria Teresa and Jango had two children: the former congressman João Vicente and the historian Deize. When she served as Second Lady, her family lived in the Chopin Building, next to the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro. During the time she served as First Lady, she lived in the Granja do Torto in the then recently built capital Brasília. She lived in Palácio da Alvorada, the official residence, for six months, but preferred the Granja do Torto because she liked horse racing.[3]

Life as First Lady[edit]

In August 1961, Maria Teresa and her children were guests in a Spanish hotel owned by a friend of the Goulart family, while her husband was on a diplomatic mission in the People's Republic of China. One day, at breakfast, she was told that Jânio Quadros had resigned and that her husband would become the new President. Shortly after, journalists started incessantly calling her room.

Quadros advised her to stay at the hotel until the situation with the military ministers, who refused to recognize Jango as the new President because of his connections with members of the Brazilian Communist Party and the Brazilian Socialist Party, was solved. Maria Teresa only returned to Brazil when her husband assumed the Presidency.[4]

As First Lady, Maria Teresa was responsible for the foundation of the headquarters of the Legião Brasileira de Assistência (Brazilian Legion of Aid) -- an organization founded in 1942 by then First Lady Darcy Vargas to help poor families—in Brasília. She hosted a large number of charitable events, being responsible for bringing members of the high society to participate in such events.[5]

Maria Teresa chose to wear haute couture outfits to public events, and became a fashion icon, being compared to Jacqueline Kennedy and appearing on the covers of a large number of magazines. Her personal stylist was Dener Pamplona de Abreu. Prior to the coup, she was named one of the ten most beautiful women in the world by People magazine.[6][7]

Life in exile[edit]

After the deposition of Jango on April 1, 1964 by the military, the Goulart family was forced to live in exile. Jango, Maria Teresa and their children lived in Uruguay. Later, Denise and João Vicente moved to London, while Jango and Maria Teresa went to Argentina, where Jango had business affairs. Jango died in the city of Mercedes on the night of December 6, 1976. The official version of his death is that he suffered a heart attack. This is uncertain as his body was not submitted for an autopsy and the attending physician wrote only the Spanish word enfermedad (sickness) as the causa mortis on his medical chart. He was buried in his native São Borja. Thirty thousand people attended his funeral, media coverage of which was censored by the military regime. Maria Teresa and her children were forbidden to return to Brazil until 1979's Amnesty law.


On November 15, 2008, Maria Teresa and Jango received political amnesty from the Federal Government. The former First Lady will receive an indemnification of R$ 644,000 (around US$ 322,000) to be paid in pensions of R$5,425 (around US$2,712) per month for Jango being restrained from practicing his job as a Lawyer. She will also receive an indemnification of R$100,000 (around US$50,000) for the 15 years in which her family was forbidden to return to Brazil.[8]

The government recognizes its mistakes of the past and apologizes to a man that defended the nation and its people of whom we could not have prescinded


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