1919: Costa Rican Women Teachers Defy Dictator

The attacks on education and educators by the Tinoco dictatorship in Costa Rica led to an opposition movement led by female students and teachers.

Submitted by Reddebrek on January 25, 2017

Costa Rican women teachers defend schools, help bring down a dictator, 1919

In 1917, the government of Alfredo Gonzalez Flores was overthrown in a coup d'état, wherein Minister of War Federico Tinoco seized power and appointed his brother, Jose Joaquin Tinoco, the new Minister of War. During this time the Tinoco regime severely curtailed civil liberties and the freedom of the press and assembly.

At the same time, the country was going through a severe financial crisis stemming from the externalities of World War I: a decline in exports and a rise in debts in Costa Rica. The Tinoco regime’s economic policies seriously affected teachers, who were poorly paid and only paid in tercerillas (thirds), bank notes that represented a third of their salary to be redeemed at a future, unnamed time. Associates of the state would purchase tercerillas at half their value from teachers who needed the money immediately before redeeming them for their full value at a local bank. Often times, supporters of the regime were hired as schoolteachers over others.

When teachers protested these policies, Tinoco threatened them with layoffs, firings, and a revamping of their pension plans. Thus schoolteachers began to form the main opposition to Tinoco’s rule. Maria Isabel Carvajal emerged as a leader of the movement, instrumental to organizing women schoolteachers.

In early June of 1919, a conference for schoolteachers developed into a meeting to create a national association of educators to protect teachers’ rights and lobby for more education funding. The Tinoco regime responded to the group’s formation by forcing the directors of the country’s secondary schools to circulate a form among educators that would voluntarily sign away a portion of their salary to the war effort.

Instead, teachers signed a declaration against the regime in which they refused to sign away their salaries. A majority of educators in San José signed the petition.

Tinoco issued an order to close the schools and colleges in order to institute a “reorganization of personnel.”

Students from the Liceo de Costa Rica, a male secondary school, marched on June 11, 1919, to the elite, all-female Colegio de Señoritas in support of their teachers. Police stopped their advance, dispersed the protest, and, by restricting street activity, prevented a scheduled association meeting from taking place later that night.

The next day, June 12, Tinoco announced that the school year was suspended, the school inspectors were to be eliminated, and the salaries of the loyal remaining teachers were to be raised.

In response, the students of the Colegio de Señoritas marched to San José’s Morazán Park. They were joined by teachers, students from other schools, and workers. They demanded better teachers’ salaries and a reversal of education budget cuts. Some of the female students addressed the crowd from the kiosk in Morazán Park, and were defended by their teachers when the police used physical force to stop the demonstration.

Police used fire hoses to disperse the crowd, but the demonstrators reformed and marched to the United States Embassy. Shortly thereafter, the police cleared the crowd with gunfire.

On June 13, Andrea Mora, Carmen Lyra, and Ana Rosa Cachón led, with the support of Carvajal, mostly female teachers and students back to Morazán Park. Their numbers grew. They marched on and set fire to the building of the official state newspaper, La Informacion.

Police and soldiers attacked the protesters, firing into the US consulate where some had fled, resulting in numerous dead and wounded. Protests died down after this event, although remnants of the organization remained and regrouped after Tinoco's fall.

Turbulence continued in the summer. The economy continued to deteriorate, Tinoco's brother was assassinated by an unknown assailant, a rebellion broke out in Sapoa. The U.S. continued to pressure the regime as well. In August, Tinoco left the country for Paris.

In the election that followed, Julio Acosta, the leader of the revolutionary movement in Sapoa, campaigned to become President, on a platform including women's suffrage. He won.

The 1919 protest is credited by historians with aiding the women’s movement in Costa Rica. The Liga Feminista was established on October 12, 1923, and would, in 1924, successfully dispute the efforts of male teachers to submit a bill that would exclusively raise the salaries of male but not female teachers. The League tirelessly worked for women’s suffrage in Costa Rica, finally achieving it in 1949.


The protests were influenced by a teacher's protest in Argentina in 1918. (1)


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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:

Susana Medeiros, 02/10/2012

Published for the Global Nonviolent Action Database