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16+ Catalan women you should know

From writers and activists to singers and athletes, celebrate International Women’s Day by getting to know 16 women who have changed Catalonia

16 women who changed Catalonia
16 women who changed Catalonia / Creative Commons / ACN

Lea Beliaeva Bander | @leabander | Barcelona

March 8, 2024 12:07 PM

March 8, 2024 01:02 PM

From writers and activists to singers and athletes, celebrate International Women’s Day by getting to know 16 women who have changed Catalonia.

1) Caterina Albert/Víctor Català (1869-1966) 

Caterina Albert was a Catalan novelist and playwright, born in the northern seaside town of L’Escala, who gained recognition for her novel ‘Solitud’ (Solitude, in English), written under the pseudonym Víctor Català. Published in 1905, the work describes the inner thoughts and struggles of a married woman in search of her own identity, a taboo subject at the time. Albert first came to prominence with her play, ‘La Infanticida,’ about a woman who kills her newborn baby. After the criticism Albert received over the play as a woman, she decided to adopt the pseudonym of Víctor Català, a name she would use for the rest of her life, paying homage to Catalonia with its not-so-subtle reference to a Catalan victory (in Catalan: Victoria Catalana). 

If you like Caterina Albert, check out... Dolors Monserdà 

2) Teresa Claramunt (1862 – 1931) 

Teresa Claramunt was born into a working-class family and was a factory worker in the industrial city of Sabadell. There, she became active in the women’s anarchist movement and participated in strikes, believing that women should be organized and educated if they were ever to achieve equal rights. With this in mind, in 1891 she co-founded the Autonomous Society of Women in Barcelona, the first anarcho-feminist republican organization in Spain, along with other prominent feminist thinkers such as Ángeles López de Ayala and Amalia Domingo Soler. There, working-class women gathered to learn how to read, write, and discuss political and social issues. She was often arrested and imprisoned for being an anarchist, including during the Montjuïc Trial in 1896. Her work would inspire the creation of the feminist and anti-fascist organization Free Women (Mujeres Libres) in 1936, which had more than 25,000 members during the civil war. 

If you like Teresa Claramunt, check out... Sara Berenguer and Carmen Karr 

3) Francesca Bonnemaison (1872-1949) 

Another woman who believed in education as a tool for empowerment was Francesca Bonnemaison. Born in Barcelona, Francesca was the director of what was to become the first free library for women in Europe, the Women’s Popular Library in Barcelona. Although it started modestly with only 100 books, it grew quickly, and had more than 23,000 titles before the Civil War. The library later became a cultural institute, where women could not only learn how to read and write, but also gain knowledge of foreign languages, science, and politics. Later, the library also had an employment office for women, and Bonnemaison founded a women’s swimming club in Badalona. Today, the Women’s Popular Library is a cultural center named after Bonnemaison, located in the Born neighborhood of Barcelona. 

If you like Francesca Bonnemaison, check out... Rosa Sensat 


4) Federica Montseny (1905-1994) 

Born in Madrid to anarchist parents, who had fled the Montjuïc trials, Federica Montseny became a prominent anarchist thinker, activist, politician and writer, publishing more than thirty books throughout her life. At the age of 9, she and her family returned to Barcelona, and in her teens she became involved in anarcho-syndicalist activism in the CNT union, which she was a member of her whole life. In 1936, during the Second Spanish Republic, she became Spain’s first female minister, heading the Ministry of Health and Social Assistance, where, among other things, she promoted abortion rights. After the Spanish Civil War, she went into exile in France, where she continued her activism through the CNT.     

If you like Federica Montseny, check out... Teresa Mañé and Maria Dolors Bargalló 

5) Lola Anglada (1890s-1984) 

Lola Anglada was an Catalanist Republican illustrator and children's book author born in Barcelona at some point between 1892 and 1896. She began drawing at an early age and is considered one of the first professional female illustrators. During the Civil War, in 1937, she collaborated with the Catalan propaganda ministry illustrating and publishing the anti-fascist children’s book ‘El més petit de tots’, based on the sculpture made by Catalan Miquel Paredes from the same year. 

If you like Lola Anglada, check out... Pilarín Bayés 

6) Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) 

Born in Barcelona’s Sant Gervasi neigborhood, Mercè Rodoreda was an internationally acclaimed Catalan novelist, considered by many to be the most influential contemporary Catalan writer. Her books, including la ‘Plaça del diamant’ (published as ‘The Time Of The Doves’ in English), have been translated into more than 30 languages. Like many of her contemporaries, she was forced into exile during the dictatorship and spent more than 30 years outside of Catalonia, before returning in 1972. Her 1996 novel ‘El carrer de les camèlies’ (Camellia Street), written during her in exile, is considered one of the best novels about Barcelona ever written. 

If you like Mercè Rodoreda, check out... Montserrat Roig, Maria Mercè Marçal and Maria Aurèlia Capmany   

7) Carmen Amaya (1913 – 1963) 

Carmen Amaya was born in the beach shantytown of Somorrostro in Barcelona to a Roma family of musicians from the Amaya family. She danced flamenco from an early age and went on to become one of the greatest flamenco dancers of all time, famous for dancing the fast-moving parts of men and insisting on wearing pants while dancing. At 16, she performed at the 1929 Barcelona Universal Exposition, which led her to a long, international career singing, dancing and acting on Broadway and in Hollywood and around the world. She starred in the 1963 film Los Tarantos, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category.

If you like Carmen Amaya, check out... Raquel Meller   

8) Neus Català (1915 - 2019) 

Born in the small town of Guiamets, Neus Català was a communist and anti-fascist activist and nurse, who joined the French Resistance after crossing into France in 1939 with over 100 refugee children under her care. She was captured by the Gestapo in 1943 and tortured before being deported to the German concentration camp, Ravensbrück, for women in 1944. When the Second World War ended, she returned to France, where she continued her fight against the Spanish Franco regime.  

If you like Neus Català, check out...Conxita Grangé 

9) Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018) 

Montserrat Caballé was a world-renowned opera soprano, who grew up in the Vila de Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona. She studied at the Liceu Music Conservatory before making her international breakthrough in 1965 when she substituted Marilyn Horne in Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall in New York City. During a career that spanned more than six decades, she sang in over 80 different operas, and also famously collaborated with Freddie Mercury on the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics anthem “Barcelona”. 

If you like Montserrat Caballé, check out... Concepció “Conxita” Badia

Primer pla de Montserrat Caballé en un concert de l'estiu del 2012 al Festival de Peralada. (Horitzontal)
Montserrat Caballé performing in 2012 at the Perelada Festival / Mar Martí

10) Colita (1940-2023) 

Isabel “Colita” Steva was one of the most important photographers and photojournalists in Catalonia and in Spain. Famous for capturing the nightlife scene of the Barcelona leftist bourgeoisie, La Gauche Divine, around the Bocaccio nightclub during last decade of the dictatorship, she also photographed celebreties such as Gabriel García Márquez, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Orson Wells. Not only that, she documented life in the shantytowns of Montjuïc and Somorrostro and also became friends with Carmen Amaya on the set of Los Tarantos. In 2014, she rejected the Spanish National Photography Prize awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Culture in protest of the “pitiful” state of the cultural sector in Spain.   

If you like Colita, check out...Pilar Aymerich 

11) Silvia Reyes (born in 1949)  

Not a native Catalan, trans activist Silvia Reyes was born in the Canary Islands, and came to Barcelona in 1972 after completing her military service. She became a key figure in the Catalan LGBT+ movement and participated in the city’s first LGBT demonstration in 1977, led by the Front d’Alliberament Gai, in 1977. Throughout her life, she was arrested more than 50 times, and was imprisoned in Barcelona’s notorious La Model prison. Due to the anti-LGBT law called the Social Danger and Rehabilitation Act during and after the Franco dictatorship, she was sent to conversion therapy in Badajoz and was banned from returning to Catalonia for two years in 1975. She moved to Paris and became a dancer but would often return to the Catalan capital, where she still lives today. 

If you like Silvia Reyes, check out... Mar C. Llop 

12) Carme Ruscalleda (born in 1952) 

Carme Ruscalleda is a self-taught Catalan chef, who has won seven Michelin stars. Born in the Catalan beach town of Sant Pol de Mar, about 50 kilometers north of Barcelona in Maresme, she pays homage to her family’s farming roots by cooking traditional Catalan cuisine with seasonal local products from Maresme, sprinkled with a bit of avant-garde. Although her restaurants in her hometown and in Tokyo, Japan closed in 2018 and 2023, respectively, her food is still served at Moments at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Barcelona, run by Ruscalleda’s son. 

If you like Carme Ruscalleda, check out... Anna Bellsolà 

Carme Ruscalleda, receives honorary doctorate by University of Barcelona
Carme Ruscalleda receives an honorary doctorate from the University of Barcelona / Pere Francesch

13) Carmen Valero (1955-2024)  

Considered the best Spanish female athlete of the 20th century, Carmen Valero, grew up in Cerdanyola del Vallès between Barcelona and Sabadell. She was a middle-distance runner who was the first woman on the track and field team to represent Spain in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and a two-time world champion in cross-country running. Despite her success on the field, she retired from sports in 1980, frustrated by the discrimination she faced as a woman in sports and later as a new mother in sport. She never became a professional athlete during her career because women were paid ten times less than men, and instead, worked in a bank from 1977 to 2018. 

If you like Carmen Valero, check out... Arantxa Sánchez 

14) Carla Simón (born in 1986) 

Not everyone can say that they have made a feature film, and even fewer can say that their first feature film was selected to represent Spain at the Academy Awards. But Catalan film director Carla Simón can. Although, her first film ‘Estiu 1993’ (‘Summer 1993’) was not nominated for an Oscar in the end, it went on to win numerous Spanish Goya and Feroz awards, as well as several Catalan Gaudí awards. Her next film, ‘Alcarràs’, from 2022 won the Golden Bear at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival, being the first Catalan film to do so. A common theme in Simón’s films is family, and the director takes inspiration from her own life experiences.  

If you like Carla Simón, check out... Pilar Palomero and Rosa Vergés 

15) Rosalía (born in 1992) 

Rosalía is the Catalan megastar known for mixing musical styles and genres. Since releasing her first flamenco-inspired album ‘Los Ángeles’ in 2017, she has become the most listened to artist from all of Spain on Spotify and has collaborated with artists such as Björk, Billie Eilish and The Weekend. Her second album ‘El mal querer’, which was her final school project at the Catalonia College of Music, mixed flamenco sounds with urban music to create her own distinctive sound, and was hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the best albums of all time. With her third album ‘Motomami’, she dived into the world of Latin-inspired music, which earned her 4 Latin Grammys and international critical acclaim. 

If you like Rosalía, check out... Bad Gyal and Rigoberta Bandini 

Rosalía concert at Primavera Sound 2023
Rosalía at Primavera Sound 2023 / Jordi Borràs

16) Alexia Putellas (born in 1994) 

Alexia Putellas is the captain of FC Barcelona and has led the team to become one of the best in history, with numerous Champions League titles and domestic league successes. She has also captained the Spanish woman’s national team and won 2 Ballons d’Or. Off the field, she stood by her teammate Jenni Hermoso and started the #SeAcabó movement, the #Metoo of the Spanish football, denouncing sexism and sexual assault on and off the field after the world watched then-president of the Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales forcibly kiss Hermoso after winning the 2023 World Cup.   

If you like Alexia Putellas, check out... Aitana Bonmatí