A short biography of Libertad Rodenas, noted Spanish anarchist and member of Mujeres Libres.
Libertad Rodenas Dominguez was born in Chera in Valencia on the 23rd September 1893 (although other sources give 1891 or 1892). Her father Custodio was a freethinker who had lived in Paris and had read Voltaire. He had rejected Christianity and had become a republican and anti-clerical. Custodio’s other children were called Progeso and Volney, the latter after the abolitionist and philosopher.
Libertad went to a secular school at the age of five but had to leave after a short time. She studied photography and read a lot. She began work at an early age caring for a sick child and then training as a dressmaker. This was a period of great social agitation and Libertad began to frequent political meetings. Little by little she become a talented orator and intervened from 1915-1916 at various meetings and conferences.
In 1918 she emigrated with all of her family to Barcelona. Here she came in contact with the CNT and began taking an active part in it, joining the textile workers union of the CNT. She intervened in the Regional Conference of the CNT in Sants. She then took part in propaganda tours to explain the decisions of the conference and to assist in the setting up of syndicates. During one of these tours she met her future partner José Viadiu at Valls in 1920, himself active in the CNT.
Her home in Barcelona became a centre for meetings of anarchist militants and as a refuge for those persecuted by the authorities. It was also used to hide arms which were used in defence against the murderous attacks on militants by the authorities and their gunmen hired from the criminal underworld. Libertad and her brothers were all involved in defence groups.
Volney and a cousin called Armando were arrested and one night the ley de fugas (the so-called law of flight where the police shot militants by using the excuse that they were attempting to escape) was applied by the police. Armando subsequently died of his injuries although Volney managed to get away and go into hiding. Shortly after, Libertad’s other brother Progeso was wounded in a shooting.
After one meeting on the 13th December 1920, Libertad was arrested and imprisoned for 3 months after the killing of the policeman Espejo. She refused to renounce her militancy.
After her release and after the murder of the anarchist militant Amalio Cerdeño Alcano Libertad went with Rosario Dulcet to Madrid where they addressed a meeting on the abuses of the provincial governor General Martinez Anido and the police chief General Arlegui throughout Catalonia. This had been On 22nd March she addressed a meeting in Barcelona, where she was protected by militants of the defence groups and where she denounced the leader of the so-called free unions ( yellow unions set up by Arlegui and co.) as a murderer.
She continued with propaganda tours throughout Spain. This resulted in many arrests and detentions. She organised a conference on the Present Situation of Women on 11th November 1921 at an ateneo in Madrid. She hid most of the 25 anarchists who had broken out of Tarrassa prison in her home.
Libertad was active in the anarchist group in Sants, “Brisas Libertarias” (Libertarian Breezes) with Rosario Segarra. Later she was involved in a group with Rosario Dulcet, Mirailles, Garcia and others. She was also active in the prisoners’ support committees.
She formed a relationship with Viadiu in 1922, had three children and had to drop out of activity for a while. She renewed her activity in 1930. In 1931 she actively campaigned for the FAI.
In 1936 she enlisted in the Durruti Column and fought at the front. She took part in the capture of Pina Del Ebro, fought in the trenches and took part in a night raid. She then was occupied with the evacuation of 600 children from Aragon to Barcelona.
She joined the libertarian women’s organisation Mujeres Libres at the beginning of 1937 and contributed to its paper. One of the first results of militarisation of the militias was the banning of women from the columns. This had a lot to do with her decision to join ML.
She involved herself in literacy campaigns especially in the activities of the House of The Working Women, where 600 to 899 women were taught to read and write. She also took an active part in the activities of International Antifascist Solidarity (SIA), above all in the evacuation of children from Madrid.
She fled across the border with the collapse of the republican government. She went to Bordeaux where together with Viadiu, Eusebio Carbo and his family, and José Peirats, she embarked for Santo Domingo. There the group set up an agricultural collective. After having almost died of either a sider’s bite or a bout of malaria, she moved with Viadiu for a short time to Havana and then on to Mexico, disembarking at Veracruz on 14th February 1942. There they continued to be active in the CNT in exile.
One of the great tragedies of her life was occasioned by her three children being sent to the USSR for safety during the Civil War. Only the youngest, Ismael, rejoined her in 1946 and she never heard from the other two children ever again. After her death it was found out that they had died during World War Two in the battle for Leningrad in 1941, after being inducted into the Soviet defence units.
Her great oratorical skills and her ceaseless activity had much to do with the entry of so many women into the CNT. The writer and politician referred to her as “ the pale vestal of red unionism”.
Libertad Ródenas died on January 19th, 1970 in Mexico.