Clara Campoamor was best known for her campaigns for women’s suffrage in Spain. In a quirk of the Spanish system, she was elected to the Spanish parliament, in 1931, despite not being able to vote at the time. Once there, she successfully shepherded legislation through parliament giving women in Spain the vote.
Clara Campoamor was born to a fairly poor family in Madrid, in 1888. After her father (who worked for a newspaper) died, she went out to work at the age of 13 as a seamstress. She kept studying, though, and worked her way up into government jobs, becoming a typist, and eventually, a typing teacher, and working a second job for a newspaper. Then, at the age of 33, she decided to formally resume her education, and after three years of intense study, had finished high school, and earned a law degree.
By then, she was also a leading figure in Spanish feminism, campaigning for reforms to marriage laws, child labour laws, as well as women’s suffrage. Her prominence, and talents as a lawyer, led her to successfully stand for the Constituent Assembly that had been formed to write a new Constitution for Spain. Despite the opposition of many in the Catholic Church, political conservatives, and those in her own party (including one of the two other women in the Assembly), women’s suffrage was narrowly approved by the new parliament. Clara left her own party in protest at its abandonment of the feminist cause, but managed to improve the lot of women in several other ways in this new parliament, with laws for marriage reform also passed.
The marriage reform work helped her law practice, and she was the lawyer for several high profile divorces around this time.
But her betrayal of her party for a principle hurt her reelection prospects, and she was ironically not reelected to parliament in the first elections when women had the vote, in 1934. She continued her private law practice, and campaigns for feminist causes, until the Civil War in Spain meant that she had to flee, first to South America, then to Switzerland. Although she managed a couple of very short clandestine visits to Spain in later years, she never managed to return, and died at the age of 84 in Switzerland.
Spain in the 20s and 30s was a radical place, with anarchists featuring prominently in political life. The conservative landowners and the Catholic Church were prominent too, and eventually the right wing extremities won out. But not before Campoamor and other prominent women managed to sow the seeds of what a more equal society might look like, which may even have helped that society emerge from hibernation 40 years later after the death of Franco.