Social assistance in Francoist Spain
The Francoists sought to mobilize women for their war effort, but to do so in ways that respected their understanding of correct gender roles. Social Assistance was their principal vehicle for doing so. These pages come from the Social Assistance logbook of a young woman from Sevilla in 1938 and 1939.
A decree of 7 October 7 1937 mandated that all unmarried women in Francoist Spain between the ages of 17 and 35 were required to do six months unpaid work in one or more of a number of designated social services. This logbook records service in a canteen, a pharmacy, and a hospital. The objective was to “apply female aptitudes to relieve the suffering produced in the current struggle and postwar social anguish, while taking advantage of the capacities of women to affirm the new climate of brotherhood” proclaimed in the program of the Falange. Social service was declared a national duty and while there was no penalty for not doing it, proof of completion was required for a woman to get a job in the civil service. By 1939, the organization was running 2,487 canteens, 1,561 kitchens and some 3,000 social centers for the care of mothers and children.
This official social service built on existing examples. The Carlists had created their own women’s organization, the Margaritas (Daisies), in 1919 to provide a feminine model in contrast to that of liberal, republican or leftist societies. During the Civil War, they made uniforms and collected food for the Carlist fighters and served as nurses in military hospitals. An organization called Women at the Service of Spain (MSE) was created in Lugo shortly after the outbreak of the war. Its main activity was to establish workshops where women sewed clothes for Francoist soldiers. By 1939, MSE had almost 25,000 members in 125 towns and villages across Galicia.
The actual forerunner for Social Assistance was an organization called Winter Assistance created in Valladolid in October 1936 by Mercedes Sanz Bachiller. She was the widow of Onésimo Redondo, one of the founders of Spanish fascism who had been killed by Republican militias in the first weeks of the war, and her organization was directly inspired by the Nazis’ Winter Relief. Its principal goal was to provide assistance to women, children and refugees suffering because of military and political violence.
When the Falange and the Carlists were fused into a single organization in April 1937, Winter Assistance became part of its National Directorate of Social Assistance. Sanz Bachiller was appointed its first director, making her one of the very few women to achieve a position of any significance in the Francoist regime, although she was replaced in 1940.
Social service remained in place throughout the life of the Franco dictatorship and was abolished only in August 1978.