Dolors Aleu, the rebel gynecologist against the oppression of the corset

    • The first university students studied taking advantage of a legal vacuum in the second half of the 19th century. One of them was Dolors Aleu, the first in Spain to practice medicine for more than 25 years.

    Dolors Aleu , the rebel gynecologist against the oppression of the corset

    Almost three out of every four students currently studying medicine at the University of Barcelona (UB) are women, according to center data. Dolors Aleu (Barcelona, ​​1857-1913) lived a very different reality. She was the first woman to practice medicine in Spain during the second half of the 19th century.

    His portfolio of patients ranged from the bourgeois ladies of the upper part of Barcelona, ​​with whom he shared a social class, to the prostitutes of the Raval neighborhood. Specialized in gynecology and pediatrics, she passed He consulted on the Rambla de Cataluña for more than 25 years, but he also practiced charity at the Casa de la Caridad.

    In addition, Dolors Aleu was the first woman to obtain a doctorate, with a work on the harm of corsets, in which she cites other female references such as Concepción Arenal. “The life of women, since the most remote times, has been a continuous martyrdom” written in 1883 at the beginning of her doctoral thesis , Of the need to direct the hygienic-moral education of women along a new path.

    His portfolio of patients ranged from the bourgeois ladies of the upper part of Barcelona, ​​with whom he shared social class, to the prostitutes of the Raval


    More than a century later, one of her great-great-granddaughters, the actress Núria Cuyàs, vindicates that denunciation of the oppression of women, which continued as follows: “It is not surprising that in the days of darkness half of the human race was treated badly. What is strange, sad and ridiculous is that this martyrdom continues in the middle of the century of enlightenment”. That was her opinion about the corset, “the garment that causes the most damage to the feminine organization”.

    Whose interprets these passages in Balena Barbes, a collective theater piece in which its four actresses appeal to collective memory and vindicate the grandmothers and women who preceded them. “She was a very strange beast for her time”, she says with a smile about her great-great-grandmother, who was also a professor at the Academy for Women's Enlightenment and the first woman to enter the Academy. at the French Society of Hygiene.

    A pioneer in sexual education

    The surviving writings of Dr. Aleu are scarce. One of them is the letter Advice from a mother to her children .

    The love for her two children-both boys-andndash; and her medical condition overcame the blush and “moral and Christian education” what he had given them. In his letters he warned them of the “sea of ​​dangers” of sexually transmitted diseases, which he considered terrible and destined to end the world.

    “You will find them everywhere and in all social classes”, even in “ ;hours of importance in Barcelona [sic]”; wrote in 1900 on the gonorrhea and syphilis. In the letter, Aleu says he feels obliged to warn them of these infections, despite the fact that his nerves “are in turmoil” for writing about “this disgusting subject”. In the same way, she describes masturbation as “a vice called onanism”.

    In the letters to his children he warned them of the “sea of ​​dangers” of sexually transmitted diseases


    The original manuscript of the letter is preserved by the heiress of the family legacy, her great-granddaughter Dolors Cuy&agrave ;s Robinson. He transcribed it. her niece Núria Cuyàs to reconstruct the family history. “It was the little we had, it was hard for me to understand her lyrics”, she recalls about the months of “research, imagination and interpretation of the figure of Dr. Aleu and the condition of a woman”; for the dramaturgy of Barbes de balena, a title that refers to the material from which the corsets were made.

    The premiere was on March 8 at the Maldà Theater of Barcelona. The actress remembers being “nervous” but she was so successful that she rescheduled. La de ella, aunt of her, who was in the audience, tried to help her. to calm her down: “The story of Dr. Aleu is not our family, it belongs to everyone”. Dolors Cuyàs Robinson could not study because she was not allowed to. her father, despite being the grandson of one of the first university students.

    Two steps forward, three steps back

    The first female university students at the end of the 19th century took advantage of a legal vacuum to study at a time when women could not even vote. It was so How Aleu was able to attend class on Carrer del Carme, today the seat of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Catalonia. She did so accompanied by two escorts at the request of her father, who was deputy mayor of Barcelona and governor general of Catalonia, head of the municipal police.

    However, Dolors Aleu did not She was the only woman of the time who wanted to study medicine. In the corridors of the faculty it coincided with two other women, Martina Castells and Elena Maseras, who was actually –just a year apart– the first female university student in Spain, as reported by Consuelo Flecha, professor at the University of Seville, in The first female university students in Spain.

    Upon finishing his studies in 1879, with a brilliant record, Aleu had to wait three years to take the bachelor's degree exam in Madrid, which depended on a permit from the Ministry of Public Instruction. Those bureaucratic hurdles led Maseras to study Teaching and ended up teaching. devoting himself to teaching without ever practicing medicine. Neither did Castells, who got his doctorate. three days later than Aleu, and that he died. very young due to a complication during his first pregnancy.

    so that Elena Maseras, Dolors Aleu and Martina Castells were “the first three Catalan female doctors of modern times”. He unties it diplomatically in an article in the Gimbernat  MagazineJacint Corbella, who was dean of the Faculty of Medicine and vice-rector of the UB. This doctor, passionate about history, consulted The files of these women in the UB archive were directly analyzed to find out who was the first to graduate, graduate and obtain a doctorate in medicine.

    Aleu's thesis is a revolutionary text due to its courageous writing denouncing an oppressive situation and defending women's rights


    According to Corbella, Aleu's thesis is a revolutionary text due to its brilliant, passionate and courageous writing denouncing an oppressive situation and in defense of women's rights and feminism. Along the same lines, Miquel Bruguera, director of the academic studies unit of the Official College of Physicians of Barcelona (CoMB), points out that Aleu all the social, moral and intellectual molds of the time.

    Unfortunately, after the academic adventures of these pioneers, women were not able to go to university with complete freedom until 1910. access to higher education also for them, under equal conditions.

    At that time he died. Aleu's firstborn due to tuberculosis while he was studying medicine, following in the footsteps of his mother. The death of the son ended with his vocation. never came back He began to practice medicine and died two years later. “In my family the idea has survived to this day that Dr. of pity Probably today we would say that he suffered a depression”, writes Cuyàs in a prologue that precedes the reissue of his great-great-grandmother's thesis.

    On the shoulders of giantesses

    To the physicist Isaac Newton is credited with the phrase On the shoulders of giants, a speech that refers to the collective advance of science. Although Dolors Aleu did not make any revolutionary contribution in the world of medicine, his relevance was undoubtedly social. That of a giantess on the shoulders of which other women rose. for tuberculosis while studying medicine. The death of the son ended with his vocation


    Its history gains strength with the celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, promoted by the United Nations Organization (UN) since 2015. “It is necessary to continue fighting with the same force that Dolors Aleu did, because there is still a long way to go in relation to real equality between men and women, both professionally and in the family,” Cuy recalls. ;s.

    Corbella accompanies her in the vindication: “It will not be the case. This is not a strictly clinical or scientific issue, but clearly a social one. And from this point of view, despite the fact that circumstances have changed radically, it still seems justified today to spread the ideas and clamor of Dolors Aleu towards the end of the 19th century”.

    In the On the road to equality there are still many steps to be taken. Today in the university, despite the fact that six out of ten graduates are women, they still do not occupy as many positions of responsibility as they do. According to the latest CYD 2018 report, of every 100 professors only 20 are women and of 76 rectors there are 11 female rectors.

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