Concepcion Arenal, the great social reformer

Concepcion Arenal is part of history as a writer, first Spanish feminist and a great social reformer as complex as the Spain of the second half of the nineteenth century context. Among his proposals, he advocated equal pay, the abolition of prostitution, improve the situation of the working people, creating social housing and women priests, besides criticizing the abuses committed in prisons and discrimination of women in access to education.

Concepcion Arenal was born on January 31, 1820 in Ferrol, A Coruña (Spain) and nine years he moved to Armaño (Santander), after the death of his father, a politician and staunch defender of liberalism exile. He lives there with his mother, his sisters Antonia and Louise (who would die in 1830) and his paternal grandmother and decides and very young who want to continue with the vocation of its predecessor: the laws.

In 1834, the family moved to Madrid for girls studying in a women’s college.

At 21 years old, and made independent, Concepcion Arenal for three courses attends some classes at the Complutense University of Madrid dressed as a man. It could not officially register, or prepare for exams or obtain any title, since higher education was exclusively for men. But nobody could stop learn under the masculine disguise and, when it was discovered, journalist and lawyer Fernando García Carrasco Extremadura (who would become her husband) intervened in his defense and writer obtained an authorization to go to class.

García Carrasco was a good companion, attending literary gatherings or team working for the newspaper La Iberia, progressive liberal ideology, besides having a daughter (who died shortly after birth) and two children. In parallel with the publication of his first plays and his Fables in Verse (1851), along with a novel that has not been preserved, he works as a journalist since 1855 in Iberia. He had his own column, but also writes editorials opinion of her husband when ill with tuberculosis. When dying Fernando, violinist Jesus Monastery visit to the director of the newspaper to show that she was the author in the shadow of the articles only source of income of the writer at the time. The director accepts to continue, but paying half that to your spouse. And only temporarily, since the enactment of a new Press Law in 1857, the obligation to sign newspaper articles about politics, philosophy and religion is imposed. Month and a half later, Iberia dispenses fixed Concepcion Arenal as editor.

Disappointed with Madrid and saddened by the loss of his companion, Concepcion Arenal are held with their books and their children in the province of Cantabria Potes. Jesus Monastery becomes his trusted person and convinces her to assist in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and melts the female branch of this institution in the locality. The key to their friendship is that both share an interest in music and conversation as well as the progressive ideas of the left but were practicing Christians, which appeared to be incompatible at the time.

Thus began their nursing care in homes or sick people without resources, experiences that influence the writing of ‘the poor visitador Manual’, 1860, a guide for women who care for groups at risk of exclusion. With this work, Arenal begin to see clear his way and presents a contest of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences with the essay ‘The charity, philanthropy and charity’ (1861), but signed with the name of your son Fernando, 10, to avoid being discriminated against. Academy members attended with surprise the fact that the work was written by a woman, the first prize of history.

The book advocated ending the concept of poor and talk about poverty, because people were not guilty of their economic exclusion. And separated for the first time what he called beneficence, social protection system of the State, religious charity and private philanthropy.

The award was a great social impact and, shortly thereafter, was named women’s prison visiting in La Coruna, city where he meets his friend and collaborator Juana de Vega, also next to the Saint-Simonian ideas. His experience in prison is the basis of his most important book “Letters to the delinquents’, 1865, which calls for the amendment of the Criminal Code, the instruction of prisoners and shows that crime is the result of a marginal situation . For this book, which links to the line of thought krausista Francisco Giner, it is ceased from office. Five years later he founded the newspaper “Voice of Charity” which for 14 years criticizes abuses taking place in hospices and prisons.

Concepcion Arenal had to deal with very young sexism of his time in Spain, both to study how to write or part of officialdom.

In 1868 publishes ‘The woman of the future’, her first feminist work, written seven years earlier, an analysis of the discrimination of women in his time, that will inspire other authors such as Emilia Pardo Bazan. Will follow ‘The woman at home’ (1881), ‘Current status of women in Spain’ (1884) or “The Education of Women ‘(1892). In them apart to dismantle existing stereotypes about women, it defends the intellectual equality of women and men and claimed the right to receive an education in order to perform the job you want.

Arenal also promoted philanthropic and cultural initiatives such as the Ateneo Artistic and Literary Ladies in Madrid, which he founded in 1869.

Already ill, he moved with his son Fernando Galicia and continues to collaborate with various newspapers until his death on February 4, 1893 in Vigo (Spain).

Sources: Concepción Arenal. Pen as a sword. (Life written by women. Volume II. Address Anna Caballé. Editorial Lumen). Conception Arenal.Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Author: M.ª Angeles Ayala Aracil (University of Alicante).