Advanced Topic: Reproductive Histories

By: Dr. Cassia Roth, Associate Professor, University of Georgia

 With this collection of sources, we hope to bring to a wider audience the history of reproduction and fertility control in Latin American history by focusing on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Mexico and Brazil. The sources are wide ranging – including handwritten notes from post-abortive women to their midwives, to institutional reports on alternative obstetric training, to criminal cases of abortion. They involve a variety of actors. The most obvious are the women who became pregnant, gave birth, or sought to control their fertility. Women also appear as midwives, less often as obstetricians, and always as family members. But men are not absent. Of course, the most obvious place we see men are in positions of authority: as police officers investigating abortion-related deaths, as judges condemning women for infanticide, as obstetricians delivering babies, or as husbands and fathers dismayed at their “wayward” women in their lives. Women may have borne the bodily burden of reproduction, but men were most certainly involved.

The experiences of the people who appear in these sources were not only marked by gender. Race and class were also salient facets of their identities. Poor women, often of African or indigenous descent, bore the brunt of state efforts to control women’s reproductive capabilities, both because they held less privacy than their white, middle-class counterparts and because authorities often viewed them as inherently “dangerous.” But strictures were not simply top-down. Intra-class denunciations of fertility control show how normative views on gender and sexuality circulated far beyond the hospitals and courtrooms. How did race and class affect women’s experiences with healthcare, in relation to access and quality? How did it affect patterns of the criminalization of fertility control? Whose voices are lost to the historical record? What were the worldviews of those voices to which we do have access?

With these sources, readers will see that women’s experiences with healthcare could be both traumatizing and dangerous. They will explore how the institutional structures of healthcare themselves were built, contested, and even destroyed over time. Alternative forms of training were built and rebuilt, often in response to small and large forms of resistance. Friction between midwives and obstetricians was sometimes heated in the early twentieth century. How were health care providers trained? How did gendered understandings of proper social roles play into this? How did it affect the delivery of healthcare services?

Many scholars have addressed the questions posed above, and the history of reproduction in Latin America is a growing field. Yet the term is broad – reproduction can refer to the reproduction of anything, from babies to social mores to factory goods. Marx, for example, defined reproduction as the reproduction of the entire capitalist system. Clarifying what we mean when we say “the history of reproduction” is thus crucial. Biological reproduction—the activities that encompass the conception, carrying, and birth of a new human being—includes sexual intercourse, miscarriage, childbirth, and breastfeeding, among others. Biological reproduction requires both male and female bodies, but it is the female-bodied person who is more tethered to its exigencies. Although today we know that not all people who are pregnant identify as women, these more fluid gender identities are a modern phenomenon, and before the twenty-first century they were not firmly established (and, as we know, are still contested today). We also know that modern medicine played a large role in producing (and naturalizing) what we understand as categories of womanhood. Thus, when we speak of women, we refer to womanhood as a category, not only as relating to individual women. For these reasons we can say that, historically, women have borne the burden of biological reproduction more acutely than men have. This burden spanned legal, interpersonal, and economic realms as well as biological ones. Women were not only corporealized as mothers. Their reproductive experiences were also extrapolated from private contexts to convey moralized judgements about their behavior, rationality, and worth.

Biological reproduction, of course, does not end with the weaning of an infant. Feminists have expanded upon the biological by using the term “social reproduction,” which refers to, in the words of Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “the array of activities and relationships involved in maintaining people both on a daily basis and intergenerationally.” This includes household chores such as cooking and cleaning and “maintaining kin and community ties.” This feminist critique of Marxist understandings of production, centered solely on the “economic” or “productive” spheres, reframes the unpaid labor of the home as central to the functioning of society. Clearly, biological and social reproduction are not mutually exclusive or disconnected, and historical sources that focus on the biological often touch on the social: a woman who sought out an abortion in early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for example, brought her two-and-a-half-year-old son with her to the procedure that eventually killed her. Before her death, she told police she couldn’t afford to have another child.

Over the last thirty years, historians of Latin America have emphasized varying aspects of the history of biological reproduction without necessarily defining it as such. Studies of sexual (dis)honor have dominated the historiography of both the colonial and modern periods, with emphasis on gendered double standards, religious prescriptions, and shifting meanings of social and racial status. In the modern period, scholars also have focused on prostitution, the most “dishonorable” profession. But what is sex if not the first act in reproduction? The history of sex work is the history of reproduction, whether or not it is specifically framed as such.

More recently, historians of medicine have turned toward the history of childbirth, exploring it on its own terms and in relation to much larger themes including slavery, nation-building, and religion. Another, crucial area of growth has been the history of fertility control, often defined in its negative sense. Both historically and contemporarily, to “control” one’s fertility can have both “negative” and “positive” connotations. To be clear, with these terms we are not passing any moral judgements in relation to the reproductive practice in question. An abortion, for example, can be a “positive” act for a woman who doesn’t want a child even though it is a “negative” aspect of reproduction in that it impedes it. The popular and scholarly understanding of “fertility control” most often references its negative aspects, perhaps better described as “anti-conception”, including contraception – in all its forms – abortion, and infanticide, a practice that was much more common until the early twentieth century. But it can also include “positive” or pro-conception facets, with fertility treatments and prayers to support conception.

In Latin America, scholars have focused on the negative aspect, often because the historical sources available tend to overrepresent them by presenting them as “problems” rather than normal activities. When abortion and infanticide were criminalized, as they were (and continue to be) in many places in Latin America, the historical record overemphasizes the “criminal” aspects of these histories. As such, we only get the sensational cases – the abortions and sometimes childbirths that led to maternal death. Those that occurred without problems are lost to the historical record.

To be clear, abortion and infanticide are not the same crime, and we do not define them as such. Infanticide has always been criminalized as a variant of homicide, a crime “apart” from abortion, but one women commonly resorted to throughout the colonial and modern periods. Abortion was also criminalized (and continues to be in most parts of Latin America), but it had more caveats and leniency within its legal parameters. But legal and medical practitioners, as well as the public at large, often confused the two.

This collection will bring you into the reproductive worlds of the men and women of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mexico and Brazil. Their stories and struggles shaped the modern formation of their respective nations. We hope these sources give them the historical attention they deserve.

This work has received support from the Lilly Teaching Fellowship from the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Georgia.

Further Reading:

Bhattacharya, Tithi. ed., Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression. Pluto Press, 2017.

Bliss, Katherine Elaine. Compromised Positions: Prostitution, Public Health, and Gender Politics in Revolutionary Mexico City. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

Bourbonnais, Nicole. Birth Control in the Decolonizing Caribbean: Reproductive Politics and Practice on Four Islands, 1930–1970. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Caulfield, Sueann. In Defense of Honor: Sexual Morality, Modernity, and Nation in Early-Twentieth Century Brazil. Duke University Press, 2000.

De Barros, Juanita. Reproducing the British Caribbean: Sex, Gender, and Population Politics after Slavery. University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Fissell, Mary. Vernacular Bodies: The Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern England. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Flemming, Rebecca. “Fertility Control in Ancient Rome.” Women’s History Review 30, no. 6 (2021): 896–914.

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. “From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor,” Signs 18, no. 1 (1992): 1 – 43.

Guy, Donna J. Sex and Danger in Buenos Airs: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina. University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Jaffary, Nora E. Reproduction and Its Discontents in Mexico: Childbirth and Contraception from 1750 to 1905. University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Kimball, Natalie L. An Open Secret: The History of Unwanted Pregnancy and Abortion in Modern Bolivia. Rutgers University Press, 2020.

Moscucci, Ornella. The Science of Woman: Gynaecology and Gender in England, 1800–1929. Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Necochea López, Raúl. A History of Family Planning in Twentieth Century Peru. University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

O’Brien, Elizabeth. “Intimate Interventions: The Cultural Politics of Reproductive Surgery in Mexico, 1790–1940.” PhD Diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2019.

Roth, Cassia. A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil. Stanford University Press, 2020.

Suárez Findlay, Eileen J. Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920. Duke University Press, 1999.

Turner, Sasha. Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

Twinam, Ann. Public Lives, Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America. Stanford University Press, 1999.

Von Germeten, Nicole. Profit and Passion: Transactinal Sex in Colonial Mexico. University of California Press, 2018.

Vosne Martins, Ana Paula. Visões do feminino: a medicina da mulher nos séculos XIX e XX. Editora Fiocruz, 2004.

Yarfitz, Mir. Impure Migration: Jews and Sew Work in Golden Age Argentina. Rutgers University Press, 2019.

Zárate Campos, María Soledad. Dar a luz en Chile, siglo XIX: De la ‘ciencia de hembra’ a la ciencia obstétrica. Ediciones Universidade Alberto Hurtado, 2007.


1) Notes on “Reproductive Crimes”

Dr. Cassia Roth, University of Georgia


This series of four handwritten notes from four different historical actors in early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro (called Cariocas) provides us a glimpse into the worldviews of women and men in relation to the practices of abortion and infanticide. The notes were all included as evidence in police investigations or court cases related to possible reproductive crimes. They come in the form of denunciations of neighbors (as in the 1904 note written by a woman below or the 1923 note authored by a male); as notes to the midwives who performed the abortion (as in one 1930 note); or as notes from dying women to their boyfriends (as in the other 1930 note). They provide a counterpart to more traditional historical sources on fertility control by bringing us into the worldviews of all those involved in the practices.

One thing historical sources on fertility control, including abortion and infanticide, in Latin America can tell us is that regardless of the surrounding legal or medical restrictions, women will continue to seek out ways to not have children. We also know how elite policymakers, whether church officials, medical practitioners, or government legislators, viewed abortion and infanticide – as grave sins and an affront to the patriarchal and racialized order of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Latin America. We know less about how everyday people felt about these practices.

In 1904, Margarida Rosa de Assumpção, a resident of the city of Rio de Janeiro, let the authorities – and her neighbors – know exactly how she felt about both abortion and infanticide. In her two handwritten notes, Assumpção denounced her neighbor, the nineteen-year-old “China” for committing infanticide after an unsuccessful abortion, as well as her aunt Lina for assisting her. The local police precinct opened an investigation, interrogating China, Lina, and China’s boyfriend Saturnino. China acknowledged that Saturnino had deflowered her – he had taken her virginity with the promise of marriage. She further admitted that she had unsuccessfully taken medication to provoke an abortion. In the end, she alleged that she gave birth to a stillborn infant. Although nothing resulted from the investigation, in fact, it seems to have languished on the detective’s death for years, Assumpção’s denunciation provides a rare glimpse into intra-class condemnation of what she perceived as unruly and improper female sexuality. In addition to detailing China’s sexual exploits, Assumpção implied that Lina was running a brothel. These were not behaviors of proper and honorable women, and thus for Assumpção, they deserved to be brought to official attention.

Questions for Further Exploration:

Men and women of the popular classes and of varying racial identities had their own positions on fertility control. Did they view abortion and infanticide as separate practices with different levels of gravity? Did they confuse the two? Did they sympathize with women who practiced abortion or infanticide? Why or why not? Why did Assumpção denounce her neighbors to the police? What was her worldview toward gender and sexuality? Why do you think she held this position?

Source: Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (AN) 0R.0.IQP.3065 (1904)


Note 1:

Dr Delgado

Na travessa 11 de Maio 16 uma moca donzella teve uma creança e esta creança foi morta por uma tal tia Lina. Afim de não aparecer o fructo de um crime. Esta donzella tem por apelido ‘China’ o pae é machinista do vapor Brazil esta tramoia foi feito emquanto o pae esteve 5 meses e tanto fóra, querendo testemunha procure na mesma travessa 19 a Rosa parteira que é uma testemunha a Albertina que foi que apreciou e o Dr. Mourão que examinou e disse a alguem que ella estava n’um estado tao adiantado, afinal todos da estalagem sabem d’este caso. a creança foi interrado no porão da casa.

Margarida Rosa de Assumpção

Note 2:

Dr. Delegado,

Vou vos contar um caso que se passou na Travessa 11 de maio, no. 16 casinha, no. 1 que adivinira o mundo intero.

Nesta casa tem uma grande feiticera por nome Lina que faz toda sorte de fetiços arranja homen pras mulher dá sorte a quem não tem da fortuna e tambem aluga quarto pra rapazes a 500rs. cada hóra. Vou contar o caso.

            Tem n’esta casa 2 moça uma chama-se Rita e outra China esta namorou um rapaz por nome Saturnino, passados tempos esta rapaz fez mal a China e ella ficou gravida disia a todos que era molestia foi consultar ao Dr. Mourão e elle disse que ella estava já com 7 a 8 mez de gravidez ahi a feiticera principiou a fazer remedios e feitiços pra ella botá o filho fora mas tanto fez que a criança nasceu bohnita e esperta e a feiticera apertou a garganta da innocentinha e enterrou no purão da mesma casa. O pae desta 2 moças é o machinista do Brasil vapor é o José Bezerra tudo se passou durante as grande viagem d’elle.

            A feticeira tem um feto já muito antigo dentro de um vidro que dis que foi da China mas é mentira todos da estalage sabe disso, quem me contou foi a Albertina que vio o caso o feto ella arranjou a muito tempo.

sua criada

Margarida Assumpção


Note 1:

Dr. Police Chief,

In the Travessa Onze de Maio number 16 a young woman had a child and that child was killed by a certain person, Aunt Lina, so that the fruit of a crime would not appear. This young woman goes by the nickname “China” and her father is the machinist of the steamship Brazil. This tricky scheme was done while the father was away for five months. So, if you want a witness, look on the same mews number 19, for the midwife Rosa who is a witness and Albertina who came to know [the situation] and the examining Doctor Mourão and said to somebody that she was in a very advanced stage [of pregnancy], finally everyone from the tenement knows about the case. The child was buried in the basement of the house. — Margarida Rosa da Assumpção.

Note 2:

Dr. Police Chief,

I am going to tell you something that happened in the Travessa 11 de Maio, n. 16, house n. 1 that everyone has surmised. In this house there is a great sorceress [feiticeira] by the name of Lina who does all sorts of spellcasting, procures men for women, and gives luck to those that don’t have fortune and also rents rooms to young men at 500 [mil]reis per hour. I am going to tell about the case.

There is in this house 2 young women, one is named Rita and the other China, who got involved with a boy by the name of Saturnino. Some time ago, this boy ruined [fez mal] China and she became pregnant [and] she said to everyone that it was an illness. She went to consult Doctor Mourão, and he said that she was already 7 or 8 months pregnant and then the sorceress began to make medicine and magic in order to cast out [bota fora] the child but it was so that the child was born beautiful and smart and the sorceress squeezed the neck of the little innocent child and buried it in the basement of the same house. The father of these 2 young women is a machinist on the steamship Brazil. He is José Bezerra, and everything happened when he was on a long journey.

The sorceress has a very old fetus in a bottle that she says was China’s, but that is a lie, everyone in the boarding house knows that. It was Albertina who told me, she saw the incident. Lina got that fetus a long time ago. — Your Servant Margarida Assumpção.

Further Reading

Caulfield, Sueann. In Defense of Honor: Sexual Morality, Modernity, and Nation in EarlyTwentieth-Century Brazil. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Caulfield, Sueann, and Martha de Abreu Esteves. “50 Years of Virginity in Rio de Janeiro: Sexual Politics and Gender Roles in Juridical and Popular Discourse, 1890-1940.” Luso-Brazilian Review 30, no. 1 (1993): 47–74.

Roth, Cassia. A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth Century-Brazil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020.


2) Letter Denouncing Abortion

Dr. Cassia Roth, University of Georgia


The history of abortion and infanticide is a history dominated by women: as the people who could conceive and had to decide to terminate their pregnancy or murder their newborn, for a variety of reasons both rational and irrational. Women were not only those who sought out an abortion or committed infanticide but were friends who accompanied their neighbors on their reproductive quests, midwives who performed procedures, and mothers and daughters who lost their relatives to illegal and dangerous procedures.

But men were active participants in the history of fertility control. After all, they were the fathers, husbands, boyfriends, sons, physicians, and legal authorities who hover at the margins of these sources. Sometimes, however, they took center stage. Such was the case with Palmyro Silva, a forty-eight-year-old Brazilian furniture merchant who felt appalled by the midwife in his neighborhood. In 1923, he denounced Maria Adelaide de Conceição Pinto Montenegro, a thirty-four-year-old Portuguese widow who was a “practical” midwife for the women in her neighborhood. She had no formal training; she declared herself a laundress in her testimony, but she was “known” in the neighborhood as someone who attended labor and delivery. She forcefully denied committing any abortions.

Silva directed his letter not at the police but at the city’s medical regulatory board, who promptly forwarded the denunciation to the police. His handwriting is clear and firm, demonstrating more than a firm grasp on written Portuguese. In it, he underlines his social status, he was a furniture merchant (something the police reinforced in their own write-up). Silva implicitly contrasts his status to the “stupid” and unlicensed midwife causing havoc in his neighborhood. To his dismay, the police could not prove that Montenegro was performing abortions, only that she was illegally practicing medicine without a license (Article 156 of the Penal Code of 1890). In the end, investigatory mishaps meant that Montenegro was never charged with anything. Perhaps she went back to delivering babies in the neighborhood. Perhaps she also went back to providing abortions. In many ways, Silva’s denunciation mirrors that of Margarida Rosa de Assumpção.

Questions for Further Exploration:

How does he articulate the proper forms of gender and sexuality in his note to authorities? How are they similar or different from those of Assumpção? How did the authorities react to these denunciations and why?

Source: Tribunal de Justiça do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (TJRJ) Maria Adelaide de Conceição Pinto Montenegro (1923)




Illmo. Snr. Dr. Director do Departamento da Fiscalisação da Medicina

Respeitosas saudações

Como brasileiro e christão cumpre-me levar ao vosso conhecimento os crimes praticados por uma parteira coriosa [sic] de nome Maria Adelaide de tal residente a Rua Emilio Zaluart [sic] n. 90, Estação de Ramos. É o caso Exmo. Senhor que esta Portugueza abusado das nossas leis por qualquer 40 mil reis faz um anjo sem o menor escrupulo é questam de trazer dinheiro e se sujeitar ás suas estupidas operações. Por ficarem em perigo de vida muitas senhoras tem arrenegado [renegado] tal lembrança d’entro estas está D. Laura Machado dos Santos, residente a mesma rua n. 24 que poderá informar milhares de casos neste sentido praticados pela já citada ‘parteira’.

Esperando as providencias que o caso requer. Sou com todo repeito e estima.

Palmyro Silva, Rua, digo Estrada da Penha 1147, commerciante em moveis, 18 de Novembro de 1923.


Most Eminent Sir, Doctor [and] Director of the Department of the Control of Medicine

Respectful greetings

As a Brazilian and a Christian, I must bring to your knowledge the crimes practiced by a parteira coriosa [unlicensed midwife] by the name of Maria Adelaide de tal [so and so], resident of the Rua Emilio Zaluart [sic] n. 90, Estação de Ramos. The case is, most Excellent Sir, that this Portuguese woman, abusing our laws for a mere 40 milréis faz um anjo [literally, “makes an angel,” a reference to an abortionist or fazedora de anjos] without the slightest scruplesone just has to bring money and subject oneself to her stupid operations. Because their lives are in danger, many women have denied such a reminder among these is D. Laura Machado dos Santos, resident of the same street n. 24 who will be able to inform you of thousands of these cases in this sense practiced by the already mentioned ‘midwife.’

Awaiting the measures that the case requires. I am with respect and esteem.

Palmyro Silva, Rua, I mean, Estrada da Penha 1147, furniture merchant, 18 of November 1923

Further Reading

Roth, Cassia. A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020.


3) Letter Between Lovers About an Abortion

Dr. Cassia Roth, University of Georgia


Abortion in the early twentieth-century could be a dangerous endeavor. Its criminalization drove the practice underground, making it expensive and often unsafe as only certain practitioners who would run the risk of criminal prosecution offered the procedures. But even licensed and trained practitioners, operating within a climate of fear, could provide unsafe procedures. In 1928, this was the case with the trained midwife Maria da Glória Amorim, who was charged with the abortion-related death (Article 300§1 of the Penal Code of 1890), of the twenty-two-year-old schoolteacher Philomena Figueiredo. The forty-three-year-old Amorim, received her midwifery diploma from Rio de Janeiro’s only medical school, and she operated a clinic from her home in the center-northern district of Méier. When Figueiredo went to Amorim for reproductive healthcare under the false name “Helena”, the midwife noted that she was suffering from gonorrhea. Amorim performed some vaginal “washings” with antiseptic solutions after which she noted that “Helena” was bleeding, which progressively got worse. Amorim put her in bed and administered “ergotina,” a drug used in the past to stop post-partum and post-abortive hemorrhages. But the bleeding didn’t stop, and Figueiredo died. We will never know whether Figueiredo self-induced an abortion before she went to Amorim’s clinic or if Amorim herself conducted the procedure. Amorim clearly presented the story that would exculpate her from criminal suspicion.

But this is not only or even mainly the story of Amorim. In fact, it is actually the story of Figueiredo, who went by the nickname Mena, and her boyfriend, Romeu. In the trial, the prosecution presented as evidence a handwritten note from Figueiredo to her boyfriend, Romeu. (Sometimes, you can’t make this stuff up.) This first-hand account of a woman’s reasons for seeking an abortion implies that honor and love influenced how she understood her reproductive decisions. Philomena suggests that Romeu had advised her to get an abortion, possibly in the hope of avoiding a scandal. Both were single; perhaps Romeu was unwilling to get married and take paternal responsibility. Perhaps Figueiredo also wanted to avoid having a child. While at Amorim’s clinic, Figueiredo allegedly told the midwife that fifteen days earlier she had “cut off relations” with him. Amorim also found a fan with the words “Romeu a primeira vez” (Romeu the first time) inscribed with ink. Figueiredo’s death remains a vivid reminder of how the criminalization of reproduction—here the illegality of abortion, which drove Philomena to an unlicensed and unsafe practitioner—had, and have, negative consequences for women. What are your first reactions after reading this note? How does Mena’s death demonstrate the idea that women bear the brunt of biological reproduction? If Romeu had written a response, what do you think he would have said?

Source: Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (AN) CS.0.PCR.4940 (1930)



            Fiz o que me aconselhaste fazer e o que devia fazer, não só porque não podia deixar apparecer vestigio de um amor illicito como também pelo grande amore que te consagro.

            Sinto-me mal e talvez não sobreviva a ta manha amor e se assim fôr, peço te perdoar as innumeras faltas de quem só por amor assim as praticou, e não esquecer a memoria da tua [crossed out] que até na [crossed out] só a ti de corpo e alma peretnceu [sic] e que só tua será até na eternidade




I did what you advised me to do and what I should have done, not only because I could not let the traces of an illicit love appear but also for the great love that we have consecrated.

I feel unwell and I may not survive until tomorrow love and if not, I ask you to forgive the numerous mistakes that only one in love can make, and don’t forget the memory of your s[crossed out] that until the [crossed out] only to you, body and soul, I belonged, and only yours will I be even in the hereafter.


Further Reading

Ross, Loretta J., and Rickie Solinger. Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017.

Roth, Cassia. “From Free Womb to Criminalized Woman: Fertility Control in Brazilian Slavery and Freedom.” Slavery & Abolition 38, no. 2 (2017): 269–86.


4) Story of a Young Black Brazilian Woman

Dr. Cassia Roth, University of Georgia


As rare as it is for us to have access to women’s (and men’s) personal thoughts about their reproductive lives, it is even more rare for us to see what they look like. This photograph was part of the 1933 police investigation into the death of eighteen-year-old Mercedes dos Santos in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Santos, a Black Brazilian woman (preta), died from a ruptured uterus and subsequent hemorrhage following an abortion. Santos was a domestic servant from the northeastern state of Bahia, and she worked in the home of another Black woman, Emilia Dias de Oliveira. Santos miscarried at Oliveira’s home, and she went to a public hospital when she began hemorrhaging. She died in the hospital. Although the forensic specialists were unable to determine if Santos had miscarried or if she had provoked an abortion, the police were quick to blame Oliveira for her death. Allegedly, on her deathbed, Santos had accused Oliveira of performing the abortion. Oliveira and her other employees, however, all expressed surprise that Mercedes had been pregnant in the first place. But without definitive forensic evidence of a provoked abortion, the police could not build a convincing case against Oliveira, and the justice system closed the investigation without any legal consequences for Oliveira.

 The tragic death of Mercedes dos Santos and the apparently unfounded accusation of Emilia Dias de Oliveira have everything to do with the color of their skin. Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery – in 1888 – and it imported nearly 5 million enslaved Africans between the early sixteenth century and the end of the slave trade in 1850. After abolition, the newly founded republican government did not implement any policies to integrate the formerly enslaved into the nation’s body politic. Poor Brazilians of African descent had worse literacy rates than their white counterparts, held lower-paying jobs, and faced worse health outcomes, including reproductive health indicators. Yet Brazil never implemented official segregation policies, and elites and the government put forth a theory of “racial democracy” that purported that the country’s longstanding history of racial mixing had led to a harmonious relationship between different races. This ideology both ignored the institutionalized rape inherent to chattel slavery and the underlying assumption that miscegenation would lead to a whiter, and thus “better, nation.

Mercedes dos Santos typified, in many ways, young Afro-Brazilian women in the early twentieth century. She had migrated from a poorer region to the wealthier southeast, where she worked as a domestic servant. She lacked access to safe reproductive health services (although poor women of all races and colors did in the early 1930s), and her life was subject to more official scrutiny because of her poverty and skin color. What is important to note, however, is that Emilia Dias de Oliveira, also a Black woman migrant (from the neighboring state of Minas Gerais), despite her differential class status, also faced the same official scrutiny as the poorer Mercedes dos Santos. Oliveira had the financial means to employ at least two domestic servants (Santos and a second woman). Yet the police were quick to blame her for allegedly performing an abortion on Santos. In practice, a racial democracy seemed more racist than harmonious.

Source: Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (AN), CT, Cx.2010 N. 535 (1933)

Questions for Further Exploration:

Do you think that Mercedes dos Santos had an abortion, or did she die from complications related to a miscarriage? Does it matter? What initial reactions do you get from viewing the photograph of Santos? In what ways does this source help us understand the lives of women in a way that a written document can’t?

Further Reading

Adamo, Sam C. “The Broken Promise: Race, Health, and Justice in Rio de Janeiro, 1890–1940,” Phd Diss., University of New Mexico, 1983.

Alberto, Paulina L. Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth Century Brazil. University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Otovo, Okezi T. Progressive Mothers, Better Babies: Race, Public Health, and the State in Brazil, 1850-1945. University of Texas Press, 2016.

Skidmore, Thomas E. Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought. Duke University Press, 1993.

5) Letter to a Midwife

Dr. Cassia Roth, University of Georgia


Historical sources on abortion and infanticide for the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from women’s point of view are few and far between. Institutional medical sources, such as dissertations and texts, describe women as patients to be worked on. Although they are highly mediated documents, legal sources, particularly police investigations and criminal cases, bring us into the worlds of the women and men under scrutiny. In police precincts and court rooms, detectives and prosecutors controlled the questioning while scribes scribbled down answers, often haphazardly. This unequal power dynamic lent itself toward women adhering to the most convincing societal scripts. For example, women accused of infanticide in early twentieth-century Brazil often emphasized feelings of shame and dishonor as a driving factor behind their decisions. This reasoning followed the letter of the law, which reduced the sentence for infanticide if a woman had committed it “to hide her dishonor” (Article 298§, 1890 Penal Code). But a careful reading of these same cases uncovers that women most often committed infanticide due to their impoverished status, and that they then understood and described their actions in a way the courts could understand.

At times, however, historians get a glimpse into why a woman had an abortion or how she felt about it. The police at times collected as evidence notes written from post-abortive women to their lovers, the midwives or physicians who performed the procedure, or to their friends. These first-hand accounts come to use through the mediation of a legal source, but they are first-hand accounts all the same.

This note is one such instance. It is from a young woman, Isolina Castro Rio, to the midwife, “Madame Ely” in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1929. Isolina had travelled roughly 100 miles from Nova-Friburgo, a small town in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state, to the capital city to get an abortion at Madame Ely’s clinic.

