A Female Officer in the Republican Army
Repository: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Repository: Causa General
Date Created: 1938-07
Extent: 1 item
The disruption of state structures and the revolutionary situation provoked by the military coup of July 18 provided the opportunity for women to engage in activities that went well beyond those allowed by established gender roles. The most spectacular was their presence in military units, first in militias attached to unions and political parties and then even in the Popular Army created by the Republic starting in October 1936. This photograph of Encarnación Hernández Luna taken in July 1938 illustrates this phenomenon.
The number of women fighters has yet to be definitively established, although the painstaking research of the Museo Virtual de la Mujer Combatiente (https://www.mujeresenguerra.com/) puts it at a minimum of 3,226 and potentially as high as 7,000. The largest numbers came from Madrid (1152) and Catalonia (1146), but there were also female fighters from all parts of the country, including 188 in the Basque Country.
This research also reveals that these women fighters were a much more diverse group than had been believed. The largest group, 33 per cent, was affiliated with the CNT, but the Socialists, Communists, and UGT accounted for over 40 per cent. There were also militia women from other political groups, including Manuel Azaña’s Republican Left and Basque and Catalan nationalist parties. The youngest was 14 and the oldest 67, but more than half were in their twenties, the prime military age for men. They were not all working class but came from many different social backgrounds. There were women with university degrees and women who were illiterate. There were housewives and professionals. There were single women, married women, and divorced women. They were present on every front. Between fifty and seventy-five died in combat and thirty-one more were reported missing in action.
Even the Decree on the Militarization of the Militias of 29 September 1936 that marked the start of the construction of the new Popular Army and set the requirements for recruits as being a man between 20 and 35 years of age did not eliminate all women fighters. At least 360 entered the army. A number became non-commissioned officers, and even officers.
Encarnación Hernández Luna was one of them. Born in Benejama (Alicante), possibly in 1912, she was living in Madrid when the war began. A member of the Communist party, she joined a machine gun unit of the Fifth Regiment of the Madrid militia. She became part of the Popular Amy, was promoted to captain, and served until 1 March 1939 when she crossed into France. From there Hernández Luna went to the Soviet Union where she worked for the Comintern. She later emigrated to Canada, where she died in 2004.