KEYWORDS: Civil Engineer, anti-fascist activist, Communist party, pro-democracy
SHE THOUGHT IT
Virgínia Moura was a committed anti-fascist activist who believed women had a role to play in society. She wrote, organised conferences and demonstrated against the authoritarian regime in Portugal in place from 1933 to 1974, its repression and the poverty to which people were subjected. For holding and voicing these ideas she was arrested numerous times, tortured and persecuted by the political police.
Virgínia Moura was born in a small town and lived with her mother, an unmarried primary teacher. Her mother’s family were estranged for 10 years due to the marital status of Moura’s mother, an unwanted status in a very conservative society. Her father was never part of her daily life. Despite this situation, they had a role in their community and were not cast aside. Moura’s mother taught the children during the day and their parents in the evening, thus contributing to the literacy of the adult population of an impoverished region in the north of Portugal. Financially, though, life was not easy. They moved to Póvoa do Varzim, a slightly bigger town, where Moura attended secondary school. It was in 1931 in Póvoa that she encountered her first rebellious moment when at a very tender age she participated in a school strike to protest against the police killing of a student named João Martins Branco at the Faculty of Medicine in Porto. Moura went on to study at the University of Porto where she read Civil Engineering, traditionally a male field. She was the second woman to ever have finished this course in Portugal in 1948. She also attended a Humanities course at the University of Porto andMathematics at the University of Coimbra.
In Porto,she met her future husband, António Lobão Vital, an idealist who led a very active political life. Vital introduced Moura to the Communist Party to which she would be connected for the rest of her life, and other organisations, such as the International Red Aid[Socorro Vermelho Internacional] dedicated to supporting political prisoners from Portugal and Spain. During their lives, both Moura and Vital were arrested on quite a few occasions by the Portuguese political police, the PIDE-DGS. She was never given the opportunity to have a public job as she was a well-known outspoken political activist and, thus, an unwanted voice in the public life of authoritarian Portugal. Her engineering projects were signed by others, and she also resorted to private tuition as an occupation.
In 1935, Vital was arrested for finding work for two Spanish refugees, an unacceptable move to the Portuguese regime aligned with the Spanish right-wing government. He was subsequently barred from finishing his studies and unable to find a stable job. Later, he managed to graduate as an architect. Their life as a couple was one of rebellion and non-conformity. Moura wrote to several newspapers (O Trabalho, Foz do Guadiana, Seara Nova, Avante and Sol Nascente) under the name of Maria Selma denouncing the regime, commenting on the social and political state of affairs, together with renowned intellectuals, such as Maria Lamas, Isabel Aboim Inglês, Irene Lisboa and Teixeira de Pascoaes. Not a lot of women had their opinion published but it was clear that there were quite a lot of women who had valid opinions and wanted to share them. Writing about women and their status in conservative and repressive Portugal was one of Moura’s preoccupations. She is the author of a piece in the 1940s “Letter to a Modern Woman” [“Carta a Uma Mulher Moderna”] which is a call to all women to participate actively in political life and in the struggle for their rights and the need for financial independence. Moura was a well-respected and well-loved citizen in the streets of Porto to the point that women in Bolhão Market went on strike to demand Moura’s release from prison in 1950, a sign of great solidarity towards someone who defended the rights of the less privileged, namely working women.
As well as writing and promoting conferences, Moura belonged to several pro-democracy organisations where she did civic work, organised and participated in political rallies and demonstrations. Some of those were the MUNAF (Antifascist National Unity Movement), the MUD (Democratic Unity Movement) and the MND (National Democratic Movement). She also founded the MDM (Democratic Women’s Movement) in 1968 with which she collaborated until her death. She was also part of groups focused on peace activism, such as the National Council of Portuguese Women and the Portuguese Women Association for Peace.
The members of these groups were constantly persecuted, lost their jobs or could not find any, and were often arrested and tortured. Moura herself was arrested sixteen times between 1949 and 1962, charged nine times and convicted three times. She was also repeatedly assaulted by the police during public protests. In her autobiography, she remembers being beaten up in the city centre in Porto in 1949 during a demonstration that was violently repressed. At one point, she was arrested at the same time as her husband because, she claims, the police thought it was easier to handle the two in prison since if one was left free, they would vehemently protest against the poor conditions in which the other one was kept.