 Madame Ely was Ely Waeger, a white Swedish immigrant. The fifty-five-year-old Waeger was married, literate, and a licensed midwife. Yet, the Rio de Janeiro police opened an investigation into her illegal abortion clinic after one of her patients, Celeste de Carvalho, died after a botched procedure in which Waeger had dilated her cervix and injected her with a Lysol solution. The investigation went to trial, and Waeger was charged under Brazil’s 1890 Penal Code, Article 300§1: “to provoke an abortion, without or without the expulsion of the fruit of conception…[and] if in consequence of the abortion, or of the methods used to provoke it, the death of the woman follows.” Although initially found guilty, Waeger appealed, and the sentence was reduced. The case was eventually closed due to bureaucratic delays without Waeger ever going to prison.

It appears that Castro Rio survived her abortion. Although the police tried to find her, she evaded judicial scrutiny and never faced legal consequences for her crime. Because Castro Rio was never questioned, we do not know much about her. However, the price she paid for her abortion, 250$000 milréis, gives us a glimpse into her social status. In 1929, the monthly cost-of-living for basic foodstuffs only was slightly over 13$100 milréis. That is to say, the abortion cost nineteen times what Castro Rio would have spent on food that month alone. Factor in the cost of traveling from Nova-Friburgo to Rio de Janeiro, and Castro Rio’s ability to rest in bed afterward, we can imagine that she came from the middling classes. Compare Castro Rio’s experience to that of Philomena Figueiredo. From the little we know of their abortions, what was similar? What was different? Both women had the means to pay a midwife and both were literate. In the end, does class matter if abortion is criminalized?

Source: Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (AN) CS.0.PCR.5608 (1930)


Madame Ely. Escrevo estas linhas afim de dizer que tive o abôrto hontem as 8 horas, não estou sentindo nada graças a Deus Peço o favôr se alguem telephonar do Friburgo perguntando quanto é, a Snra faz o favôr de dizêr que a Senhora faz a operação por 250$000 reis? O dinheiro eu levo segunda feira se Deus quizer, porque estou de cama.

Vossa humilde creada, Isolina Castro Rio, 10-10-1929


Madame Ely. I write these lines in order to say that I had the abortion yesterday at 8 o’clock, I’m not feeling anything, thank God. I ask the favor [that] if someone calls from Friburgo [state of Rio de Janeiro] asking how much it is, the Senhora [Lady] will do the favor of saying that the Lady does the operation for 250$000 réis? The money I will bring on Monday, god willing, because I’m in bed. Your humble servant, Isolina Castro, Rio 10-10-1929.

Further Reading

Lahmeyer Lobo, Eulália Maria. História do Rio de Janeiro: do capital comercial ao capital industrial e financeiro, vol. 2 (Rio de Janeiro: IBMEC, 1978), 748–81.

Rohden, Fabíola. A arte de enganar a natureza: contracepção, aborto e infanticídio no início do século XX. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Fiocruz, 2003.

Roth, Cassia. A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020.

Silva, Marinete dos Santos. “Reprodução, sexualidade e poder: as lutas e disputas em torno do aborto e da contracepção no Rio de Janeiro, 1890-1930.” História, Ciências, Saúde - Manguinhos 19, no. 4 (2012): 1241–54.


A Midwife Accused of Abortion, Yucatán (1853)

Dr. Nora Jaffary, Concordia University


In this fascinating trial from Yucatán, which opens in 1853, the state Superior Court (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Yucatán) rendered judgement on four indigenous women: Bernarda Sulú, accused of having supplied abortifacient drinks to Manuela Martin and Manuela Solis, as well as Nicolasa Martin, Manuela’s sister, accused of being an accomplice to her sister’s act of procuring an abortion. The case is interesting in terms of its provision of details about medical approaches to abortion in the mid-nineteenth century. The remedy that Sulú provided – an abortifacient drink – and in the case of Manuela Martin, the bleeding of her ankle, were approaches commonly used on both sides of the Atlantic in the Early Modern periods, and long after them, to provoke intentional miscarriages–the most common form of abortion before the twentieth century. The case is also interesting in terms of what it shows about the operation of mid-nineteenth century Mexican courts, their apprehension of justice served, and the legal foundation of the decisions judges and legal defenders might make. Notice that the two legal texts referred to in the case date from medieval Castile. Judges and defenders, while they used such legal theory, also referred to conditions specific to the setting of nineteenth-century Mexico when they discussed the particular legal considerations that should apply to members of indigenous communities in nineteenth-century Yucatán. Readers of this case might consider the following questions: What did contemporaries consider the most vile aspects of abortion? What factors did they consider valid as extenuating circumstances that made the crime less atrocious? What picture does this trial allow you to form about the operation of criminal courts operating in Mexico in the nineteenth century?

The reader should be aware of a few translation details about this case. I have left the following terms in the original Spanish: señor (sir or lord) and don (sir), both of which are awkwardly rendered in English translation. I also leave the term criatura in the original Spanish. This word, often translated as “baby” could in denote “fetus.” In this case, it seemed like too much of an editorial judgement to give the term one meaning or another because the two convey distinctive beings in English. Readers might also note that within the case itself, various officers of the court move back and forth between describing the crime for which these women were accused as “infanticide” and “abortion,” two acts that in our own setting would be understood as distinctive. Because the original text is over fifty folios in length, this transcription and translation is a selection of the complete dossier. When significant information was omitted from the original, it is summarized in italics. Much of what has not been reproduced from the original are administrative notes between different levels of the courts simply relaying the information that the file is moving between them.

From the Archivo General del Estado de Yucatán.


Archivo General del Estado de Yucatá​n

FONDO: Justicia









VOL. 70 EXP. 34

[title page] Mérida 1853

Criminal contra Bernarda Sulú por infanticidio, y Manuela Solís y Manuela Martín por aborto voluntario y Nicolasa Martín por cómplice.


1a Sala en [unknown word].

No. 8 Marzo 8 de 854.

2o cuaderno Sala 1a [4 firmas]

[fol. 1] Tral Supr. De Just.a Trl. Pleno. Mérida Sbre 12 de 1853.

Al S. [illegible], ministro en turno

[firmas] Prejon Lic. José Ma Riviero Solis

Tribunal Superior de Justicia Sala Segunda. Mérida Septiembre 13 de 1853

Al señor Fiscal

[firma] Sr Rejon           Lic. Marin

Inmediatam.te noticie el auto anterior al lic. D. Guadalupe Martin Rosado, doy fé

[firma] Patron

En segunda noticié el propio auto al lic. D. Esquino Castellano, doy fé.

[firma] Patron

[fol. 1v] Continuadm.te noticie el expresado auto al lic. D. Ricardo del Rio, doy fé.

[firma] Patron

Incontinente grave esta causa al S.or fiscal, doy fe.

[firma] Patron

Exmo. S.or

El fiscal dice que iniciada esta causa en el pueblo de Chocholá por denuncia del excelentísimo Pro. D. José Estevan Paredes sobre aborto que sospechó habian cometido Martin y Manuela Solis, acabó de instruirse ante el juez en turno de 1a insta de esta capital L D Mariano Brito.

Seguida por todos eses trámites aparece Bernarda Sulú, por su confecion, como la principal autora de este crimen, que por su medio cometieron la Martin y la Solis. Martin esta confesa de haber pedido á la Sulú llamada por su hermana Nicolaza para sangrarla los pies que tenía inflamados, sin remedio para librarse del estado de preñez en que se hallaba, con el fin de no sufrir el castigo que le daria su abuela descubierto su estado, mas esta mujer perversa, no solo accedió a dar el brebaje por dos veces, sinó aplicó tamb.n por iguales ocasiones la sangria hta conseguir su criminal objeto, no obstante que debia presumir por su avanzada edad y practica, estar animada la criatura atento el poco tiempo que debía faltarle para el natural.

Mucho más criminal es esta misma mujer cuando habiendose metido á conversar con Manuela Solis, é indagado su estado cuando le manifestó aquella el temor, que tenia del castigo de sus padres si supieran su embarazo, voluntariam.te le ofreció el brevaje que en efecto le dió también por dos veces y que tubo el exito q.e en la Martin, calmando de aquella manera los temores de la Solis. Esta confesa esta de haber tomado la pocion y por consecuencia haber abortado á un niño ya animado. Si pues son reos de aborto voluntario Martin y Solis, Bernarda Sulú lo es de doble feticidio porque ha hecho abortar á dos criaturas que segun la opinión de la R. Junta facultativa de medicina [fol 2] y cirugía estaban animadas, estando además el abortado por la Martin en estado viable.

También figura en esta causa como cómplice Nicolaza Martin por haber ido a llamar á Bernarda Sulú para sangrar á su hermanita Manuela p.r la inflamacion de pies de que adolecia pero no habiendo tenido otro móvil que la sanidad de aquella, ignorando la verdadera causa de su enfermedad y no habiendo sabido del brevaje administrado ni el aborto seguido; aunque la Sulú en un caso le sostuvo que ante ella le manifesto su hermanita el estado en que se hallaba, siendo probable que se expresase asi por despecho de verse en manos de la justicia, cuando en la declaracion que dió en su pueblo nada de esto dijo: siendo tambien la única atestacion que hay contra ella, no puede por esta causa repurtarsela complice.

El crimen pues que nos ocupa es de bastante gravedad y su castigo de suma importancia; porque ha privado de la existencia á dos séres inocentes que debían hacer parte de la sociedad en que vivimos, la que altamente ofendida en su moral exige del mismo modo el castigo de las reos. La ley 2a y 3a del tit 4o del libro 6o del Fuero juzgo castiga al que comete este horrendo crimen con la pena de muerte en el caso de que la que abortó muera mas no muriendo impone pena pecuniaria mayor ó menor según q. el niño estaba ó no formado.

El inferior no obstante apoyarse en las ls. 8 y 12 del tit.o 8o de la 1a partida que señalan la pena de muerte teniendo en consideracion la crasa ignorancia en que se hallan las procesadas condenó á Bernarda Sulú á ocho años de servicios forzados á Solis á cinco años y á Nicolaza Martin á dos años de los propios servicios en el hospital de esta ciudad.

En concepto del que suscribe es demasiado severo aquel fallo y pide á V.E. se sirva reformarlo condenando á la primera á seis años á la segunda á tres y á la tercera á 4 años de dichos servicios; dando á la ultima por compurgada su culpabilidad con el tiempo de prisión sufrida. Merida y Septiembre 21 de 1853.

[firma]Lic José Vicente Solís

[fol.2v] Tribunal Superior de Justicia Sala Segunda. Mérida Septiembre 21 de 1853


[firmas] Sr. Rejon                                Lic. Marin

Inmediat.mte impuse del auto ant.r al Sr. fiscal. Doy Fe.

[firma] Roche

Seguidamente entregué esta causa al Lic. Ricardo Rio, doy fe.

[firma] Roche

[fol. 3] Tribunal Superior de Justicia Sala Segunda Mérida Octubre 14 de 1853. No habiendo el defensor de Manuela y Nicolasa Martin p.r infanticidio evacuado el traslado que al efecto se le ocurrió, desde luego habiendo transcurrido ventajosamente el término, el Notario de diligencias procederá á extraer la referida causa. Testado. Bernarda Sulú y socios= no vale = Entre reglones = Manuela y Nicolasa Martín = vale.

[firmas] Estrada           Lic. Pedro Marcelino Marin

Inmediam.te inpone del auto anterior al S.or fiscal, doy fe.

[firma] Roche

En seguida notifiqué al propio fallo auto al lic. D. Ricardo Rio y dejo que por las ocurrencias de esta ciudad no pueda despacharse su alegato y me lo escribió con la causa que se reclama, doy fe.

firmas] Lic. Rio             Roche

[fol.4] Sor.

El defensor de Manuela y Nicolasa Martin en la causa que se sigue a la primera por aborto voluntario y á la segunda por presumida complice en el mismo delito a V.E. con el respecto que corresponde expone: Que sin embargo de las razones poderosisimas que en primera instancia alegó para que se impusiere á la pral. de sus patrocinadas una pena moderada porque las reflecciones que tiene hecho asi lo piden; y a la segunda en virtud de no estar justificada su complicidad se le diese por expiado cualquier indicio que contra ella pudiese resultar, el inferior les impuso la pena que se advierte de la sentencia en revision cuya severidad al mismo s.or ministro fiscal ha conocido pidiendo ser reformado, aplicando á Manuela cuatro años de servicios interior en el Hospital de San Juan de Dios de esta Ciudad relevando á Nicolasa de ulterior pena.

El que habla, que no obstante esta reforma, conoce cierta desigualdad en las penas, porque á Manuela Solís se impone tres años de servicios sin embargo de estar con la Martin en igualdad de circunstancias, sin que en su concepto pueda ser la razon de esta desigualdad el haber estado la Martin más proxima al parto, porque en estos casos solo se debe atenderse si estaba animado el feto.

A V. E. ocurre suplicando se sirva revocar la sentencia del inferior condenando a Manuela Martin á tres años de servicio interior en el hospital de San Juan de Dios [fol. 4v] de esta ciudad dando á Nicolasa Martin de conformidad en el pedimiento del Sr. ministro fiscal, por compurgada su falta con el tiempo de prision sufrida, todo en fuerza de las razones que tiene alegadas y que aquí relata. Es justicia que pide con el juramento necesario. Mérida 15 de Obre. 1853

[firma] Ricardo Rio

Ynmediatam.te entregué esta causa al. Lic. D. Regiano Castellanos, doy fé

[firma]             Roche

Nota: q. con esta fha. el Not.o D.n Eugenio del Rosario Patron me entregó este causa [illegible Word] haberselo dado Dn Regiano Castellanos alegando no poderla despacho por enfermo. Mérida 26 Oct. 1853.


[fol. 5] Tribunal Superior de Justicia. Sala Segunda Mérida, Octubre 31 de 1853.

Vista la nota que antecede, nombrase defensor de Manuela Solís al Prof. Dn Carlos Pinelo, a quien se entregará la causa en traslado, previo el correspondiente juramento que prestará en primera audiencia.

[firmas] Brejon            Lic. Pedro Marcelino Marín

En seguida inpone del auto ant.r al Prof.r D Carlos Pinelo; doy fé.

[firma] Pinelo              Rio

Certifico: que con ésta fecha se presentó en esta Srio. el Prof. D.n Carlos Pinelo y prestó el juramento prevenido en el auto que antecede. Mérida Noviembre 2 de 1853.

[firmas] Carlos Pinelo              Lic. Pedro Marcelino Martin

En seguida para esta causa al Prof.r D.n Carlos Pinelo de que doy fé.

[firma] Rio

[fol. 6] Sr.

Carlos Pinelo, defensor de Manuela Solis en la causa que se le sigue por aborto voluntario, a V.E. con el mas profundo respeto expongo: que despues de las razones vertidas por el defensor de 1a instan.a en que manifiesta la graduacion de culpabilidad que debe hacerse respecto de mi patrocinada, por aplicarle la pena en virtud de las circunstancias atenuantes, que obran á favor de ella; solamente pasaré á demostrar, que no solo debe aplicarse una pena muy severa, por la gravedad de circunstancias que envuelve en si un delito, sino que debe atenderse siempre a la persona que lo comete, investigando, si esta, es ó ha sido de buena ó mala conducta, si, es ignorante ó ilustrada, para formar un juicio exacto, de la maldad en el crimen, ó de la malicia q.e hubiese puesto al cometer el crimen porque si fuese de alta cuna é ilustrada, ¿Quién ha dicho que una joven de alta sociedad, seria mas disculpable, si para conservar lo ilustrado de su nombre y honra cometiese un crimen tan horrendo? ¡Oh! Destino por modo; porque que tal procedese seria más criminal á la vista de la ley, aun considerando que dicha joven hubiese sido descuidada de su educación por siendo ilustrada merecería todo el rigor de la ley, en atención á que sabe el detestable [fol. 6 v] delito que consuma, por otra parte si la suponemos con recursos, puede valerse de otros medios, para ocultar el fruto de su amor ilicito, sin consumar el odioso crimen que nos ocupa. Tal es Exm.o Sr. la descomparza q.e se ha querido haser valer en 1a insta al pedir una pena tan exorbitante para mi defendida.

Esta sin instruccion, sin principios si se quiere, demuestra religion, esto es, sumida en la mas crasa ignorancia, por no saber si el acto que cometió, era, ó no un crimen; es mas bien digna de correccion, que de un fuerte castigo; porque si la confesion hace prueba plena, esta suele suceder que sea un indicio cierto para purgar, que aquel hecho que se cometió, se ignoraba, y por este motivo se confesó; y como en estas circunstancias se halla mi defendida, que ha sido condenada a cinco años de servicio por el juez infor. En este concepto a V.E. pido, y suplico se sirva revocar dicha sentencia, condenando á mi patrocinada á dos años de dichos servicios por ser asi de justicia que pido con el juramento de la ley. Mérida. Nbre 7, 1853.

[Firma] Carlos Pinelo

En Merida a nueve de dicho mes y año pasé esta causa al lic. Dn Guadalupe Martin Rosado. Doy fe = Encomendado = Guadalupe= vale

[firma] Rio

[fol. 7] Señor

El defensor de Bernarda Sulú en la causa que se le sigue por haber administrado brebaje para abortar, á Manuela Martin y Manuela Solís, con el debido respeto ante V. E. expone: que teniendo en justa consideración las atenuantes circunstancias que obran en favor de la Sulú, las mismas que alegué en 1a instancia, el Sr. Fiscal halla severo el fallo de inferior, que condena á la patrocinada del que suscribe á ocho años de servicios forzados en el Hospital de esta Ciudad, siendo de sentir que solo debe ser condenada á seis. Esta reforma, que pide el Sr. Fiscal, es en concepto del defensor de la Sulú muy equitativa, mitigado como se halla el demasiado rigor de las penas que imponía la antigua legislación, rigor que vá caducando en casi todos los paises civilizados, merced á la suavidad de las [fol. 7v] costumbres, que hoy no son como entónces, bárbaras y cruëles.

Por lo tanto, el defensor de la repetida Sulú, que no está sino por el rigor, ni porque queden impunes los delitos, hallando bastante arreglada la reforma que solicita el Sr. Fiscal, desde luego ocurra. A V.E. pidiéndole se digne revocar el fallo del inferior conforme al pedimento fiscal, refiriéndose solo como debe referirse á su patrocinada, p.a quien pide gracia con el juramento. Merida, Nov. 22 de 1853.

[firma] Guadalupe M.n Rosado.

Nota: que p.r haberse entregado despues del despacho no se proveyó hoy esta causa. Mérida 22 de Nov.e de 1853.

[Firma] Rio

[fol. 8] Tribunal Superior de Justicia Sala Segunda. Mérida, Noviembre 23 de 1853.

Dése cuenta al primer día útil.

[firma] Lic. Marin.

En seguida hice saber el auto anterior al Sr. Fiscal, de q.e doy fe.

[firma] Rio

Segunda.te impone del mismo auto a al Don Ricardo del Rio de que doy fé.

[firma]             Lic. Rio

En Mérida a veinte y cuatro de dicho mes y año hice saber el mismo auto al Prof.r Dn Carlos Pinelo, de que doy fé

[firmas]            Pinelo              Rio

Continuadamente impuse del mismo auto al Lic. D.n Guadalupe Martin Rosado, de q.e doy fe

[firmas] Lic. Rosado                             Rio

[fol. 8v] Considerando ser algo ecsesiva la pena impuesta p.r el inferior á la rea de ésta causa, asi como que contra Nicolasa Martin solo existe una presuncion de complicidad, la cual se conceptua suficientemente compurgada con la prision sufrida; desde luego se reforma la sentencia que pronunció el indicado Juez, condenandose á Bernarda Sulú á seis años de servicios forzados, á Manuela Martin á cuatro años de los mismos servicios y á Manuela Solís á tres años de la misma pena con destino al Hospital Gral. de S. Juan de Dios de esta Ciudad, declarandose suficientemente compurgada la presuncion que obra contra Nicolasa Martin con el tiempo de prision sufrida, y dandose cuenta al Exmo. Tral. Pleno p.a la correspondiente revision y dirigiendose previamente oficio al inferior p.a que bajo la correspondiente caución ponga en libertad á la referida Nicolasa Martin, Mérida Dbre. 17 de 1853=Testado=y=no vale.


Lic. Marín

En [fol. 9] La ciudad de Mérida Capital de Yucatán á los diez y siete días del mes de Diciembre de mil ochocientos cincuenta y tres años, el infrascrito secretario da cuenta al señor Dn Isidro Bejon, Ministro en turno de la Sala Segunda del Esmo. Tral. Superior de Justicia, causa segunda en el Juzgado de primera instancia de capital contra Bernarda Sulú, Manuela Martin y Manuela Solís por aborto y Nicolasa Martin por complice; y habiendo visto las declaraciones y ratificaciones de los testigos, los instructivos y confesiones de las reos, lo alegado por sus defensores y la sentencia que pronunció el Juez de 1a instancia Lic. D.n Mariano Brito el diez de setiembre último, en que condena a Bernarda Sulú a ocho años de servicios forzados en el hospital de esta ciudad, á Manuela Martin á seis años en el propio lugar, á Manuela Solís á cinco años en el mismo destino y á Nicolasa Martin á dos años en el referido Hospital: visto así mismo lo pedido por el Señor Fiscal y lo contestado por los defensores al traslado que se los mandó dar en ésta segunda inst.a, con cuanto mas se tubo presente y ver convino Su Excelencia dijo: que considerando ser algo ecsesiva la pena impuesta por el inferior a las reos de esta causa asi como que contra Nicolasa Martin solo existe una presuncion de complicidad, la cual se conceptua suficientemente compurgada con la prisión sufrida; desde luego debía reformar y reforma la expresada sentencia del inferior condenandose á Bernarda Sulú á seis años de servicios forzados, á Manuela Martin á cuatro años y á Manuela Solís á tres años de la misma [fol 9v] pena con destino al Hospital Gral. de San Juan de Dios de esta Ciudad, declarándose suficientemente compurgada la presunción que obra contra Nicolasa Martin con el tiempo de prision sufrida dándose cuenta al Tral. Pleno para la correspondiente y dirigiendo previamente oficio al inferior para que bajo la correspondiente caucion ponga en libertad á la referida Nicolasa Martin. Y por este que su Excelencia proveyó asi lo mandó y firmó lo que certificó=Testado=por=no vale

[firmas] Ysidro Piejon                          Lic. Pedro Marcelino Marin

En el acta hice saber la sentencia q.e precede el Sr. Fiscal de q.e doy fé.

[firma] Rio

Continuadamente hice saber la propia sentencia al Prof.r D.n Carlos Pinelo, de q.e doy fé.


Pinelo                                                  Rio

[fol. 10]

Seguida, hise saber la misma sentencia al D.n Guadalupe Martin Rosado y dijo quedar enterado de que doy fé.


Lic. Rosado                                                      Rio

En Merida á diez y nueve de dicho mes y año hice saber la propia sentencia al Lic. D.n Ricardo Rio, de que doy fé.

[firma]                                                             Rio

Nota: que con ésta fecha dirigí al inferior el oficio que proviene el fallo q.e antecede. Mérida, diciembre 19 de 1853

[firma]             Lic. Marín

Tral. Sup.r de Justicia. Trial. Pleno. Merida 20 de D.bre de 1853. A la sala primera.


Rejón                           Lic. José M.a Rivero Solís

[10v] Sup.r de Justicia Sala primera Mérida 20 de diciembre de 1853.

Licenciado Rivera Solís


En seguida hice saber el auto anterior al Licenciado Don Guadalupe Martin Rosado de que doy fe.

Licenciado Rosado




Continuadamente hice notorio el auto anterior al Profesor Don Carlos Pinelo y dijo quedar dispuesto de que doy fe.





Continuadamente hace saber el auto anterior al Licenciado Don Ricardo Rio, de que doy fe.

Rio (Firmas)

Seguidamente puse esta causa al señor fiscal, de que doy fe.



[fol 11]


El fiscal dice que esta causa seguida contra Bernarda Sulú por doble feticidio, contra Manuela Solis y Manuela Martin por aborto voluntario y Nicolaza Martin por cómplice en estos delitos ha venido a VE en revisión del fallo que pronunció la Exma. Sala 2.a el día 17 del presente reformando la sentencia del inferior condenando á Bernarda Sulú seis años de trabajos forzaos en el hospital gral. De S. Juan de Dios de esta ciudad en el departamento de mujeres, á Manuela Martin á cuatro años de los mismos servicios y á Manuela Solis á tres años de la misma pena que sufrirán también estas dos últimas en el propio lugar que la primera y declarando suficientemente compurgada la presunción que obra contra Nicolaza Martin con el tiempo de prision que lleva sufrida mandándola poner en consecuencia en libertad bajo de fianza. Este fallo superior está de conformidad con la petición del que habla del 21 de set.e ultimo reproduciendo aquí sus fundamentos; advirtiendo únicamente que por la causa que despachó antier seguida en el de 1.a inst.a de este Dist.o contra Cristanto Vical y socios es manifiesto que la Sulú se fugó de la prision y así pide a VE se sirva comprimar el fallo de la Esma Sala con respecto á las tres últimas dejando suspensa la la causa respecto de la primera, previo oficio que se pase al inferior para que manifieste si aun continua a prófuga y en caso contrario hacer estemsova hasta ella la confirmación de dicho auto. Mérida y dic.e 22 de 1853.

[firma]                         Lic. José Vicente Solis.

[skipped some notations indicating just that the order went back to the inferior court]

Fol. 12 – Sulú’s defender – just asks to confirm her reduced sentence even though she has escaped from prison.

[fol. 13] Exmo. Sr.

Carlos Pinelo, defensor de Manuela Solis, ante VE con el mayor respecto expongo: q.e las circunstancias que obran en la causa no son tan graves para aplicar á mi patrocinada a una pena de tres años, como la que ha impuesto la Exma. Sala 2.a pues atendidas, veremos, q.e ella aun obró con inocensia, al ponerse en cura instigada por la Sulú; á que se agrega también la declaración de la junta facultativa en la q. aparese, haber sido el feto de mi defendida de tres á cuatro meses, y no encontrarse en un estado viable; lo cual no sucedió con la Martin, pues adémas de la premeditación con que cometió el crimen, resulta por la misma declaración á fs. 19 que el feto de ella era de siete meses, y estas circunstancias, y las razones q.e tengo alegadas en 2.a inst.a que doy por reproducidas aquí y por no encontrar proporción también en las penas interpuestas por la Exma. Sala 2.a con arreglo aquella circunstancias.

A VE le pido, y suplico se sirva reformar aquel fallo, condenando á mi defendida á dos años de servicios en el Hospital por ser justicia q.e pido, con el juramento necesario. Mérida Enero 11 1854.

[firma]             Carlos Pinelo

[fol.14 – someone writes that they had managed to reclaim Bernarda who was in her own neighbourhood but she escaped a 2nd time!]

  • Next several pages are inconsequential moving of papers.
  • Fol. 20v- 22- the fiscal says the case most move to the 3d instance court for review because the 2nd instance court overturned the first instance ruling.

