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Open Access

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Master of Arts (M.A.)

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Mexico, Revolution, Women, Labor Rights, Citizenship, Work


This project examines the ways in which gendered discourses were strategically deployed by working women in their own interests during the years of Cardenismo. One result of this activism is the fluorescence of a number of court cases in the capitol of Oaxaca in south-central Mexico, Ciudad Oaxaca de Juárez. Hundreds of working women sued former employers between 1929 and 1938, which were unusually high numbers not seen before or since. Offenses cited include nonpayment of wages, firing without sufficient cause, and “other offenses” – usually quite juicy in the details.

The majority of the women worked as household domestic help or as shop clerks in the market, and were almost uniformly young, illiterate, and poor. Moreover, a great many of them had recently migrated to the city center from rural indigenous communities. Their testimonies cited revolutionary narratives of inclusion and labor rights. As indigenous women they embodied mexicanidad, or “authentic Mexicanness”, as promoted by the revolutionary state in a bid to create a unified national identity. Describing themselves in terms consistent with revolutionary values of womanly abnegation, they claimed labor rights as upstanding members of a revolutionary state. They simultaneously reproduced and challenged gendered discourses, which were deployed within ongoing social negotiation of the meaning and shape of revolutionary change.

By citing accepted notions of gendered behavior, testifiers were able to expand official understandings of appropriate social roles for women. As poor, indigenous, and female, they testified from a multiply marginalized social position. Nevertheless, they petitioned the court for labor rights as women, as citizens, and as workers – all at once. Public understandings of proper roles for women expanded over time to include the two latter categories. This project argues that textual analysis of narratives at this formative moment within women’s labor rights in Mexico will result in a better historical understanding of their role and agency in changing social norms and structures.


First Advisor

Joel W Wolfe