The struggle for women's right to vote in Mexico dates back to the nineteenth century, with the right being achieved in 1953.
The liberal Mexican Constitution of 1857 did not bar women from voting in Mexico or holding office, but "election laws restricted the suffrage to males, and in practice women did not participate nor demand a part in politics," with framers being indifferent to the issue.
Years of civil war and the French intervention delayed any consideration of women's role in Mexican political life, but during the Restored Republic and the Porfiriato (1876–1911), women began organizing to expand their civil rights, including suffrage. Socialist publications in Mexico began advocating changes in law and practice as early as 1878. The journal La Internacional articulated a detailed program of reform that aimed at "the emancipation, rehabilitation, and integral education of women." The era of the Porfiriato did not record changes in law regarding the status of women, but women began entering professions requiring higher education: law, medicine, and pharmacy (requiring a university degree), but also teaching. Liberalism placed great importance on secular education, so that the public school system ranks of the teaching profession expanded in the late nineteenth century, which benefited females wishing to teach and education for girls.
The status of women in Mexico became an issue during the Mexican Revolution, with Francisco I. Madero, the challenger to the continued presidency of Porfirio Diaz interested in the rights of Mexican women. Madero was part of a rich estate-owning family in the northern state of Coahuila, who had attended University of California, Berkeley briefly and traveled in Europe, absorbing liberal ideas and practices. Madero's wife as well as his female personal assistant, Soledad González, "unquestionably enhanced his interest in women's rights." González was one of the orphans that the Maderos adopted; she learned typing and stenography, and traveled to Mexico City following Madero's election as president in 1911. Madero's brief presidential term was tumultuous, and with no previous political experience, Madero was unable to forward the cause of women's suffrage.
Women played a big role in the Mexican Revolution. Mexican Women had different roles in the revolution that played a significant impact in the war. Known as soldaderas, or female soldiers, they participated in meal preparation, house chores, and some even fought on the battlefield. Females aided their husbands and provided support for their families. Some women followed their male counterparts and helped with the services and support for them. Society’s perception of women directly impacted how women were perceived in the Mexican Revolution. They either joined the war, assisted with the needs of the soldiers, and or provided medical supplies or other resources. During this time, they assisted the needs of their male counterparts. According to Mexican standards, women were expected to be submissive to their partner and prioritize his needs at home or in preparation for battle. Machismo, or the sense of masculine pride made it difficult for women to receive any acknowledgement for their efforts in the war. The dictatorship of Proforio Diaz made it difficult for society to keep track of the war efforts of women. Therefore, most women continued to support their families without compensation. As a result of the Diaz dictatorship, different rebellious groups were created in response. These groups were spread along different geographical regions. In the north, Pancho Villa dominated his rebellious group and in the south, Madero dominated his. Women from different regions joined these rebellious groups. The uprising of these rebellions inspired women to pursue fighting in the war due to mass frustration and civil unrest. In Madero’s group, women were praised for their involvement in which female colonels, known as coronelas, played an important role. Unlike the Zapatistas, Villa did not praise the war efforts of women. Villa believed that having females in his group had slowed the progress of his male soldiers. Male soldiers appreciated the company of the soldaderas, so Villa let the female soldiers march with them. Due to a battle in Chihuahua in 1917, Villa had killed 90 women because he had lost the battle. In response, society doubted the efforts of females in the war.
Following his ouster by military coup led by Victoriano Huerta and Madero's assassination, those taking up Madero's cause and legacy, the Constitutionalists (named after the liberal Constitution of 1857) began to discuss women's rights. Venustiano Carranza, former governor of Coahuila, and following Madero's assassination, the "first chief" of the Constitutionalists. Carranza also had an influential female private secretary, Hermila Galindo, who was a champion of women's rights in Mexico.
In asserting his Carranza promulgated political plan Plan de Guadalupe in 1914, enumerating in standard Mexican fashion, his aims as he sought supporters. In the "Additions" to the Plan de Guadalupe, Carranza made some important statements that affected families and the status of women in regards to marriage. In December 1914, Carranza issued a decree that legalized divorce under certain circumstances. Although the decree did not lead to women's suffrage, it eased somewhat restrictions that still existed in the civil even after the nineteenth-century liberal Reforma established the State's right to regulate marriage as a civil rather than an ecclesiastical matter.
Valentina Ramirez, born in 1893 in Durango State, is known as a female fighter. In order to feel a sense of freedom, she fought in the war after her dad died. She dressed up as a male, under the name Juan Ramirez since female soldiers were not allowed directly on the battlefield. Her sense of bravery and independence inspired many women to join the war. Her story inspired the creation of a corrido, “La Valentina”. In the corrido, it mentions the inequality she faced while fighting as a woman in the revolution. Her participation in the war was dismissed by the government since they did not want to recognize the efforts of women. Ramirez’s bravery had earned her the nickname “Mexican Mulan” by the Mexican public. Like Ramirez, many soldaderas adopted male names and wore male clothing to protect their identity. By wearing male clothing, women felt protected against sexual violence in the war.
