Hello all! Last week’s Women in History Crush Week didn’t go as planned…oops. Today, we’re going to talk about an extremely complex woman who I just finished studying for my Latin American history class. Without further ado, our WCW on this lovely early Thursday morning is Eva Perón.
Born Eva Maria Duarte on May 7th, 1919 in Los Toldos, Argentina, Eva grew up an illegitimate child in a small town. She was shamed by the other townspeople for her family dynamic, as she, her mother, and her siblings grew up in poverty while her wealthy father refused to acknowledge them. Around age fifteen, Eva left the town for Buenos Aires, where she lived on the streets for a period before finding work as an actress on small stage and film projects. Eva soon moved on to voice acting on the radio. Her first major radio show was about significant women in history, in which Eva voiced and told the stories of famous women around the world. With each broadcast, Eva’s fame grew, and she climbed the social ladder.
Following an earthquake in 1944, Eva attended a fundraising gala held by Juan Perón, who was then the Secretary of Labor. The two met and immediately bonded, marking the beginning of their careers and lives together. Later in the year, Perón used his position in the government to push for the unionization of industries. Eva, as the president of the broadcast performers union, began a daily radio program to talk about Perón’s accomplishments and movements, hoping to gain the support of lower and middle class women and laborers (descamisados) for him. Perón headed the Grupo de Oficiales Unidos, a military union with growing power and resentment against the current administration, and in 1945 was arrested for his involvement. Eva used her show to rally the people in favor of Perón, who was released a little over a week later. Eva and Perón wed following his release.
Perón ran for president of Argentina in 1946, with Eva feverously campaigning for him on air and in front of crowds. It was during this period that she started going by the affectionate “Evita” to emphasize the idea that she was a friend to all. Once Perón won, Eva left for what became known as her “Rainbow Tour,” during which she travelled to several European countries and met with government and religious officials in an attempt to build positive social (Argentina never denounced the Nazis or other fascist movements in Europe during WWI, and was therefore not well-liked by Europeans after the war) and economic relations.
Eva was more involved in government affairs than any other Argentinian first lady. It is said that she played a large role in assembling Perón’s cabinet, made daily calls during her Rainbow Tour to keep affairs in line, and would orchestrate relations within the government to benefit Perón. Military and wealthy elite despised Eva for her involvement, and did everything in their power, which mostly included anti-Peronism propaganda and blocking her from participating in groups traditionally run by the elite. As a way to fight back, Eva created the Eva Perón Foundation in 1948, a charity which took donations and placed a kind of tax on citizens to be used for infrastructure projects, care for the children, sick, and elderly, and scholarships. Eva became more involved in community outreach, feminist movements, and workers’ rights. All her time was spent with the people of Argentina, who came to love her as a self-sacrificing saint. By 1951, Eva had gained so much support that many tried to get her to run for the vice presidency herself.
So as to not encroach upon her husband’s power, Eva turned down the people’s request. She also began facing health issues; she suffered from cervical cancer and the effects of severe exhaustion. Her health declined rapidly, and she died on July 26th, 1952. The nation mourned publicly for two months. Eva was embalmed and a memorial was to be constructed for burial site, but the fall of Perón soon after her death meant that the site was never finished. Instead, Eva’s body was passed around between different members of Perón’s administration under suspicious circumstances, supposedly for safe keeping. From the mid-1950s to 1971, Eva was kept in a crypt in Italy and was considered lost to the Argentinian public. In 1971, her body was finally returned to Argentina, where she now rests in a family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetary.
Eva’s legacy is still celebrated every October 17th in Argentina, on the anniversary of the day that Juan Perón was released from prison. Additionally, carnations are often left at her current resting place in La Recoleta. The musical loosely based on her life, Evita, was on Broadway for a total of five years before being adapted into film in 1996. In 2012, her image was added to some pieces of Argentinian currency, and there is some controversy now as to whether she will be replaced.
One of the major issues with commending Eva, as I have done up to this point, is neglecting to bring up the darker side of Eva. Peronism has been criticized since Juan Perón’s election as being fascist. Perón himself was conservative and authoritarian, and while Eva was more socially liberal, she took part in some of the more gruesome parts of his administration. In a documentary we watched in my class, it was said that Eva often watched and even played a role in the torture of Perón’s political opponents. Additionally, there remains to this day suspicion as to whether or not Eva siphoned money from the Eva Perón Foundation into personal stores in Swiss banks, and whether or not her Rainbow Tour doubled as a way to find Nazis seeking escape from Europe. At this point, investigations have been going on for decades and nothing concrete has been unearthed, so these are alleged atrocities. But I think that it’s naïve to believe nothing shady happened, or that Eva, as involved as she was in governmental affairs, would have been unaware of any such events.
None of this is to say that she didn’t have a positive impact – just that she did horrible things, too. This is the first time that I’ve chosen a more controversial woman to write about, so I want to try to cover everything and hope I’m not butchering it. My final thoughts are that Eva did a lot of wonderful things for Argentinians and had an intense drive to serve her people, but that she had skeletons that should not be overlooked.
To learn more about the provocative life of Eva Perón, check out this bio. page and the book Eva Perón: The Myths of a Woman by Julie Taylor. Also, if you’re into show tunes, the soundtrack for Evita is pretty fun – I’m a fan of “A New Argentina” and “Rainbow High.” I’ll write an analysis for the film soon, too, so if you’re interested, keep an eye out for that.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!