Propaganda posters are among the most important documents remaining from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). These posters are vivid testimonies depicting the social and political landscape that endured throughout Spain’s unrest. Propaganda was seen on almost every building, disseminating messages against Fascism, military recruitment, and even the emancipation of women. These social agendas represented new realities for Spain, especially in the communication between men and women. What is more, there were radical changes that altered the status of women during the Spanish Civil War. For the first time, women had access to education, their legal status was secured and female organizations/ cultural journals were established. The following passage was one of many that inspired the voices of female organizations involved in the war effort:
“No luchamos contra los hombres.
No pretendemos sustituir el dominio masculino por el femenino.
Es necesario trabajar y luchar juntos pues si no nunca tendremos la revolución social.
Pero necesitamos nuestra propia organización
para luchar por nosotras mismas.”
-En Mujeres Libres “La Pasión de Decir”
This translates : “We do not fight against men. We do not claim to replace male dominance by the female. It is necessary to work and fight together or else we will never have the social revolution. But we need our own organization to fight for ourselves.”- in Free Women, “Passion to Say”
The Union de Muchachas was a sport camp for young women, sponsored by the National Confederation for Physical Education, and issued by the Ministry of Public Instruction and Health. The maker of this poster, Juana Francisca Rubio Garcia (1911-2008), was the only female cartelista, poster illustrator, who signed her work. It is possible that this poster was meant to indirectly reference the People’s Olympics in Barcelona for the summer of 1936, organized by the international Left in protest against the regular Olympics held in Nazi Germany. However, the event was canceled in Barcelona when the war broke out, encouraging some of the athletes to join the effort in blocking the military from taking over the city.
For this reason, athletic events maintained a political force in the Republic throughout the war
.. The subject is a female figure, possibly a javelin thrower, with muscular legs and wide shoulders, carrying a large backpack. Wearing a royal blue collared shirt, black shorts, and red ankle weights, she smiles at the viewer, while prepared to take on a physical activity. The Union de Muchachas promoted the importance of exercise to the Republic and the recruitment of strong and courageous women who would fight in the militias alongside men. By the spring of 1937, it was evident that militias were not capable of fighting large-scale battles in a prolonged war. Therefore, women began disappearing from combat as the militias dissolved, and the army increased in size, leaving fewer men to sustain Spain’s industries. This change allowed women to join the industrial workforce, accelerating the transformation of women’s rights in early-twentieth century Spain.
Carolina Valdes-Lora is a Masters student in the History of Decorative Arts and Design program at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum/Parsons the New School for Design. With a fine art and design background from RISD and Parsons, she aspires to pursue her interests in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century American and European design. Additionally, her Cuban-Spanish heritage inspires her interests in Latin American art history. She is a MA fellow in the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design Curatorial Department at Cooper-Hewitt, as well as an intern at Christie’s Auction & Private Sales, 20th Century Decorative Art & Design Department.