Carmen de Burgos
(1867 – 1932)
Carmen de Burgos alias La Colombine (writer pseudonym) played many parts during her life: teacher, pedagogue, journalist, war correspondent, traveller, lecturer, free mason, human rights advocate and most of all women’s rights suffragist. Carmen de Burgos Segui, Colombine, 1867 – 1932 is one of the most important and influential woman in the first third of the XX Century in Spain. She was an intellectual which held progressive views on old social norms of conduct: divorce, universal and women’s suffrage, equal rights and women’s legal capacity.
Her legacy and works were completely censured during the Franco Regime where school text books did not mention her at all. This did not change until the arrival of Democracy.
She belonged to a bourgeois family that based its economic well-being on mining, exporting esparto grass and grapes.
Her father, Jose de Burgos Cañizares and her uncle, Francisco were in charge of the Portuguese vice consultate in Almeria.
Her mother, Nicosia Segui Nieto was of a different social class but at the age of 13, she received an abundant inheritance of cortijos (country houses) and land in the village of Rodalquilar from a landowner in Nijar.
Her parents matrimony and their economic situation permitted Carmen de Burgos and her brothers and sisters to enjoy a good social condition and an education fit for their status.
The wedding took place in Almeria between 1866 and 1867, with the unsurprising peculiarity of the great difference of age between the couple.
Nicosia was hardly 15 years old and her husband, Jose de Burgos was eleven years older (26 years old).
We must underline that when Jose de Burgos died in 1922, he was in his 80s and his patrimony was no longer as splendid as before.
In the first decade of the XX Century, he worked as a office material and typewriter commercial agent. In 1902, he offered these products to the City Council of Almeria.
Carmen de Burgos, as certified by the San Pedro parish priest and documented by Florentino Castañeda (who found her baptism certificate), was born in her family home at the Constitution square (Old square) with entrance at number 16 Mariana street; therefore she was born in Almeria city and not in Rodalquilar; a village she was very attached to. She was the oldest of 10 brothers and sisters.
It is not clear whether Carmen de Burgos attended school or a private girls’ school regularly or not but her intellectual formation cannot be put in doubt due to the great library the family possessed.
Rodalquilar, in the centre of today’s Cabo de Gata Natural Park where she enjoyed a carefree youth, was a constant reference in her novels. She passed her childhood between the family cortijo in Rodalquilar, the Union cortijo and Almeria city.
At returning to Almeria, Carmen de Burgos lived at Teatro street by the Theatre Principal (alias de Campos) at today’s Doctor Gomez Ulla street. She confronted a social situation in which a small minority of landowners, public workers and liberal professionals had a high standard of living and were assiduous to cultural reunions, theatres and other exclusive events and the majority of the population made up of land workers, artisans and small merchants.
This was the social and economic situation of the time: excessive luxury contrasting with misery and illiteracy. As a teenager, Carmen de Burgos received an education proper to her social class.
Carmen was to marry at a very early age (16) repeating her parents own story. She had to confront the opinion of both families: Jose de Burgos, now a modest mine owner and the enterprising Mariano Alvarez. But Carmen was in love with Arturo Alvarez Bustos, 14 years older than her, a sarcastic poet and journalist with whom she collaborated in the newspaper Almeria. Arturo Bustos, her fiancé, was the complete opposite of his noble father, he loved night life and was involved with the flamenco singer and dancer La Celendria; all this made Carmen’s life bitter. She described this situation as “a territory that fascinated me”, her husband stayed most of the time in Tabernas and could be described as a bon vivant daddy’s boy.
The date of her wedding is another mystery as the marriage certificate have not been found.
The date of birth of her children are unknown and their birth certificates not found; the information relative to the death of her children and burials in San Jose are also a mystery. This information is important to know the exact date of Carmen’s wedding, which is thought to be in 1889 although other investigations taken on in Nijar and Rodalquilar say otherwise.
The matrimony due to the husbands lifestyle was a complete failure, despite being in love and having had children. The couple separated although legally they were still married.
The number of children born out of the marriage between 1890 and 1895 at the different addresses of San Francisco, Murcia streets and Malecon promenade are not known, only Maria Dolores survived. In 1898, Carmen abandoned the couples home at Malecon de la Rambla and went to live with her parents.
Considering her marriage situation as unbearable, she decided to study at university to be able to earn a living for her and her daughter. She did not want to continue living in insufferable conditions with her husband to have children only to see them die. Therefore, she did teacher’s training in Granada and in June 1895 she passed her degree and in September 1897 she requested the City Council of Almeria a yearly public aid (552 Pesetas) to rent a new building, a school for poor girls “Santa Teresa”, located at San Sebastian square. She claimed that the previous school year had been satisfactory and that this year, there were 65 girls signed in and that the previous facilities had become too small. The City Council, which had the competences to open parallel school centres to the main State school system, accepted the plea.
Carmen stayed at the School until 1901 when she passed a public exam to become a teacher at the Teacher Training School in Guadalajara.
She renounced to the public aid for the School building rent and for the tuition of the girls. Carmen wanted her little sister Catalina (her secretary, confident and shoulder to cry on) to continue on with the School but this petition was not accepted. In 1901, the public aid corresponding with the 3rd and 4th semesters were distributed among the students of the school.
Once she achieved her post in Guadalajara, Carmen left behind Almeria and a hostile situation in which she was a separated woman in a very conventional and Catholic City.
Her professional life as a emancipated woman, her legacy and her works.
Carmen arrived in Madrid in 1901 and lived provisionally in her uncle’s (Agustin de Burgos Cañizares) home.
Carmen returned to Almeria in 1904 as a journalist of the Universal newspaper from Madrid, to cover the arrival of King Alfonso XIII to the City. She was able to visit her family.
Her husband died in 1906, poor and alone in the Provincial hospital due to typhoid fevers.
She returned to Almeria as a news correspondent as she was named the first woman editor in 1903 with her own daily column Lectures for Women and used the alias la Colombine. She began her journalist career which she would follow to her final days. In 1904, Carmen, from her column Lectures for Women conducted a survey on the necessity of a divorce law. The result of the survey was published in a leaflet format called “Divorce in Spain”: she new very well the consequences of a bad marriage. She was very brave to publish the leaflet as it could put in jeopardy her whole career. Her progressive and feminist ideas over divorce and the situation of women in society put her up against the most conservative parts of Spanish society.
In 1904, Carmen de Burgos would begin a very nice friendship with Blasco Ibañez who she had always admired.
He influenced her to take more radical views in her republican ideas and a very stark anticlerical stance.
In 1905, Carmen would participate in many literature activities and would become member of different associations such as the Spanish Author association and other writers, artists and journalists organisations and the Scientific community of Madrid.
In 1905, Carmen intervened in several political acts and gave conferences on the subject of women in journalism together with Emilia Pardo Bazán. The most important conference was pronounced in Madrid in the Central University organized by the same University. This Conference was organized by the Union Iberoamericana to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the publication of the Quixote.
In 1905, Carmen de Burgos travelled around Europe to better herself professionally. She visited Germany, France, Italy and England; from these visits she would publish Por Europa (around Europe) and many articles for the Heraldo (newspaper from Madrid) based on the people she had encountered especially many feminist writers.
In 1906, Carmen returned to Madrid and began to teach at the Superior Industrial School in the Women’s Teaching department. At the same time, she organized the literature debate Miercoles con Colombine (Wednesdays with Colombine) as well as a very important literature and journalist activity for the Heraldo de Madrid journal. During the Wednesday literature debates she met Ramon Gomez de la Serna with whom she would have an anonymous relationship (1908-1929). This relationship was not approved of by the society as she was older than him; in 1930 Ramon travelled to Paris where he met Luisa Soforich his future wife. Carmen and Ramon continued to have a good friendship which would last until the end of their days.
In 1906, Carmen began another column in the Heraldo de Madrid following the same protocol as the first one; this column was to promote women’s right to vote and therefore Carmen undertook a survey among leading personalities in literature and politics. The result was conclusive, out of 4,962 votes, 922 were in favour and 3,640 against.
Carmen would not be altered by this result and would continue her crusade.
1907 exiled to Toledo
In 1907, Carmen would have a very difficult year as she was exiled to Toledo. Spain was governed by the Maura government and the interior minister Rodriguez Sampedro never left Carmen de Burgos alone. In June 1907, she would teach in a school in Toledo where she would lead a calm existence in company of friends and this influenced her very much as she changed her ideas to more moderate ones. Leaving behind the more radical approach of Blasco de Ibañez, she leaned towards more moderate socialist ideas, this led her to sign up as a militant of the PSOE (Spanish socialist party).
Still in 1907, her literature activity would be very prolific despite being banished to Toledo.
Carmen published some short novels in the Rodalquilar series.
During the time, Carmen organized the Carmen de Burgos Literature Debates, based on what she had experienced in Europe. She introduced tea at 5 O’clock to try to bring on change in the very backward atmosphere of the time in Spain.
