KEYWORDS: Gynaecology, Obstetrics, Feminism Activism, Suffragism
SHE THOUGHT IT
Adelaide de Jesus Cabete is an unavoidable reference in the history of women’s rights in Portugal. She was a gynaecologist, a republican, a feminist activist and a suffragist, having made important contributions in all those fields.
In 1900, she became the third woman to receive a medical degree in Portugal. Her thesis, The protecting of poor pregnant women as means of promoting the physical development of new generations (“Protecção às mulheres grávidas pobres como meio de promover o desenvolvimento físico das novas gerações”), summarises her early concerns as a doctor and as a women’s right activist. She was a pioneer in the dissemination of maternal care and childcare and wrote several papers on those subjects, publishing them in medical journals and in the Portuguese press. She also claimed a law that would guarantee female workers to get paid leave in the last month of pregnancy.
Cabete was also one of the most prominent voices in the defence of maternity hospitals in Portugal, highlighting their importance in ensuring the health of mothers and babies. For decades, she fought for the construction of Alfredo da Costa Maternity, officially the first maternity hospital in Portugal, inaugurated in 1932. Unfortunately, her importance in the history of the institution is neglected to this day.
Cabete was a committed republican and feminist. She actively participated in the campaigns for the establishment of the First Republic in Portugal. In 1909, she helped create the Republican League of Portuguese Women (“Liga Republicana das Mulheres Portuguesas”). In 1914, she founded and led the National Council of Portuguese Women (“Conselho Nacional das Mulheres Portuguesas”), which is considered one of the most important feminist groups in Portugal. As the President of the Council, she helped organise the first two feminist congresses held in Portugal, in 1924 and 1928.
Adelaide Cabete is also remembered as one of the most active voices in the struggle for the right of women to vote, criticising the legislation of the time in several papers published in Portugal and abroad. In 1929, disillusioned with the establishment of the New State (“Estado Novo”), she left for Luanda. With the women’s suffrage finally established in 1933, she was the only woman in Angola to vote on the Portuguese Constitution that year.
Born in Elvas on 25 January 1867, Adelaide de Jesus Damas Brazão came from a family of humble origins. She was the daughter of Ezequiel Duarte Brazão and Balbine dos Remédios Damas, both farm workers in Portugal’s Alentejo province. Because she lost her father at a very early age, she could not attend primary school since she had to help her mother with plum harvesting and other agricultural and household activities. Despite that, she learned how to read and write on her own. During her youth, she also worked as a housemaid for rich families in the city of Évora.
Her fate would change in 1885, as this is the year she met Manuel Ramos António Cabete, a sergeant and a Republican sympathiser. Manuel Cabete was himself a great advocate of the cause of women’s emancipation and a defender of their education, encouraging Adelaide to pursue her studies. His first gift to her was a Latin grammar book. The couple married in 1886, and she adopted the name Adelaide de Jesus Damas Brazão e Cabete. As she stated in many interviews, she never saw her marriage as a “burden”, but as a source of personal growth and freedom. However, as a feminist, she publicly criticized the marital laws of her time and understood that for most women being married was an obstacle that destroyed their dreams (Lousada 2010: 23).
In 1889, Adelaide Cabete received The Certificate of Primary Education. She completed her secondary education in 1894. She was the only woman in her class in that year.
She then decided to pursue a career in Medicine. Manuel Cabete even sold some lands he owned, so that his wife could fulfil her academic goals. The couple then moved to Lisbon after Adelaide Cabete was admitted in the Faculty of Medicine, in 1896.
Cabete graduated in 1900, in a class surrounded by an overwhelming majority of male colleagues. According to the Dictionary of Portuguese Medical Doctors (“Dicionário de Médicos Portugueses”), she was the third woman to receive a medical degree in Portugal. Her thesis, The Protecting of poor pregnant women as means of promoting the physical development of new generations (“Proteção às mulheres grávidas pobres como meio de promover o desenvolvimento físico das novas gerações”), was presented on 26 July 1900. She was accepted in the Society of Medical Science (“Sociedade de Ciências Médicas”) in the same year. Her thesis would be edited and published in 1901.
In Lisbon, Cabete practised obstetrics and gynaecology, although the two disciplines did not have those names at the time. In Portuguese, they were generically known as “ladies’ diseases”. She maintained a medical clinic in Lisbon for a great number of years; first at the Prata Street (“Rua da Prata”), in 1906, and then at the Restauradores Street, in 1908.
For her, medical science was inseparable from social science. In fact, her work as a doctor is deeply intertwined with her work as a women’s right activist. In her aforementioned thesis, for example, she defended a law that would guarantee female workers to get paid leave in the last month of pregnancy. She was also a pioneer in the dissemination of maternal care and childcare and wrote several papers on those subjects, publishing them in medical journals and in the Portuguese press.