[fol. 25v] Jalapa Mayo 27 1854

Habiendo visto esta causa instruida por el Lic. Don Mariano Brito Juez de primera instancia del Distrito de Merida capital del Departamento de Yucatan contra Manuela Solis y Manuela Martin por aborto voluntario, contra Bernarda Sulú por haberles proporcionado el brebaje que originó el aborto, y contra Nicolasa Martin por complicidad; la sentencia definitiva que pronunció el mismo juez de setiembre de mil ochocientos cincuenta y tres, por la que condenó á la primera á cinco años de servicios forzados en el hospital de aquella ciudad, á la segunda á seis años, á la tercera á ocho años y a la cuarta á dos años de la propia pena, teniendo para esto en consideración que Bernarda Sulú está convicta y confesa de haber administrado á la Solis y a la Martin el brebage abortivo con pleno conocimiento de estar aquellas embarazadas así como que debía producir el efecto que se propuso; que tambien conocía con bastante aprocsimacion el tiempo que cada una de aquellas tenia de embarazada por lo que no podía ignorar que los fetos se hallaban animados: que en la Sulú no había ni podía haber otro movil que el mesquino interés conque [fol. 26] la recompensaron la Solis y la Martin, lo que hace inescusable su crimen: que la Sulú fue quien invitó á la Solis á usar del abortivo en el acto en que está recordaba el castigo que sus padres le darían por su libiandad, circunstancia que la constituye mucho mas culpable por haberse valido de aquel momento de abatimiento é irreflección para consumar el crimen: que tanto la Solis como la Martin están confesas de haber tomado el brebaje con el deliberado fin de conseguir el aborto, que no esperaban ni tenían ningún eminente peligro ni menos fueron aprevenidas, único caso en que serian escusables según la ley: que no solamente estaban ciertas de su embarazo, sino que á pesar de ser la primera vez que se encontraban en aquel estado, no podían ignorar la animación de sus fetos, pues según el tiempo que estos tenían debian sentir su movimiento: que la Martin no solo usó del brebage sino que se hizo sangrar para conseguir el aborto que se dificultaba por el mayor tiempo que el feto tenia por ser ya viable según la consulta de la junta facultativa médica quien (quien) opinó igualmente que el hijo de la Solis estaba tambien animado: que no solamente consiguieron el aborto que pretendieron, sino que depositaron sus hijos en lugar profano en el solar de sus casas sin las precauciones necesarias esponíendolos á que fuesen parto de los perros, como sucedió con el de la [fol. 26v] Martin, obrando de este modo aun contra la naturaleza, cuyos sentimientos ahogaron en aquel acto: que aunque Nicolasa Martin niega haber tenido conocimiento del embarazo de su hermana dice la Sulú que al descubrirle esta su estado se hallaba presente Nicolasa y que al hablarla para que curase á Manuela se refería al preñado, por lo que su negativa no impide que se le tenga por cómplice en aquel delito, mucho mas cuando ella fue quien instó por que se aplicase la sangria, conviviendo en que ignoraba o se le ocultó á su abuela el brebage que tomó Manuela cuya circunstancia persuade su malicia y culpabilidad: visto lo dispuesto por la ley 8 tit.o 8º P 7a respecto de las que toman abortivo los proporcionan y administran y la pena que les impone, refiriéndose á la 12 del propio tit.o y P. pues declaran y quieren se tengan por homicidas á los que proporcionan beber llervas para procurar el aborto: que aunque la ley es tan esplicita en el presente caso, supone en sus contrabentores el conocimiento de la erronidad de su crimen y de las penas que para él se hallan establecidas, la que no puede aplicarse á los reos de esta causa por que por su condición y clase carecen de aquellos conocimientos como se manifiesta por su simple relato en que se advierte que no tenian este hecho como crimen, como

[insertion of a page that is not essential]

[fol. 27] en realidad es y las leyes lo clacifican en circunstancias que las hace acreedoras á alguna consideración en cuanto á la pena ordinaria. Vista igualmente la sentencia pronunciado por el Señor Ministro en turno de la segunda sala del Exmo Tribunal Superior de justicia que ecsistia en Yucatan, en 17 de Diciembre último por la que se reformó la ezpresada sentencia del inferior, condenando en consecuencia á Bernarda Sulú á seis años de servicios forzados, á Manuela Martin á cuatro años y á Manuela Solis á tres años de la misma pena debiendo estinguirlos en el hospital de San Juan de Dios de aquella ciudad, declarando compurgada á Nicolasa Martin con el tiempo de prision sufrida: teniendo presentes esta sala los fundamentos del Juez inferior y el pedimiento fiscal y considerando que si bien la ley 8 tit. 8 P. 7.a impone pena de muerte á las reos de aborto voluntario cuando el feto se halla animado, debe tenerse presente en los casos que motivaron esta causa que las dos mujeres que tomaron la bebida con aquel depravado objeto, pertenecen á la clase indigena que aun se conserva en el estado deplorable de rusticidad, que las mismas reos confesaron su delito, escepcionandose con el temor que tenían de ser castigadas por sus padres, por la fragilidad en que habían incurrido, creyendo de que al tomar la bebida para facilitar el aborto no cometían [fol. 27v] un delito, que castigaran las leyes; que por lo tanto debe usarze del arbitrio judicial que concede en tales casos la ley 8.a tit.o 1 P.7ª atendiendo como debe atenderze á las circunstancias excepcionales que concurran en las personas de las indicadas reos y en sus delitos; que la reo Benarda Sulú que fue la que suministró la bebida abortiva se halla todavía prófuga como consta de las diligencias que se mandaron practicar por el Tribunal Superior de Yucatan antes de remitir esta causa á esta Superioridad: que respecto de Nicolsa Martin, no debe considerarse como cómplice, por no haber contra ella la prueba plena que el derecho requiere para esa clasificacion aunque si ecsiste la que basta para no poderla absolver del cargo: por estos fundamentos, y previa discusión detenida de las cuestiones de hecho y de derecho que propuso el Señor Ministro ponente, que se hallan incluidas en los espresados fundamentos y en los que se apoya la sentencia indicada del inferior; la Primera Sala del Tribunal Superior de Justicia de este Departamento, administrando justicia á nombre de la Nación falla:

1º. Se confirma la sentencia Superior de 2ª instancia respecto de las penas que impone á Manuela [fol. 28] Martin y Manuela Solis, y se enmienda en cuanto declara compurgada con el tiempo de prision sufrida a Nicolsa Martin á quien en consecuencia se absuelve de la instancia.

2º Practiquense por el Juez inferior nuevas diligencias con la eficacia y actividad posibles en averiguación del paradero de Bernarda Sulú, para su aprencion, dando cuenta inmediatamente á esta Superioridad para la continuación de la causa contra ella.

3º Publicada esta determinacion notifiquese al Señor Fiscal y al Procurador en turno librese orden con inserción de ella al Juez de primera instancia de lo criminal de Merida para que haga lo mismo con las reos y sus defensores, cancela la caucion de Nicolsa Martin y cumpla con lo demás que le corresponda, dando cuenta oportunamente; espidase ejecturia al C. S. Gobernador de Yucatán para los efectos legales.

[firmas ] José Muñoz y Muñoz            José M.a Lopez de Escalera     Man.l Zárate

                                                                                    Ju.o Lopez

[The judgement is then transmitted back to the lower courts]


Fol. 38 – Bernarda Sulu has been apprehended in Mérida, but July 3, 1857

Fols. 40 v – Sept. 5 – Supreme court Merida sits again ; mentions that the case had been suspended because Sulú had fled

  • The court on fol. 41 says Sulú es “reo de doble infanticidia” in virtue of which first instance court condemned her to 8 years service forsado en el Hospital de San Juan de Dios; 2nd sala reduced it to 6 yrs; but this court reforms the 2nd sentence further and sentences her to 4 yrs service


Reference: Archivo General del Estado de Yucatá​n, Justicia, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Penal, Vol. 70, exp. 34.

[title page]: Criminal [case] against Benarda Sulú for infanticide and Manuela Solís and Manuela Martin for voluntary abortion and Nicolasa Martín for being an accomplice.


1st Court Room [unknown word]

No. 8 March 8 [1]854

2nd notebook 1st Court Room

[4 signatures]

[folio 1 reverse]

Most Excellent Señor

The prosecutor states that this case, initiated in the town of Chocholá with the denunciation of the most excellent priest don José Estevan Paredes about an abortion that he suspects Manuela Martin and Manuela Solis of committing; he completed testification about this before the judge of first instance in session of this capital, licentiate don Mariano Brito.

            Following from all these steps, it appears that Bernarda Sulú, by her own confession, is the principal author of the crime, that through her actions Martin and Solis both committed.

            Manuela Martin has confessed of having asked Sulú, who was called by her sister Nicolasa, to bleed her feet, which were badly swollen, in order to free her from the state of pregnancy in which she found herself, in order to avoid suffering form the punishment that her grandmother would give her if she discovered her state. However, this perverse woman not only agreed to give the potion two times, but also twice applied bleedings until she succeeded in achieving her criminal objective, notwithstanding that she must have presumed the pregnancy, given its advanced development, and considering the little time remaining until the natural birth date, that the criatura was animated.

            This same woman showed she is even more criminal because when she was in conversation with Manuela Solis who told her of the fear she had of the punishment she would receive from her parents if they learned of her pregnancy, [Sulú] voluntarily offered [Solis] the drink she then gave her two times. It worked as it had in Martin, calming in this way Solis’ fears. [Solis] confesses to having taken the potion and, as a consequence, having aborted an already animated baby. If, then, Manuela Martin and Manuela Solis are defendants against charges of voluntary abortion, Bernarda Sulú is a defendant of the charges of double feticide because she caused the abortions of these two criaturas, who in the opinion of the Royal Assembly of Medicine and [folio 2] Surgery, were animated. Furthermore, the aborted criatura of Martin was also in a viable state.

            Nicolasa Martin also features in this case as an accomplice for having called Bernarda Sulú to bleed her younger sister Manuela because of the inflammation of the feet from which she suffered, but this was motivated by nothing other than [her concerns for] Manuela’s health. Nicolasa was unaware of the real cause of Manuela’s sickness and she was ignorant of the potion administered and the abortion that followed it. Although Sulú in one case sustained that Manuela told her before Nicolas that she was pregnant, it is likely that Sulú stated this out of spite in finding herself in the hands of justice, since in the declaration she made when she was in her hometown, she said nothing of this. Since this is also the only testimony that there is against [Nicolasa], she can not, for this reason, alone be attributed with the status accomplice.

            The crime that we are dealing with is of significant gravity and its punishment is of great import because two innocent beings that should have become part of the society in which we live have been deprived of existence, an act which so greatly offends morality that it requires the punishment of the defendants. The 2nd and 3d Law of the 4th Title of the 6th book of the Fuero juzgo punishes the person who commits this horrendous crime with the death penalty in cases in which the pregnant mother who aborted dies, but if she does not die, it imposes a fine, of a greater or smaller size according to whether or not the baby was or was not formed [in the uterus].

            The inferior court, despite founding its decision on Laws 8 and 12 of the 8th Title of the 1st Partida, which indicates that the death penalty should be applied took into consideration the crass ignorance of the accused and condemned Bernada Sulú to eight years of forced service, to Manuela Solis to five years, and Nicolasa Martin to two years, this same service to be carried out in the hospital of this city.

            In the opinion of the undersigned, this judgement is too severe and Your Excellency is asked to reform it and condemn the first [Sulú] to six years, the second [Solis] to three years and the third [Martin] to four years of service; awarding the last one [Nicolasa], a sentence of time already served in prison. Mérida, September 21, 1853.

[signed] Licentiate José Vicente Solis.

[Some correspondence is omitted where various parties are informed of Solis’ judgement]

[folio 4]

Most Excellent Señor,

            The defender of Manuela and Nicolasa Martin in the case against the first for voluntary abortion and the second for presumed accomplice in the same crime, to Your Excellency with the respect due him, I state: That notwithstanding the powerful reasons that the court of first instance gave for the [unknown word] of his clients a moderate punishment because the reflections made about them call for the same; and that, respecting [Nicolasa], in light of the fact that her complicity was not proven, and she is understood to have atoned for any indication of error on her part, the inferior court imposed on them the penalties indicated in the revised sentence, whose severity the prosecutor has recognized, and asks that it be reformed, applying to Manuela four years of internal service in the Hospital of Saint John of God in this city and relieving Nicolasa of any further punishment.

            He who writes, notwithstanding this revision, notes a certain inequality in the punishments, because Manuela Solis is sentenced to three years of service despite being equal in circumstances to Martin, except that in his view it should be understood that there is an inequality since Martin was closer to her due date, because in such cases one must only

consider if the fetus was animated.

To Your Excellency, I plea you consider revoking the sentence of the inferior court condemning Manuela Martin to three years of internal service in the Hospital of Saint John of God of this city and considering Nicolasa in conformity with that which was asked for by the prosecutor, as having atoned for here crime with prison time already served, all in accordance with the reasons that have been alleged and that [two illegible words]. This is the justice for which I ask, taking the required oath. Mérida, October 15 1853.

[signature] Ricardo Rio

[Some correspondence between various officers of the court is omitted here transmitting documents to various parties.}

[folio 6]

Excellent Señor,

            Carlos Pinelo, defender of Manuela Solis in the case against her for voluntary abortion, states to Your Excellency with most profound respect: that in addition to the reasons provided by the defender of the first instance court in which is shown the gradation of responsibility that should be made respecting my client, in terms of applying the punishment in consideration of attenuating circumstances that in this case, operate in her favour; I will demonstrate that a severe punishment should not be applied in this case not only because of the extremity of circumstances surrounding the case, but also because one must always consider the person that has committed the crime under investigation. One must consider if this person is or has been of good or poor conduct and if she is ignorant or educated in order to form a precise judgement of the vileness of the crime, or the malice used in committing it. Because what if the offender was highborn and educated? Would we say that a young person of high society was more guilty if to preserve the illustriousness of her name and honour she committed so horrendous a crime? Oh! Fortune plays a role here, in this way; because such a procedure would be more criminal, in the eyes of the law, even considering that such a young person would have been careless of her upbringing for having been educated; she would deserve the total rigor of the law, in attention to which is known the detestable sin [folio 6 reverse] that she consummates. On the other hand, if we suppose that she is someone with resources, she could have used other means to hide the fruit of her illicit love, without consuming the odious crime that concerns us. This is, Excellent Señor, the excess that the court of first instance has sought to use in asking for such an exorbitant punishment for my defendant.

            She, without instruction, without principles if you will, to demonstrate her knowledge of religion. That is, she remains in the most crass ignorance, not knowing what act she committed and whether or not it was a crime. It would be more suitable to give her a correction than a strong punishment because if her confession gives strong proof, this provides a strong indication of something that must be explained, rather than as evidence of a committed deed. She did not understand it and for this reason, she confessed it. And so in these circumstances my defendant is condemned to five years service by the inferior judge. For this reason, I ask and supplicate that you be served to revoke the sentence and instead condemn my client to two years of service, for this is the justice that I ask for with the oath of the law. Mérida, November 7, 1853.

[signature] Carlos Pinelo

[folio 7]

Excellent Señor,

            The defender of Bernarda Sulú in the case against her for having administered an abortive potion to Manuela Martin and Manuela Solis, with the respect due to Your Excellency I state that taking together in full consideration the attenuating circumstances that operate in Sulú’s favor, the same that were alleged in the first instance court, the prosecutor finds severe the judgement of the inferior court that condemns the client of the undersigned to eight years forced service in the Hospital of this city, feeling that she should only be condemned to six. This reform, that the prosecutor requests, is from the viewpoint of Sulú’s defender, very equitable, mitigating since they are found too harsh the punishments that were imposed by the ancient legislation, a harshness that is now disappearing in nearly all civilized countries, thanks to the mildness of the [folio 7 reverse] customs that are not in our day as barbarous and cruel as they were before.

Therefore, the defender of the said Sulú, who stands for nothing less than rigor, nor for crimes that go unpunished, finding the reform requested by the prosecutor quite reasoned, they should transpire. To Your Excellence, I request that you revoke the judgment of the inferior according to the fiscal’s petition, referring only, as is proper, to the matter respecting his client, for whom is asked grace with the oath. Mérida, November 22, 1853.

[signature] Guadalupe Martin Rosado

[On December 17 1853, the Second Courtroom of the Superior Court of Yucatán considered the ruling of the first instance court, the prosecutor’s submission to the Superior Court as well as the submissions made by the legal defenders of the accused. The Court reformed the first instance ruling and condemned Bernarda Sulú to six years forced service, Manuela Martin to four years, and Manuela Solís to three years, all to be served in the General Hospital of Mérida; the court accepted that Nicolasa Martín had already fulfilled her sentence with time served.

The Court learned on December 22, 1853 that Manuela Solis had fled from prison.

On January 11, 1854, the defender of Manuela Solís, Carlos Pinelo, appealed to the Supreme Court that Solís should be given a lighter sentence than Manuela Martín because the fetus that she had aborted, of three or four months “was not in a viable state,” unlike that which Martín had aborted, of seven months’ gestation.

Further correspondence from the court showed that Bernarda Sulú had been briefly recaptured, but then had successfully fled a second time.

The trial moved to a 3d instance court, this time in the city of Jalapa, for review because which contemporary law required because the 2nd instance court had altered the initial judgement made at the first instance court.]

[folio 25 reverse]

Jalapa, May 27, 1854

Having studied the case judged by licentiate don Mariano Brito, justice of first instance in the district of Mérida, capital of the Department of Yucatán against Manuela Solís and Manuela Martin for voluntary abortion, against Bernarda Sulú for having supplied them with a drink which provoked the abortions, and against Nicolasa Martin for complicity, the final sentence that the same judge pronounced in September, 1853, in which he condemned [Manuela Solís] to five years forced service in the hospital of this city, [Manuela Martin] to six years, and [Bernarda Sulú] to eight years and [Nicolasa Martin] to two years of the same punishment, taking into consideration that Bernarda Sulú is convicted and confesses to having administered to Solis and to Martin the abortive drink in full understanding that they were pregnant and that this would produce the intended effect; that she also knew with some certainty the time that each had been pregnant for which reason she could not be ignorant of the fact that the fetuses were animated; and that Sulú did not nor could have any other motive than a miserly interest that [folio 26] Solis and Martin would compensate her. All of this renders her crime inexcusable. That it was Sulú who invited Solis to use an abortive, in an act in which she [Sulú] reminded Solis of the punishment that her parents would give her for her lasciviousness, a circumstance that renders her much more guilty for having used this moment of weakness and distraction to consummate the crime. That Solis as well as Martin have confessed to having taken the drink with the deliberate goal of achieving an abortion, that they did not anticipate nor fear any imminent danger nor were they forewarned about any, the only instance in which the acts could be excused by law. Not only were they certain of their pregnancies but since this was the first time in which they found themselves in this state, they could not have been unaware of the animation of their fetuses, whose movement they must have felt according to the stage of their development. That Martin not only took the drink but also had herself bled to secure the abortion which was difficult to achieve because of the longer time of her fetus’ development since it was already viable according to the academic medical counsel who also opined that the child of Solis was also animated. That not only did they secure the abortion that they sought, but also, they left their babies in a profane location in the yards of their houses without taking the necessary precautions, exposing them to be discovered by dogs, as happened to Martin’s baby [folio 26 reverse], working in this way against nature whose sentiments they stifled in this act. That although Nicolasa Martin denies having had knowledge of the pregnancy of her sister, Sulú says that when she was told by Manuela Martin this information, Nicolasa was at her side and that when [Nicolasa] called [Sulú] so she could cure her, [Nicolasa] meant her pregnancy, for which reason, despite [Nicolasa’s] negation of it, she can be taken as an accomplice in this crime, and even more so because it was she who insisted that the bleeding be applied to Manuela Martin, agreeing to either ignore or hide from her grandmother the drink that Manuela took, whose circumstances all suggest her malice and culpability. Law 8, title 8, 7th Partida respecting the punishments that are given and should be administered for the taking of abortives, and referring to the 12th law of the same title and Partida, all declare and require that the act of giving herbs to drink to procure abortions should be understood as homicide. Although the law is very explicit in the present case, when offenders have knowledge of the error of their crimes and of the punishments that have been established for them, which can not be applied to the defendants in this case due to their state and class. They lack such knowledge as is manifest in the simple account they give in which they indicate they did not understand this act as a crime, as in reality [folio 27]

[insertion of an unrelated and non-essential page in the file here]

they were and as the laws classify them in circumstances that make them creditors of some consideration regarding standard punishment. Having seen the punishment pronounced by the señor minister in session of the second court room of the most excellent Superior Court of justice that existed in the Yucatán on this past seventeenth of December in which was reformed the indicated sentence of the inferior court, condemning Bernarda Sulú as a result of this to six years of forced labour, to Manuela Martin to four years, and to Manuela Solis to three years of the same punishment to be carried out in the San Juan hospital of this city, declaring Nicolasa Martin as having fulfilled her sentence with time served. Taking into consideration in this present court room the legal reasoning of the inferior court judge and the request of the prosecutor and considering that if law 8, title 8 of the 7th Partida is understood to impose the death penalty on the defendants for voluntary abortion when the fetus is animated, the motivating causes for the two women who drank the drink for this depraved objective in this case must be considered. As must be considered that the pertain to the indigenous class that still maintains its deplorable state of rusticity, and that the same defendants confessed their crime, but also the extenuating circumstance of the fear that they had of being punished by their parents for the fragility incurred, and that they believed that in taking the drink to facilitate the abortion, they did not commit [folio 27 reverse] a crime for which they would be lawfully punished. Understanding that in such cases the right of judicial discretion conceded in such cases by law 8, title 1, 7th Partida considering as must be considered the exceptional circumstances that are found in the indicated defendants and in their crimes; and that the defendant Sulú who is the one who administered the abortive drink is still at large as is shown in the steps that the Superior Court of the Yucatan ordered that should be followed before the case was submitted to your Excellency. And considering that Nicolasa Martin should not be considered an accomplice since there does not exist full proof against her as is required by law for this classification although there does exist enough that she can not simply be absolved of the charge. For these reasons and following an extensive discussion of the questions of the acts, and the laws that the Señor Judge, which are found included in the expressed reasoning and which support the indicated sentence of the inferior judge. The first courtroom of the Superior Court of Justice of this department administering justice in the nation’s name finds:

1st that the sentence of the Superior court of 2nd instance respecting the punishments imposed on Manuela Martin [folio 28] and Manuela Solis are upheld and are amended in so far as is found fulfilled with time served the imprisonment suffered by Nicolasa Martin who in consequence is absolved of the act.

2nd Since the inferior court judge undertook new steps respecting the possible activities in terms of the whereabouts of Bernarda Sulú, for her apprehension, keeping this Superior court immediately informed about these for the continuation of the case against her.

3d Having published this determination, the Señor prosecutor and the defending attorney will return it to the judge of first instance in the criminal court of Mérida so that he informs both the defendants and their attorneys. The caution respecting Nicolasa Martin is cancelled and the others should fulfil what corresponds to them, giving prompt account, promptly transmitting the legal effects to the Governor of Yucatán.

[signatures] José Muñoz Muñoz         José María López de Escalera             Manuel Zárate

                                                                        Juan López

[The judgement is transmitted back to the lower courts. Later documents briefly report that Bernarda Sulú was apprehended in Mérida, but fled again shortly thereafter. In July 1857, Sulú was captured again and Yucatán’s Superior court met to render final judgment on her. The court described Sulú in its last judgment as defendant in a case of “double infanticide” in virtue of which a first instance court condemned her to 8 years forced service in the Hospital de San Juan de Dios; the second instance court reduced it to 6 years. But in the final judgement, the court reformed this further and sentenced her to 4 years of hospital service]

Sulu Abortion

Criminal Trial for Infanticide in the Yucatán (1865)

Dr. Nora Jaffary, Concordia University


Paulina Uc was a young Mayan woman charged with committing infanticide in the city of Campeche (Yucatán, Mexico) in 1865. As an indigenous person, she was subject to the patronizing assumptions contemporary courts made about people of her ethnicity. The following document is a transcription of her criminal case before the Supreme Court of the Yucatán Peninsula, which served as a court of review for serious crimes, as was standard by law. Her case would have been tried previously at a first-instance local court, but we do not possess a copy of the records of that initial trial. Mexican states did not begin issuing modernized penal codes until six years after her trial was concluded. In this case, the various court officials involved – judges, the state’s Prosecutor (fiscal), and her legal defender – referred to other sources of law. They used the extensive thirteenth-century code of King Alfonso X, Las siete partidas, which called for infanticide to be treated as a form of homicide, and thus punishable by death. In addition, they invoked two works of nineteenth-century doctrina (legal knowledge produced by scholars), which called for a more nuanced and lenient treatment for the crime, especially when pregnant women engaged in it out of fear (generally of violent reprisals by male family members), or the loss of their reputations for public honor.

Uc, as a married woman, was somewhat unusual in terms of the profile of Mexican women charged with committing infanticide or abortion in the nineteenth century, most of whom were unwed. The details of how she disposed of her infant are not clear in this case; but most women charged with infanticide exposed their newborns (that is, left them unattended,normally outdoors), suffocated, or drowned them. Occasionally, throttled or beat them to death.

The history of reproductive crimes (infanticide and abortion, and when it was illegal, contraception) is fairly new to Latin American studies, but recently, historians have started forming a clearer picture of this history. There were almost no criminal cases for either infanticide or abortion during the colonial period, and indeed, for the first five decades after independence, but criminal cases begin climbing in the last decades of the nineteenth century. This is likely, however, not due to dramatic changes in women’s practices of abortion and infanticide, but rather because of the preoccupations and concerns of neighbours, family members, employers, and state representatives who denounced the crimes or investigated the cases.

Questions for Further Exploration:

In what ways did different parties frame Uc’s alleged behavior as repellant? What issues relating to her behaviour do not seem to have merited the court’s attention? What about the idea of infanticide was most troubling to all parties? How does her defender frame her action in a more favourable light? How did either gender or ethnicity play a role in how she was represented or treated by the court?

From the Archivo General del Estado de Yucatán.


Archivo General del Estado de Yucatán, Justicia, Penal, caja 127, vol. 127, exp. 46

Fondo: Justicia

Sección: Tribunal Superior de Justicia

Serie: Penal

Subserie: Homicidio Calificado

Asunto: Causa seguida a Maria Paulina Uc por presunciones de infanticidio

Fecha: Febrero 10 - 24 de abril de 1865

Fojas: 13

Observaciones: Quemaduras de tinta y roto.

vol. 127 exp. 46

[title page] Causa á Mᵃ Paulina Uc por presum de infanticidio



Nicolas Dovantes Avila


N. Marentes


[fol. 2] Tribunal Superior de Just.a de la Península de Yucatan. Tral. Pleno Mérida.

Febrero diez de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco.

Al Sor. Patrón Ministro en turno.

[firma] Lic. Pachon

Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Peninsula de Yucatán Sala segunda Mérida Febrero diez de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco.

Al Señor fiscal

[firmas] Sr. Patron       Lic. Alpuchesino

Luego para esta causa al sr. fiscal doy fé

[firma] Aguilar

n. 253. Sr. Magistrado de la Sala 2ᵃ

Instruida ésta causa en el juzgdo del crimen de Campeche contra M.a Paulina Uc, natural de Titbalche, vecina de la misma ciudad, casada y como de veinte años de edad por infanticidio, fue fallada el dia seis del mes corriente, condenando a la Uc á ocho meses de servicio en el Hospital de Campeche, fundándose [fol. 2 v] en la doctrina de Escriche diccionario de Legislación, párrafo 3° en la palabra infanticidio y en el Febrero Novísimo, quienes distinguen perfectamente el infanticidio cometido por inhumanidad del causado por miedo grave o por excesivo pudor.

El fiscal dice que las doctrinas de los autores solo tienen lugar a falta de ley; pero en el presente caso, tenemos la ley 12, tit. 8o partida 7a que designa la pena de muerte con todas las horribles circunstancias que deben acompañar la ejecucion; pero la suavidad de las costumbres actuales han abolido aquellas circunstancias; mas no la pena de muerte. Paulina Uc, aunque joven de solo veinte años, había cometido una gravisima falta. Habia solemnemente engañado al infeliz Candelario Galicia, hombre de cuarenta y dos años, al casarse con ella. No llegó ni a sospechar que tuviese en el vientre un feto de seis meses, pues según Galicia, estaba Paulina muy lozana. Pero cometida esta grave falta la consecuencia era precisa. Dice que por temor al encono de su esposo, se safó ella misma la niña que estaba naciendo, mientras su pobre marido le hacia o preparaba en la cocina remedios para aplicarle al lugar del dolor que ella fingidamente atribuia a diferente causa.

Aqui está palpable aquella sagrada sentencia que dice: “Un abismo conduce á otro.” [fol. 3] Abismo!! Aquel pobre Galicia que ha podido divorciarse legalmente de Paulina, le vemos luego decir que la perdonaba; y que por haberle callado su estado, fué desgraciadamente muerta la criatura ¡Ah que generosidad! ¡Que corazón tan humilde!

Señor, si el marido Galicia perdonó la doble crueldad de su esposa, la sociedad pide venganza.

Los médicos que reconocieron a la niña, dicen que ha sido matada en el acto de nacer, y éste dicho está comprobado con haber expresado la madre que ella se safó la criatura y la ocultó bajo un costal para que no fuese vista de su marido. Los mismos médicos declaran que advirtieron escoriaciones en la boca y nariz de la criatura. Esto grita muy alto, y dice que la madre ahogo a su hija fuertemente para que no diera ni el primer lloro que todos dan al nacer, y así quedára oculto á su marido.

El defensor hiso sus esfuerzos; pero nada le han podido valer. Quiere atribuir la muerte de la criatura a la epilepsia que dice padecia la madre, pero no está probado que en el momento de parir le hubiese atacado. Sobre todo, ni ella alega esa vana excepción. “La esfera de las posibilidades, es muy vasta, dicen los médicos, y mil conjeturas, pudieran hacerse para explicar el triste suceso que hoy nos llama la atención, pero á los jueces y abogados toca [fol 3 v] la filosofía del hecho.” Toca, pues, vd. S.or Magistrado aplicar la ley, desentendiéndose de doctrinas de autores que solo deben citarse á falta de ley.

Si se dice que Paulina Uc obró así por miedo grave á su marido, ¿quién la obligó a casarse con él? Esa mujer, S.or Magistrado, no tiene ni pudor ni sentim.tos de humanidad. Está destituida de todo sentimiento natural ¡Qué digo! Está destituida hasta del instinto natural que las fieras tienen a sus recien nacidos á quienes lamen en el mismo instante de nacer.

Debe pues, ser ejemplar el castigo que se haga con ella. La ley citada señala la pena de muerte, pues no es otra cosa, “el encerrarla en un saco de cuero con culebras. &ca despues de azotada públicamente.”

La pena de azoteo está prohibida, pero no lo está la de muerte. En el presente caso, habiendo como hay vehementísimas presunciones de que la Uc mató a su hija en el mismo instante de nacer, pido se le condene á diez años de reclusion o de servicio interior en el hospital de Campeche. Mérida Febrero diez y siete de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco años.

El fiscal

[firma]Lic. J. Feb.o Mansanilla

Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Peninsula [fol. 4] de Yucatán, Sala segunda Mérida Febrero diez y siete de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco.

Traslado al defensor de indios

[firmas] S.or Patron                 Lic. Alpuchesino

Quedo enterado el Sr. Fiscal. Doy Fé

[firma] Aguilar

En Mérida a diez y ocho de dicho mes y año con el traslado al defr de indios Lic. Demetrio Molina. Y doy fé.


Tribunal Superior de justicia de la Peninsula de Yucatan sala segunda Mérida Marzo primero de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco años.

[fol. 4v]

En la ciudad de Mérida á primero de marzo de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco años. Hallandose en audiencia publica el Señor magistrado Licenciado don Joaquin Patron ministro en turno de la sala segunda del tribunal superior de justicia de esta Peninsula el infrascrito secretario dió cuenta con esta causa instruida contra Maria Paulina Uc por presunciones de infanticidio, y habiendose visto en ella las constancias del sumario y plenario la instructiva y confesión con cargos de la procesada lo alegado por su defensor en primera instancia y la sentencia que con fecha seis de febrero último, pronunció el inferior por la que con arreglo con la doctrina de Escriche palabra infanticidio parrafo tercero Febrero novísimo tomo segundo y otros autores respetables que advierten el gran cuidado que debe tenerse para no confundir el infanticidio cometido por inhumanidad con el causado por el pudor ó temor, condena a Paulina Uc á ocho meses de servicio en el hospital de aquella ciudad. Visto lo pedido por el Señor fiscal y alegado por su defensor en esta instancia y considerando que el infanticidio cometido sin duda por miedo grave: que aunque ese miedo fue fundado en una grave falta cometida antes, esto en nada podria disminuir el instinto de la propia conservacion exaltado en los momentos perentorios del parto, en que se vio la procesada. Que no está plenamente provaoa que despues de nacida la criatura fue muerta con violencia, sino que mas bien parece inevitable que al darla a luz se precipitó.

[fol. 5] Señor Magistrado

Por mas que he hecho en buscar en estos autos aquellas pruebas bastantes á condenar á Paulina Uc, presunta reo de infanticidio, á diez años de reclusión como lo solicitó el Sr. Fiscal no las he encontrado y apenas puede decirse que existen contra la Uc fuertes presunciones por las que si bien es cierto, no debe declararse libre en lo absoluto, tampoco creo que sean bastantes á condenarla a una pena tan severa como lo pretende el Sr. Fiscal. Aquella pena sería la inmediata á la de muerte y la que se impondria en caso de conmutacion y si esta seria la que se impusiera, por equidad, á la reo suficientemente convencida del horroroso delito de infanticidio, ¿a que pretenden que se imponga á aquella, contra quien solo obran simples presunciones de ser delincuente?

Si tuvieramos que atenernos al espiritu de la legislacion Francesa, legislación sabia y justa por demas, yo pediria á V. Sr. Magistrado la absoluta libertad de Paulina Uc, pues en las leyes francesas jamás se encuentran establecidas [fol. 5 v] penas contra las presunciones y estas tan solo sirven para prevenir al juez contra el reo en caso de reincidencia. Pero desgraciadamente para la Uc la legislacion Española á la cual tenemos que sujetarnos impone peñas hasta contra las simples presunciones, aunque esta clase de penas la deja a la voluntad del tribunal, sin duda para que este en vista de la conducta y de los antecedentes del presunto reo, imponga la pena que crea necesaria.

Si esta cuestión fuese una simple cuestión de jurisprudencia, yo haria valer multitud de razones en contra de aquella disposicion hasta cierto punto injusta y poco analoga á las tendencias e ilustracion del siglo dies y nueve, pero en el presente caso no se trata de debatir puntos de jurisprudencia y legislacion, sino simplemente de ver si la pena pedida por el Sr. Fiscal es ó no justa y conforme a la leyes vigentes; y si he hecho las reflecciones anteriores, es porque en mi concepto nunca está demas tenerlas presentes para no esponerse á imponer penas contra los inocentes.

El Sr. juez de 1a insta de Campeche ha obrado en mi concepto con bastante acierto en imponer la pena de ocho meses de reclusion, atendiendo á la opinion de los autores citados, pues siendo imposible la aplicacion de la pena ordinaria, por falta de pruebas suficientes, bien podia á falta de pena ley expresa, [fol. 6] buscar sus fundamentos en la opinion de autores cuya sensatez y buen criterio son generalmente reconocidas.

En vista pues de todo lo expuesto y de las razones alegadas por el defensor de 1a insta que hago mias.

A V. S. pido Sr. magistrado se sirva confirmar la sentencia del inferior, que condenó a Paulina Uc por presunciones de infanticidio, al servicio del Hospital de Campeche por termino de ocho meses, mandando que aquel tiempo se compute desde el inicio de esta causa. Pido justicia con el juramento de la ley. Mérida, febro veinte y uno de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco.

El abogado defensor de indios.

[firma] José Demetrio Molina

Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Peninsula de Yucatan. Sala segunda Mérida Febrero veinte y dos de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco. Dése cuenta el primer dia util con citacion del señor fiscal y del defensor.

[firmas] S.or Patron                                         Lic. Alpuchesino

Quede intera.te al Sr. Illsr. Fiscal.

[firma] Aguilar

Doy fé

[fol. 6 v]

También quedó impuesto del auto que procede al def.or de indios Lic. Demetrio Molina. Doy fé.

[firmas] Molina                                   Aguilar

Se reforma la sentencia del inferior condenandose á Paulina Uc a un año de servicio interior en el hospital de la ciudad de Campeche. Mérida. Marzo primero mes de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco.

[firma]Lic. Alpuchesino

En la ciudad de Mérida a primero de marzo de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco años, hallandose en audiencia pública el señor magistrado licenciado don Joaquín Patron ministro en turno de la sala segunda del Tribunal al superior de justicia de esta peninsula, el infrascrito secretario dió cuenta con esta causa seguida por el juez de lo criminal del distrito de Campeche Licenciado don Nicolás Dorantes contra Paulina Uc por presunciones de infanticidio y habiendose visto en ella las constancias del sumario y plenario, lo alegado por su defensor y la sentencia que con fecha seis de febrero ultimo pronuncio el inferior por los que de conformidad con la doctrina de Escriche palabra infanticidio párrafo…

[fol. 7] En la ciudad de Merida a los dos días del mes de marzo de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco años hallandose en audiencia publica el señor Magistrado Licenciado don Joaquin Patron Ministro en turno de la sala segunda del tribunal inferior de Yucatan de esta Peninsula, el infrascrito secretario dió cuenta con esta causa seguida por el juez de lo criminal del Distrito de Campeche Licenciado Don Nicolás Dovantes contra Paulina Uc por presunciones de infanticidio; y habiendose visto en ella las constancias del sumario y plenario, lo alegado por su defensor y la sentencia que con fecha seis de febrero último pronuncio dicho juez por la que de conformidad con la doctrina de Escriche palabra “infanticidio” parrafo tercero, Febrero Novísimo tomo segundo y otros autores que advierten el gran cuidado que debe tenerse para no confundir el infanticidio cometido por inhumanidad con el causado por pudor ó temor, condena a Paulina Uc a ocho meses de servicio en el hospital de aquella ciudad. Visto lo pedido por el Señor fiscal y lo alegado por el defensor de indígenas en esta instancia y considerando que el infanticidio fue cometido sin duda por miedo grave que aunque ese miedo fué fundado en una falta cometida antes contra su marido, esto en nada [fol.7v] podia disminuir el instinto de la propia conserbacion exaltado en los momentos perentorios del parto en que se vió la procesada que no está plenamente probado que despues de nacida la criatura fue muerta con violencia sino que mas bien parece indubitable que al darla á luz se precipitó su nacimiento empleando medios violentos y faltando el auxilio facultativo que se usa ordinariamente en casos semejantes; que la pena de diez años de servicio de hospital pedido por el Señor fiscal es inaplicable al presente caso rodeado de circunstancias atenuantes: que no mereciendo la procesada la pena ordinaria aun cuando estubiera en todo su vigor y fuerza la ley citada por dicho Señor fiscal, es justo, legal y conveniente consultar la doctrina de los buenos autores y maestros del derecho al imponerse la que corresponda: considerando por último que es demaciado leve la fuerza impuesta por el expresado Señor juez con cuanto mas ver y tener presente convino el Señor magistrado dijo que debía reformar y reforma el enunciado fallo de primera instancia condenandose a Paulina Uc a un año de servicio interior en el [fol. 8] Hospital de la ciudad de Campeche y por este que el Señor Magistrado proveyó así lo mandó y firma. Lo certifica.

[firmas] Joaqun Patron            Lic. Juan Alpuchesino

En Mérida a dos de Marzo de dicho año siendo como las once del dia quedo enterado del fallo que presede al def.r de indios Lic. D. Demetrio Molina. Doy fe.

[firmas] Molina                                   Aguilar

Enseguida quiso enterarse el señor Mro. fiscal. Doy fe.

[firma]                                                 Aguilar

Doy fe que con esta fecha el señor fiscal Lic. D. José Tuburcio Mansanilla dijo que no importando la voz enterase en su conformidad, suplica del anterior fallo. Mérida tres de dicho mes y año.


Lic. Mansanilla                        Aguilar

Tribunal superior de justicia de la península [fol. 8v] de Yucatán sala segunda Mérida Marzo tres de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco. Vistos: concedese la [illegible word] interpuesto

en esta causa dandose cuenta con esta al Tribunal pleno.


Patron                                                 Lic. Juan E. Alpuchesino

Quede enterado el señor Mro. fiscal. Doy fe.

[firma]                                                 Aguilar

Luego quede impuesto el def.r de indios Lic. Don Joaquin Patron. Doy Fe.

[firma]                                                 Aguilar

Luego quede impuesto el defensor de indios D Demetrio Molina. Doy fe.


Molina                                                 Aguilar

Nota que con fecha de hoy hago entrega de esta diligencia y de la causa principal constante de veinticuatro fojas utiles. Al del Pleno Mérida marzo cuatro de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco

[firma] Lic. Alpuchesino

[fol. 9] Tribunal superior de Justic.a de Yucatan. Tribunal Pleno. Mérida Marzo seis de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco.

A la Sala primero

[firma] Lic Pachon

Tribunal Sup.r de Just.a de Yucatan Sala 1a Mérida. Mrzo. seis de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco.

Al Señor fiscal

[firma] Lic. Pachon

Luego para esta causa al señor fiscal. Doy fe.

[firma]                                                             Aguilar

N. 289 Srs. Magistrados de la Sala 1a

Un deber imprescindible me trae ante vosotros á saber la necesidad de pedir reparacion de las mas grande de las ofensas que á la sociedad ha hecho M.a Paulina Uc, dando muerte á su mismo hijo en el instante de nacer, para ocultar á los ojos de su esposo Candelario Galicia el cruel engaño [fol. 9v] que dos meses ántes le había hecho, casándose con él en clase de virgen, cuando se hallaba con mas de seis meses de embarazo.

En el presente caso Paulina Uc ha cometido un cruel infanticidio por inhumanidad y por pudor, porque no es concebible que le tenga quien con tanta desvergüenza ha engañado á un hombre de cuarenta años, tomando por medio el sacramento del matrimonio.

Nuestra sociedad avanza á su desquiciamiento, si una mano vigorosa y fuerte en la ley no hace que se observen los preceptos de ésta. Paulina Uc no está castigada con un año de prisión. Si diez años se consideraron un castigo vigoroso, un año es proporcionalmente ningún castigo; pues éste tiempo es el que ordinariamente se ha aplicado a los heridores, cuando los heridos sanan en uno ó dos meses; y ¿qué proporcion hay entre la vida y la muerte, entre la herida que se infiere a un estraño y la muerte horrible que se da á un hijo indefenso que en nacer no tiene mas culpa que el delito que su madre cometió al concebirle?

Señores magistrado os ruego tengais por reproducido aquí mi pedimento de 17 del próximo pasado; y que [fol. 10] en virtud de lo expuesto en ambos condeneis á Paulina Uc sino a diez años de presidio, al menos que su condena no baje de siete años. Este es el modo y el único medio de contener el avance de los crímenes. Tal es mi parecer.

Mérida siete de marzo de mil ocho cientos sesenta y cinco años.

El fiscal

[firma] Lic. T. Feb.o Manzanilla.

Tribunal Sup.r de justicia de Yucatán Sala 1a Mérida Mro. 7 de 1865.

Traslado al Sr. defensor de indios lic D Demetrio Molina

[firma] Lic. Pachon.

Luego quedó enterado el. Mro. fiscal. Doy fé

[firma] Aguilar

En seguido corri el traslado prevenido al Lic. D. Demetrio Molina y dijo que renuncio el traslado y que reproducen en alegado de segunda instancia. Mérida fecha cit supra.

[firmas] Molina                                               Aguilar

[fol. 10v] [Tri]bunal Sup.r de Just.a de Yucatan Sala 1a Mérida y Marzo 3o de 1865.

Debiendo integrar esta Sala los Señores Ministros D. Juan José Villanueva y D. Anselmo Cano, hagase saber al defensor de indios D. Demetrio Molina y al Sr. fiscal y dese cuenta el primer dia util.

[firma] Lic. Pachon.

Quedo enterado al Sr. Mtro fiscal. Doy fe.

[firma]             Aguilar

Doy fe que habiendo pasado a notificar el auto que precede al Sr. Don Demetrio Molina como defensor de indios a mi me informó hallarse ausente de esta ciudad y que pasó á [illegible] en donde permanecerá como doce o quince días. Mérida Nueve de dicho mes y año.

[firma] Aguilar

Doy fe que hallandose en esta ciudad el abogado defensor de indios don Demetrio Molina le notifique el auto que precede y dijo quedar enterado. Mérida veinte y siete de dicho mes y año.

[firmas] Molina                       Aguilar

[fol. 11] en el alumbramiento de la niña que quería ocultar, no le permitieron reflexionar ni hubo el auxilio de personas que la pudiesen aconsejar en las desesperado acto desde luego, y temiendo presente los fallos de 1a y 2 a instancia y con cuanto mas ver y considerar convino los Señores Magistrados dijeron: que debian confirmar y confirman la sentencia de primera instancia de seis de Febrero último. Y por este que los Sñres. Magistrados proveyeron así lo mandaron y firman. Se certifica.


Antonio Medis                                    Juan José Villanueva

Lic. Santiago Pachon                                       Isidro Rejon

Quedó impuesto el Sr. Ministro fiscal. Doy fé

[firma] Aguilar

Quedó enterado el defr. de indios Lic. Don D. Demetrio Molina. Doy fe.

[firmas] Molina                                               Aguilar

[fol. 11v] Nota: Que con fha. De hoy se libro la ejecutoria p.a remita con la pieza fis.l al Juez respectivo para. Su Mérida Abril 20 de 1865.

[firma] Lic. Pachon.

[fol. 12] [Tri]bunal Sup.r de Just.a de Yucatan Sala 1a Mérida y Marzo 3o de 1865.

Debiendo integrar ésta sala el Sr. Ministro supliente D. Ysidro Rejon en lugar de Sr. Ministro Cano, q. se halla ausente, hagan saber á las partes defensor D. Demetrio Molina y fiscal D. José Feb.o Manzanilla y dese cuenta el primer día útil.

[firma] Lic Pachon

Quedó enterado el Abogado defensor de Indios. Doy fe

[firmas]            Molina                         Aguilar

[fol. 12v] En la ciudad de Mérida a los seis días del mes de abril de mil ochocientos sesenta y cinco años: hallándose en audiencia pública los señores Magistrados presidentes D. Antonio Mediz, D. Juan José Villanueva y D. Ysidro Rajon. Ministros de la Sala primera del Tral. Superior de Justicia de la Península de Yucatan el infrascrito secretario dió cuenta con esta causa seguida en el juzgado del crimen de Campeche, contra Paulina Uc por presunciones de infanticidio; y habiendo visto en ellas las constancias del sumario y plenario, la instructiva y confesion con cargos de la procesada, lo alegado por su defensor

en primera instan.a y la sentencia que con fecha seis de febrero último pronunció[ fol. 13] el inferior, por la que de conformidad con la doctrina de Escriche palabra “infanticidio” párrafo tercero Febrero Novísimo, tomo segundo y otros autores que advierten algun cuidado que debe tenerse para no confundir el infanticidio cometido por inhumanidad con el causado por pudor o temor condena a Paulina Uc a ocho meses de servicio en el hospital de aquella ciudad. Visto lo pedido por el Señor fiscal y lo alegado por el defensor de indígenas en segunda instancia y la sentencia de vista que con fecha dos de marzo próximo pasado pronuncio la sala segunda por la que reformo el fallo del inferior condenando á Paulina Uc a un año de servicio interior en el hospital de la ciudad de Campeche. Visto lo pedido por el señor fiscal y lo alegado por [fol. 13v] su defensor en esta instancia y considerando que Paulina Uc no tuvo animo deliberado de dar muerte al feto que trajo a luz en las circunstancias angustiadas de ocultarlo á su esposo que la falta de esta no influyó en la fidelidad que debia guardar a su consorte, por provenir de un hecho acaecido antes del matrimonio; que en la recitacion que hizo de su estado al contraer las nupcias no debe perderse de vista su ignorancia para dejar de prever las consecuencias funestas que podía tener y que en efecto tuvo, sin que por esto deje de ser reprensible su falta; y que en las circunstancias aflictivas y bastante tristes en que se vió, aun con peligro de su existencia.

[fol. 14] Camp.e 24 de Abl. 1865

En 24 fs. utiles se ha recibido en este juzgado la causa seguida á María Paulina Uc por presunciones de infanticidio en unión de la copia certificada del fallo Sup.r que recayó en dha. causa. Lo dijo a U. en respuesta de su oficio de 21 del corriente.

El juez de lo Crim.l

[firma] [illegible]

Sr. de la Sala del Trib.l Super.r de Justicia.


General Archive of the State of Yucatán, Justicia, Penal, Vol. 127 exp. 46.

Fondo: Justicia

Sección: Tribunal Superior de Justicia

Serie: Penal

Subserie: Qualified Homicide

Case: Case against Maria Paulina Uc for presumption of infanticide

Date: February 10-April 24, 1865

Folios: 13

Notes: ink stains and tears.

vol. 127 exp. 46

[title page]: Case against Maria Paulina Uc for presumption of infanticide



Nicolás Dovantes Ávila


N. Marentes


[fol. 2] Superior Court of Justice of the Peninsula of Yucatán. Plenary [full] court. Mérida

February 10, 1865.

To Señor Patron, Minister in office

[signature:] Licentiate Pachon

Superior Court of Justice of the Peninsula of Yucatán, second court room. Mérida February 10, 1865.

To the Señor prosector

[signatures] Señor Patron       Licentiate Alpuchesino

In this case, the Prosecutor attests:

[signature] Aguilar

Number 253. Señor Judge of the Second Court Room

Criminal investigation in Campeche against Maria Paulina Uc, native of Titblache, resident of this same city, married, and about twenty years old for the crime of infanticide. Uc was sentenced on the sixth of the current month to eight months’ service in the Hospital of Campeche; the judgement was based on the doctrine of Escriche’s dictionary of Legislation, paragraph 3 under the word “infanticide” and on Febrero Novísimo, both of whom clearly distinguish between infanticide committed in inhumanity from infanticide provoked by grave fear or excessive shame.

The prosecutor says that the doctrine of these authors can only be applied when no law exists on the question, but in this case, we have law 12, title 8, of the 7th Partida which indicates the death penalty with all the horrible circumstances that should accompany the execution should be applied in this case. However, the gentleness of our current customs have abolished such practices, although [we have] not [abolished] the death penalty. Paulina Uc, although young – she is only twenty years old—has committed a very grave crime. She had solemnly tricked her husband, Candelario Galicia, a man of forty-two years, to marry her. He did not even think to suspect that she carried in her womb a six-month old fetus, since, according to Galicia, Paulina had appeared very young and vigorous. But the consequence of the grave fault she committed was particular. She said that out of fear of her husband’s rancor, she herself got rid of the baby as it was being born, while her poor husband was making or preparing in the kitchen some remedies to treat the part of her body that was in pain that she falsely attributed to a different cause.

It is here palpable to refer to that sacred phrase: “One ill begets another.” Horrors!! This poor Galicia who was able to legally divorce Paulina, later pardoned her; and [believed] that it was because he silenced her about her state [of pregnancy] that the baby unfortunately died. Oh what generosity! What a humble heart!

            Your Honour: although the husband, Galicia, pardoned the double cruelty of his spouse, society itself demands revenge.

            The doctors who examined the baby said that it had been killed in the act of birth, and this is proven by the fact that the mother said she had disposed of the baby and hidden it below a sack so that her husband would not see it. These same doctors declared that they observed abrasions on the mouth and nose of the baby. This evidence clearly decries that the mother choked her baby daughter so that she would not even give the first cry that all [babies] give at the moment of birth and this way would remain hidden from her husband.

            The defense made an effort but he could present nothing of value [to the court]. He seeks to attribute the death of the baby to epilepsy from which the mother is said to suffer, but it has not been proven that at the moment of birth she was struck by a fit. Above all, she herself does not even allege this futile excuse. “The sphere of possibilities is very vast, say the physicians, and one thousand conjectures can be made to explain the sad occurrence that today arrests our attention, but judges and lawyers must use [fol. 3v] the philosophy of the deed.” It is up to you, Your Honour, to apply the law, repudiating the doctrines of those authors that only must be cited when no law is available.

            If it is said that Paulina Uc acted in this way because of the grave fear of her husband, who obliged her to marry him? This woman, Your Honour, does not possess modesty nor humane sentiments. She is destitute of all natural feeling. What am I saying? She is destitute of the natural instinct that beasts have for their own newborns, they who lick them at the moment of birth.

            Her punishment, then, must be exemplary. The cited law indicates the death penalty [is appropriate], since what else could be meant by “closing them in a leather sac with snakes followed by a public whipping.”

            The punishment of whipping is now prohibited, but the death penalty is not. In the present case, since there are powerful indications that Uc killed her child at the moment of birth, I ask that she be condemned to ten years of reclusion or internal service in the hospital of Campeche. Mérida, February 17, 1865.

The prosecutor

[signature] Lic. J. Febrero Mansanilla

Superior Court of Justice of the [fol. 4] Yucatán Peninsula, Second Court room. Mérida February 17, 1865

[signatures] Señor Patron                   Licentiate Alpuchesino

The señor Prosecutor is informed. I attest.


In Mérida, on the 18th of the month and year, with transfer to the defender of Indians, Licentiate Demetrio Molina. And I attest.


Superior Tribunal of Justice of the Yucatan Peninsula second court room March 1, 1865

[fol. 4v]

In the city of Mérida on the first of March, 1865. The Señor judge Licentiate don Joaquin Patrón, minister in office of the second court room of the superior court of justice of this Peninsula, sitting in public hearing, received the account of the undersigned secretary of the criminal case against María Paulina Uc for presumption of infanticide. Having seen in the case the records of the summary and plenary, the instruction, the confession and the charges of the accused, as well as what has been alleged by her defender in the first instance trial and the sentence that the inferior court pronounced on February 6 with reference to the doctrine of Escriche under the term ‘infanticide’, third paragraph, and Febrero novísimo, 2nd volume, and other respected authors who warn of the great care that must be taken in not confusing infanticide committed in inhumanity and that which is provoked by modesty or fear, Paulina Uc was condemned to eight months of service in the hospital of this city. Seeing that which is asked by the prosecutor and alleged by her defender in this instance and considering that this infanticide was committed, undoubtedly, out of grave fear: [the court concludes] that although this fear was founded upon a serious offense committed earlier, in no way does this diminish the instinct of self preservation exalted in the peremptory moments of birth, in which the accused was seen. It has not been fully proven that it was after birth that the baby was killed with violence, but rather it seems clear that it was the act of birth itself that provoked the baby’s death.

[fol. 5]

Your Honour

For all my searching in these proceedings for evidence sufficient to condemn Paulina Uc, the defendant presumed of committing infanticide, to ten years of reclusion as the prosecutor has requested, I have not found it. In fact, evidence sufficient to demonstrate even the strong presumption of Uc’s crime barely exists. Although it is certain that she should not be declared totally absolved, I do not believe that the evidence suffices to condemn her to a punishment as severe as the prosecutor suggests. This punishment is almost as severe as the death penalty when a sentence is commuted, or what is imposed, in fairness, on defendants for whom there is sufficient evidence, that they have committed the horrible crime of infanticide. What should be imposed in cases where we only have convincing evidence of the presumption of guilt?

            If we had to maintain the spirit of French legislation, wise legislation adapted by many, I would ask Your Honour for the absolute liberty of Paulina Uc, since nowhere in French law is found the idea of imposing punishment in instances of presumed guilt and in which considering presumption of guilt is only relevant as a caution to judges in cases of recidivism. But unfortunately for Uc, Spanish legislation, to which we must subject ourselves, imposes punishment even in cases of mere presumption, although this class of punishments is left to the will of the court, without a doubt so that the court will consider the conduct and antecedents of the defendant, and impose the penalty it believes appropriate.

            If this were a question of simple jurisprudence I would make use of a multitude of reasons against this disposition, which is to a certain point unjust and little aligned with the tendencies and enlightenment of the nineteenth century, but the present case does not involve the debating of points of jurisprudence and legislation, but rather simply of examining whether the punishment asked for by the Prosecutor is or is not just and consistent with current law; and if I have included these reflections, it is because in my view it does not hurt to consider them in order to avoid imposing punishment on the innocent.

