Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc

The Feminine Brigades of Saint Joan of Arc (Spanish: Las Brigadas Femeninas de Santa Juana de Arco) also known as Guerrilleras de Cristo or (women-soldiers of Christ) is a secret military society for women founded by Mrs. Uribe (also known as Mrs. G. Richaud) on June 21, 1927 in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico.

Formed as a secret Catholic women's society that organized to support the Mexican Cristero War effort, they were affiliated with Unión Popular. Initial membership consisted of only 17 women but grew to 135 women members within a matter of days. At its height, the brigade was composed of 56 squadrons, totaling 25,000 female militants, most active in Jalisco, Guadalajara and Mexico City.

Recruitment, Vows, and Duties

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 Cristero rebels and securing funds, food, information and shelter. The women also provided moral strength and encouragement for battlefield men, motivating the men in their families to follow and defend their beliefs.

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 President Calles letters and petitions explaining their concerns on Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution. They also protested, boycotted businesses that discriminated against its employees based on religion and publicly criticized government action, including the expelling of priests. The women also spread teachings on the church, which included educating their children and teaching catechism. One duty was to spread propaganda with pamphlets throughout Mexico, explaining the mission of the main coordinating Cristero group, known as La Liga Nacional Defensora de la Libertad Religiosa (National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty), or LNDLR. They published the newspaper La Dama Catolica, which also served as propaganda and a way to recruit women to the cause of the Cristeros.

"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 Blessed Sacrament, and they hid wounded and fleeing Cristeros or families whose fathers died in war. They turned their homes into asylums and secret meeting centers for priests to hold Mass and other sacraments. They also provided food, clothing and shelter and offered spiritual advice and religious devotions for Cristeros. The penalty for being discovered was confinement in jail and legal prosecution. When the religiosas were discovered, government troops would search them aggressively and were often known to steal from them. The officials often found items from blessed marriages, coffins with bodies from funerals and documents of baptism, communion and other sacraments.

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.

Complex Logistics Network

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 Cristero army never had enough ammunition to win a decisive victory. Too often, in the heat of battle, they had to disengage so as to live to fight another day.[1]

By 1928 the Brigades had grown in numbers and efficiency and had become an important part of the Cristero effort. The Brigades at this point obeyed the LNDLR leadership only occasionally. The feud between the Brigades and the LNDLR resulted in a serious decrease in the flow of ammunition. Enrique Gorostieta y Valarde, the leader of the LNDLR, had to smooth out relations with the Feminine Brigades. Eventually, the friction was resolved, and the Brigades increased the supply of ammunition to the soldiers in the field.

With the decline of the rebellion and demobilization, the Feminine Brigades dissolved.[2]

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