Pioneering Portuguese feminism

6th February 2020

News, Student news, Home Feed

A first full-length account of the political intervention of the nineteenth-century journalist, novelist and translator Francisca de Assis Martins Wood (1802-1900) has been written by Wadham Fellow in Portuguese, Cláudia Pazos Alonso.

  • Book cover

    Francisca Wood and Nineteenth-Century Periodical Culture - Pressing for Change by Cláudia Pazos Alonso

  • Cláudia Pazos Alonso

    Cláudia Pazos Alonso

Francisca Wood and Nineteenth-Century Periodical Culture - Pressing for Change questions why the intriguing life-story of Francisca Wood was not examined earlier and why mid-nineteenth century female authorship has remained neglected for so long in Portuguese cultural memory.

The monograph highlights the pioneer weekly periodical that Wood headed for two years, A Voz Feminina, as Cláudia explains:

“The first petition in favour of female suffrage presented to Parliament by John Stuart Mill, after Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon collected 1499 signatures in 1866, gave fresh momentum to women in periodical culture throughout Europe and the US in the late 1860s.  As the London-based Atheneum reported, with a tinge of ambivalence: ‘The Female Question is making strange progress. From a city so little likely to be stirred by sentiment as Lisbon we have received several numbers of a paper called A Voz Feminina, which is written by ladies and devoted to the cause of woman’s emancipation’. 

“Lisbon was undoubtedly stirred by sentiment. The conservative Bem Publico took issue with the perceived unfemininity of A Voz Feminina. The accusation of foreign otherness corrupting national purity was levelled at the editor, Francisca Wood: ‘They want us to believe there is a group of ladies in Portugal who are asking for what foreign women of dubious reputation, and some even less than this, call the free woman, and this cannot be: for the honour of the Catholic woman, no matter which nation she belongs to, we cannot believe it’. At stake was a blanket rejection of the New Women and evolving gender roles. Wood's paper was caricatured, through sexist and racist language, as ‘a hermaphrodite paper’, written in ‘a bush language’. 

“Far from being cowed into silence, Francisca Wood launched a clever counter-attack. A new slogan, which neatly encapsulated the goals of her crusade for parity, appeared in the header. It read: ‘‘the free woman beside the free man’ [a mulher livre ao lado do homem livre].”

One hundred and fifty years on, this book uncovers the backlash against Wood’s progressive views, and reclaims this salient public intellectual as a worthy precursor of Portuguese first-wave feminism.

Cláudia Pazos Alonso is Professor of Portuguese and Gender Studies at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wadham College.

This title is distributed on behalf of Modern Humanities Research Association by Ingram’s. Booksellers and libraries.