Moura was charged with “treason against the homeland” in 1951 for having signed a declaration in which it was demanded that Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, negotiated with the Indian government a new status concerning the annexed territories of Goa, Daman and Diu, in view of their self-determination. Moura was also involved in the Presidential bid of Humberto Delgado, opposed to the fascist regime in place and the symbol of hope during the long years of authoritarian rule. He ran in the rigged election of 1958 and obviously lost. Delgado’s insistent will to oust Salazar eventually led to his exile and assassination. Additionally, Virgínia Moura participated in the student protest movement in 1962 and the democratic opposition conferences in Aveiro in 1969 and 1973. She received the Revolution which freed Portugal in 1974 with great joy and marched the streets, celebrating this time. She continued her public and civic work and was elected as a councillor in both Porto and Gondomar. She became known as the Portuguese Pasionaria.
She died in Porto in 1998. A multitude of people attended her funeral, among them, well-known intellectuals, and her eulogy was given by the Communist Party secretary-general at the time, Carlos Carvalhas. A bust of Virgínia Moura funded by a group of democratic women and the City Hall and sculpted by Manuel Dias sits in the city of Porto near the former headquarters of the political police. A number of streets are named after her from the north to the south of Portugal.
SHE SAID IT
Knowing of the existence of countries where a woman would not be treated as my mother was and I have been treated…
Moura, Virgínia (1996), Mulher de Abril: Álbum de Memórias. Lisboa. Avante. p. 20.
I have defended the Party’s positions and have reproduced our analysis of the political situation, denouncing the random character of fascism, referring to the political prisoners, the comrades killed by the political police, the problems affecting women and workers in general, the financial problems, the children looking for food in dustbins. I presented our solutions.
Moura, Virgínia (1996), Mulher de Abril: Álbum de Memórias. Lisboa. Avante. p. 49.
Then, the Revolution continued and continues, with the opposition of those who do not want progress and everyone’s happiness, but only privilege for some.
Moura, Virgínia (1996), Mulher de Abril: Álbum de Memórias. Lisboa. Avante. p. 103.
THEY SAID IT
Virgínia Moura is one of the brave women of Portugal and has suffered a great deal for the people.
Ferreira de Castro
[Virgínia Moura] is a force of nature.
Teixeira de Pascoaes
[I remember] the commitment of a whole life dedicated to the fight for a better world.
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
1985: Order of Freedom by the Portuguese Republic
1988: Porto Medal of Honour by the City Hall
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 Virgínia Moura by Miguel Praça is displayed at the exhibition]
BIBLIOGRAPHY BY VIRGINIA MOURA
Moura, Virgínia (1996), Mulher de Abril: Álbum de Memórias. Lisboa. Avante.
Espírito Santo, Manuela. (org.) (2015), Tem cuidado, meu amor. Cartas da prisão de Virgínia Moura e António Lobão Vital. Associação dos Jornalistas e Homens das Letras do Porto. Matosinhos.
‘2015_exposicao_centenario_virginia_moura.Pdf’. n.d. Accessed 1 September 2019. http://www.pcp.pt/sites/default/files/documentos/2015_exposicao_centenario_virginia_moura.pdf.
‘«Avante!» n.º 1273 – Virgínia de Moura’. n.d. http://www.avante.pt/arquivo/1273/7303c5.html. Accessed 1 September 2019.
Esteves, João (2015), ‘Silêncios e Memórias: [1050.] VIRGÍNIA FARIA DE MOURA [I]’. Silêncios e Memórias (blog). http://silenciosememorias.blogspot.com/2015/08/1050-virginia-faria-de-moura-i.html. Accessed 1 September 2019.
Moura, Virgínia (1996), Mulher de Abril: Álbum de Memórias. Lisboa. Avante.
Sousa, Jerónimo de (n.d.), ‘Virgínia de Moura foi uma mulher que levantou bem alto as bandeiras da liberdade, da democracia e do ideal da construção de uma terra sem amos’. http://www.pcp.pt/virginia-de-moura-foi-uma-mulher-que-levantou-bem-alto-bandeiras-da-liberdade-da-democracia-do-ideal. Accessed 1 September 2019.
‘U. Porto – Antigos Estudantes Ilustres Da Universidade Do Porto: Virgínia Moura’ (n.d.), https://sigarra.up.pt/up/pt/web_base.gera_pagina?P_pagina=1004350. Accessed 1 September 2019.
wb_gestao2. n.d. ‘Virgínia Moura’. MDM (blog). https://www.mdm.org.pt/virginia-moura/.Accessed 1 September 2019.