previous arrow
next arrow

Women Conquistadores

Ataegina, the goddess of Spring and Rebirth in the Iberian Peninsula, served as inspiration to the adventurous women who sought to be reborn across the ocean.

Ataegina stroked her hand across Dathia’s fury back in a kneading motion. Pretending to rub the worry from her goat’s muscles, the Goddess felt her own frustration slowly dissipate.

 “It isn’t easy to be the inspiring muse to the few scribes searching for truth, you know.”

Dathia looked up at her mistress, her lids barely opened. “Baaa.”

“Yes, you are right. What can you expect when MEN write our history! Well, do you want to hear about some records present-day historians are uncovering?”

Moving her head up and down, Dathia bleated, “Mwaah.”

The Goddess continued, “By petition of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, thirty women were on board on Columbus’s third trip to the Americas. And between 1509 and 1607  the number of female passengers, so far accounted for, were 13,218, that is 38% of all the emigrants. One of these women was Maria de Toledo, niece of King Ferdinand and Colombus’s daughter-in-law, having married his son Diego. So, the fact that women were included in the colonization and settlement of New Spain contradicts the idea that only male Conquistadores from Iberia were sent to the Americas, which fueled the Black Legend.”

Footnote: Black Legend, Spanish Leyenda Negra, term indicating an unfavorable image of Spain and Spaniards, accusing them of cruelty and intolerance, formerly prevalent in the works of many non-Spanish, and especially Protestant, historians.

The lack of women’s presence in the general narrative of Latinoamerica’s Conquest rightfully annoyed the female deity.

The daughters of Iberia played an important role in establishing nuclear families with Hispanic cultural and religious values in the Americas. In part, this movement of family units to America was because of the royal decree of 1515, which ruled that all government employees had to travel with their wives. Women followed their husbands, fathers or brothers, or as servants. After 1550, many embarked alone. Sixty percent of the women who traveled to America were single. They were rich, poor, nuns, prostitutes, adventurers with a good conduct certificate, and those who bought fake passage permits. Most were looking for a spouse in the New World.

Very few women were named-listed in the passenger rosters. Unlike the men, they were just numbers. Some names that appear in the permit’s list of the 1534 expedition are Catalina de Valdillo, Maria Sanchez, Ana de Arrieta and Mari Sanchez. 

We know of others for their deeds.

Francisca Ponce de Leon of Seville outfitted a merchantman, the San Telmo, for regular crossings to Santo Domingo in 1509.

Beatriz de la Cueva de Alvarado, from Úbeda in Andalucia, became the governor of the Spanish colony of Guatemala in 1541.

María Escobar was the first person to import and cultivate wheat in America.

Mencía Ortiz founded a company to export merchandise from New Spain to India in 1549.

Inés Suárez traveled in 1537 as a servant to Pedro Valvidia, became his mistress and fought the Araucano Indians in Chile.

Mencía Calderón traveled with her three daughters and took over control of the expedition of 50 women on their way to Asuncion, Paraguay, after her husband’s death. They faced a treacherous ocean trip, were attacked by pirates, and finally landed in Brazil. From there, they had to cross the Mato Grosso Plateau before arriving in Asuncion with only ten survivors.

Isabel de Guevara wrote a letter to the governing princes doña Juana about the perilous trip led by Pedro Mendoza in 1534 to Rio de la Plata y Paraguay. She talks about the chores the women had done during the expedition because the men were too lazy: the women had to do all the laundry, heal the men, cook for them, bathe them, serve as guards, care for the fires, ready the guns, lift the soldiers, organize the soldiers and since there was little food and women required less food than men, they were expected to withstand the hardships easier than the men.

Also, because the crown encouraged mixed marriages, in order to spread the Catholic faith, many conquistadores married native women, who integrated into the Hispanic culture. They were important for the social-economic survival of the settlements, serving as intermediaries between the natives and the colonizers and the continuous supply of farm products. These women and the women who came as slaves merit historical recognition as well in the establishment and maintenance of colonial settlements. Let’s hope that the trend to uncover old chronicles and archives that acknowledge female contributions continues. Below are some excellent sources of information:

El Viaje Femenino A América (1493-1600) by Julian Cordova Toro             (Lucille J. Bisselle’s dissertation paper on 2019)

Women in the Conquest of the Americas by Juan Francisco Maura



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *