Eva Duarte de Perón

By: Victoria Yates

María Eva Duarte de Perón (affectionately known as Evita, or "little Eva") was born in May 1919 out of wedlock in rural Argentina. Her father left her family for his legal wife and children, forcing them to fend for themselves. They became impoverished and moved to the poorest area of Junín where her mother sewed shirts for money. After the death of her father at age 7, the girls of the family took to cleaning houses of the rich, something which grounded a desire in Eva to break the class boundaries she saw as unjust.

At age 16 she was in Buenos Aires to pursue a career as a stage and film actress. With civil unrest in Argentina in the 1940's, Eva had a radio show dedicated to highlighting these events. She also became leader of a small union group she had formed called Agrupación Radial Argentina. In 1944, she met future president Colonel Juan Peron (then Secretary of Labor) at a fund raising event for earthquake victims. The two married the next year. In 1945 Eva was instrumental in organizing a mass rally to free Juan Peron from imprisonment by some of his military opponents. And, in 1946 Juan's election as President made Eva the First Lady of Argentina.

Determined not to be just "another President's wife" she redefined herself as "the wife of the President, whose work is simple and agreeable ... and I am also Evita, the wife of the leader of a people who have deposited in him all their faith, hope and love." Eva became involved with the General Confederation of Labor. The union leaders embraced the pro-worker policies of Juan Peron and the union was the only one recognized by the government.

Over the following six years her standing within the GCT grew, and she became a key spokesperson for workers rights in Argentina. The Female Peronist party was another of Eva's passions, seeking to get women the vote and include them in the political system. After the controversial "Rainbow Tour" of Europe in 1947, Eva returned to her social projects with full force, urging women to join the battle for equality and suffrage. The law allowing women the vote was eventually passed in September 1947, taking force a few years later.

Sometimes criticized as "wasteful" her devotion to the people still won their hearts. In 1947 Eva founded the Eva Peron Foundation. The organization built homes for the homeless and provided free health care to those that needed it most. She worked non-stop on similar projects, meeting with individuals who needed to voice concerns and issues. The social work which she had begun in '46 continued to expand and grow, but it drew harsh criticism from several outspoken groups. The unspoken message of this protest was rooted not in what was being done, but that a woman was making it happen.

Slowly her health began to deteriorate but one final occupation controlled her thoughts, and that was whether or not to run for Vice President. Sadly Eva died before she could ever attempt political office. In her lifetime Eva helped elevate her husband and herself to almost godlike status in Argentina, winning hearts and minds through her work on issues close to home. Ignoring the controversy around her that is still evident today, she fought prejudice and a male-led system to create real and lasting social change against all odds.