Women in Colonial Latin American History
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0037
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0037
The history of women in colonial Latin America has been a productive and exciting field since the mid-1970s. The study of women in the colonial empires of Spain and Portugal began in the final quarter of the 20th century, clearly influenced by the feminist movement and work by scholars in U.S. history. Although at least one male scholar had already produced a thin volume on the subject, his work, lacking a feminist perspective, tended to be ignored. Initial work on women was heavily politicized, presenting women as the victims of sexism and patriarchy and assuming that gender created a common “sisterhood” that trumped race and class. But during the 1980s, a more balanced historiography began to appear as scholars began to point out that the experience of a white elite woman was far different from, for example, a rural Indian woman. Moreover, historians became more sensitive to the range of variation within any social or racial group. More recent work, drawing in part from the work of subaltern studies, has tended to “empower” colonial women, seeing them as more able to overcome the structural limitations of their lives than previously thought. At the same time, as there were changes in interpretation of women’s actions, historians grew aware of new and far more varied sources then originally imagined. These sources include dowries, wills, probate records, parish records, Inquisition proceedings, both civil and criminal judicial cases, spiritual dowries, personal letters as well as censuses, donor lists, and notary and Cabildo records. While women of different economic and social strata have been studied, in general elite women, indigenous women, and female slaves have received the most attention. Still needed is more work on women from “middling groups,” such as artisans and small shop owners, as well as on poor women, many of whom were of mixed race. Whether women’s conditions improved over time is another issue that calls for more research. There is some suggestion that women’s roles were more fluid in the early colonial period, but few works have attempted to systematically compare women’s ability to mold their own lives across the colonial centuries. In addition it is not clear whether Enlightenment reforms improved or worsened the female situation.
The works listed in this section provide a general overview of the role of women in colonial Latin American society while stressing different aspects of the female experience in colonial Latin America. Pescatello 1976, the first book to provide an overview of women in colonial Ibero-America, argued that patriarchy was the overriding model for these societies. While Burkett 1977 did not challenge this model, it underlined the importance of race and class in understanding how gender worked in the colonial society. Shortly thereafter, the path-breaking anthologies edited by Asunción Lavrin (see Lavrin 1978 and Lavrin 1989) and her contribution to the Cambridge History of Latin America (see Lavrin 1984) presented a more complex vision of the lives of colonial women. Arrom 1985 focuses on Mexico City. The early 21st century produced Socolow 2000, an overview of the experience of women in colonial society, as well as Powers 2005 and Kellogg 2005, two books that concentrate on indigenous women.
Arrom, Silvia Marina. The Women of Mexico City, 1790–1857. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985.
Provides a good overview of the women of Mexico City in the late colonial period and the wars of independence.
Burkett, Elinor. “In Dubious Sisterhood: Class and Sex in Spanish Colonial America.” Latin American Perspectives 4.1–2 (1977): 18–26.
A controversial article in its time that argues forcefully for the importance of race and social class in understanding women’s experiences.
Kellogg, Susan. Weaving the Past: A History of Latin America’s Indigenous Women from the Prehispanic Period to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
A history of indigenous women with special attention to pre-Colombian and colonial societies.
Lavrin, Asunción, ed. Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978.
A path-breaking anthology with solid articles on women in colonial Mexico, Peru, and Brazil as well as others on modern Latin America.
Lavrin, Asunción. “Women in Spanish American Colonial Society.” In The Cambridge History of Latin America. Edited by Leslie Bethell, 2:321–355. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
A thoughtful article that covers several important topics (race, marriage, kinship, status, occupations, social mores and deviance, and education).
Lavrin, Asunción, ed. Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
A strong introduction by Lavrin is followed by five articles on sexuality, sexual witchcraft, and the Church’s attempt to curb both; and four pieces on marriage and legal separation. Many of the articles in this collection have become classics.
Pescatello, Ann M. Power and Pawn: The Female in Iberian Families, Societies and Cultures. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976.
Reacting against the first generation feminist idea that Hispanic women were spiritually superior to men and controlled their own destiny, Pescatello stresses the importance of patriarchy throughout all regions influenced by Spain and Portugal as well as in pre-Colombian societies.
Powers, Karen Vieira. Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500–1600. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
Stresses the victimization of indigenous women who found their rights to property and access to resources curtailed by Spanish policies. Mestizas fared slightly better, but even nuns were intellectually exploited by their male confessors.
Socolow, Susan Migden. The Women of Colonial Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
A history of colonial women that emphasizes the importance of social position, race, and civil status on female roles and power.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Abortion and Infanticide
- Agricultural Technologies
- Alcohol Use
- Ancient Andean Textiles
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Andean Music
- Anti-Asian Racism
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Brazil, The
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Atlantic Creoles
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Beauty in Latin America
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Bolaño, Roberto
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Borges, Jorge Luis
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- California Missions, The
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Central America, The Archaeology of
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Latin America, Crime and Punishment in
- Colonial Latin America, Pilgrimage in
- Colonial Legal History of Peru
- Colonial New Granada
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Comics, Cartoons, Graphic Novels
- Contemporary Indigenous Film and Video Production
- Contemporary Indigenous Social and Political Thought
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Cortés, Hernán
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Fernando
- Dependency Theory in Latin American History
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500–1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Dutch in South America and the Caribbean, The
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Economies from Independence to Industrialization
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- Education in New Spain
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- Franciscans in Colonial Latin America
- From "National Culture" to the "National Popular" and the ...
- Gaucho Literature
- Gender and History in the Andes
- Gender during the Period of Latin American Independence
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Gentrification in Latin America
- Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe
- Guaraní and Their Legacy, The
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Colonial Period)
- Guatemala (Modern & National Period)
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- History of Health and Disease in Latin America and the Car...
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Honor in Mexican Public Life
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Independence in Argentina
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Indigenous Voices in Literature
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jesuits in Colonial Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- José María Arguedas and Early 21st Century Cultural and Po...
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Theater and Performance
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- LGBT Literature
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Magical Realism
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Menchú, Rigoberta
- Mesoamerica, The Archaeology of
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Nationalism
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Mexico, Health Care in 20th-Century
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Mining Extraction in Latin America
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Mystics and Mysticism
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- Natural Disasters in Early Modern Latin America
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Nuns and Convents in Colonial Latin America
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Ortega, José y Gasset
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Pastoralism in the Andes
- Paz, Octavio
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Ponce de León
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in 19th-Century Latin America
- Portuguese-Spanish Interactions in Colonial South America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-conquest Mesoamerican States, The
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Puerto Rican Literature
- Religions in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Santo Domingo
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Science and Technology in Modern Latin America
- Sephardic Culture
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Slavery in Brazil
- São Paulo
- South American Dirty Wars
- South American Missions
- Spanish American Arab Literature
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Spiritual Conquest of Latin America, The
- Sports in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Telenovelas and Melodrama in Latin America
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 19th Century and Modernismo Poetry in Spanish America
- 20th-Century Mexico, Mass Media and Consumer Culture in
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Tourism in Modern Latin America
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- US–Latin American Relations during the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Venezuelan Literature
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Women's Property Rights, Asset Ownership, and Wealth in La...
- World War I in Latin America
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas