Frederica Montseny i Mañé
|Minister of Health and Social Policy|
4 November 1936 - 17 May 1937
|José Tomás y Piera|
|Jesús Hernández Tomás (Health) and Jaime Aiguadé y Miró (Social Policy)|
|Born||12 February 1905|
|Died||14 January 1994 (aged 88)|
|Spouse(s)||Josep Esgleas Jaume|
|Children||Vida Esgleas Montseny|
Germinal Esgleas Montseny
Blanca Esgleas Montseny
Federica Montseny Mañé (Catalan: [mun's]; 12 February 1905 – 14 January 1994) was a Spanish anarchist and intellectual who served as Minister of Health and Social Policy of the Government of the Second Spanish Republic during the Civil War.
She is known as a novelist and essayist and for being one of the first female ministers in Western Europe.
Federica Montseny was born on 12 February 1905 in Madrid, Spain. She was the sole surviving child of Joan Montseny and Teresa Mañé, both teachers and anarchists of Catalan extraction. They lived in Madrid because the 1896 Barcelona Corpus Christi procession bombing had led to her father being imprisoned and then exiled. The couple returned to Spain secretly and settled in the capital. From 1898, her parents jointly edited the fortnightly journal La Revista Blanca, one of the most significant anarchist publications of the time. The family put its savings into a house on the outskirts of Madrid. The developer that built the house threatened to sue her father when the latter accused him of stealing from the poor by taking money for houses that were never built. This forced the family to leave and spend the next years moving frequently and surviving occasional writing and farming. During Montseny's childhood, the Civil Guard would frequently visit the family home searching for her father. She would let them in as slowly as possible in order to give him time to hide.
Montseny was educated at home by her parents. After Montseny acquired basic reading and writing skills, her mother used progressive didactic methods to foster Montseny's curiosity, providing her with a wide range of reading material in order to encourage her to pursue her own intellectual interests. Montseny became acquainted with literature as well as social and political theory. She also credits the rural environment she grew up in with shaping her intellectual development. Throughout her life, she would return to nature when grappling with social questions.
In 1912, her parents returned to their native Catalonia and later established a publishing company that specialized in libertarian literature.
Montseny joined the anarchist trade union CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) and wrote for anarchist journals such as Solidaridad Obrera, Tierra y Libertad and Nueva Senda. In 1927, she joined the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI).
With Josep Esgleas Jaume (alias Germinal Esgleas), she had three children: Vida (1933), Germinal (1938) and Blanca (1942).
During the Spanish Civil War, Montseny supported the republican government. She rejected the violence in the republican-held territory: "a lust for blood inconceivable in honest man before". In November 1936, Francisco Largo Caballero appointed Montseny as Minister of Health. In doing so, she became the first woman in Spanish history to be a cabinet minister. She was one of the first female ministers in Western Europe (but preceded by Danish Minister of Education, Nina Bang and Miina Sillanpää of Finland). She aimed to transform public health to meet the needs of the poor and the working class. To that end, she supported decentralized, locally responsive and preventive health care programs that mobilized the entire working class for the war effort. She was influenced by the anarchist sex reform movement, which since the 1920s had focused on reproductive rights and was minister in 1936 when Dr. Félix Martí Ibáñez, the anarchist director general of Health and Social Assistance of the Generalitat de Catalunya, issued the Eugenic Reform of Abortion, a decree that effectively made abortion on demand legal in Catalonia.
Given her family's libertarian tradition, her decision to enter the Popular Front government was especially difficult. Although joining the government was a move encouraged by the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), the collaboration with the government to present a united front to the threat posed by Francisco Franco's rebel armies, was widely questioned during and for long after the war was over. Notably, she was involved in polemics with Emma Goldman and she was the recipient of harsh criticism in Camillo Berneri's open letter of 1937. For many anarchists, the topic of collaboration with both Marxists and governments is still contentious.
She moved to France in 1939 where she wrote many books, only a fraction of which were political. She returned to Spain in 1977, and died on 14 January 1994 in Toulouse, at 88.