Carmen was addressing a new project: a new educational model, social justice and new ideas as the foundation for a new society.
Even though she was still confined to Toledo, it was a happy period for Carmen as she was with her love Ramon Gomez de la Serna and she continued to address her social projects for change. As her literature debates where held on Sunday afternoons the Bishop of Jaca presented a complaint in the Senate against Carmen, because she had declared that the origin of human language was not divine but due to evolution. The Bishop of Jaca demanded an explanation from the Interior Minister Francisco Sampedro for permitting such a person in the educational system spreading liberal ideas contrary to the Catholic faith.
Carmen only responded to these attacks with her literature: Cuentos de Colombine (tails of Colombine) was published in 1908. Carmen by then was a recognised, respected and popular writer in the world of journalism.
She was also a person accustomed to fighting with the experience of having travelled around Europe and a personal ideology based on human freedom.
The year 1909
Carmen will be subject of much criticism due to her relationship with Gomez de la Serna because she was older than him. Carmen always broke stereotypes and was advanced for her time.
In 1909, the War in Morocco started and Carmen as a member of the Heraldo de Madrid did not want to lose this opportunity and quickly travelled to Malaga.
Once in Malaga, she visited Almeria for a few days and boarded a ship to Melilla where most of the action was taking place. In this way, she became the first woman war correspondent; Colombine in Melilla was the title in the Heraldo colum. She told her readers about the real situation of the soldiers daily life and published the lists of wounded and ill.
She began her column from Melilla titled In the War (episodes from Melilla).
Maura’s government lost office (due to the War situation), and therefore Carmen de Burgos was no longer banished to Toledo. Carmen moved back to Madrid where she taught once again and the fruit of her exile in Toledo Los Inadaptados (the unadapted) was published in 1909; her first long novel which inaugurated a narrative series dedicated to Rodalquilar where she returns to that idyllist world that was her childhood.
In 1910, Carmen continued her continuous work as a journalist in the Heraldo de Madrid and intensified her feminist views.
She became a militant of the PSOE (Spanish Socialist party) in 1910.
Her feminist views consolidated and she abandoned her timid approach of her first columns.
She gave a number of conferences over the problem of women’s education and its deficiencies; she openly proposed the necessity of mixed education at schools to end women’s lack of culture. She also commented the family structure as she advocated for civil marriages, divorce, free love and relationships in which a husband is also a companion. This was Carmen’s model where she mixed European ideas and old Spanish Regenerationalist ideas.
In 1911, she began another trip around Europe together with her daughter Maria. She sent articles to the Heraldo de Madrid as she continued her journey through France. In this second journey, Carmen de Burgos thoughts are those of a woman who searches her prime and demonstrates her need for knowledge with a much more tolerant attitude and offering less of herself but much more intimate and profound. She would publish her second travel book where she concludes that there is a big contrast between the cosmopolitan French society and backward Spanish society. During the journey, Carmen would write her columns as she was travelling and send them to the Heraldo; she explained to her readers the situation of women in Europe where they had important positions and responsibilities in equal terms with men.
In 1912, Carmen de Burgos was invited by the French National Council of Women to participate in the X International Women’s Congress, where Carmen would explain the small influence of feminism in Spain. During this year, she published the novel Siempre en Tierra (always on Earth) a homage to the city of Paris.
Argentina was her next destination thanks to a scholarship conceded by the Junta de Ampliacion
(public entity). She would give 10 conferences in Buenos Aires.
Carmen returned to Almeria in 1913 where she was congratulated by the City Council and received a heroe’s welcome as a glorious Spanish writer returning from Argentina accompanied by her sister Catalina. Carmen gave a conference which was published in a packed Circulo Mercantil e Industrial (mercantile and industrial association).
In 1914, Carmen started off on a new journey to first visit Switzerland and finally to Russia but the journey suddenly ended as the I World War began. The Author and her daughter cancelled the rest of their trip and travelled back to Spain experiencing difficult and dangerous episodes on the way back which she narrated in her column.
Carmen discovered her second homeland, Portugal; this was a return, a reunion and a also a discovery. Here, she will begin a new stage in her life together with the man she had been sharing her life with for the last years. Carmen also established a friendship with Ana de Castro Osorio, who personified women’s rights achieved in Portugal, this friendship would last forever.
Ana was the director of Portuguese women’s crusade to defend the rights of women and would influence the future crusade of Spanish women that Carmen would found in Spain.
Carmen would enjoy great rest and tranquillity to write in Portugal until 1919.
