Laura Méndez de Cuenca—poet, teacher, editor, writer, and feminist—dared to bypass the cultural traditions of her time.
In the early 1870s, when conservative religious thought permeated all aspects of Mexican life, she was one of very few women to gain admission to an extraordinary constellation of male poets, playwrights, and novelists, who were also the publicists and statesmen of the time. She entered this world through her poetry, intellect, curiosity, assertiveness, but her personal life was fraught with tragedy: she had a child out of wedlock by poet Manuel Acuña, who killed himself shortly thereafter. She later married another poet, Agustín Fidencio Cuenca, and had seven other children. All but two of her children died, as did Agustín.
As a penniless young widow facing social rejection, Laura became a teacher and an important force in Mexico’s burgeoning educational reform program. She moved abroad—first to San Francisco, then St. Louis, then Berlin. In these places where she was not known and women had begun to move confidently in the public sphere, she could walk freely, observe, mingle, make friends across many circles, learn, think, and express her opinions. She wrote primarily for a Mexican public and always returned to Mexico because it was her country’s future that she strove to create.
Now, for the first time in English, Mílada Bazant shares with us the trajectory of a leading Mexican thinker who applied the power of the pen to human feeling, suffering, striving, and achievement.