            The judge of the first instance of Campeche acted, in my view, correctly in imposing a punishment of eight months of reclusion [on Uc], attending to the opinion of the cited authors, since it was impossible to apply the regular penalty because of the absence of sufficient proof, as well as the lack of an explicit law [fol. 6]. He sought legal foundation in the opinion of the authors whose sensibleness and wise criterion are generally recognized.

            In view of all that has been exposed as well as the reasons alleged by the defender of the first instance, which I support, I ask Your Honour to uphold the sentence of the inferior court, that condemned Paulina Uc for presumption of infanticide, to service in the Hospital de Campeche for a term of eight months, ordering that this sentence be calculated form the beginning of this case. I ask for justice with the oath of the law. Mérida, February 21, 1865.

            Lawyer for the defense of the indians.

            [signature] José Demetrio Molina

Superior Court of Justice of the Yucatan Peninsula, second Court Room, Mérida, February 22, 1865. An account is given on the next business day of the Prosecutor and defense, with citation.

[signatures] Señor Patron                   Lic. Alpuchesino

This is transmitted to the Prosecutor.

[signature] Aguilar

I attest.

[fol 6.v]

This order is also sent to the defender of the indians, Licenciate Demetrio Molina. I attest.

[signatures] Molina                                         Aguilar

The sentence of the interior court condemning Paulina Uc is reformed to one year of interior service in the hospital of the city of Campeche. Mérida, March 1, 1865.

[signature] Licentiate Apluchesino

In the City of Mérida on March 1, 1865, the Señor judge Licenciate don Joaquin Patron, Minister in Office of the second Court room of the inferior tribunal of Yucatan of this Peninsula, sitting in public audience, received a summary from the undersigned secretary of the case followed by the criminal judge of the district of Campeche, Licenciate don Nicolás Dovantes, against Paulina Uc for the presumption of infanticide and having seen the records of the summary and plenary, that which her defense alleges, and the sentence passed on February 6 [1865] by the inferior court, which in conformity with the doctrine of Escriche, under the term infanticide, paragraph…

[fol. 7] In the City of Mérida on March 2, 1865, the Señor judge Licenciate don Joaquin Patron, Minister in Office of the second Court room of the inferior tribunal of Yucatan of this Peninsula, sitting in public audience, received a summary from the undersigned secretary of the case followed by the criminal judge of the district of Campeche, Licenciate don Nicolás Dovantes, against Paulina Uc for the presumption of infanticide and having seen the records of the summary and plenary, that which her defense alleges, and the sentence passed on February 6 [1865] by the inferior court, which in conformity with the doctrine of Escriche, under the term “infanticide”, third paragraph, Febrero Novísimo volume two and other authors who warn that great care should be taken to not confuse infanticide committed for inhumanity with that which is caused by modesty or fear, which sentenced Paulina Uc to eight months of service in the hospital of this city. Seeing that which is asked by the Señor Prosecutor, and that alleged by the defender of the indigenous people in this instance and considering that this infanticide was undoubtedly committed out of grave fear although this fear was founded in an error committed before against her husband, this in no way [fol. 7v] can diminish the instinct of exalted self preservation felt in the peremptory moments of birth in which the defendant and it has not been fully proven that the baby died with violence after birth but it seems indisputable that it was the act of birth, through violent movements and without medical assistance that is usually used in similar cases, that itself precipitated the death. The sentence of ten years of hospital service requested by the Señor prosecutor is inapplicable in this case since it is characterized by attenuating circumstances: and since the defendant does not deserve the regular punishment even if the regular force of the law cited by the Señor prosecutor were just and legal, it is appropriate to consult the doctrine of wise authors and teachers of law in imposing what is suitable. Considering, lastly, that the sentence imposed by the indicated Señor judge was too light, all the more reason exists for the Señor magistrate [i.e. the current presiding judge] to reform the enunciated judgement of the first instance court to condemn Paulina Uc to one year of interior service in the [fol. 8] Hospital of the city of Campeche and for this reason the Señor Magristrate provides, orders, and signs. I certify this.

[signatures] Joaquin Patron                            Licentiate Juan Alpuchesino

In Mérida on March 2 of the same year, at 11 a.m., the judgment the defender of Indians, Licentiate Demetrio Molina, is informed. I attest.

[signatures] Molina                             Aguilar

I attest that on this date the señor prosecutor Licentiate D. José Tuburcio Mansnilla said that, despite having been so informed, he requests that the earlier ruling be restored. Mérida, March 3, of the same year.


Licentiate Mansanilla                          Aguilar

Superior Court of Justice of the Yucatan peninsula [fol. 8v] second court room, Mérida, March 3, 1865. Ordered: that the summary of this case should be made.


Patron                                     Licentiate Juan E. Alpuchesino

The señor prosecutor is informed. I attest.

[signature] Aguilar

Then it is transmitted to the Defender of Indians, Licentiate Don Joaquin Patron. I attest.

[signature] Aguilar

Then it is transmitted to the Defender of Indians, D. Demetrio Molina, I attest

[signatures]     Molina             Aguilar

Note that as of today I deliver these procedures, and this case consists of twenty-four folios, to the Secretary of the Full Court, Mérida March 4, 1865.

[signature] Licentiate Alpuchesino

[fol. 9] Superior Court of Justice of the Yucatan. Full Court. Mérida March 6, 1865. To the first Court Room

[signature]       Licentiate Pachon.

Superior Court of Justice of the Yucatan, 1st Court Room, Mérida, March 6, 865

To the Señor Prosecutor

[signature] Licentiate Pachon

Then in this case to the señor Prosecutor, I attest

[signature]                               Aguilar

N.289 Señores Magistrates of the 1st Court Room

An essential duty brings me before you to inform you of the need to ask for reparation for one of the greatest offenses that María Paulina Uc has committed to society in killing her own child at its moment of birth, to hide from the eyes of her spouse, Calendario Galicia, the cruel deception [fol. 9v] in which she had engaged two months earlier, when she married him passing as a virgin when in fact she was more than six months’ pregnant.

            In the present case, Paulina Uc has committed a cruel infanticide motivated by inhumanity and modesty, because it is inconceivable that someone with so much shamelessness could trick a forty-year-old man, using the device of the sacrament of marriage to do so.

            Our society advances to its unhinging if a strong and vigorous hand in the law does not observe the precepts of this case. Paulina Uc has not been punished with one year of imprisonment. If ten years is considered a vigorous punishment, one year is proportionately no punishment; since this is the time ordinarily applied in cases of wounding, when the wounds heal in one or two months. So then, what measure should be made between life and death, between a wound that is inflicted on a stranger, and a horrible death that one causes to one’s own indefensible child, who in being born can not take any blame for the crime that his mother committed in conceiving him?

            Señores magistrates I pray you to take as reiterated her my request of the 17th [of February]; and that [fol. 10] in virtue of that which is set out in it that you both condemn Paulina Uc to ten years imprisonment, and at the very least, that her sentence is at least for seven years. This is the only way to contain the increase of crime. This is my viewpoint. Mérida. March 7, 1865.

The Prosecutor

[signature] Licentiate T. Febrero Manzanilla

Superior Court of Justice of Yucatan, 1st Court Room, Mérida, March 7, 1865

Transmitted to the Señor defender of Indians, Licentiate D. Demetrio Molina

[signature] Licentiate Pachon

The Prosector was informed. I attest

[signature] Aguilar

Then the foreseen transfer to Licentiate D. Demetrio Molina was initiated and he said that he renounced the transfer and reiterated what was alleged in the second instance. Mérida on the date indicated above.

[signatures]     Molina             Aguilar

[fol. 10v] Superior Court of Justice of Yucatan, 1st Court Room, Mérida, March 3 1865. Having informed in this court señores ministers D. Juan José Villanueva and D. Anselmo Cano, the defender of Indians, D. Demetrio Molina and the Señor Prosecutor would be informed on the next business day.

[signature] Licentiate Pachon

The Señor Prosecutor is informed.

[signature] Aguilar

I attest that having passed the notification of the order that precedes this to Señor don Demetrio Molina, as defender of Indians, I was informed that he is absent from this city and has gone to [illegible city name] where he will be for about twelve or fifteen days. Mérida, on the 9th of this same month and year.

[signature] Aguilar

I attest that finding in this city the lawyer and defender of Indians don Demetrio Molina, I notified him of the order that precedes and he says he has been informed. Mérida 27th

[signatures] Molina     Aguilar

[fol.11] in the birth of the baby girl that she wanted to hide, she was not able to reflect nor was there any help from people who could have counseled her. In the desperate act that followed and taking into consideration the judgements of the first and second instances and reflecting on the opinions of the magistrates we say: that we confirm the sentence of the first instance from February. And in this way, the Señores magistrates reach, command and sign this decision. It is certified.

[signatures] Antonio Medis     Juan José Villanueva

Licentiate Santiago Pachon     Isidro Rejon

The Minister Prosecutor is informed. I attest

[signature] Aguilar

The defender of Indians Licenciate don D. Demetrio Molina is informed. I attest.

[Signatures] Monlina                           Aguilar

[fol. 11v] Note: that today the summary in [illegible] folios was sent to the respective Judge for his consideration. Mérida April 20, 1865

[fol. 12] Superior Court of Justice of the Yucatan, First Court Room, Mérida March 3, 1865

The court is informed that Señor Minister D. Isidro Rajon replaces Señor Minister Cano, who is absent, and the defender D. Demetrio Molina and Prosecutor D. José Febrero Manzanilla will be informed on the first business day.

[signature] Licentiate Pachon

The lawyer of defense of Indians is informed. I attest

[signatures]     Molina                                     Aguilar

[fol. 12v] In the city of Mérida on the 6th of the month of April, 1865. In public audience, the presiding magistrates D. Antonio Mediz, D. Juan José Villanueva and D. Isidro Rajon, ministers of the first room of the Superior Court of Justice of the peninsula of the Yucatan. The undersigned secretary gave an account of case pursued in the criminal court of Campeche against Paulina Uc for the presumption of infanticide. And having seen the records of the summary and plenary, the instruction and confession with charges against the defendant, that which is alleged by her defender in the first instance, and the sentence that on February 6 the inferior judge pronounced, [fol. 13] in conformity with the doctrine Escriche for the term “infanticidio”, and pagraph three Febrero Novísimo, volume two, and other authors who warn of the care that must be made to distinguish between infanticide committed for inhumanity and that which is caused by modesty or fear. The court condemned Paulina Uc to eight months of service in the hospital of this city. Seeing that which was requested by the Señor Prosecutor, and alleged by the defender of the indigenous in the second instance, on March 2 the second court amended the sentence, reforming the judgement of the first court and condemning Paulina Uc to one year of interior service in the hospital of the city of Campeche. Seeing that which is requested by the señor Prosecutor, that which her defender alleges [fol. 13v] in this instance and considering that Paulina Uc did not have the deliberate will to kill the fetus to which she gave birth in the distressing circumstances of having to hide the birth from her husband; and that her fault did not influence the fidelity that she must show to her spouse, which came from an action occurring before the marriage; that in the recitation made of her state in contracting nuptials, one must not lose sight of her ignorance to foresee the dire consequences that could and in fact did occur, without considering that her error was reprehensible; and that in the sufficiently miserable and afflictive circumstances that she endured, even with a risk to her life.

[fol. 14] Campeche. April 24, 1865

In 24 folios this court has received the case against María Paulina Uc for presumption of infanticide together with a certified copy of the ruling of the Superior Court issued in this case. I inform you in response to your query of the 21st of this month.

The judge in Criminal cases

[Illegible signature].

Señor secretary of the Superior Court of Justice

Mayan Infanticide

Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico: Goals, Bylaws, Rules, Study Plans, and Programs (c. 1931)

Dr.Jethro Hernandez Berrones, Southwestern University


Arturo Palmero founded the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico in 1920. Free schools were institutions of professional education that emerged during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) as an alternative to the professional schools sponsored by the regime of Porfirio Díaz. Critical of the elitism and encyclopedic curriculum of official schools, free schools proposed programs that adapted to the needs of students—recent immigrants to Mexico City or from working-class families—and offered a more practical and less theoretical curriculum. Most free schools offered programs in medicine, nursing, dentistry, and obstetrics, and many of them aligned with homeopathy, a medical system in tension with the type of medicine taught at the National School of Medicine. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, post-revolutionary governments used the programs of medicine, nursing, and obstetrics at the National School of Medicine as models to regulate the training and certification of these health professionals, first through the National University and subsequently through the Secretary of Public Education. The Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico offers a window into an alternative model of midwifery training and practice.

Arturo Palmero Alcocer (1872?-1938?) graduated from the school for teachers in the state of Yucatan and later taught at Merida’s Instituto Literario. He obtained the degree of doctor in surgery and obstetrics from the National School of Medicine in Mexico City with a dissertation titled “El sistema curativo que debería adoptar la homeopatía” [The therapeutic system that homeopathy should adopt] (1895). His interest in the popularization of obstetrics came two years later with the publication of the manual “Elementos de obstetricia para la enseñanza de las señoras” [Foundations of obstetrics for women] (1897). In the first decade of the twentieth century, his consulting office offered electrical treatments, massages, and light therapy, and only as a last resort surgery, for his patients. He supported the cause of the wealthy hacendado Francisco Madero, who in 1910 organized an armed uprising calling for fair elections. Politically and academically active, Palmero participated in several national and international meetings as a member of academic societies including the Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics, the Universal Scientific Alliance, and the Mexican Indianist Society. The free school became the focus of his career for the rest of his life.

The Handbook of the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico details the goals, regulations, material resources, and academic programs of the school. This document was archived with additional materials that inspectors from the Secretary of Public Education (SEP)’s Legal and Revalidation Office compiled about the school. The publication date is unclear, though it could possibly date back to the early years of the school. The document was a work in progress. Stricken out with pen and with typewritten additions, the handbook suggests that the way Palmero adapted the school’s program was in response to multiple reforms to secondary education and the government institutions that regulated it during the first years of the 1930s. The section transcribed here shows the school’s pedagogical orientation, its emphasis on linking its programs with social needs and professional careers, and its meticulous record keeping. Palmero emphasizes the practical approach of his program.

Questions for Further Exploration:

How does he describe this approach in the handbook? What is the kind of Mexican citizen this approach seeks to form? How does the school’s program implement the practical pedagogical approach in obstetrics? How is labor related to a woman's body and an individual’s economy and morality?


“Escuela Libre de Obstetricia y Enfermería de México”, Archivo General de la Nación, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Dirección Jurídica y de Revalidación, 31737, 17-1-10-41, p. 12-30.





Esta Escuela está reconocida por el gobierno y los títulos que expide tienen la misma validez que los de la Universidad (Decreto de 10 de marzo de 1931, publicado en el Diario Oficial el 24 del mismo mes).



[Pags.13-14.5 no fueron transcritas]


Distinto del universitario, pero de más eficientes resultados. No busca honores, porque huye de la pompa insubstancial y egoísta; pero da siempre satisfacción en la conciencia por los éxitos constantes que se observan en la práctica de mis alumnos y en la mía propia. Ese criterio es el que he seguido silenciosamente en mi larga práctica médicoquirúrgica, y que debo ya anunciar a los médicos y al público en general.

Helo aquí en breves preceptos:

1º.- Simplificación de los aparatos de Fisioterapia, suprimiendo los inútiles, costosos y estorbosos aditamentos y tuberías, que el mercantilismo norteamericano ha traído a la Ciencia médica para engañar a los bobos.

2º.- Simplificación del gran instrumental y personal quirúrgicos, que sólo sirven para hacer creer en la importancia de una operación pequeña.

3º.- Simplificación de los procedimientos quirúrgicos, esto es, hacer sencilla una operación de importancia.

4º.- Tendencia a ahorrar las operaciones quirúrgicas en los pacientes.

5º.- Simplificación de las fórmulas terapéuticas en Medicina.

6º.- Investigación de la mayor eficiencia en todo acto profesional, poco importa su rendimiento económico y su comprensión y agradecimiento por el cliente. La vida estudiantil y profesional debe ser, antes que nada, la ascensión constante hacia el ideal de la Patria, de la Humanidad y de la Ciencia.

7º.- Tener constantemente como base fundamental, imprescindible, de toda la Terapéutica e Higiene, la desoxidación, la desintoxicación y la asepsia y antisepsia, local y general, del organismo.

8º.- Tener vida filosófica; enseñar lo que se ha de practicar, y practicar lo que se aprende y se enseña.

México, 12 de enero de 1929. Dr. Art. Palmero.


I.- Objeto de la Institución, Planes de Estudio, Métodos y Procedimientos de Enseñanza

[Arts 1º-3º no son accesibles en el documento; el 4º y el 5º no fueron transcritos.]

Art 6º.- En cuanto al sistema pedagógico, la enseñanza será esencialmente intuitiva, técnica, educativa, de acción, de socialización y de evolución. El profesor deberá facilitar la labor del estudiante, enseñándole el camino que ha de seguir con su propia actividad, mediante un ligero impulso, a fin de evitarle la fatiga intelectual y el agotamiento cerebral que lo harían irritable, neurasténico, amnésico, etc. La Pedagogía moderna quiere, y así lo practica esta Escuela, que el alumno realice una labor individual, que lo coloque en actitud de pensar, juzgar y obrar personalmente, de observar e investigar por sí mismo en el ejercicio de su profesión; no pretende imponerle la estructura moral y científica del profesor o del autor que estudia, sino le permite juiciosamente el desarrollo libre y armónico de su personalidad, que manifieste toda su peculiar psicología y originalidad, para contribuir al desarrollo de la Ciencia en nuestra Patria, facilitar la evolución de su espíritu para que aparezca el nuevo hombre, que se presiente ya en la actual etapa de la evolución humana; pero el profesor debe ayudar al alumno a vencer las dificultades para dejarle sus energías a nuevas orientaciones progresistas y estar listo siempre para dirigir las que signifiquen involución o retrogradación de la Ciencia y la personalidad humana. La Escuela que deja la libre manifestación de la personalidad sin ninguna orientación en los casos regresivos, ha perjudicado inmensamente a la especia humana, invirtiendo los valores científicos y morales.

En la realización del programa de cada materia, se seguirá un método dialogado o expositivo, inductivo o deductivo, según los casos, y la enseñanza será siempre eminentemente intuitiva, práctica, investigadora, útil, interesante y amena para que el alumno no experimente el marasmo escolar ni sienta repugnancia por el aprendizaje de su profesión, y sí vea, cada clase, como una función de teatro o de cine, en la que él entre con ansia e interés, persiguiendo siempre una amena expansión de su espíritu y un nuevo conocimiento útil que añadir a su acervo intelectual.

En cuanto al método, el profesor, tanto en la teoría como en la Clínica deberá materializar, objetivar todos los conocimientos para que éstos puedan ser comprendidos y puestos inmediatamente en práctica por el alumno, cualquiera que sea su capacidad. Cada clase de teoría será a la vez una verdadera clínica abreviada o sintética: toda palabra técnica, que no puede eliminarse en la enseñanza médica, tendrá su correspondiente idea clara y precisa en el cerebro del alumno y, en consecuencia, éste podrá, sin dificultad alguna llevarla a la práctica en cualquier momento de su vida y servirle de guía para el avance del Arte; en una palabra, teoría bien comprendida y fácilmente llevable a la práctica, y práctica nosocomial y civil en consonancia con la vida social contemporánea. No se trata, pues, de intelectualismo verbalista, de frívolas e inconscientes enseñanzas librescas, sino de un método activo, de la verdadera Escuela de la acción científica, esto es, saber y saber hacer, convertir la idea en hecho en cualquier momento de la vida y de aquí las Técnicas de Laboratorios, que he ideado e implantado en esta Escuela, antes que nadie para servir de puente entre la Teoría y la Clínica.

El profesor no será el simple transmisor de conocimientos, ni el alumno el receptor pasivo. El primero tratará de desarrollar las facultades del alumno, para que éste pueda fácilmente aprender y asimilar lo conocido, investigar nuevas verdades y ejercitar su profesión a plena conciencia, relacionándolo con el medio en que vive para que conozca y comprenda su verdadera situación en la sociedad; además, le creará el criterio profesional y el sentimiento de su deber; su fin nos será lucirse en la clase, sino instruir, educar y enseñar a pensar, a obrar, a investigar y a luchar por su arte, por la vida y por el progreso de la Nación y del mundo entero. Tal es la orientación filosoficopedagógica de mi Escuela, que deja atrás, a millares de leguas las Facultades Universitarias dirigidas por personas sin ciencia y sin pedagogía.

En consecuencia, esta Escuela de acción y de socialización, que rompe con los añejos métodos de enseñanza, creando otros, fundados en las nuevas orientaciones psicopedagógicas y socialistas, tratará de poner al alumno en contacto directo con la realidad, con el objeto de estudio, haciendo observar, leer y practicar los conocimientos en la naturaleza misma, en el medio social en el que vive, y dejará el libre desarrollo de la voluntad individual, sin disposiciones dogmáticas, pero inspirado todo acto profesional en la observación directa de la naturaleza, en la moral y en la ciencia. Observar mucho, ayudar y ejecutar después, tal es el camino pedagógico de mi Escuela, tanto en la enseñanza teórica como en la Clínica y en la práctica. Por consiguiente, para ser enfermero o partero, a cada alumno se le hace pasar por 3 grados sucesivos. Observador, ayudante técnico y practicante. En fin, mi método especial de enseñanza es intuitivo, de acción y de evolución constante para crear en el alumno un espíritu de socialización y de investigación científica que le haga convivir con el pueblo.

Con este método y sistema especial de enseñanza, la Escuela Libre de Obstetricia y Enfermería de México proporcionará a la mujer y al joven un modo de obtener con rapidez una profesión independiente y útil a ellos y a la sociedad, pues desde el segundo curso de Enfermería los alumnos quedarán aptos para asistir enfermos, y desde el segundo de Obstetricia, para asistir partos. La vigilancia e inspección constante del Director en las cátedras, orientarán los métodos y sistemas de enseñanza para lograr la unidad en la variedad.

  1. 7º.- Desde el segundo curso, la Escuela comenzará a formar clientela a cada alumno, de modo que éste, al recibirse, además de tener ya clientela propia, habrá recuperado el costo de sus estudios, ventajas importantísimas que ninguna otra Escuela proporciona (sistema cooperativo); y además tiene por supremo fin la socialización del alumno, acercándolo al pueblo y adentrándolo en la práctica civil de su profesión y creándole al mismo tiempo sentimientos de solidaridad humana y de vida común para todos los (…) con la prolongación en el hogar, de los servicios gratuitos de la Escuela.

[II.- Requisitos de admisión. Los arts. 9º-11º describen los cursos, la documentación, el proceso y las cuotas requeridas para la inscripción. También detalla algunas excepciones.]

[III.- Libros, Exámenes, Títulos y Vacaciones. Los arts. 12º-20º indican los procedimientos administrativos que garantizan el funcionamiento adecuado de la escuela y la certificación por parte de la Secretaría de Educación Pública.]


[I.- Moralidad y Disciplina del Establecimiento. Los arts. 1-23 son un código de conducta para el aprendizaje efectivo de los alumnos, para la buena relación entre alumnos y entre estos y los profesores y para el respeto de los alumnos hacia la escuela.

II.- Prácticas y Clínicas de Enfermería y Obstetricia

Art. 24º.- Las prácticas clínicas se harán en la Escuela, en el Dispensario, en el Laboratorio y clientela civil (maternidades y hospitales públicos y particulares). Cada alumno pasará por 3 grados sucesivos: observador, ayudante técnico y practicante.

Se formarán grupos de alumnos para las prácticas y guardias, en las cuales se harán clínicas, y que serán para cada grupo, una vez por semana de 9 a 12 o de 14 a 17. Las guardias en el Sanatorio y en el Dispensario, serán designadas especialmente por la Dirección en cada caso.

Señalado el grupo al que corresponde el alumno, la Dirección no tendrá que recordarle cada vez su turno respectivo. Estas enseñanzas prácticas y explicadas a pequeños grupos, constituyen el sistema moderno que mi Escuela ha introducido en la enseñanza de las Clínicas, pues con el antiguo procedimiento de todos los alumnos a la vez, la Clínica resulta inútil para la mayoría, ya que sólo aprovechan los 4 ó 5 alumnos que están cerca del enfermo o del operado; y por eso, en las Clínicas europeas se trata de suplir esta deficiencia con el empleo de películas cinematográficas.

[Art. 25. Sobre las ausencias.]

Art. 26.- Los alumnos de Enfermería deberán hacer las hojas de observación de los enfermos que el profesor les encomiende; y los de Obstetricia, la historia de las embarazadas de la Clínica, del Sanatorio y de la clientela civil y a las cuales ayuden o asistan en sus alumbramientos. Dichas hojas de observación e historias deberán traerse siempre a la Clínica y a las guardias. Las historias estarán numeradas, fechadas y bien escritas con tinta o en máquina y deberán hacerse y presentarse a la Dirección para ser revisadas y corregidas dentro de los ocho días de terminada la asistencia. La falta de cumplimiento de esta prevención y el abandono de enfermos confiados al cuidado especial de cada alumno, serán motivos para privarle temporalmente, a juicio de la Dirección, de la asistencia particular de enfermos, lo mismo en el caso en que no llame oportunamente al alumno que, en calidad de enfermero, se le hubiese asignado para ayudarlo en la asistencia de un parto.

Art. 27.- Los alumnos de Enfermería deberán traer para la guardia una bata, una cofia, un termómetro y una jeringa para inyecciones hipodérmicas; y los de Obstetricia deberán traer, además, para la guardia y la Clínica, un estetoscopio. No deberán dejar sus batas en el Establecimiento.

Art. 28.- Anotarán por orden numérico, en una hoja, las prácticas de Enfermería o de Obstetricia que sucesivamente vayan aprendiendo a hacer personalmente, tanto en las Clínicas como en las guardias y clientela civil. Estas hojas, revisadas por la Secretaría o el profesor respectivo, servirán en los exámenes para comprobar en parte el caudal de conocimientos prácticos de cada alumno.

Art. 29.- Las hojas de prácticas tendrán el siguiente encabezamiento: “ESCUELA LIBRE DE OBSTETRICIA Y ENFERMERIA DE MEXICO.- Hoja de prácticas de Primer Curso (o Segundo Curso) de enfermería (o de Obstetricia) del alumno N. N.”, y en seguida la fecha de la inscripción. Los alumnos deberán traer y presentar estas hojas todos los días para su revisión, anotadas ya las prácticas del día. Cuando no traigan sus hojas de prácticas o no anoten lo practicado en la Clínica, se pondrá falta de asistencia. Fin pedagógico: enseñar a los alumnos el hábito de anotar los datos de su práctica.

Art. 30.- Los alumnos instruirán a los enfermos del Sanatorio y Dispensario y clientela civil en las reglas higiénicas que necesitan observar, para evitarles complicaciones o alguna enfermedad extraña y a las embarazadas y puérperas en los principios de la Maternología y Puericultura, lo que constituye una prolongación a los hogares de los servicios que presta la Escuela (extensión del servicio escolar).

[III.- Internado. Art. 31 no transcrito. IV.- Horario de clases. Art. 32 no transcrito. V.- Penas Disciplinarias. Art. 33 no transcrito.


[No transcrito. Detalla los cursos para los estudiantes de enfermería.]


[No transcrito. Detalla los cursos para los estudiantes de obstetricia.]

El Director,

Dr. Art. Palmero.






This school is recognized by the government and the diplomas it issues have the same legal value as the ones issued by the University (Decree dated on March 10, 1931 and published in the Diario Oficial on the 24 of the same month).

65 Panuco Street

Mexico, D. F.

[Page 12.5 describes the school’s staff. The goals section starts describing some of the healthcare problems in Mexico. These include the lack of nursing and obstetrics staff for homes, clinics, and hospitals; the high proportion of unqualified healers; the high rate of pregnant women or newborns who die at birth; and the lack of vocational training provided by the state. The school aims to contribute to the solution of these problems by training women as nurses and midwives.Doing so would provide women with an income while it would also promote hygienic values, the use of vaccines, and the avoidance of heroic drugs. It explains that there must be coordination between the National University and the Secretary of Public Education, as well as between public and private schools in order to fulfill the social role of education in Mexico. The school used a textbook that facilitates student learning thanks to its accessible language, its path to personal discovery, and its practical applications to national problems.]