In that sense, her struggle for the construction of maternity hospitals in Portugal summarises many of her concerns as a doctor. Encouraged by her mentor and friend Alfredo da Costa, she advocated the importance of this kind of facility in assuring the health of mothers and newborn babies. “There is no single institution of this nature in Portugal! In Lisbon, there is only one ward, where only pregnant women in their last days before labour are admitted, due to lack of space”, she wrote in the Portuguese newspaper A República (“The Republic”). She often highlighted the many advantages for mothers in staying in maternity hospitals for postpartum care, where they could find hygienic environments that would favour the development of their babies.
After Alfredo da Costa’s death in 1910, she continued the defence of the maternity hospitals for decades. However, the first institution of that kind was inaugurated only in 1932. Probably on her initiative, it received the name Alfredo da Costa Maternity (“Maternidade Alfredo da Costa”). Unfortunately, her role in the history of the institution is neglected to this day.
Adelaide Cabete and her husband were also strongly engaged in the Portuguese republican movements that resulted in the establishment of the First Republic in Portugal, in 1910. She even had a very symbolic role, since the conspirators trusted her and Carolina Beatriz Ângelo with the task of producing the first “green and red” flags that would be hoisted during on 5October of 1910.
In 1909, she was among the founders the Republican League of Portuguese Women (“Liga Republicana das Mulheres Portuguesas”), alongside Ana de Castro Osório and Carolina Beatriz Ângelo. Immediately after the establishment of the Republic, the League claimed the right of women to vote, but initially only to women who paid taxes. The fact displeased Cabete and was pivotal in her decision to leave the League in 1910.
Adelaide Cabete was a committed feminist and, in 1914, she founded and headed the National Council of Portuguese Women (“Conselho Nacional das Mulheres Portuguesas”), which is considered one of the most important feminist groups in Portugal. The Council was a branch of the International Council of Women, an organisation founded in 1888 in the United States of America that promoted women’s rights. In Portugal, the Council fought for women’s suffrage, the end of prostitution and the improvement of public health. It also sought to promote the protection of women and children victims of abuse, among other causes.
During her time as president of the NCPW, Cabete represented Portugal in several international feminist congresses, such as The International Feminist Congress of Rome, in 1923, and the Congress of The International Council of Women, held in Washington, in 1925. The NCPW also organized, on Cabete’s initiative, the first two feminist congresses held in Portugal, in 1924 and 1928. Cabete was one of the speakers in 1924, presenting the paper “Situação da mulher casada nas relações matrimoniais dos bens do casal” (“The situation of married women regarding the couple’s property”).
It is worth mentioning that Cabete was arguably the member of the Council who was most involved with the feminist movement. Differently from many of her peers, she never rejected being labelled as a “feminist”. In fact, she advocated the idea of feminism throughout the Portuguese press of the time, in several interviews and articles. She made women’s suffrage one of the battles of her life, often criticising legislation in several papers published in Portugal and abroad.
Adelaide Cabete was also a freemason. Her initiation occurred in 1907, in Lisbon. She had chosen Louise Michel as her “symbolic name”, an important historical figure in the Paris Commune, for whom Cabete had a great admiration. However, Cabete’s feminist spirit often clashed with the organisation. Because of that, she decided to join the International Order of Mixed Freemasonry Le Droit Humain, a co-Freemasonry organisation founded in France, which accepted both men and women. She then received the permission to establish a new Freemasonry lodge that would become one of the first lodges in Portugal to accept men and women as equal peers.
It is also important to highlight Cabete’s work as an educator. She was a teacher in the Instituto Feminino de Educação e Trabalho (“Feminine Institute of Education and Work”), in Odivelas, from 1912 to 1929. During her 17 years in the Institute, she taught the disciplines of “Childcare”, “Hygiene”, “Anatomy” and “Physiology”. She also promoted the importance to discuss sexual education with her students, a very progressive idea at the time.
In 1929, disillusioned with the establishment of the New State (“Estado Novo”), she left for Angola and lived in Luanda from 1929 to 1934. She continued defending her ideals in the African country, writing in the local newspapers about feminism, public health and the right of women to vote. She even fought for the creation of maternity wards and healthcare facilities in Angola. She also denounced the Portuguese dictatorship in her texts, written with great irony and humour. In 1933, with the women’s suffrage finally conquered, she was the only woman in Angola to vote on the Portuguese Constitution.
Adelaide de Jesus Cabete died in September of 1935. In researching about her life, one has the impression that she lived many lives, becoming a pioneering in almost every activity she devoted herself to. In 1995, she was posthumously awarded the Medal and Collar of the Great Official of the Order of Freedom (“Medalha e Colar do Grande Oficial da Ordem da Liberdade”). Lídia Jorge, an important contemporary Portuguese author, wrote a play entitled A Maçon(“The Freemason Woman”), a fictional account of Adelaide Cabete’s life, in 1997.
SHE SAID IT
Feminism is a human principle and as such it advances over the world like all progressive ideas.
