The name of Eva Perón is permanently embedded in the national consciousness of Argentina. Rightly called the ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’, Perón fought tirelessly for women’s rights as well as human rights until her tragic demise at the young age of 33. On the 102nd anniversary of her birthday, we revisit Eva Perón life and career as a celebration of her achievements which continue to inspire younger generations all over the world.
Born in rural Argentina in 1919, Perón grew up in poverty as the youngest of five children in the family. Her father abandoned her family when she was just a year old, forcing her mother to move to the poorest neighbourhood in the area where she sewed clothes to support the children. After her father’s death, Perón’s sisters and mother worked as cooks and took any odd jobs they could find. The family’s financial condition improved relatively when Perón’s older brother started chipping in which enabled them to move to a bigger place.
Perón showed an inclination towards the performing arts since she was a child, acting in school productions as well as performing in concerts. She also recalled that going to the cinema was one of her favourite ways to spend the time. Although her mother wanted to marry her off at a young age, Perón wanted to become an actress instead. She knew that her dreams were substantial when she acted in a 1933 school play which has been described as a “an emotional, patriotic, flag-waving melodrama.” Two years later, she ran away from home at the age of 15 to follow her dreams in Buenos Aires.
She had travelled to the capital city with a young musician but their relationship was short-lived. Despite the setback, she stayed behind in Buenos Aires without any formal education. She did not know anyone in the city either and the conditions were very unstable during that time: “In direct contrast, the 1930s were also years of great unemployment, poverty, and hunger in the capital, and many new arrivals from the interior were forced to live in tenements, boardinghouses and in outlying shanties.” To make ends meet, Perón managed to find work while acting for multiple theatre companies. She soon landed her first film role and even got a radio contract.
By the age of 20, Perón started her own business in the entertainment industry which was involved in making radio programs. However, her first major success came in 1943 when she played famous historical parts like Queen Elizabeth and Catherine the Great for a popular radio show called Great Women of History. Due to its unprecedented success, she experienced financial stability – something that she had not been very familiar with. After building the foundations for a good life, Perón ventured into politics in the hopes of bringing about change. In 1944, she first met Colonel Juan Perón who would soon be elected the President of the country. She learnt about politics from his inner circle and used her radio programs to connect with the common people through her populist speeches.
When her husband won the elections by a large margin, Perón became heavily involved in the governance of the country as well. She unofficially participated in the operations of the ministries of labour and health, trying to make sure that she understood the needs of the people. While bringing attention to issues concerning labour rights, Perón also actively campaigned for women’s suffrage in the country. To add to her achievements, she was also the founder and leader of the first major female political party – the Female Peronist Party. After all her hard work, Perón decided to run for the position of Vice President in 1951 but faced tough opposition from the rich as well as the Argentine military who did not consider her to be good enough.
Sadly, Perón had to withdraw her candidacy due to her declining health. She died due to complications from cervical cancer in June of 1952, leaving the country in mourning. The privilege of a state funeral is only reserved for heads of state but Perón received one. Although Perón’s legacy is complicated by allegations of Antisemitism and fascism, her position in history has been immortalised because of her influence on younger leaders like Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – the first female President of Argentina who stated that the country will forever be moved by “her example of passion and combativeness”.