Other famous soldaderas include Angela Jimenez, who was known as Angel Jimenez. She dressed in male clothing and threatened those who tried to shame her. A prominent figure that symbolizes feminism is “La Adelita”. It is a revolutionary icon that depicts a provocative woman that is armed for war. By showing a woman wearing armed gear, it shows that they can be courageous as well. This depiction goes against the perception of women during the 1910s, in which women were seen as incapable of fighting alongside men. It was until after the revolution that Mexican Revolutionaries were recognized for their participation in the war.
There was increased advocacy for women's rights in the late 1910s, with the founding of a new feminist magazine, Mujer Moderna, which ceased publication in 1919. Mexico saw several international women's rights congresses, the first being held in Mérida, Yucatán, in 1916. The International Congress of Women had some 700 delegates attend, but did not result in lasting changes.
In 1915, President Carranza appointed Salvador Alvarado as military governor of Yucatan. Alvarado advocated for women’s rights at all social class levels. For example, he increased access to medical services for women and sex workers. He increased educational opportunities for women of all social classes. He believed that higher education will allow females to receive higher status and respect. With more females receiving higher education, they were battling gender stereotypes by society during the 1910s. Since women were given more educational opportunities, they were able to seek jobs in government positions. This gave women more power and influence as they took important job positions. This increased the movement for suffrage of women after the revolution period. In 1922, Felipe Carrillo Puerto was appointed governor of Yucatan. Puerto wanted to help the most vulnerable groups such as women, so he implemented socialist policies to help Mexican females. He also advocated for women to receive higher education. Puerto allowed the right for women to divorce their spouses without needing their consent. These figures had helped the feminist movement and increased the journey to suffrage, after the revolution period.
As women's suffrage made progress in Great Britain and the United States, in Mexico there was an echo. Carranza, who was elected president in 1916, called for a convention to draft a new Mexican Constitution that incorporated gains for particular groups, such as the industrial working class and the peasantry seeking land reform. It also incorporated increased restrictions on the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, an extension of the anticlericalism in the Constitution of 1857. The Constitution of 1917 did not explicitly empower women's access to the ballot.
In the northern Mexican state of Sonora, Mexican women pushed for more rights for women, including the vote. Emélida Carrillo and school teacher María de Jesús Váldez led the effort. Notably, the movement for Mexican women's rights there was linked to the movement to exclude and expel Chinese in Mexico, racial essentialism that was also seen in the suffrage movement in the U.S., but generally not elsewhere in Latin America.
In 1916, during the Mexican revolution, the very first Feminist Congress of Yucatan met. The women there discussed and demanded equality so that responsibly help men build a new Mexican society. Yucatan was the first state to recognize women’s right to vote in 1923. Unfortunately, they were soon forced to resign from any positions that they were granted. In 1937, Mexican feminists challenged the wording of the Constitution concerning who is eligible for citizenship – the Constitution did not specify "men and women." María del Refugio García ran for election as a Sole Front for Women's Rights candidate for her home district, Uruapan. García won by a huge margin, but was not allowed to take her seat because the government would have to amend the Constitution. In response, García went on a hunger strike outside President Lázaro Cárdenas's residence in Mexico City for 11 days in August 1937. Cárdenas responded by promising to change Article 34 in the Constitution that September. By December, the amendment had been passed by congress, and women were granted full citizenship.
A growing concern among members of Cárdenas's party around the debate of women's suffrage was that enfranchising women would give power to Mexico's conservative factions, and women would vote against the country's ongoing revolutionary politics. Cárdenas, who had at this point been an advocate for women's rights and suffrage for years, saw the push for women's right to vote as a matter of justice and progress, and believed that Mexico would intrinsictly benefit as a nation from the reform. In 1937, he proposed a constitutional amendment that would establish women's suffrage into national law; this amendment, despite being passed through the Senate and a majority of state legislatures, ultimately failed to get ratified.
Later, in 1947, President Miguel Alemán proposed a constitutional amendment that would let women exercise their right to participate in municipal elections. Upon assuming the presidency, Adolfo Ruíz Cortines fulfilled his campaign promise and sent an initiative to reform Constitutional Articles 34 and 115 that promoted universal suffrage for women to the Chamber of Deputies. However, the vote for women in Mexico was not granted until 1953. The history and meaning of the women's vote in Mexico has been the subject of some recent scholarly research.
Yucatan was the first state to recognize women’s right to vote in 1923.
Later, in 1947, President Miguel Alemán proposed a constitutional amendment that would let women exercise their right to participate in municipal elections.