In an interview to the newspaper Última Hora, November 11, 1930, p.7, col.2
I voted as a matter of principle; by voting, I voted for the Constitution against the dictatorship.
In Boletim dos Estudos Operários, Dezembro, 1985, pp.77-78
It is not my objective to advise rich pregnant women. They usually have their own doctors to counsel them. My considerations are mainly aimed at poor pregnant women.
Adelaide Cabete, cited in Lousada, Isabel (2010), Adelaide Cabete (1867-1935), Lisboa, Comissão para a Cidadania e Igualdade de Género, Coleção Fio de Ariana, n.º6, p. 33.
We can see that in this matter there is no hygiene reason for the acceptance or rejection of any modern choices in women’s clothes, but only a way of exploiting the usual targets of fashion, women […] Well, I choose short skirts not above the knee […] the main reason why I do not approve of long tail skirts is because they are dangerous – for the health of women.
Adelaide Cabete, “A Moda e a Higiene”, Portugal Feminino, 1930, cited in Lousada, Isabel (2010), Adelaide Cabete (1867-1935), Lisboa, Comissão para a Cidadania e Igualdade de Género, Coleção Fio de Ariana, n.º 6, p. 38.
THEY SAID IT
Adelaide Cabete, a persistent and rebellious fighter, would be linked to different schisms, which she would interpret from her avant-garde feminist perspective, in opposition to the women who accepted the meagre role allowed by the male politicians of the First Republic.
Lídia Jorge, A Maçon, Lisboa, Publicações Dom Quixote, 1997.
Her altruism and natural investigative spirit led her to the most selfless of all professions: medicine.
Guimarães, Elina, “Uma alma de mulher. A Dr.ª Adelaide Cabete”, Correio Elvense, n.º 267, November, 1935, p. 1, col. 3
She was determined to take every action she could, regarding women’s emancipation. It was her belief that women, having the same capacities of men, should have the same rights as well.
Cruzeiro, Maria Manuela, in A Maçon [de] Lídia Jorge, Lisboa, ed. Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, 1997, p. 11 [program].
Exhibition And Yet, They Move! Women and Science [E contudo, elas movem-se! Mulheres e Ciência], Rectorate of the University of Porto, Portugal, 10-29 September, 2019. [an illustration of Adelaide Cabete by Miguel Praça is displayed at the exhibition].
E contudo, elas movem-se! Mulheres e Ciência (com poemas) (2019), Org. Ana Luísa Amaral e Marinela Freitas. Porto: U.Porto Edições [the book contains a short bio on Adelaide Cabete, as well as an illustration by Miguel Praça].
AAVV (1924), Adelaide Cabete. Médica Elvense. Homenagem de «A Fronteira» e dos seus admiradores, Elvas, Tipografia Elvense [Separata do jornal A Fronteira de 4 de Maio de 1924].
Bermudez, Silvia; Johnson, Roberta (2018), A new history of Iberian feminisms, Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
Esteves, João (2001), “Os primórdios do feminismo em Portugal”, Penélope, nº 25, pp. 87-112.
Gorjão, Vanda (1994), A reivindicação do voto no programa do Conselho Nacional das Mulheres Portuguesas (1914-1947), Lisboa, ONG, Comissão para a Igualdade e para os Direitos das Mulheres.
Jorge, Lídia (1997), A Maçon, Lisboa, Publicações Dom Quixote.
Lousada, Isabel (2011), Perfil de Uma Pioneira: Adelaide Cabete (1867-1935), Lisboa, Editora Fonte da Palavra/Associação Cedro.
____________ (2011), «Escrevendo e bordando, a nação e a bandeira,as palavras e os actos: símbolos e poder pela pena de Adelaide Cabete e Carolina Beatriz Ângelo», Anais do XIV Seminário Nacional Mulher e Literatura/V Seminário Internacional Mulher e Literatura. Available in https://run.unl.pt/bitstream/10362/6936/1/isabel_lousada.pdf (Last access in September 5, 2019).
Samara, Maria Alice (2007), «Adelaide Cabete: a incansável lutadora», in Maria Alice Samara, Operárias e Burguesas – As mulheres no tempo da República, 1ª Edição, Lisboa, A Esfera dos Livros, pp. 97-111.
Silva, Alda Pereira da; Casaca, Cecília; Mascarenhas, João (1997), Adelaide Cabete – Alma de mulher, Lisboa, Câmara Municipal de Lisboa.
Vilhena, Henrique de (1940), “Adelaide Cabette”, in Em memória, Lisboa, Livraria Nacional, pp. 163-184.
Lousada, Isabel (2010), Adelaide Cabete (1867-1935), Lisboa, Comissão para a Cidadania e Igualdade de Género, Coleção Fio de Ariana, nº 6.
“Adelaide Cabete”, in Dicionário de Médicos Portugueses. Available in https://medicosportugueses.blogs.sapo.pt/5142.html.