You’ll Need to Take Initiative: A warrior woman is strategic. She knows when the time is right and charts a path forward. She sees what is needed and gives herself to the causes that ring true in her heart.
I was fascinated with this portrait photograph of a Soldadera in the Mexican Revolution as soon as I saw it. The story proved to be even more interesting that I expected. The woman in the photo is Coronela Amparo Salgado and it was taken in 1911 in by Sara Castrejón, the first woman photographer to extensively photograph the Mexican Revolution. Castrejón was a studio photographer who also, once the Revolution was underway, moved out into the streets to photograph troops and even executions.
Women made many important contributions to the success of the war effort. Some fought in battle, many others did essential tasks including keeping the camps running, caring for the sick and injured, and acting as couriers and spies. They came from all social classes and many were young, in their early 20’s. Coronela Amparo likely was from a middle-upper class family and earned her rank through her leadership, bravery, and military skills, eventually leading both men and women into battle. We can see from the photo that she was quite young. In her role as Coronela, she would have dressed in very practical and masculine attire. One anti-Zapatista and conservative upper-class woman described her as, “a crazy woman who ran around with men, armed, and dressed in pants.”
What we don’t know is whether it was Salgado or Castrejón that decided on Salgado’s attire for the portrait session. In the photograph, she wears a dress emphasizing her femininity while still holding her rifle and wearing her cartridge belt. She appears relaxed, confident in who she is, without any stiffness. Is it possible that the photographer wanted to emphasize the Coronela’s gender rather than downplay it? Even during the war, the contributions of women were kept to the sidelines. After the war the story of the Soldaderas importance and their commitment to the Revolutionary cause was distorted by presenting them in a sexualized and stereotypical way. Romantic ballads, called corridos, written by men further promoted the suppression of the real story of the Soldaderas. However, for many women their participation in the revolution allowed them to step out of strictly established gender roles and their fight for equality and opportunity continued. In the era after the war, the constitution of 1917 changed the definition of citizen to someone born or naturalized in the country, opening the way for women’s right to vote.
For additional reading on this topic:
Jeunesse, Marilyn. 2019. The Real History of Las Soldaderas, the Women Who Made the Mexican Revolution Possible. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/the-real-history-of-las-soldaderas
MCNaughton, Mary, Editor. 2017, Revolution and Ritual: The Photographs of Sara Castrejón, Graciela Iturbide, and Tatiana Parcero. Getty Publications.