Fidelidad En La Tormenta: Appendix

This is the appendix to two essays on the Mexican Revolution. The first half can be found here and the second half here.

Women in the Mexican Revolution & The Liberating Army of the South

Women played a significant role in the Mexican Revolution despite being excluded from playing any meaningful role in political leadership. While women did benefit insofar as they were exploited peasants or urban workers, little changed for their plight as women. Their domination under an entrenched patriarchy was not lessened by the monumental struggles of the civil war. Women did not even gain the right to vote in the Mexican Republic until 1953. The Mexican Revolution, to say little of the Mexican social milieu, was dominated by men to the virtual exclusion of everyone else. Furthermore, even the great popular heroes of the Revolution, Villa1 and Zapata2, have been extensively documented to have had highly problematic personal relations with their female partners.

It is critical to highlight the role women did play within the Revolution, not only providing support for the revolution but contributing mightily as determined and excellent fighters.3 Female combatants, known as “Las Soldaderas”, have become a storied fixture of the revolution in both Mexican and international memory.4 Interestingly, the Liberating Army of the South had the highest proportion of female combatants out of any faction in the entirety of the Mexican Revolution.5 Women were not only rank and file militants but commanders in the Zapatista army, often directly promoted without prejudice by Emiliano Zapata himself. While some of the most significant classical accounts of the Zapatista revolution either gloss over or omit this important aspect of the social revolution in Morelos,6 historian Paul Hart has done great, if cursory work, in exploring this understudied aspect in his biography of Zapata.7

The Zapatista Plan at the Convention of Aguascalientes included an astonishing and unprecedented clause on investigation into paternity of women and a promise of compulsion of father’s support of illegitimate children and abandoned women. This is obviously ironic given Zapata’s treatment of the women and children in his personal life, but the provision of article 10 is nonetheless significant. It states, “to protect illegitimate children and women who have been victims of male seduction, through laws that acknowledge their rights and support paternity investigation.”8 The Reform Program of the convention also called for women’s emancipation, a move highly unusual for the many revolutionary plans and manifestos published during the civil war. Article number eleven read, “to favor women’s emancipation through a just divorce law that bases marriage on mutual care or love, and not on harmful social prejudice.”9 The convention did not last as the sovereign body of Mexico. The Zapatista social experiment during the lull of fighting in Morelos in 1915 only allowed a brief window into the world Zapata fought for. But such provisions were not a facade; programs for the education of women in Morelos were quickly set underway, remarkable for a social milieu in which few, if any peasant women, had any formal education.

Among the female figures who took part in the Zapatista’s social revolution (fighting as soldiers and even becoming formidable officers in the Liberating Army), two figures are particularly prominent:  Rosa Bobadilla and Amelia Robles. Bobadilla joined the Zapatista rebellion along with her husband and two sons. She was elected leader by her unit and eventually became a Colonel in the Liberating Army. She lost both her sons and husband during the course of the civil war but remained a distinguished fighter. After the revolution she retained her commitments to womens’ liberation as an activist in Cuernavaca.10 Amelia Robles was a teenager when she joined the Zapatistas. She adopted the dress of a man, as did many of the Soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution. Distinguished for her skill and bravery, she was eventually promoted to the rank of Colonel by Zapata. Robles won distinction after seizing a horse from an enemy commander and was promoted to major by Zapata. After the revolution, Robles took on a male identity, in a rare instance of gender transition at that time in Mexico. Taking the name Amelio, Robles came to be identified as “el coronel Amelio Robles”, and his friends and family referred to him affectionately as “Señor Robles”. There are many other figures of significance who deserve recognition, and this can be seen as only the most cursory of acknowledgements.11 In a forthcoming essay, I will detail the important role that women played as fighters or sympathizers in the Zapatista revolution, along with the feminist aims that the movements so uniquely expressed.

The Mexican Revolution, like so many other social revolutions, proved inadequate in transforming the dense fabric of relations which constitute much of society. In truth, the Mexican revolution succeeded mostly as a political revolution, and while it eliminated or disrupted some of the worst abuses of the ancien regime, it left many hierarchies of exploitation and inequality untouched. The Mexican Revolutionaries’ generalized failure to think through patriarchy as a constitutive component of general social domination is by no means unique, but the stark failure in the realm of women’s liberation requires further attention. I argue that the Zapatistas are one of the most significant areas of interest for studying feminist revolutionary questions within the broader history of the Mexican revolution. No emancipatory movement can neglect this history if it aims to raise the banner of universal liberation. For the communist struggle is either universal, or it is nothing at all.


1. Pancho Villa had numerous non-consensual affairs, fathered children with many different women, not all known to each other. He at times took custody of his children from women infidelitous toward him – a certain double standard given his own womanizing. There are also allegations that Villa kidnapped and raped at least one woman (Katz, Friedrich, p.149). Villa’s view of women extended to their role in politics. Mike Duncan (Revolutions Podcast) asserts that Villa thought of women as needing protection and not as capable fighters. But while frustrated with women’s participation in the División Del Norte, Villa was forced to accept female participation both as auxiliaries and as armed combatants, as the women often brooked no exclusion. Villa is, however, known to have provided for the women and children in his life, despite the great number of both. For further reading, see: Friedrich Katz, The Life & Times of Pancho Villa, 290-291.

2. Zapata’s relationship to women and women’s issues is far more ambiguous than Villa’s. While Zapata likewise fathered numerous children to many different women, offering them little to no support, Zapata did incorporate women into his fighting force with far greater enthusiasm than Villa. Zapatista objectives and reforms did occasionally focus specifically on women’s issues – a rarity for this time period. Zapata did recognize the universal capacity of women in his political life, a strange juxtaposition to his checkered personal record. See Paul Hart, Emiliano Zapata: Mexico’s Social Revolutionary.

3. For a general rumination on the role of Mexican women in conflict and social upheaval, see Elizabeth Salas, Soldaderas in the Mexican Military: Myth and History.

4. The Mexican Writer, Elena Poniatowska, composed a work, Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution, which provides first hand accounts of women’s personal experiences during the revolution, as well as photos of great emotional and anthropological value.

5. Hart, Zapata: Mexico’s Social Revolutionary, 142.

6. One example is John Womack’s biography, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. An otherwise excellent work of historiography, there is scant mention of any role women had played during the Mexican Civil War. When women do feature, they are typically only featured as the relatives of Zapata.

7. Hart is one of the few scholarly anglophone authorities on the agrarian peasant revolution of Morelos, and while his forays into women’s struggles are still only minimal, he has given us food for thought in exploring the subject.

8. Hart, 287.

9. Ibid, 288.

10. Ibid, 142-144.

11. Ibid, 145.

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