Repository logo

Urban Change, Sexual Politics and Women’s Activism in Spain, 1958 to 1982



Change log


Webster, Roseanna 


From 1950 to 1985, the period spanning the latter years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship and the subsequent democratic transition, informal, grassroots groups of women joined together to demand resources, reproductive justice and legislative change in Spain. These collectives helped transform the social, political and urban landscape and the self-perceptions of those involved. Yet they have been largely ignored both by mainstream accounts of twentieth century Spain and by histories of feminism. The former sub-discipline is more likely to depict working-class, rural and Catholic housewives as the obstacles to change than as its drivers, while the latter has tended to overlook the southern European dictatorships completely. A lack of dialogue between these fields has meant that male politicians and experts are presented as the main force behind social and urban transformation in 1950s to 1980s Spain, while feminism is portrayed as the preserve of educated, secular Spanish women acting from the mid-1970s onwards.

This thesis paints a new picture of grassroots women’s activism in different parts of Spain. It synthesises a study of archival material with testimony from oral history interviews from the mining region of Asturias and the peripheries of Madrid and Seville. Women from these various sites began demanding basic resources on a relatively widespread scale from the late 1950s and early 1960s, against the backdrop of unprecedented internal migration and industrial unrest. These contexts are a neglected aspect of growing social agitation in late Francoism. The thesis also shows that women’s collectives on the geographical and political margins collaborated with, influenced and learned from other groups and individuals with national and international links. These included nuns and ‘worker priests’ who belonged to currents of social Catholicism spreading across Europe in the period leading up to the Second Vatican Council. Catholic worker groups taught female activists how to deploy social research methods, skills they used to claim further social rights. Religious movements also helped ensure that discussion among local activists about sexuality reflected influences from abroad that predated the dissemination of translated feminist texts. The thesis also observes how from the mid-1970s female students travelled to marginal towns and barrios to ‘liberate’ the local housewives. It explores the sometimes fraught collaborations that ensued, and considers the political and personal impact on both working class women and middle class students. The thesis concludes that Spain’s peripheral areas were sites of feminist innovation in the mid- to late twentieth century. Key factors prompting women to mobilise included internal migration, Catholic internationalism and long-standing networks of gossip, factors often neglected by histories of feminism, of Spain and of twentieth-century Europe.





Delap, Lucy
Ramos Pinto, Pedro


History, Spain, Women, Feminism, Social Movements, Gender, Democracy, Class, Oral History, Sexual Politics, Urban, Catholicism, Activism, 1960s


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust Vice-Chancellor's Award; King's College; Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust; Cambridge Centre for History and Economics.