[The teaching in this school] differs from that of the National University, but it provides more efficient results. It does not seek praise or honors, because it avoids insubstantial and selfish pomp. However, it always brings me personal satisfaction because I am able to witness the continuous success of my students’ practice, and of my own. Having successfully, and quietly, followed this criterion during my long medical and surgical practice, I now want to disseminate it to all physicians and the lay public.

What follow are a few brief principles of my practice:

1st.-Simplification of physiotherapy devices, [to be achieved] by avoiding the useless, expensive, and bulky pipes and attachments that North American mercantilism has introduced into medical science—mercantilism that deceives fools.

2nd.-Simplification of the great surgical staff and instruments, which only contribute to make a simple operation fashionable.

3rd.-Simplification of surgical procedures, this is, to make important operations [as] simple [as possible].

4th.-Encourage the avoidance of surgical procedures in patients.

5th.-Simplification of therapeutic formulas in medicine.

6th.-Research how to make every professional action more efficient, without caring so much about its profitability or how well the patient understands it, or how grateful they may be for it. Student and professional life must be eminently a constant ascension towards the ideal of the Nation, of Humanity, and of Science.

7th.-Constantly remember that the unavoidable and fundamental basis of all hygiene and therapy is the deoxidation, detoxification, asepsis, and antisepsis, local and general, of the organism.

8th.-Having philosophical life. Teach what it is practiced and practice what it is learned and what is taught.

Mexico, January 12, 1929. Dr. Art. Palmero


I.-Aim of the institution, study plans, teaching methods and processes

[Arts. 1-3 are not accessible in the document. Arts. 4 and 5 are not transcribed.]

Art 6.-Regarding the pedagogical system, teaching will be intuitive, technical, educational, and inclined to action regarding socialization and evolution. The professor should facilitate students’ work, by teaching through example, and by not pushing students too hard, in order to avoid provoking the kind of intellectual fatigue and cerebral exhaustion that would make the student irritable, neurasthenic, amnesic, etc. The modern pedagogy’s goal, as practiced by this school, is that students engage in individual work that lead them to think, judge, and act on their own accord, to observe and research by their own the practice of the profession. It does not intend to impose the moral and scientific structure of the professor or author that students read. Instead, it allows for the free, judicious, and balanced development of students’ personality; it promotes the full manifestation of students’ peculiar and original psychology.This contributes to the development of science in our homeland, facilitates the evolution of spirit of students, and the emergence of the new man that is perceived in the current state of human evolution. The professor, however, must help students overcome challenges, so that they will use their energies on progressivist orientations that help redirect oppositional forces which would lead to the involution and regression of science and human character. A school that allows the free manifestation of personality without correcting backwardness will cause profound harm to the human species by inverting moral and scientific values.

In order to teach each course, a deductive or inductive method, lecture- or seminar-based approach, must be followed, [with reasonable differences allowed,]according to each particular case. Teaching will always be eminently intuitive, practical, research-oriented, useful, interesting, and appealing. This will combat the boredom that prevents students from learning the profession. The student will attend classes with the same interest and eagerness as when going to the theater or the movies, activities which provoke entertaining expansions of the spirit and the acquisition of new and useful knowledge for the mind.

Regarding the method, the professor must materialize, or make objective, all concepts so students of any skill level are able to understand them and put them into practice. Each theory class will be at once a truly abbreviated clinic. Each technical term, unavoidable in medicine, must have a very clear and precise representation in the brain of students, so that students will be able to put [that representation] into practice at any time and use it as a guide in the progress of the Art [profession]. In a single word, it will be theory well understood and easily transferable into practice as well as hospital and domestic practice—it will be applicable to real life. This method is not about wordy intellectualism, trivial and unscrupulous learning by the book, but rather, it is about an active method of a truly scientific school of action; that is to know and to know how, to turn ideas into facts at any moment in life. The laboratory techniques that I have created and implemented in this school, before anyone else did, come from this method; they bridge theory with practice.

It is neither true that a professor is a simple conveyor of knowledge nor that students are the passive receptor of [this knowledge]. The former will promote the development of students’ skills so the latter can easily learn and assimilate what is to be known, research new truths, and exercise the profession self-consciously. The professor will put students in contact with the environment so that the latter learn and understand their real position in society. Furthermore, the professor will [in]form the students’ professional judgment and sense of duty; the professor’s goal must not be to show off, but to instruct, educate, teach how to think, act, investigate, and fight for the art, life, the progress of the nation, and of the entire world. This is the philosophical and pedagogical orientation of my school, which is thousands of leagues ahead of many university schools led by people without science and pedagogy.

Consequently, this school of action and socialization, which breaks away from old-fashioned teaching methods and creates new ones based on the new psycho-pedagogic and socialist orientations, will try to place students in direct contact with reality, with the object of study, making the student observe, read, and practice knowledge in, from, and on nature itself and the social environment where students live. It will also allow the free development of individual will, without dogmatic dispositions, but inspiring all professional acts on the direct observation of nature, moral, and science. Plenty of observation first, execution and help later. This is the pedagogical road of my school, in theoretical classes as well as in the clinic and in practical classes. In accordance, each student goes through three consecutive levels in order to become a nurse or midwife. Observer, technical assistant, and practitioner. My special teaching method is intuitive and of constant action and evolution in order to create in students the spirit of socialization and scientific investigation that leads them to live in community with the people.

With this specialized teaching method and system, the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico will swiftly provide young women and men with an independent profession [beneficial to] them and society because students are qualified to attend patients in the second course of nursing, and births in the second course of obstetrics. The Director’s continuous inspection and supervision in the classroom will guide the teaching methods and system in order to attain unity from variety.

Art. 7.-In the second course, the school will start providing clientele to each student. By the time of graduation, students will have recovered the cost of tuition and will have their own clientele. No other school offers these extremely important benefits (cooperative system), based on the supreme goal of socializing students. With the extension at home of the school’s free services, students get simultaneously closer to the people, introduced into the civil practice of their profession, and imbued with the sentiments of human solidarity and community life among all men.

[Section II on “Admission requirements” details the coursework, paperwork, timing, and fees required for enrollment, as well as special provisions. Section III on “Books, Exams, Degrees, and Vacations” provides administrative details that warrant a proper school functioning and most importantly certification by government authorities, particularly the Secretary of Public Education.]

Internal regulations of the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico

[Section I, arts. 1-23, on “Morality and Discipline of the Establishment,” offers a detailed list of behavioral expectations from students and faculty in order to promote learning in an environment of mutual respect and respect towards the school.]

II.-Nursing and Obstetrics Practices and Clinics

Art.24.-Clinical practices will take place at the school, at the dispensary, in the laboratory, and among the civil clientele (public and private maternity clinics and hospitals [handwritten in the original]). Each student must go through three stages: observer, technical assistant, and practitioner.

Students should organize in groups for the practices of and rotations in clinics. Each group should do them once a week from 9 to 12 or from 14 to 17hrs. The Director’s Office will designate rotations in the sanatorium and the dispensary. [Stroke out in the original]

Once students are assigned to one group, the Director’s Office will not have to remind them about their turn. These practical teachings explained to small groups constitute the modern system that my school has introduced to teaching the clinics. With the old approach of all students at once, the clinics are useless for most of them because only the 4 or 5 students closer to the sick or surgical patient are benefited. European clinics supplement this deficiency by using motion pictures.

[Art. 25 on absences.]

Art. 26.-Nursing students should write observation reports of the patients the professor assigns; Obstetrics students, as well as those students who aided or helped during birth, histories of the pregnant women in the Clinic, the Sanatorium, and the civil clientele. Those observation reports and histories must always be brought to the clinics and rotations. Histories must be numbered, dated, well written in ink or with a typing machine, and completed and turned in for revision and correction at the Director’s Office within eight days following the birth assistance. Lack of compliance of this prevention as well as the abandonment of patients assigned for special care to each student will result in the provisional suspension at the discretion of the Director’s Office of the personal assistance to patients. The same applies if the student does not call in due time to the student who was specifically assigned as nurse to assist during a particular birth.

Art. 27.-Nursing students must bring a white coat, a coif, a thermometer, and a syringe for hypodermic injections to the rotations; obstetrics ones must bring, in addition, a stethoscope to both rotations and clinics. They should never leave their white coats in the establishment.

Art. 28.-They must proceed in numerical order writing on a sheet of paper the nursing and obstetric practices that they successively learn to do, both at the clinics as well as the rotations and the civil clientele. These reports, revised by the Secretary or the corresponding professor, will aid during exams to corroborate partially the wealth of practical knowledge of each student.

Art. 29.-The practical reports will have the following heading “FREE SCHOOL OF OBSTETRICS AND NURSING OF MEXICO.-Practice report of the First Course (or Second Course) of Nursing (or Obstetrics) of student N. N.,” followed by the date of completion. Students must bring and present these reports, with the practices already included, every day for revision. When they do not bring their practice reports or they do not include what they practice in the Clinic, they will be marked as absent. Pedagogical goal: To teach students the habit of keeping a record or their practice.

Art. 30.-Students will instruct patients of the Sanitarium, the Dispensary, and the civil clientele on the hygienic rules they should follow in order to avoid complications or any strange disease; in the case of pregnant and puerperal women, on the principles of Maternology and Puericulture. This constitutes an extension of the services provided by the school to the home (school service extension).

[III. (Art 31). On internship; IV. (Art. 32) On class schedule; V. (Art. 33) On disciplinary penalties.]

[The PROGRAM FOR THE TEACHING OF NURSING details the coursework for nursing students.]

[The PROGRAM FOR THE TEACHING OF OBSTETRICS details the coursework for students of obstetrics.]

The Director,

Dr. Art. Palmero.

Digital copy of the source (with pictures of the school, faculty, and students)


Three Clinical Histories (1929-1931) from the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico

Dr.Jethro Hernandez Berrones, Southwestern University



Arturo Palmero founded the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico in 1920. Free schools were institutions of professional education that emerged during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) as an alternative to the professional schools sponsored by the regime of Porfirio Díaz. Critical of the elitism and encyclopedic curriculum of official schools, free schools proposed programs that adapted to the needs of students—recent immigrants to Mexico City or from working-class families—and offered a more practical and less theoretical curriculum. Most free schools offered programs in medicine, nursing, dentistry, and obstetrics, and many of them aligned with homeopathy, a medical system in tension with the type of medicine taught at the National School of Medicine. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, post-revolutionary governments used the programs of medicine, nursing, and obstetrics at the National School of Medicine as models to regulate the training and certification of these health professionals, first through the National University and subsequently through the Secretary of Public Education. The Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico offers a window into an alternative model of midwifery training and practice.

Arturo Palmero Alcocer (1872?-1938?) graduated from the school for teachers in the state of Yucatan and later taught at Merida’s Instituto Literario. He obtained the degree of doctor in surgery and obstetrics from the National School of Medicine in Mexico City with a dissertation titled “El sistema curativo que debería adoptar la homeopatía” [The therapeutic system that homeopathy should adopt] (1895). His interest in the popularization of obstetrics came two years later with the publication of the manual “Elementos de obstetricia para la enseñanza de las señoras” [Foundations of obstetrics for women] (1897). In the first decade of the twentieth century, his consulting office offered electrical treatments, massages, and light therapy, and only as a last resort surgery, for his patients. He supported the cause of the wealthy hacendado Francisco Madero, who in 1910 organized an armed uprising calling for fair elections. Politically and academically active, Palmero participated in several national and international meetings as a member of academic societies including the Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics, the Universal Scientific Alliance, and the Mexican Indianist Society. The free school became the focus of his career for the rest of his life.

This section offers an example of clinical histories. In contrast to the recommendations of official schools, midwifery students at this school began to practice with the clientele from the first day. They started first as observers, then as assistants, and finally as practitioners. The school kept an enrollment of 35-55 students every year in the early 1930s distributed equitably between the programs of nursing and obstetrics. They practiced at the school’s clinic, at hospitals, and with their own clientele. They usually attended births in pairs, one as the main practitioner and the second one as assistant, unless they did their practice at hospitals, in which case they usually served as assistants to the hospital’s main midwife. Doctors were rarely present in the births they attended. Their presence usually prompted tensions between them and midwives as well as criticism by the latter. Historians of reproduction in Mexico have access to obstetrical practices of the first half of the 20th century through hospital records or journal articles, which were usually authored or sanctioned by male practitioners. The clinical histories transcribed and translated here offer the perspective of midwives who usually worked in domestic spaces without the supervision of male physicians. When the latter are present, midwives expressed resistance to and even contradicted these doctors’ knowledge, practices, and presence. The exception was Palmero–who does not appear in the histories transcribed here– whom midwives called for advice and in case of difficult births.

Questions for Further Exploration

Why are midwives so interested in hygienic procedures? How did they contrast their expertise to that of doctors? To what extent did they have agency in medical decision-making during childbirth? What was the role of the pregnant woman and her family regarding medical procedures?


Ceniceros de Jumper, Tomasa, “Segunda historia clínica,” Archivo General de la Nación, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Dirección Jurídica y de Revalidación, 31726, 17-2-6-185, p. 12-14, abril 12, 1930.

[Nota: Los nombres y los domicilios de las pacientes fueron omitidos de la transcripción por respeto a su privacidad y a la de sus familiares cercanos.]

Escuela Libre de Obstetricia y Enfermería de México

Hoja de prácticas de primer curso de Obstetricia

Alumna Tomasa C. de Jumper

Segunda historia clínica

Generales.- XXXXXXXXXX X. de 29 años, mejicana, originaria de México, D. F., con domicilio en XXXXXXXXXXXXX XXX, ingresando el 2 de abril de 1930 al Hospital N. Homeopático, dedicada al hogar y de temperamento nervioso.

Antecedentes hereditarios.- Su padre no la reconoció, su madre sufrió viruela y tifo cuando joven, vive y es sana, no habiendo sufrido ninguna otra enfermedad. No hay antecedentes sifilíticos ni alcohólicos.

Antecedentes patológicos.- Dice no haber sufrido ninguna enfermedad ni haber guardado cama salvo de sus partos, casada dos veces y ambos maridos sanos. No hay antecedentes sifilíticos.

Antecedentes obstétricos.- Comenzó a menstruar a los 17 años, doloroso el primer día con duración de 4 días y en cantidad normal. Es secundípara el primer niño nació bien, sin operación.

Evolución del embarazo.- Su último período fue el día 17 de junio de 1929. Trastornos fisiológicos, vómitos matinales en los primeros 3 meses, ligera disnea en decúbito dorsal, los demás aparatos bien.

Diagnóstico.- Examen 8 días antes, encontró un embarazo a término con feto único vivo intrauterino, con presentación de vértice y posición OIIA. Se verificará el parto del 20 al 30 de marzo de 1930.

Parto. Ingresó al hospital el día 2 de abril a las 8 horas en trabajo de parto, siendo asistida por la partera Sra. Altagracia León y como ayudante la suscrita. Se le dio un baño de regadera tibia, una lavativa de agua hervida simple, se le ra[s]uró, y se le hizo el aseo externo de sus órganos genitales con jabón líquido y agua esterilizada, poniéndole algodón como protector en la vulva, le puse ropa esterilizada en ella y en la cama. Preparado había compresas, algodón esterilizado de instrumentos, pinzas de Pean, tijeras, agujas, seda, catgut, y en soluciones antisépticas clorazena, tintura de yodo, alcohol, ampolletas de Ergotina, solución de arginol al 10/100 para los ojos del niño. El parto se inició a las 8 horas rompiéndose la bolsa a las 11:50 comenzando la expulsión que sólo duró 30 minutos y en occípito-púbica. Los anexos fueron expulsados a los 20 minutos después con peso de 480 gramos y el niño de 2,980.

Tratamiento.- Aseo externo abundante de agua esterilizada y jabón, después con solución de clorazena su apósito de algodón y un vendaje en F.

Puerperio.- Normal, sentándola a los 5 días y a los 7 se paró al tercer día después del parto se le purgó con aceite de ricino.

Puericultura.- El niño se le aplicaron gotas de arginol en los ojos se le limpió el unto sebáceo con aceite de ajonjolí, se le bañó en agua tibia previa ligadura del cordón, se le puso en este un apósito de algodón saturado en alcohol y su vendaje, cayéndose a los 5 días sin dejar ulcera alguna. El primer día no se le dio alimento, el segundo 2 veces, aumentando una tetada por día hasta llegar a 7. La señora salió de alta en perfecto estado 10 días después.

Crítica.- Según la Escuela Obstétrica Mexicana y método que seguimos en la ELOE de México, la mujer no debe ra[s]urarse, se le aplicará una inyección vaginal tibia con bicloruro de mercurio al 1/4000, se le evacuará el recto y la vejiga si fuera necesario, y después del parto otro lavado vaginal con clorazena, previa asepsia del irrigador tubo de goma. Se examinará la vulva para ver si no hubo lesión de esta o del perineo. Se debe poner a la enferma una faja abdominal y mantenerla bien puesta, no sentarla hasta que el útero este en la excavación. Bañar al niño diario y no como se hace ahí, que sólo el primer día y hasta que se le cae el ombligo no se vuelve a bañar, y además que éste tome alimento desde el primer día.

México, abril 12 de 1930.



[Note: Patients’ names and addresses were not included in the transcription to respect the patients’ and their families’ privacy.]

Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing

Practice report of first course of obstetrics

Student Tomasa C. de Jumper

Second clinical history

Generals.-XXXXXXXXXX X. 29 years old. Mexican. From Mexico, D. F. Current address at XXXXXXXXXXXXX XXX. Admitted on April 2, 1930 to the N. Homeopathic Hospital. Occupation housewife and nervous temperament.

Hereditary history.-Her father did not acknowledge her; her mother had smallpox and typhus when young; alive and healthy; she did not suffer from any other disease. There is no history of syphilis or alcoholism.

Disease history.-She does not report having experienced any disease or remaining in bed except after childbirth; she married twice and both husbands were healthy. No history of syphilis.

Obstetrical history.-She started menstruating at 17, painful on the first day; it lasts 4 days and comes in regular amounts. This is her second pregnancy; the first baby was born well, without surgery.

Evolution of pregnancy.-Her last period came on June 17, 1929. Physiological disorders, morning vomits during the first 3 months, light dyspnea in dorsal decubitus, all other organs fine.

Diagnosis.-Exam 8 days earlier; she identified a full term pregnancy with one single intrauterine living fetus, on vertex presentation and OA [Occiput anterior] position. Delivery will take place between March 20 and 30, 1930.

Birth.-She was admitted to the hospital on April 2 at 8 while in labor, and was attended by midwife Mrs. Altagracia León and myself as assistant. She was given a shower with warm water, a laxative with plain boiled water; she was shaved and her genitals were cleaned externally with liquid soap and sterilized water, using cotton to protect the vulva; I dressed her with sterilized clothes and put her in bed. [I made] ready compresses, sterilized cotton; regarding instruments, Pean Tweezers, scissors, needles, silk, catgut; and in antiseptic solutions, chlorazene, tincture of iodine, alcohol, vials of Ergotine, Arginol solution at 10/100 for the eyes of the baby. Birth began at 8, waters broke at 11:50 initiating the expulsion which lasted only 30 minutes and it was in occiput-pubic. The afterbirths were expelled 20 minutes later, weighing 480 grams, and the baby was 2,980.

Treatment.-Abundant external cleansing with sterilized water and soap, after that, with a solution of cholarzene, a cotton dressing, and a bandage in F.

Puerperium.-Normal, sitting her on day 5 and she stood up on day 7; three days after birth she was purged with castor oil.

Puericulture.-To the baby, drops of arginol were applied in the eyes; the vernix caseosa was cleaned with sesame oil; she was bathed with warm water after the cord ligation; a cotton dressing saturated with alcohol and a bandage was placed on top of it, falling on day 5 without leaving ulcer. There was no food given on the first day, 2 [breast takes] on the second, increasing one per day until reaching 7. The Mrs. was released in a perfect state 10 days later.

Critique.-According to the Mexican School of Obstetrics and the method we follow at ELOE of Mexico, the woman must not be shaved, a vaginal injection of a warm solution of dichloride of mercury at 1/4000 should be given, rectum and bladder should be evacuated if necessary, and after birth another vaginal cleansing with chlorazene should be given, after the asepsis of the rubber irrigator tube. The vulva should be examined to see if a lesion was there or in the perineum. An abdominal girdle should be placed on the sick woman and kept in place; she should not be seated until the uterus is in excavation. Give the baby a daily bath and not as it is done here, where they do it only on the first day and they do not do it again until the belly button falls; and further on, that the baby gets food from the first day.

Mexico, April 12, 1930.



Brito, Clementina, “Séptima historia clínica,” Archivo General de la Nación, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Dirección Jurídica y de Revalidación, 31729, 17-2-6-95, p. 17, julio 30, 1929.


GENERALES.- Sra. XXXXXX X. de X. originaria de Teloluapan, Guerrero, de 37 años de edad, temperamento nervioso, profesión quehaceres domésticos, vive en una casa de regulares condiciones higiénicas en las calles de XXX XXXXXXXXX #XX int. X, de esta ciudad.


ANTECEDENTES PATOLÓGICOS.- El esposo está sifilítico.

ANTECEDENTES OBSTETRICOS.- Comenzó a menstruar a los 15 años, su período le duraba 8 días, venía con regularidad y sin dolor. Es multípara sus partos han sido dos abortos y tres partos prematuros, en los 5 casos los fetos han [n]acido muertos, a con[s]ecuencia de la sífilis por parte del padre, pues la Sra. En sus análisis de la sangre está bien.

EVOLUCION DEL EMBARAZO.- Su último período terminó el 27 de noviembre del año próximo pasado. Embarazo patológico. Sus aparatos (nervioso y urinario) estaban alterados, sus demás aparatos están en buen estado.

DIAGNOSTICO.- La Sra. Fue examinada desde el principio de [su] embarazo por el Dr. Rábago, el que la estuvo inyectando de “ACETYLARSAN” además le recetó que tomara “LICOR SEDANTE” y se tomó 20 frascos. Examiné a la Sra. el día 15 del presente mes y le diagnostiqué e[m]barazo patológico, feto vi[v]o y enfermo con presentación craneana en 2ª. posición, de[b]iendo verificarse el parto del 27 de agosto al 3 de septiembre del presente año. Asistiendo como partera la suscrita y como ayudante técnica la Sra. Hermilia de Matus.

PARTO.- Fui llamada el día 15 de julio del presente año porque la Sra. Se sentía enferma, cuando llegué estaba ahí el Sr. Rábago el que diagnosticó un parto prematuro y para evitarlo le mandó a la Sra. Reposo absoluto e inyecciones vaginales ligeramente tibias, antisépticas y laudanizadas lo que fue suficiente para contener las contracciones uterinas. Retirándome de allí hasta que la Sra. estuvo bien. Pero fui llamada nuevamente el día 19 del mismo mes a las 12 horas cuando llegué hice la asepsia y antisepsia de los órgan[os] genitales para practicar el tacto y noté que había algo de dilatación y no había latidos fetales, además la Sra. sentía un malestar general y escalofríos, fr[i]aldad del vientre y de las extremidades inferiores, diagnostiqué que el feto estaba muerto pero ellos mandaro[n] llamar al Dr. Pérez García, el que diagnosticó lo mismo que yo, solamente que él dijo que el feto estaba en mala posición lo que no fue cierto además dijo que él sacaba al feto aunque fuera a pedazos a lo que se opusieron todos, y o[p]tamos por esperar a que obrara por sí sola la naturaleza, pero como a las 20 horas mandé llamar al Dr. E. Vallejos porque la Sra. seguía mal el que ratificó la muerte del feto y recetó unas cucharadas con las cuales vinieron las contracciones uterinas más enérgicas. Preparé la pieza, la cama y coloqué los medicamentos y útiles a la vista, a la Sra. le apliqué una lavativa simple y una purgante de (30 grms. De sulfato de soda y 30 grms. De glicerina) por que había muchos ga[s]es intestinales. Período de dilatación 3 horas. Período de expul[s]ión una hora y media. El niño nació al mismo tiempo que las secundinas, [n]ació envuelto en la placenta después tuve que romper las membranas para sacarlo. Anexos del feto completos. El producto fue una niña muerta y macerada.

TRATAMIENTO.- Asepsia y antisepsia. Empleamos solución de permanganato al 1 X 4.000 para inyecciones vaginales durante el parto y el puerperio. Inmediatamente que salió el feto con las membranas administramos a la Sra. 20 go[t]as de ergotina en un p[o]co de [co]cimiento de canela como hemostasis preventiva.

PUERPERIO.- Normal. La Sra. se levantó a los 8 días y se bañó a los 10 días.

México. D. F. a 30 de julio de 1929.

La alumna



7th clinical history

Generals.-Mrs. XXXXXX X. of X., from Teloluapan, Guerrero, 37 years old, nervous temperament, occupation housewife. She lives in a house of regular hygienic conditions on XXXXXXXXXXXX #XX int. X of this city.

Hereditary history.-None.

Disease history.-None.

Obstetrical history.-She started menstruating when she was 15 years old; her period lasted 8 days; it was regular and painless. Multipara; her pregnancy resulted in two abortions and three premature births; in all the 5 cases, fetuses have been born dead as a consequence of the father’s syphilis; her blood tests come out well.

Evolution of pregnancy.-Her last period ended on November 27 of last year. Pathological pregnancy. Her (nervous and urinary) systems are altered; the other systems are in good condition.

Diagnosis.-The Mrs. was examined, since the beginning of her pregnancy, by Dr. Rábago, who was injecting her with “ACETYLARSAN”; in addition, he prescribed “LICOR SEDANTE” of which she took 20 bottles. I examined the Mrs. on the 15th of the current month and I diagnosed a pathological pregnancy, with a living but sick fetus on a head down presentation in 2nd position. Birth should take place between August 27th and September 3rd of the current year, assisting her as midwife the one subscribing the report and as technical assistant Mrs. Hermilia de Matus.

Birth.-I was called on July 15 of this year because the Mrs. felt sick; when I arrived Dr. Rábago was there; he diagnosed a premature birth and, to avoid it, he ordered the Mrs. absolute rest and lightly warm, antiseptic and laudanized vaginal injections, which was enough to contain the uterine contractions. I left the house once the Mrs. felt all right. But I was called again on the 19th of the same month at 12; when I arrived I did the asepsis and antisepsis of the genital organs so I could examine the cervix and I noticed there was some dilation and no fetal heartbeat; furthermore the Mrs. felt general discomfort, chills, and the womb and lower extremities cold; I diagnosed a dead fetus, but they insisted on calling Dr. Pérez García, who made the same diagnosis as me, just that he said the fetus was in the wrong position, which was not true; in addition, he said he would take the fetus out even if it had to be in pieces; everyone opposed this; and we decided to wait for nature to do their job; 20 hours later I called Dr. E. Vallejos because the Mrs. felt sick and he ratified that the fetus was dead and prescribed some tablespoons that induced stronger uterine contractions. I set the room and the bed up, I placed the medicines and materials in sight, I gave the Mrs. a simple enema and a purgative of 30 gr. of sodium sulfate and 30 gr. of glycerine because she had intestinal gasses. Dilation time, 3 hours. Expulsion time, one hour and a half. The boy was born at the same time as the afterbirths; it was wrapped in the placenta; next I had to tear up the membranes so I could take him out. The fetus’s extra-membranes were complete. The product was a macerated dead girl.

Treatment.-Asepsis and antisepsis. We used a solution of permanganate at 1 / 4,000 for the vaginal injections during birth and puerperium. Immediately after the fetus with the membranes came out, we administered to the Mrs. 20 drops of ergotine in a cinnamon infusion as a preventative hemostatic.

