Equality in Art: Las Mujeres Sin Sombrero

Written by Isabelle Shaw

Las Sinsombrero (“hatless women”) were an astute group of Spanish female artists who, when faced with political and social constraints preventing them from becoming equal to their male peers, defiantly resisted through a demonstration of removing their hats.  

La Generación del 27 (“The Generation of 1927”) was a group of artists who concretised new forms of writing, such as surrealism, into Spanish literature. They used abstract forms as art since it was seen as the only form of freedom of expression during times of war and dictatorship, belonging to the period of Primo de Rivera and La Guerra Civil (“Civil War”). Famous artists such as Frederico Lorca, Salvador Dali and Maruja Malla were also part of this artistic movement and supported the women, giving them a place in the twentieth-century Spanish artistic sphere that was well-deserved. Members of La Generación del 27 joined the female artists in protest their lack of artistic recognition and ignorance of the female gaze. At La Puerta del Sol in Madrid, they staged a demonstration by taking their hats off to protest female inequality.  

At first glance this form of passive resistance may seem unusual; however, the cultural meaning behind hats can be explained by the conservative attitudes towards women covering up their hair deriving from Biblical teachings. During the early twentieth century, Spain vehemently adopted this form of religious conservatism endorsing the ‘modesty of women’. In short, to take off your hat would be seen as a sign of religious defiance and asocial behaviour. Even some went as far as to associate the protest with homosexuality, a grave sin at the time. 

They were met with an extremely hostile response: stoning. Resistance to the protest was grave and La Generación del 27 suffered from this act of transgression. Nevertheless, they exemplified great bravery in their determination to modernise the culture of Spain in the twentieth century.  

While this form of protest is not atypical of early twentieth century Spain, and many similar artistic movements took place, this event has great prominence as male artists supported female artists, showing the power of male resistance as important to the fight for women’s rights. Their impact on the chronology of women’s rights in Spain toward a fairer society for women paving the way for changes during the democratic republic shows they are deserving of a more highlighted place in worldwide chronology. Their legacy is followed by many contemporary Spanish female artists who can have their work appreciated due to the efforts of this group of women. 

Overall, Las Sinsombrero are a great example of the power of female comradeship in resisting the long-standing conservatism in Spain that was out of touch with the rest of Europe, not granting women’s rights until 1933. These women deserve a place in history for their resilience and passion for their art, and demonstrate that the history of women’s rights in Spain was a much longer fight. 

Las mujeres sin sombrero were:

Cocha Méndez

Cocha Méndez was born in Madrid in 1898 and died in Mexico City in 1986. She worked as a writer, poet, dramatist and script writer. Concha is described as having an unusual personality; she was affirmative and insincere which was atypical for a women who were expected to have a submissive countenance at the time.

Josefina de la Torre

Josefina de la Torre was born in 1907 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and died in Madrid in 2002. She was a pioneering figure, being the first actress to work at the Teatro Nacional de María Guerrero in 1940. In 1946, she became even more trailblazing, opening up her town theatre company. In 2002, Josefina was awarded the great honour of Cruz de la Orden Islas Canarias.

Ernestina de Champourcín

Ernestina de Champourcín was born in 1905 in Vitoria and died in 1999 in Madrid. She was a journalist who wrote for La Sección Femenina, spanning from articles on social progress, modernity and jazz. Her conferences and competitions always put women in the spotlight.

Margarita Gil Roësset

Margarita Gil Roësset was born in Madrid in 1908 and died in 1932. She is best known for her 1930 sculpture Adán y Eva exhibited at La Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes de Madrid.

María Teresa León

María Teresa León was born in 1903 in Logroño and died in 1988 in Madrid. She was a poet, dramatist, essayist, intellectual and activist. María safeguarded up to 64 works, including Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez.

Margarito Manso

Margarito Manso was born in Valladolid in 1908 and died in Madrid in 1960. She was an expressive painter and writer. Margarito wrote the romance novel Muerto de Amor.

María Zambrono

María Zambrono was born in Malaga in 1904 and died in Madrid in 1991. She was a political thinker who advocated for women’s liberation. María won the Principe de Asturias Prize in 1981 and the Cervantes prize in 1989 for her essays.

Maruja Mallo

Maruja Mallo was born in Lugo in 1902 and died in Madrid in 1995. She powered the surrealist movement in early twentieth-century, developing the colourist era of the 20s and the shade in the 30s. Maruja was an avant-garde painter.

Rosa Chacel

Rosa Chacel was born in 1898 in Valladolid and died in Madrid in 1994. She was a prose writer and had controversial literature. She published her first novel in 1930, Estación. Ida y Vuelta. In exile from La Guerra Civil, she wrote works in Europe and Rio de Janeiro. Rosa wrote for the Revista de Occidente and won the National Literary Prize for Literature in 1987.

Image Credits

Concha Méndez. Accessed via https://www.culturaydeporte.gob.es/cultura/areas/archivos/mc/centros/cida/4-difusion-cooperacion/4-2-guias-de-lectura/escritoras/mendez-concha.html. Used under fair use policy.

Josefina de la Torre Millares. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Josefina_de_la_Torre_Millares_3.jpg. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

Ernestina de Champourcín. Accessed via https://www.poeticous.com/ernestina-de-champourcin?page=2. Used under fair use policy.

Marga Gil Roësset. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marga_Gil_Ro%C3%ABsset.jpg. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

María Teresa de León. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maria_teresa_de_leon_cartel_final.jpg. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Margarita Manso. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Margarita_Manso_3V.jpg. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

María Zambrono. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mar%C3%ADa-Zambrano-1-e1602071174321.png. Public domain.

Majura Mallo. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maruja_Mallo.JPG. Public domain.

Rosa Chacel. Accessed via: https://www.universolorca.com/en/personaje/chacel-arimon-rosa-clotilde/. Used under fair use policy.

Featured image credit: Las Sinsombrero. Accessed via RTVE: https://www.rtve.es/television/20210308/sinsombrero-exilio-documental-nombres/2080238.shtml. Used under fair use policy.

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