Introduction
I
n the two generations following Cuba's independence from Spain,
women's rights became part of the Cuban political consciousness.
Nationalist sentiments stirred by Jose Marti's pronouncements for social
justice gave
all
Cubans, including women, hope that liberty, equality,
and social justice might extend to them. Between
1902
and
1940
feminist
organizations formed and worked to influence the direction oflegislative
decisions made by politicians,
all
of whom were men. Feminists held
congresses, petitioned politicians, formed coalitions with a variety of
men's activist groups, demonstrated in the streets, addressed the public
in newspapers and on radio, built childbirth clinics, organized night
schools for women, developed women's health programs, and estab-
lished links with international feminist groups. As a result, by
1940
feminists had helped pass a corpus oflegislation that was, in terms ofits
provisions for women, one of the more progressive in the world.
The Cuban feminist movement emerged during a period marked by
controversy and instability. A restive population eager to modernize
attacked colonial institutions such as the Catholic Church, Spanish laws,
patriarchal privilege, social ordering, and a plantation-centered econ-
omy. Nationalists responded to the U.S. occupation and hegemony over
the island. u.S. principles ofcapitalist materialism and individual rights
clashed with Spanish notions of corporate privilege and community
interdependence. Few agreed about the direction the Cuban govern-
ment should take, but most Cuban political leaders concurred that
modernization implied public education, some individual freedoms,
elections, and attention to social reform. To those ends, they set about
altering Spanish law. But elected officials were corrupt and weak, which
cast doubt on whether laws had meaningful jurisdiction. By
1910,
when
political leaders had proved themselves unable or unwilling to bring
honest democratic government to Cuba, students, workers, and women
took to the streets to demand reform, and discord and violence became a
means of conducting politics.
In this atmosphere of violence feminists began to present their
demands to Cuba's political leaders and the people. Political instability in
the
1920S
and
1930S
might have discouraged a more timid group, but in
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