In 1916 Carmen and Ramon travelled to the main countries involved in the World War; they visited Paris where they collected experiences and included them in the Heraldo columns and in latter novels. In her writings, she expressed her profound antiwar sentiment; the French Union of Women gave Carmen the possibility to visit hospitals to see the honourable wounded and the plausible work of women nurses.
In 1917, Carmen attended one of the most important events in her life: her daughter’s wedding with Guillermo, a young man from the cinema industry. They were happy times for Carmen and her career; she would finish the narrative Rodalquilar series and she would publish the great novel that consecrated her.
The end of the War meant the beginning of women suffragist’s demands, which she would include in her column in the Heraldo. Her militancy in the PSOE would be known in Madrid and it would be very intense but ephemeral, as she finalized her membership due to controversy inside the PSOE over women’s right to vote.
In 1919, Carmen returned to Portugal where a new life for her and Ramon was set. They would find peace and relaxation there, so to be able to write and Carmen also began to collaborate with the Portuguese journal O Mundo.
Ana de Castro named Carmen as a honourific member of the Portuguese Women’s Crusade.
In 1920, Ana de Castro visited Madrid, this was an important stimulus for the founding of the Spanish Women’s Brigade, where many important women participated under the presidency of Carmen. One of the projects was to send a series of propositions to Parliament to break legal barriers for equality:
Establishment of the divorce.
Equal rights for legitimate and illegitimate children.
Reforming the Civil Law Code in that which discriminizes women
After leaving the PSOE, Carmen found a project that suited her Union Republicana (republican union).
In 1921, the Spanish Women’s Crusade is founded by Carmen as an association for feminist propaganda and direct help for women.
In 1922, the Spanish Women’s Crusade organized a demonstration to hand in all their demands in Parliament.
Equal political rights
Equal civil rights
Repeal of laws that impede women to take on certain careers and jobs.
Equality in the Penal Code.
Equal rights for legitimate and illegitimate children.
Moral and civic instruction centres for women.
Disappearance of regulated prostitution.
The Demands, women’s right to vote and divorce, were well received by the members of Parliament and they would be legislated in the future.
In 1923, Carmen published Malcasada (badly married) as an autobiography set completely in Almeria with the background of bitter memories of the social situation that impeded a person to escape a bad marriage.
Carmen created a great historic document La Mujer Moderna y sus Derechos (the modern women and her rights), this work consecrated her as the forerunner of women’s rights in Spain. In the Document, she described her long years of struggle for women’s rights. This encyclopedia describes the social evolution of women at the doors of the most important events of the beginning of the XX Century.
These years were very busy for her work for the feminist cause.
All this activity came to a complete stop in 1929, when her daughter Maria separated from her husband and began a career as an actress. But the worse was still to arrive, Ramon Gomez de la Serna presented his new play Los Medios Seres (the half beings) and gave Maria a small role in it. What Carmen did not know that a short, intense and passionate relationship between Ramon and Maria had begun. This meant the end of 20 years of relationship between Carmen and Ramon; he left for Paris and Carmen pardoned her daughter and they kept together.
The bitterness of the previous years disappeared and Carmen bore out new strength to support the Republican cause and her dedication to feminism. She reactivated projects such as the League of Women and the Crusade.
Carmen had the declaration of the II Spanish Republic as her final objective.
The II Spanish Republic
Carmen joined the Radical Republican Socialist party; she worked for women’s rights and the right to vote.
The II Republic’s recognition of women’s right to vote was the culmination of Carmen’s work after long years of struggle.
Her political activities included conferences and political meetings in every corner of Madrid, where she would campaign against the death penalty.
Carmen had one more emotional visit on her agenda: her return to Almeria after the declaration of the II Republic.
In September 1931, she took part in the homage given to Nicolas Salmeron y Alonso in his home town of Alhama.
In November 1931, Carmen presented her last novel Puñal de Claveles (dagger of carnations). This Novel ended the Rodalquilar series and her literature output and contained an intimate message: the hope for evolution and happiness. She was very ill but she never stopped working in the Women’s Crusade and in her Party, but her heart could not keep up the pace: in 8 October 1932 while participating in a round table organized by the Radical Socialist party on education Carmen suffered her last heart attack. The Spanish Civil War and the long dictatorship were her real death, her novels topped the black lists of prohibited authors. In today’s Spain, Carmen de Burgos’ works and ideas are being studied once again as she is a symbol as a women’s rights advocate and a real democrat.literaria e histórica de esta mujer que luchó por la igualdad efectiva entre hombres y mujeres.