Puerperium.-Normal. The Mrs. got up after 8 days and bathed on day 10.

México, D.F. July 30, 1929.

The student



Torres Meneses, Natalia, “Décima historia clínica,” Archivo General de la Nación, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Dirección Jurídica y de Revalidación, 31729, 17-2-6-91, p. 22-26, mayo 2, 1931.

Décima historia clínica

Generales. Sra. XXXXX X. XX XXXXXX, Mexicana, edad 25 años, temperamento nervioso ocupación quehaceres domésticos vive en una casa de buenas condiciones higiénicas en la XX XXXXXXXXXXXXX #XX.

Antecedentes Hereditarios. Ningunos.

Antecedentes Patológicos. Ninguno

Antecedentes Obstétricos. Comenzó a menstruar a los 12 años le venía con regularidad y sin dolor es multípara sus demás partos han sido felices

Evolución del Embarazo. Su último periodo terminó el 25 de Mayo de 1930.

Diagnóstico. Examinada por la alumna partera que subscribe, diagnostique embarazo fisiológico con presentación craneana en segunda posición debiendo verificarse el parto del 25 al 28 de Febrero de 1931. Designando como enfermera a la señorita María Gina Bustamante.

Parto. Fuimos llamadas el día 23 de Febrero del mismo año a las 5 horas del mencionado día inmediatamente hicimos a la Señora la asepsia y antisepsia de los órganos genitales para practicarle el tacto, cercioradas de que estaba en trabajo de parto le aplicamos una lavativa profiláctica, ordené hiciera buches y gárgaras de agua alcoholizada, se preparó la cama y colocamos los medicamentos y útiles [a la] vista. Le aplicamos inyecciones vaginales antisépticas cada 2 horas. El trabajo se inició a las 5 horas del mismo día habiéndose efectuado parto a las 7 horas de la noche del mismo día. Periodo de dilatación 12 hs. periodo de expulsión 2 horas. Parto secundino 1 hora después. El parto secundino también venía bien pero a insistencia [de] los familiares de la parturienta apenas transcurridos 25 minutos de la expulsión del feto, llamaron a un Dr. llamado Ángel Crespo Delgado quien reprobó que se hubiera puesto éter sulfúrico en el vientre de la señora, y aún más espantándose por que había aplicado a la señora inyecciones vaginales antes y después del parto, es decir mientras el parto Secundino no se efectuaba. Naturalmente al llegar el mencionado Dr. convirtió en patológico lo que era normal pues practicó la operación del modo siguiente: Hecha la asepsia y antisepsia de la mano únicamente y colocada la Señora en la posición obstetricia comenzó a tirar del cordón con tal fuerza que lo rompió; inmediatamente que rompió el cordón introdujo su mano y parte del ante brazo sin recordar siquiera que únicamente se había hecho la asepsia y antisepsia de la mano, después de 15 minutos de trabajo logro sacar la placenta hecha pedazos, y ordenó que no se pusiera ninguna inyección vaginal porque según el Dr. la “antisepsia ya no se usa” aun cuando a mí me disgustó esa orden del Dr. tuve que sujetarme a ella.

Una vez que salieron las secundinas pretendí dar a la señora 20 gotas de ergotina en un poco de cocimiento de canela como hemostático preventivo, pues nuestra escuela así nos lo ha enseñado para evitar innumerables peligros, pero [el] Dr. me dijo que en ningún caso debe darse la ergotina y para sustituir la ergotina le pusiera una almohada a la señora debajo de la pelvis. También ordenó que se le hicieran únicamente aseos exteriores durante el puerperio. Cualquier médico que sea buen partero comprenderá desde luego las consecuencias de éste tratamiento. Pues al tercer día se le declaró la fiebre puerperal. Yo se lo advertí a los familiares desde el día que hizo la operación el Dr. Ya en ese estado la señora no quisieron los familiares que la siguiera atendiendo ese Dr. y entonces llamaron al Dr. Hurtado profesor de obstetricia [en] el hospital General quién ordenó lo mismo que el anterior recetándole unas inyecciones de [septisemina] y unas cucharadas.

El producto fue una niña viva y sano.

Tratamiento. Empleamos solución de clorazena al 1 por 4000 para inyecciones vaginales antes del parto y puerperio los aseos externos durante el puerperio.

Puerperio. La señora se levantó a los 15 días y se bañó a los 16.

Puericultura. La educación de la niña comenzó desde su nacimiento aseado y curado su ombligo se ordenó que su alimentación fuera cada 8 horas. No se bañó porque el Dr. así le ordenó. El ombligo se le cayó a los 5 días sin dejar úlcera.

México 2 de mayo de 1931



Tenth clinical history

Generals.-Mrs. XXXXX X. XX XXXXXX, Mexican, 25 years old, nervous temperament, occupation housewife; She lives in a house of good hygienic conditions in XX XXXXXXXXXXXXX #XX.

Hereditary history. None.

Disease history. None.

Obstetrical history. She started menstruating when she was 12 years old; it was regular and painless. Multipara; her other births were happy.

Evolution of pregnancy.-Her last period ended on May 25, 1930.

Diagnosis.-Examined by the midwifery student who wrote the history; I diagnosed a physiological pregnancy with head down presentation in second position. The birth should take place between February 25 and 28 of 1931. I designated Ms. María Gina Bustamante as nurse.

Birth.-We were called on February 23 of the same year at 5 hours of the said day; we immediately did the mistress the asepsis and antisepsis of the genital organs in order to examine the cervix; having verified she was in labor, we gave a prophylactic enema, and I ordered that she rinse her mouth and gargle with alcoholized water. The bedroom was set up and we placed medicine and materials in sight. We applied antiseptic vaginal injections every 2 hours. Labor began at 5 of the same day and birth took place at 7 in the evening of the same day. Dilation time, 12 hours. Expulsion time, 2 hours. Delivery of the afterbirths, 1 hour later. The afterbirths were coming well, too, but the family of the woman in labor insisted after 25 minutes of having delivered the baby on calling a Dr. whose name is Angel Crespo Delgado who disapproved the rubbing of sulfuric ether on the woman’s belly; furthermore, he was disturbed because I had applied to the Mrs. vaginal injections before and after the birth, that is, while the delivery of the afterbirths did not occur. Naturally, when the said Dr. came, he made pathologic what was normal because he performed the following operation: After he did the asepsis and antisepsis of the hand only and having placed the Mrs. in obstetrical position, he pulled the cord with such a strength that he tore it up; immediately after tearing the cord up, he introduced his hand and part of his forearm without even recalling that he had done the asepsis and antisepsis only on his hand; after 15 minutes of work, he was able to pull the placenta in pieces and ordered that no vaginal injection was applied because according to this Dr. “antisepsis is no longer used;” even when I disagree with the Dr.’s order, I had to abide by it.

Once the afterbirths came out, I intended to give 20 drops of ergotine in a cinnamon infusion as a preventative hemostatic to the Mrs., since our school has taught us to do so in order to avoid countless dangers, but the Dr. told me that ergotine should not be prescribed in any case and that in lieu of it I should place a pillow under the Mrs.’s pelvis. He also ordered only external cleanings during the puerperium. Any physician who is also a good midwife will obviously understand the consequences of such treatment. A puerperal fever was on set by the third day. I warned this to the family since the day the Dr. made the procedure. Given Mrs.’s state, the family didn’t want the Dr. to keep treating [the woman] and called Dr. Hurtado, professor of Obstetrics in the General Hospital, who ordered the same [thing] as the previous one, prescribing injections of Septicemine and some tablespoons.

The product was a girl, alive and healthy.

Treatment.-We used a solution of chlorazene at 1/4,000 for vaginal injections before birth and puerperium; the external cleanings during the puerperium.

Puerperium.-The Mrs. got up after 15 days and bathed on day 16.

Puericulture.-The girl’s education began at birth; once the umbilical cord was cleaned and cured, it was ordered to feed her every 8 hours. No bath because of Dr.’s orders. The cord fell after 5 days without leaving any ulcer.

México, May 2, 1931.



Digital copy of the clinical history by Tomasa Ceniceros de Jumper3.28 MB
Digital copy of the clinical history by Clementina Brito1.95 MB
Digital copy of the clinical history by Natalia Torres Meneses5.06 MB

Accusation Against a Doctor (1930)

Dr. Elizabeth O’Brien, the Johns Hopkins University


The following text contains excerpts from two documents: the first is a newspaper clipping which contains a very short description of Josefina Velásquez Peña’s relationship with Dr. Gabriel Malda and her lawsuit against him. The second excerpt comes from Velásquez Peña’s letter to a Mexico City judge regarding her November 1930 suit against Malda, who was not only her personal doctor, but also the former head of the Department of Health in Mexico City. Josefina Velásquez Peña accuses Malda of having seduced her and mistreated her, which led to a number of complications in her personal, marital, and financial life.

Velásquez Peña was a wealthy woman who had grown up in the capital city of another state in Mexico (she does not reveal which state). After completing primary and secondary school, Velásquez Peña had moved to Mexico City to live with her sister. She had married in 1917, but was unable to conceive a child with her husband. For this reason they solicited the in-home services of Dr. Malda, who began a sexual affair with Velásquez Peña. After Malda impregnated her, Velásquez Peña left her marital home and began to cohabit with him elsewhere. In her letter, she insinuates that she lived with him for seven years, although the timeline of the story is unclear. At the end of Velásquez Peña’s letter, she accuses him of abandoning her materially as well as emotionally. She also sued him for defamation because he spread the rumor that she was a promiscuous woman, and accused her of cheating in addition to other immoral actions and relations. Unfortunately, the result of Velásquez Peña’s lawsuit against Malda is unclear; the researcher who transcribed and translated the documents below was not able to find additional information about Velásquez Peña or Malda.

This is a unique document that sheds light on some aspects of the relationship between one woman and one man, who happened to be a doctor and a powerful figure in public health. It is not representative of other women’s experiences, and should not be taken as such. At the same time, however, Velásquez Peña's testimony is of interest to historians of reproduction and medicine, who rarely have access to women’s own words about their gendered interactions with male health professionals. Particularly notable is Josefina’s evocation of a type—or trope—that of a “chloroformed woman.” She tells us that she felt vulnerable after ingesting the gas anesthetic, commonly administered to women during obstetric and gynecological procedures. She further explains that although “chloroformed women” were exposed and vulnerable, their honor should have been safeguarded by the respectability of surgeons treating them. Surgeons were to act in “priestlike” ways because they were entrusted with personal, corporeal and psychological (even, spiritual) forms of betterment and healing. Doctors were also expected to be professionally celibate, like priests. Of course, Velásquez Peña’s initial assumptions about the altruism of male surgeons may have been colored by her status as an elite patient. Most women in Mexico City's hospitals were impoverished, and they may not have had such positive preconceptions about male physicians. Even so, Josefina's experience with Dr. Malda led her to question her preconceptions. Although Velásquez Peña’s testimony was intended for other purposes—to incriminate Malda—she provided historians of medicine with a fascinating and unique perspective on the patient’s voice in early twentieth century healthcare. It is also notable that she received all of her care at home. This was a marker of class: while wealthy people could still afford to call doctors to their residence in the 1920s, the vast majority of middle and lower class people sought assistance in hospitals.

Questions for Further Exploration

What were the structural and interpersonal circumstances that shaped Velásquez Peña’s experience with Dr. Malda? How did class, socioeconomic status, and social connections influence the ways in which she interacted with him? How might the experiences of more impoverished women diverge? How might they converge? Which aspects of Josefina’s situation are singular or purely circumstantial, and which speak to larger issues about reproductive healthcare in the early twentieth century? How did Velásquez Peña evoke notions of honor to shape her narrative and accusation against Dr. Malda? How might he have responded? Similarly, how does she use tone, affect, and emotion to appeal to her audience? How does this shape a historian’s reading of the document? How does Velásquez Peña describe her maternal life, and what does that tell us about gendered and class-based expectations of women at the time? Finally, how does the genre (letter accompanying a lawsuit) shape this document? How might Josefina’s testimony differed if it were written for a different audience—perhaps, a close friend or confidant?

The following translations are excerpts from a longer document that could not be photographed due to archival restrictions. The researcher found it necessary to excerpt some sentences and passages throughout the document; their absence is marked by the use of ellipses. Some excerpted sections accuse Malda of stealing art purchased by Velásquez Peña in Florence, Italy; of cheating on her with other patients, and of ruining other marriages.


Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia, Sección Salubridad Pública, Caja 22, Folleto 12, 1930-1931: Folleto impreso titulado “Acusación contra el doctor Gabriel M. Malda, exjefe del Departamento de Salubridad”. Contiene recorte del periódico.

Further Reading:

Jaffary, Nora E. Reproduction and its Discontents in Mexico: Childbirth and Contraception from 1750 to 1905. University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

O’Brien, Elizabeth. “Intimate Interventions: The Cultural Politics of Reproductive Surgery in Mexico, 1790-1940.” PhD Dissertation: The University of Texas at Austin, 2019. (Will be published as a monograph, working title Surgery and Salvation: Religion and the Roots of Obstetric Violence in Mexico, 1770-1940).

Porter, Susie. From Angel to Office Worker: Middle-Class Identity and Female Consciousness in Mexico, 1890–1950. University of Nebraska Press, 2018.

Tuñón, Julia, ed. Enjaular los cuerpos: normativas decimonónicas y feminidad en México. Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico, 2008.




Title: “Acusación contra el doctor Gabriel M. Malda, exjefe del Departamento de Salubridad. Acusado de difamación: Con este motivo se declaró orden de aprehensión en su contra.”

“El doctor Malda, persona sumamente conocida tanto por su posición profesional como por los puestos oficiales que ha ocupado, fue detenido el miercoles de la semana pasada; posteriormente quedó en libertad bajo causión, mientras el juez instructor, licenciado de la Vega, del Primero Correcional, resuelve en definitiva. Esta mañana, en el local del juzgado antes dicho, se practicó un careo enojoso y sensacional entre acusadora y acusado, así como también fueron examinados varios testigos, debiendo resolver el juez si el doctor regresa a la cárcel o si queda en libertad mientras sigue la instrucción del proceso, pues hoy se vence el término. En todo el Palacio de Justicia de Belén este asunto llevado en un juzgado correccional, opacó en sensacionalismo a todos los demás asuntos, aun de los llevados en las Cortes Penales.




This newspaper article was placed in a folder in the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Salubridad, alongside the letter written by Velásquez Peña. Unfortunately the folder has no indication of which newspaper the article was published in.

Title: “Accusation against Dr. Gabriel M. Malda, former head of the Department of Health. Accused of defamation: For this reason an arrest warrant was declared against him.”

“Dr. Malda, a person extremely well-known both for his current professional position and for the official positions he has previously held, was arrested on Wednesday last week; he was later released on bond, while the investigating judge, licentiate de la Vega, of the First Correctional Court, decides on his case. This morning, on the premises of the aforementioned court, an irritating and sensational careo occurred between the accuser and the accused. Several witnesses were examined, while the judge decided whether or not the doctor should return to jail or be released while the trial continues. Today is his deadline to decide. It was surely the most sensational case heard today in the Belen Court, overshadowing all the others in the criminal courts.”


Velásquez Peña began the letter with a short introduction to her case, including information which has been summarized above. She then continued with the following excerpts:

“Due to the cruelties of fate, that doctor was Doctor Malda, to whom my husband had opened the doors of our house. We had hoped that the science [he practiced] would reign again, curing me of my ills and vanishing the source of my sorrow. I also hoped it would restore the usual tranquility between my husband and me.”

“Dr. Malda was of the unhesitating opinion that a surgical operation was essential [to cure me]. Was the operation really necessary? Many times after the fact, when I would think about the case and try to probe the moral innocence of Doctor Malda, I have come to think that it was nothing but a pretext for me to put myself in his hands, at his mercy, in that state of physical and moral annihilation, with that ‘chaste shamelessness’ of a chloroformed woman. The surgeon's work requires the chloroformed woman to be exhibited in all her nudity, conditions in which she places herself in the hands of a doctor in whom she believes to find a gentleman and a priest of science—of the true science that is always chaste, as long as it does not serve as an instrument to an unscrupulous man.”

            “From that day on, Doctor Malda was there for us, for my husband and for me. He was the doctor in whom we placed all our faith. He was also the confidant to whom we related our intimacies, and in whom we had placed the honor of our marriage. Because he was our doctor, Malda had access to our home at any time of the day, and even at night. His presence was not suspicious to anyone, given that medical morality demanded the strictest respect for a wife who had put herself in a doctor’s hands. I was even less suspicious, since I believed him to be a model of good men. This feeling increased after I had suffered a very serious attack of pneumonia during which Malda showed me a devotion that was feigned perfectly and convincingly. He lavished all kinds of care on me. For five days and nights, he seeded in my heart a feeling of gratitude and tenderness. This feeling naturally and quickly became a passion of love.”

            “During the first years of that growing intimacy, Doctor Malda was slowly ... exerting onto me a seduction so subtle that I did not even realize what was happening. Even if I had felt it I would not have rejected it, since he presented this care as a spiritual kind of therapeutics—as something necessary for my complete and definitive cure … In order for his insensitive seduction to be possible, Dr. Malda counted on our pious sympathy from the beginning. In intimate conversations he allowed us to see the [moral] bankruptcy of his life as well as details of the disaster of his marriage. In these he portrayed himself as a grieving victim who was deeply unhappy and anxious to find elsewhere the affections and tenderness that according to him he had not found in his own home. He was soon to undo [this home] by means of a divorce.”

            “… He incremented his seduction so slowly that I couldn’t even really notice it and reject it. Even when I did sense that he desired me, and I mean it in all truth, it did not seem dangerous to me, because it neither manifested itself aggressively nor did it seem to me that I could aspire to more since at that moment I was married, [and given that I was] married to a man with whom Malda feigned the most sincere friendship. And he [Malda] was also married, even though, according to himself, he lived in the saddest loneliness.”

            “It was then that he decided to provoke a crisis in our mutual situation. And to this end, taking advantage of the spiritual condition of my husband, who lived to see me healed to see if it would be possible for us to reproduce, [Malda] one day raised between us, before my husband and me, the urgent need that we interrupt any intimate relationship for some time, while he practiced a series of cures that would facilitate the conditions for me to be a mother.”

“When this happened, Doctor Malda already had a decisive influence in our home that rested on a double character: as a doctor who we trusted blindly, and as a friend whose loyalty we considered foolproof. And although the situation that he thus imposed on us suddenly truncated our married life, we had to accept it in order to see the fulfillment of my husband's desire, which I shared, which was to have a child who would give purpose to our life.”

            “It was then that a big change came about me. In that new situation, without that son to fill the void of the hours that ran without purpose, it was natural that the personality of Doctor Malda was occupying a preferential place in my solitary living. And one day, finally, without my realizing it, as these things almost always happen in life, I found myself seduced by him.”

“Dr. Malda had achieved his goal: the separation he decreed between my husband and me, perhaps it had no other purpose than to make me more alone and completely available to him so that I would not resist his desires. And since then, [he took advantage of] a good and upright man who opened the doors of his house, thinking him not harmful due to his position as a doctor. He became like a night thief, who used a pick to open the safe.”

            “Anyone who knows the feminine soul thoroughly will recognize that this story contains nothing but the truth. And I have to insist on this, because a superficial spirit might think that I am trying to mitigate my own guilt. God save me from it! Convinced as I am of mine [my own guilt], I neither refuse to acknowledge it nor resist purging it; and when one is in that spiritual condition, a lie has no place on the lips.”

“This episode in our relationships, in its simplicity, only serves to measure the moral bankruptcy of Doctor Malda. [What is thought of[ a doctor who, using his scientific authority, imposes an unnecessary operation on a married woman, who surrenders her unveiled to his feigned professional loyalty, or who later, using that same authority, betrays the faith of his friend, cuts off the intimate relations between two spouses to make the wife his mistress? What would those families who still employ Malda as a doctor think of this? Would he really find husbands or fathers to entrust to him their wives or his daughters? What would other doctors think, and especially those so interested in defending professional morality? And finally, what would the young students of Doctor Malda think when this professor of theirs speaks to them about medical morality?”

            “… There was something still worse that Malda did on this path of perversion. As a result of our new situation, one day I felt that I was with child, and I immediately made it known to Doctor Malda, not only as my doctor, but as the father of the child that had been denied to me within marriage, and that this other route had now brought me. And very shortly after [telling him], to my great surprise but without suspecting what kind of motives he had, Doctor Malda not only revoked the order of absolute separation that he had imposed on my husband and me, but also hinted at the convenience of resuming our intimate activities. He proposed this would be a kind of touchstone to see if my health could be considered assured, and also so that the longed-for child could become a reality, when he knew that I was [already] carrying him in my womb; only, not as a result of a legitimate union with my husband but as a result of the betrayal of Doctor Malda. It was clear that he was arranging to give his own son a falsified father, which he solidified later, when the child received the sacrament of baptism. At the request of Malda himself, he deprived [the child] of the social protection of another godfather, since in order to further hide his paternity, he suggested that he should be chosen as godfather to his own son.”

            “... When I realized my state, I told Doctor Malda that even if in an hour of loss of control I could betray my vows of marriage, it was repugnant to my conscience to live deceiving a man as trusting and as noble as my husband, who, for the same reason I felt obliged to confess my misdeeds to him and to separate myself from him so as not to continue living within an all-encompassing lie. Then Malda, after looking for various solutions that I rejected one by one, reminded me that he was in fact homeless, and he assured me that his divorce was about to be filed ... [He promised me that] he would give me the most generous reparation by making me his wife when he was divorced, [but only] if I, in turn, divorced as well. He tried to entice me with the prospect of a newlywed trip to Europe. To illustrate his sincerity, even before I left my conjugal house he invited me to look for a plot of land where we would go to build the house that would shelter our happiness.”

(The following information is paraphrased from the original letter: we built the house, 255 de la Avenida de la Baja California, where I lived with our son until a few days ago, when Malda had us thrown out by falsifying a lease…)

            “We chose the lot and purchased it together.”

(The following information is paraphrased from the original letter: He said he would put it partially in my name but he backed out at the last minute and put it exclusively in his name. He told her the house would be “exclusively mine,” but then he refused to give his last name to the child).

“…He betrayed me, as he withheld his last name from our son, and as in the course of the seven years that we would live together, he would go on to perform many more improprieties, those of a man who had in his hands my honor, my life, and my happiness—all things that he thwarted in the most unscrupulous way.”


[Velásquez Peña’s document goes on, revealing that she told her husband about her infidelity. For sake of space, that section has been omitted from this transcription. Her letter then continued with the following].


“My husband, with his inexhaustible kindness and his deep wisdom about life, granted me the most generous of pardons and even urged me not to leave that house, where I could continue to live as a daughter, because he knew well that someone like Doctor Malda, who makes a mockery out of the most respectable and noblest sentiments, would not hesitate to make a mockery out of me. He would easily abandon me when the hour of disenchantment arrived. [He understood that] a woman in love trusts very easily, and that I must have been madly in love with Malda when I gave in to his lies, which did not provoke my suspicion at the time.”

(The following information is paraphrased from the original letter: the child was born before she left the house, and she named it after her former spouse).

“That son of ours, who is now the only object of my life, has been thrown into the street by his own father and alongside me.”

(The following information is paraphrased from the original letter: They were not legally married, but he introduced her as his wife. She claimed that she supported him financially. She claimed that he was already separated from his wife, and that he was living in a room in the hospital, when they began to have relations.)

“If I had lived by my husband's side without being properly happy, but still enjoying immense tranquility and peace, then next to Doctor Malda I was going to be deeply unhappy. The Doctor embodied selfishness brought to its most monstrous incarnation: once his appetites were satisfied, there was nothing left. Love, self-denial, selflessness, everything that one could put at his service, [these emotions] had not the slightest influence nor did they leave the slightest trace on his soul.”


…por fatalidades del destino, ese médico fue el Doctor Malda, a quien abrió las puertas de nuestra casa precisamente mi esposo, con el anhelo de que la ciencia que le suponíamos me curase de mis males y, desvanecido aquel motivo de pena, volviese a reinar entre nosotros la tranquilidad habitual.

            El doctor Malda opinó sin vacilar que era indispensable una operación quirúrgica. ¿Era, en realidad, necesaria aquella operación? Muchas veces después, al pretender sondar la inopia moral del Doctor Malda, he llegado a pensar que no fue sino pretexto para que yo me pusiera en sus manos, a merced suya, en aquel estado de anonadamiento físico, y moral, con aquel “casto impudor” de una mujer cloroformada, a quien la labor del cirujano exige que se exhiba en toda su desnudez, condiciones en las cuales una mujer se pone en manos de un médico en quien crea encontrar un caballero y un sacerdote de la ciencia, de la verdadera ciencia que siempre es casta, cuando no sirve de instrumento a un hombre sin escrúpulos.

            Desde aquél día el Doctor Malda no solamente fue para nosotros, para mi esposo y para mi, el médico en quien depositábamos toda nuestra fé, sino también el amigo de toda nuestra intimidad, en quien habíamos depositado nuestra honra de casados. El Doctor Malda, por su carácter de medico, tenía aceso a cualquiera hora del día y aún de la noche a nuestro hogar, sin que su presencia pudiera sospechar a nadie, ya que la moral médica le exigía el más rígido respeto para una esposa que se había puesto en sus manos, y menos a mí que de pronto le creía modelo de hombres de bien, sobre todo después de haber padecido yo un gravísimo ataque de neumonía durante el cual Malda, con una devoción que precisamente por fingida era tanto más ardiente, me prodigó sus cuidados de toda clase por espacio de cinco días con sus noches, haciendo nacer en mi corazón un sentimiento de gratitud y de ternura que por su misma naturaleza rápidamente se convirtió en pasión amorosa.

            Durante los primeros años de aquella creciente intimidad, el Doctor Malda fue lentamente… adueñándose de mi ábunim ejerciendo sobre mi una seducción tan suave, que no se hacía sentir, ni aunque la sintiera la hubiera rechazado, ya que ella se aplicaba en concepto de terapeútica espiritual, tan necesaria como la del cuerpo para mi cura radical y definitiva…

Para el éxito de su labor de seducción insensible contó desde un principio el Dr. Malda con nuestra piadosa simpatía, presentándonos en conversaciones íntimas la bancarrota de su vida, por el desastre de su matrimonio, dentro del cual se nos mostraba en el papel de víctima doliente, profundamente desgraciado, ansioso de encontrar en otra parte los afectos y las ternuras que según él no había encontrado en su propia casa, que estaba a punto de deshacerse por medio de un divorcio.

            Lo digo con toda verdad, no me parecía peligroso, porque ni se manifestaba agresivo ni me parecía que pudiera aspirar a más, desde el momento en que yo era casada, casada con un hombre a quien Malda fingía la amistad más sincera, y él también era casado por más que, según él mismo aseguraba, viviera en la más triste soledad.

            Fue entonces cuando él se decidió provocar una crisis en nuestra situación recíproca. Y al efecto, aprovechando la condición espiritual de mi esposo, que vivía haciéndome curar para ver si era posible que tuviéramos sucesión, un día planteó entre nosotros, ante mi esposo y yo, la urgente necesidad de que interrumpiéramos toda relación íntima por algún tiempo, mientras él me practicaba una serie de curaciones que me pusieran en condiciones de ser madre.

            Cuando esto sucedía, el Doctor Malda tenían ya en nuestro hogar una decisiva influencia que descansaba sobre su doble carácter de médico en que confiábamos ciegamente, de amigo a quien considerábamos leal a toda prueba. Y aunque la situación que así nos impusiera truncaba de pronto nuestra vida conyugal, hubimos de aceptarla para ver realizado el afán de mi esposo, que yo compartía, de tener un hijo que diera objeto a nuestra vida.

            La mía entonces ofreció un gran cambio. En aquella nueva situación, sin ese hijo que colmara el vacío de las horas que corrían sin objeto, era natural que la personalidad del Doctor Malda fuera ocupando en mi vivir solitario un lugar preferente. Y un día, por fín, sin que yo me diera cuenta, como suceden casi siempre estas cosas en la vida, me encontré seducida por él.

