A Francoist heroine
This small hand-coloured photograph shows María Paz Martínez Unciti wearing the uniform of the Women’s Section of the Falange. After she was murdered in Madrid in November 1936 at the age of eighteen, her sister started Blue Relief María Paz, an organization whose activities illustrate the ways in which the war provided the opportunity for Francoist women to act well outside officially prescribed gender roles.
The Blue Relief grew into a network of some 6,000 women that operated throughout the war without being detected by Republican authorities. Its members carried out a wide range of activities that included providing food, shelter and clothing for persecuted Francoists; forging documents; taking priests to clandestine masses; creating a network of 289 nurses to attend to the sick and wounded; organizing escape routes to the rebel zone; operating hiding places, including one in the same building where the Socialist newspaper had its headquarters; infiltrating the Republican military intelligence service (SIM) and discovering the identity numerous Republican agents acting in the rebel zone; planting a lawyer inside the People’s Court that prosecuted espionage cases; and collecting information that was used to persecute individual Republican supporters after the war.
Falangist and conservative Catholic women were active in Fifth Column networks in other Republican cities such as Barcelona and Valencia. The all-women White Relief in the province of Almería helped organize clandestine masses, assisted more than 500 people to escape to rebel territory, gathered intelligence on local defenses, organized women’s protests over living conditions, and helped undermine morale by spreading defeatist rumours.
Women were also prominent in Fifth Column activities in rural areas such as the villages around Guadix (Granada). There they helped fugitives escape, passed on information about Republican deployments, and undertook acts of sabotage.
Nationalist women played key roles in espionage and counterespionage. They were also important in processing intelligence. There were three major examples: the Francoist intelligence network in Southern France; the elaboration of the so-called Catalonia File in San Sebastián that organized and collated intelligence information on Catalonia; and the construction of the vast archive of the National Commission for the Recovery of Documents in Salamanca that became the heart of postwar political repression.
The Franco dictatorship recognized the services of the women who had been engaged in these types of activities, which made them eligible for various privileges including public sector jobs. However, in terms of its official memory, this extensive and diverse women’s activism was quickly monopolized by the official party of the new regime and a handful of figures were included in its cult of martyrs. María Paz Martínez Unciti was the most famous of them all.