Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc
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The Feminine Brigades of Saint Joan of Arc (
Formed as a secret Catholic women's society that organized to support the Mexican
Recruitment began in Catholic women's colleges but quickly spread among the indigenous population and across all social classes. Each member was to take vows of faith and absolute secrecy. The primary functions of the group were nursing wounded
Many of the first feminine Brigades were young, working-class women from the city. Soon, more women from rural regions also joined, and they facilitated munitions delivery by navigating areas where Cristeros were. As their membership increased, so did their duties, to the extent that they were often in the field of battle.
The women took a vow of faith and absolute secrecy in front of a crucifix, promising to die rather than betray the secrets and cause of the Cristeros, even if tortured or promised payment. No evidence supports that the vow was ever broken. The women in the Brigades sent
"Señoras," women associated with the Brigades and the UDCM (Union de Damas Catolicas de Mexico), were chiefly married, urban dwelling and middle and upper class. They offered religious teaching and childcare to working women and their families, donated food and clothes to charities and the needy, supported seminars and vocations and opened Catholic schools and libraries. All the women marched in protests, but only señoras submitted demands to the government ministry; señoras were the main "mouthpiece" for women of the Cristero cause.
"Religiosas" had to be less public than the señoras. They went underground to provide places for worship and sanctuaries for the
The religiosas were also responsible for a spy communication system (via mail, telegraph and verbal communication) warning Cristeros about soldiers' movements. The women also nursed, performed surgery, provided medical equipment, and were directly involved in the Feminine Brigades. They changed their locations frequently to avoid government troops.
The "jovenes" were usually young female active revolutionaries, including some "religiosas" who were sometimes in active battle alongside the Cristeros.
The Feminine Brigades were considered very independent and were credited by field commanders for sustaining the rebellion. They operated in squadrons to provide various kinds of ammunition, manufacturing it themselves and distributing it through a complex network of supply routes.
These women devised creative and clandestine ways to keep soldiers supplied, including special vests for smuggling ammunition out of federal factories and secret workshops for the production of homemade explosives, such as grenades made out of jelly tins. These 25,000 women also carried messages—written on silk and hidden within the soles of shoes—between units. All their activities were carried out under an oath of secrecy. The efforts of the Joan of Arc Brigades notwithstanding, the
By 1928 the Brigades had grown in numbers and efficiency and had become an important part of the
With the decline of the rebellion and demobilization, the Feminine Brigades dissolved.