            El doctor Malda había logrado su propósito: la separación decretada por él entre mi esposo y yo, acaso no tuvo otro objeto que el de entregarme a él más sola para que no resistiera sus deseos. Y desde entonces, hombre bueno y recto que le abriera las puertas de su casa pensándolo invalido en su carácter de médico, como el ladrón nocturno se bale de una ganzúa para abrir la caja de caudales.

            Cualquiera que conozca a fondo el alma femenina, reconocerá que este relato no contiene sino la verdad. Y he de insistir en ello, porque un espíritu superficial acaso creyera que estoy tratando de atenuar mis culpas. ¡Líbreme dios de ello! Convencida como estoy de las mías, ni me niego a reconocerlas ni me resisto a purgarlas; y cuando en esa condición espiritual se encuentra uno, la mentira no tiene cabida en las labios.

            Este episodio de nuestras relaciones, en su simplicidad, sirve para medir la bancarrota moral del Doctor Malda. Un médico que valiéndose de su autoridad científica, impone a una mujer casada una operación innecesaria, que la entregue sin velos a su fingida lealtad profesional, o que después, valiéndose de esa misma autoridad, traicionando la fé del amigo, corta las relaciones íntimas de los dos cónyuges para hacer de la esposa su amante, ¿qué pensarían de esto si lo supieran las familias que todavía ocupen a Malda como médico? ¿Encontraría cándidos esposos u padres que le confiaran sus esposas o sus hijas? ¿Qué pensarían los otros médicos tan interesados en defender la moralidad profesional? Y finalmente, ¿qué pensarían los jóvenes alumnos del Doctor Malda cuando este profesor suyo les hable de la moral médica?

            …en este camino de perversión hay todavía algo peor de su parte. Como resultado de nuestra nueva situación, un día sentí que me encontraba en cinta, e inmediatamente lo hice saber al Doctor Malda, no sólo ya como médico, sino como padre del hijo que la vida me rehusara dentro del matrimonio, y que al fín me deparaba por aquél camino. Y muy poco después, con gran sorpresa mía pero sin que yo sospechara entonces por qué clase de móviles, el Doctor Malda no solo revocó la órden de separación absoluta que nos había impuesto a mi esposo y a mí, sino que insinuó la conveniencia de reanudar nuestras relaciones íntimas, como piedra de toque para ver si mi salud podía considerarse asegurada, en términos de que el ansiado hijo pudiera ser realidad, cuando él sabía que yo lo llevaba en mi seno; solamente que no como fruto de legítima unión con mi esposo sino como resultado de la traición del Doctor Malda; que desde luego se disponía a dar a su propio hijo un padre falsificado, como más tarde a la hora en que el niño recibiera el sacramento del bautismo, por solicitud del propio Maldad lo privara de la protección social que hubiera podido significarle otro padrino que no fuese él, pues debo advertir que para cubrir su paternidad él mismo se hizo elegir padrino del que en realidad era hijo suyo.

            …al darme cuenta de mi estado, manifesté al Doctor Malda que si en un hora de extravío pude faltar a mis deberes de casada, repugnaba a mi consciencia vivir engañando a un hombre tan confiado y tan noble como mi esposo, que, por lo mismo, yo me sentía obligada a confesarle mi falta y a separarme de él para no seguir viviendo dentro de una falsedad de todos los minutos. Entonces Malda, después de buscar diversas soluciones que yo rechacé una por una me recordó que él de hecho carecía de hogar, me aseguró que su divorcio estaba a entablarse…

[Prometió que] me daría la mas amplia reparación haciéndome su esposa al quedar divorciado, si yo, a mi vez, obtenía mi divorcio. Pretendió alhagarme con la perspectiva de un viaje de recién casados, por Europa, u para demostrarme la sinceridad de sus propósitos, antes aún de que yo saliera para siempre de mi casa conyugal, me invitó a que buscáramos un lote de tierra en donde iríamos a construir la casa que cobijaría nuestra felicidad. (they built the house, 255 de la Avenida de la Baja California, donde vivía yo con nuestro hijo hasta hace pocos días, cuando Malda nos hizo arrojar judicialmente falsificando un contrato de arrendamiento, cosa que por desgracias para mí, no cobijó sino la eterna deslealtad con que Malda va sembrando víctimas el camino de su vida.

            Escogimos el lote, lo compramos con dinero de ambos.

Me escamoteó a traición, como escamoteara su apellido a nuestro hijo, y como en el curso de los siete años que vivimos juntos realizará otros tantos escamoteos impropios de un hombre que tuvo en sus manos mi honra, mi vida, mi felicidad, cosas todas que él desbarató aún el más leve escrúpulo.

Mi esposo entonces, con su inagotable bondad y su profundo conocimiento de la vida, me concedió el más generoso de los perdones y aún me instó a no abandonar aquella casa, donde podría seguir viviendo como una hija, porque él sabía bien que quien se burla, como el Doctor Malda, de los sentimientos más respetables y más nobles, no habría de poner reparo más tarde para burlarse de mí, abandonandome cuando llegara la hora del desencanto.

…una mujer enamorada tiene facil la credulidad, y yo debo haber estado locamente enamorada de Malda cuando así me entregué a su falsía, que ni siquiera llegué a sospechar por entonces.

            …ese hijo nuestro, que ahora forma el único objeto de mi vida, una vez que por su propio padre ha sido arrojado a la calle junto conmigo

…si al lado de mi esposo viví sin ser feliz propiamente, pero sí gozando de una tranquilidad y de una paz inmensa, al lado del Doctor Malda iba a ser profundamente desdichada. El Doctor era el egoísmo llevado a su más monstruosa encarnación: una vez satisfechos sus apetitos, no quedaba nada; amor, abnegación, desinterés, todo lo que pudiera uno poner a servicio suyo, no tenía la menor influencia ni dejaba en su alma la más leve huella.



Report from the Secretariat of Public Education on the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico (1936)

Dr. Jethro Hernandez Berrones, Southwestern University


Arturo Palmero founded the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico in 1920. Free schools were institutions of professional education that emerged during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) as an alternative to the professional schools sponsored by the regime of Porfirio Díaz. Critical of the elitism and encyclopedic curriculum of official schools, free schools proposed programs that adapted to the needs of students—recent immigrants to Mexico City or from working-class families—and offered a more practical and less theoretical curriculum. Most free schools offered programs in medicine, nursing, dentistry, and obstetrics, and many of them aligned with homeopathy, a medical system in tension with the type of medicine taught at the National School of Medicine. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, post-revolutionary governments used the programs of medicine, nursing, and obstetrics at the National School of Medicine as models to regulate the training and certification of these health professionals, first through the National University and subsequently through the Secretary of Public Education. The Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico offers a window into an alternative model of midwifery training and practice.

Arturo Palmero Alcocer (1872?-1938?) graduated from the school for teachers in the state of Yucatan and later taught at Merida’s Instituto Literario. He obtained the degree of doctor in surgery and obstetrics from the National School of Medicine in Mexico City with a dissertation titled “El sistema curativo que debería adoptar la homeopatía” [The therapeutic system that homeopathy should adopt] (1895). His interest in the popularization of obstetrics came two years later with the publication of the manual “Elementos de obstetricia para la enseñanza de las señoras” [Foundations of obstetrics for women] (1897). In the first decade of the twentieth century, his consulting office offered electrical treatments, massages, and light therapy, and only as a last resort surgery, for his patients. He supported the cause of the wealthy hacendado Francisco Madero, who in 1910 organized an armed uprising calling for fair elections. Politically and academically active, Palmero participated in several national and international meetings as a member of academic societies including the Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics, the Universal Scientific Alliance, and the Mexican Indianist Society. The free school became the focus of his career for the rest of his life.

This document is an inspection report by doctors of the Legal and Revalidation Office of the Secretary of Public Education. When free schools began to populate the landscape of Mexico City in the early 1910s, there was no legal framework that regulated them. The National University was created in 1910 to administer the few official professional schools in the city, including the National School of Medicine. The Department of Public Health used the curriculum of the National School of Medicine as the basis for the certification of medical diplomas. With no legal basis for this procedure, graduates from free schools won numerous lawsuits to have their diplomas certified. From 1928 to 1934, the Secretary of Public Education went through a number of transformations that made it responsible for regulating private professional schools, including free schools. In this context, SEP officers implemented programs to incorporate these schools and supervise their proper functioning. Many did not fulfill the requirements and could not be certified. The Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico obtained its certification, but was under constant threats by SEP authorities to lose it. The inspection report included here is one of the last given to the school. As in previous years, recommendations to close the school were not successful in 1936. The school kept offering its services for a couple of months until Palmero died in 1938(?). The report offers the perspective of government authorities who had been trained at the National School of Medicine.

Questions for Further Exploration:

What are some elements of the model they use to measure the Free School of Obstetric and Nursing’s suitability? How do they contrast with the model of the Free School of Obstetrics and Nursing of Mexico? How is the inspectors’ concept of practical training different from Palmero’s?


Perea, Manuel, Manuel Morán Calderón, Ester Chapa, “Informe que rinde la comisión de médicos…,” Archivo General de la Nación, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Departamento de Psicopedagogía e Higiene, 35543, 17-14-1-272, p. 4-12, junio 27, 1936.


En cumplimiento de lo ordenado en el oficio número 2799, de fecha 29 de febrero del presente año dirigido por el ciudadano Jefe del Departamento Jurídico de la Secretaría de Educación Pública, la comisión de médicos constituida por los Doctores Manuel Morán Calderón, Esther Chapa y Manuel Perea, en compañía del Lic. Agustín Hernández Mejía Subjefe del Departamento Jurídico, se presentó el día 16 del presente en la Escuela Libre de Enfermería y Obstetricia ubicada en la calle de Pánuco #65.

La Comisión fue recibida por el Sr. Director de la Escuela, quien enterándose del objeto de la visita, se prestó a dar todas las informaciones requeridas, invitándonos a pasar a la Biblioteca-Archivo para mostrar los documentos que, perfectamente ordenados, tenía sobre una mesa. La esposa del Dr. Palmero, que es el Director de la Escuela referida, en su calidad de Secretaria de la Escuela le ayudaba a enseñar y explicar todos los documentos a mano. El Dr. Palmero insistió tenazmente ante la comisión en demostrar con esos documentos “que su escuela es la mejor del mundo”. Se recogieron los documentos que la comisión juzgó importantes para estudiar la organización, planes de estudio, profesorado, etc., de la escuela Palmero y se procedió a levantar el acta correspondiente después de haber recorrido los salones que constituyen la escuela.

[En esta sección, el reporte describe las instalaciones y material didáctico de la escuela. Las instalaciones son consideradas deficientes y los materiales en condición muy pobre.]

En el sanatorio no se encontraba ninguna embarazada o parturienta, y según la estadística que anota el Dir. en el libro de ingresos durante los meses transcurridos del presente año, sólo ingresaron doce personas número muy reducido, verdaderamente insuficiente para la práctica de las alumnas de toda la escuela.

Respecto de la práctica que adquieren las alumnas, puede decirse que es verdaderamente nula, porque aun cuando el Dr. Palmero nos enseñó unas constancias de las prácticas de dichas alumnas en establecimientos oficiales, estas constancias son listas de trabajos realizados, hechas y firmadas por las mismas alumnas, sin sellos oficiales ni firmas de los super-vigilantes, por lo tanto son poco dignas de crédito, a nuestro modo de ver, teniendo en cuenta tanto la manera de ser de los alumnos como el sistema seguido respecto a las prácticas que se realizan en los cursos de enfermería y partos de la Universidad, en donde desde luego se exigen ochenta guardias de cuatro horas diarias cada una, para las enfermeras, en los hospitales General y Juárez, en salas de enfermos que continuamente se encuentran llenas de toda clase de pacientes con las más diversas enfermedades y donde bajo la vigilancia de la Srita. Enfermera Primera, se hacen los servicios completos. Para la práctica de los partos, en los repetidos Hospitales General y Juárez es requisito hacer 60 guardias de ocho horas cada una, durante las cuales se atienden los partos y se observan los anormales que son operados por competentes Médicos Cirujanos de guardia. Por todo esto, aún cuando en el Artículo 24 de sus estatutos, dice el Dr. Palmero: “Las prácticas se harán en el dispensario y clientela civil de la Escuela (a domicilio y en los hospitales y dispensarios públicos y particulares; pero principalmente en la ciudad y en todo el Distrito Federal; el Hospital de la Escuela es extenso, En todo el Distrito Federal”, la comisión expone que a su modo de ver, esto es una gran mistificación que se lleva a efecto con la anuencia de la Secretaría de Educación Pública; pues es bien sabido que la práctica hospitalaria, donde se cuenta con toda clase de instrumental, asepsia, antisepsia y en fin todos los métodos científicos modernos no puede suplirse nunca con la práctica a domicilio, donde ya deben llevarse los conocimientos mejores. Este sistema de aprendizaje y práctica en el domicilio de las Señoras que se atienden, no se compagina con la asepsia y antisepsia modernas y las nuevas ideas sobre atención de los partos en maternidades, hacia donde se tiene actualmente por considerarse que es lo que da mejores resultados para las madres y para el niño. El Dr. Palmero asegura que nunca ha habido en su escuela fiebre puerperal, pero esta aseveración hecho espontáneamente por el Sr. Director, nos lleva a la conclusión de que no teniendo puerperiosas patológicos, no tienen la conveniente y suficiente práctica las enfermeras y parteras recibidas en esa Escuela.

Por lo que se refiere a los planes de estudios, programas y extensión de cada materia, la comisión se ha a[b]ocado a este estudio con la mayor minuciosidad posible comparando los programas y planes de la Escuela Libre con los correspondientes de la Universidad Nacional que son los que la comisión consiguió fácilmente en las Oficinas de la Escuela Nacional de Medicina, y que para mayor comprensión de lo que aquí se expresa adjuntamos a este informe.

El Dir. De la Escuela Palmero, asegura en el artículo 2º. De la Constitución o Estatuto de su Escuela: “Los estudios profesionales para la carrera de enfermero o enfermera contendrán (de acuerdo con el decreto de reconocimiento de la Escuela) los planes y programas de la Universidad Autónoma de México, etc.”, pero esto no se ajusta a la realidad ya que los planes de estudio detallados que obran en poder de la comisión se apartan totalmente de los de la Universidad. En esta última se imparten las siguientes materias, a nuestro modo de ver, indispensables como entidad aislada cada una de ellas, a la que tiene que dedicarse una hora especial: en el primer curso de enfermería se estudia: Anatomía y Fisiología, contrariamente a lo que afirma el Dr. Palmero en su programa, de que debe ser muy elemental la enseñanza de esta asignatura, encontramos que el estudio de estas materias, interesantísimo para los trabajos posteriores, es muy detallado y completo; Higiene, sumamente detallada pues comprende higiene individual, higiene general, higiene urbana, higiene social, higiene de la primera infancia, higiene escolar e higiene profesional; otra materia llamada Atención a Enfermos de Medicina, sumamente importante, que se da procedida de exposiciones teóricas, pero que se hace a la cabecera del enfermo (la importancia de esta materia nos la demuestra el hecho de que el programa de la Universidad está dividido en once capítulos a cual más importante). Todas estas materias las da el Dr. Palmero en un solo semestre y examina a sus alumnas de todo ello, en un solo examen, aprobando globalmente de primer año de enfermería como consta en los libros de exámenes recogidos por la comisión es decir, o examina de cada una de las materias arriba nombradas puesto que no constan en sus libros los exámenes parciales, sino solamente los globales. De paso diremos que en todos los exámenes examinan dos o tres personas solamente, y que a últimas fechas estas personas son: el Dir., la Secretaria que es su esposa y alguna otra persona recibida en esa misma escuela.

En el segundo año de Enfermería de la Universidad Nacional estudia “Asistencia de Enfermos de Cirugía” que se da teórica y práctica, también en la cama del operado o en la sala de operaciones. Existe además una clase muy importante en los momentos actuales, que principió a darse desde este año llamada “Curso teórico práctico de Trabajadoras Sociales” que no encontramos en los planes de estudio de la Escuela del Dr. Palmero, a pesar de que deberían haberse incluido en ellos, dentro de un término de 30 días, según lo expresa la cláusula 5ª. del decreto de 16 de marzo de 1931. También se examinan globalmente de 2º. Año de enfermería según consta en sus libros de exámenes.

En el primer año de obstetricia, a pesar de que debería referirse exclusivamente a la parte eutócica, según el plan de estudios de la Universidad, el Dr. Palmero aborda temas de distocia, haciendo incomprensible e inadecuada la enseñanza de esta parte de la obstetricia.

Por último, (en) el segundo curso de obstetricia se imparten en la Escuela Libre de Enfermería y Obstetricia solamente las asignaturas de Clínica de Partos y 2º. Curso de Obstetricia Teórica o Distocia con un plan (des)ordenado y anárquico que más que enseñar confundirá al alumnado.

La clase de Puericultura, que siendo sumamente interesante constituye una materia que se da en el último año, con mucha extensión en la Universidad Nacional, no se encuentra en el plan de estudios de la Escuela Palmero. Por lo mismo la comisión cree que el Dr. Palmero no se ha ajustado a estos programas de la Universidad.

Todavía agregaremos algo muy importante; aun cuando se nos dio una planta de profesores, se nos dijo que correspondió a 1932, y que actualmente sólo él y su esposa son los que atienden todos los grupos y todas las materias que se imparten. En contraposición a esto, nos permitimos agregar que la Universidad sostiene una planta de 14 profesores para enfermería y para obstetricia en el Hospital General y otra planta de igual número de profesores en el Hospital Juárez; adjuntamos la lista nominal de la planta de profesores relativa, de reconocida honorabilidad, que nos fue amablemente facilitada por el Oficial de Acuerdos de la Sección de Enfermería y Obstetricia de la Universidad Nacional.

Como libros de texto se estudian el Libro de Enfermería y el Libro de Obstetricia, siendo autor de ambos el propio Doctor Palmero, pero aun cuando la comisión le parece que son deficientes y anticuados, así como llenos de palabrería inútil, se abstiene de emitir un juicio detallado en virtud de que, a este respecto, la ley concede toda clase de facilidades a estas Escuelas.

Resumiendo lo antes dicho y contesta(n)do a los puntos relativos expuestos por el C. Jefe del Departamento Jurídico en el memorándum que se nos entregó nos permitimos presentar las siguientes conclusiones:

  1. El edificio escolar desde el punto de vista pedagógico o higiénico es inadecuado al objeto a que se le destina. Lo mismo de(b)emos decir respecto del mobiliario escolar. En cuanto al material escolar o de enseñanza es pobre, insuficiente y anticuado.
  2. La Escuela de enfermería y Obstetricia Palmero no cuenta con los gabinetes, laboratorios ni material humano para la enseñanza y el aprendizaje.
  3. Los planes y programas de estudio son anti-pedagógicos, arbitrarios, difusos y no están de acuerdo con los que rigen en la Universidad Nacional. El desarrollo de cada una de las materias es insuficiente porque la parte medular de los conocimientos es exigua y por el contrario lo superfluo, sin importancia, lo inútil es lo que abunda. No se dan en esta Escuela tres materias a cual más importante: Higiene; Curso Teórico Práctico de Trabajadoras Sociales y Puericultura que figuran en el plan de estudios de la Universidad Nacional.
  4. Los Libros de texto se reducen a dos, escritos por el Director de la Escuela, son anacrónicos, deficientes y adolecen de estar recargados de conocimientos inútiles.
  5. No tiene hospital anexo en donde hacer las prácticas; solo cuentan con tres piezas a las que llaman “Sanatorio” pero que no llenan los requisitos como tal. El Dr. Palmero informó que sus discípulas hacen las prácticas en hospitales, consultorios de la Beneficencia, a domicilio y en todo el Distrito Federal.
  6. La organización de la Escuela Palmero es malísima en todos sentidos, puesto que las prácticas no son controladas; no hay horarios escolares de ninguna clase ni para las clases teórico-prácticas ni para las prácticas: en esta Escuela las inscripciones pueden efectuarse todos los días.
  7. El personal docente actual está constituido por el Sr. Dr. Arturo Palmero y su Sra. Esposa.

Protestamos a usted lo necesario.

México D. F., a 27 de junio de 1936.


(rúbrica)                                              (rúbrica)                                                          (rúbrica)

Dr. Manuel Perea.                   Dra. Manuel Morán Calderón.                        Dra. Ester Chapa.



In order to fulfill the requirement on the communication numbered 2799 and issued on February 29 of the current year by the citizen Head of the Secretary of Public Education’s Legal Department, the commission of physicians formed by Dr. Manuel Morán Calderón, Esther Chapa, and Manuel Perea, together with Lic. Agustín Hernández Mejía Subhead of the Legal Department visited on the 16th of the current month the Free School of Nursing and Obstetrics located on Pánuco Street #62.

The commission was welcomed by the director of the school, who [upon] learning about the purpose of our visit, offered to provide all the required information, inviting us to the Library-Archive in order to show us the documents that [were] perfectly ordered laid on a table. As Secretary of the School, the wife of Dr. Palmero, the director of the said school, helped him show and explain the handwritten documents. Dr. Palmero tenaciously insisted to the commission that the documents proved that “his school was the best in the world.” The commission took with it the documents it deemed important to study Palmero school’s organization, curriculum, faculty, etc., and subsequently, after visiting the school’s classrooms, the corresponding report was completed.

[In this section, the report describes the school’s facilities and the instructional material. The report considers that facilities and the instruments for practice are deficient.]

There was no pregnant or delivering woman in the sanatorium, even when the inpatient records that the Director collected during the first months of this year indicate there were only twelve inpatients. This is a very low number, insufficient for the practice of all the students in the school.

With regards to the practical training of students, it can be said that it is completely absent because even when Dr. Palmero provided us with reports of the practices these students do at official institutions, these reports just record the tasks performed, are written and signed by students themselves, and do not have official stamps or a supervisor’s signature. For these reasons, they are, according to our view, not worthy of our trust, considering the way students behave as well as the system of practices in the nursing and childbirth courses at the University. Here, nurses, as expected, are required to attend eighty daily rotations, four hours each, at Hospital General and Hospital Juarez, in wards usually full of all kinds of patients with a wide diversity of diseases, and, where under the supervision of the Primary Nurse, they offer all services. For the childbirth practices, Hospital General and Hospital Juárez require 60 rotations of eight hours each during which students aid in childbirths and observe abnormal ones attended by competent resident Medical Doctors. Because of this, even when art. 24 of the school regulations state: “Practices will take place in the dispensary and among the civil clientele of the school–at their home and in public and private hospitals and dispensaries, particularly in Mexico City and throughout the Federal District; the school’s hospital is vast, it extends into the entire Federal District!,” the commission expresses that, in its perspective, this is an overstatement that results from the leniency of the Secretary of Public Education. It is well known that on-call service, which requires expert knowledge, can never substitute the practice in hospitals, where all types of instrumentation, asepsis, antisepsis, and all modern scientific methods are available. This system of learning and practicing at the home of delivering women does not correspond to the modern asepsis and antisepsis and the new ideas on delivery at maternity wards, which according to the current trends provide the best results for mothers and children. Dr. Palmero underscores that there has never been a case of puerperal fever in his school, but Dr. Palmero’s spontaneous observation leads us to conclude that without pathological cases of puerperal fever, nurses and midwives who graduate from the school do not have sufficient and essential practice.

With respect to the curriculum, the academic program, and courses’ syllabi, the commission has paid close attention to detail, comparing the curriculum and program of both the Free School and the National University, which are the ones the commission easily obtained from the National School of Medicine and are attached to this report for further clarification.

The Director of the Palmero School states in art. 2 of the Constitution or Regulations of his school: “The study program for nursing will include, according to the decree that authorized the school, the curriculum and programs of the National University, etc.,” but this is far from true. The detailed course program that the commission has is totally different from the one from the University. This institution offers the following courses, which we think should be taught essentially as independent courses, lasting one hour each. The first course on nursing should teach thoroughly and completely Anatomy and Physiology, which will be extremely interesting for future works; not as Dr. Palmero indicates in his program that the content should be basic. Hygiene [at the University] is extremely detailed; it includes individual, general, urban, social, school, professional, and infant hygiene. Another course worth highlighting for its importance is Attention to Medical Patients. Lecture-based, but offered at the bedside, this course’s importance lies in the number of sections—eleven—that it includes. Dr. Palmero teaches all these courses in one semester and examines his students on all the content with one single exam. According to the information collected by a commission in the registry books, students approved the entire first year of nursing in general; Dr. Palmero does not examine his students in each of the courses mentioned above because there is no registry of partial exams, but only of global exams. In addition, we must say that there are only two or three people who preside [over] the examinations. Lately, these persons are the director, the secretary—who is his wife, and a graduate from the school.

In the second year of nursing, the National University offers “Assistance of Surgery Patients,” with a theory and a practical section, and also at the bedside or in the surgical room. There is currently a key course for our present times that the University began to offer this year, “Theory and Practice of Social Work.” We did not find this one in the curriculum of Dr. Palmero’s school, even when, according to the 5th section of the decree of March 16, 1931, he should have included it within 30 days. According to the exams registry, students are examined globally, too, in the 2nd year of nursing.

The first year of obstetrics, according to the curriculum of the University, should cover eutocic childbirths exclusively. Dr. Palmero’s, however, includes themes of dystocic births, making the teaching of obstetrics incomprehensible and inadequate.

Finally, the Free School of Nursing and Obstetrics offers in the second year of obstetrics the courses Births Clinic and 2nd Course of Theoretical and Dystocic Obstetrics, with a disorganized and anarchical plan that confuses more than illustrates students.

Puericulture is a very interesting course that the University offers with deep coverage in the last year. Palmero’s School does not. Consequently, the commission believes that Dr. Palmero has not followed the programs of the University.

We want to add an important observation. They provided us with a list of faculty members for the year 1932 and clarified that currently only he and his wife were in charge of all the groups and all the courses. In contrast, the University has 14 faculty members teaching nursing and obstetrics at Hospital General and about the same number at Hospital Juárez. We attach this list of honorable professors, which the National University Office of the Nursing and Obstetrics graciously provided.

The textbooks they use are the Book of Nursing and the Book of Obstetrics authored by Dr. Palmero. The commission believes they are antiquated and deficient, full of vain and useless words. Since the law grants all sorts of liberties to these schools, the commission abstained from doing a detailed analysis and report of them.

In response to the requirements expressed by the Head of the Legal Department in the communication that we received, we summarize the following conclusions:

  1. From a pedagogical and hygienic perspective, the school’s building is inadequate for the intended purpose. We must state the same for the school’s furniture. The pedagogic or teaching material is poor, insufficient, and old-fashioned.
  2. The Palmero School of Nursing and Obstetrics does not have the classrooms, laboratories, and human resources required for teaching and learning.
  3. The curriculum and programs are anti-pedagogic, arbitrary, disorganized, and they do not match with the ones offered at the National University. Each course is poorly developed because they include only a few core concepts and many superfluous, useless, and meaningless ones. The school does not offer three of the most important courses: Hygiene, Theory and Practice of Social Work, and Puericulture, which the curriculum of the National University includes.
  4. There are only two textbooks, both authored by the school’s director. They are old-fashioned, deficient, and full of useless information.
  5. The school does not have a hospital for practices. They only have three rooms which they call “Sanatorium,” but which does not fulfill the requirements for one. Dr. Palmero told us that his students practice at hospitals, consulting rooms of the Welfare Office, patients’ homes and all over the Federal District.
  6. The organization of School Palmero is bad in every aspect. There is no control of students’ practices. There is no specific schedule for regular, theoretico-practical, or practical classes. Students can register any time of the year.
  7. The faculty body is made up of Mr. Dr. Arturo Palmero and his wife.

We attest to you.

June 27, 1936.

The Commission

(signature)                                           (signature)                                                       (signature)

Dr. Manuel Perea.                   Dra. Manuel Morán Calderón.                        Dra. Ester Chapa.

Digital copy of the report3.78 MB