Manuela S√°enz

Manuela S√°enz

Name: Manuela S√°enz

Occupation: Revolutionary, war hero, spy

Location: Quito, Ecuador, 1797-1856

As seen in: the novels Our Lives are the Rivers, by Jaime Manrique, and Manuela, by Gregroy Kaufmann, the opera Manuela y Bolivar, by Diego Luzuriaga, the film Manuela S√°enz, by Diego Risquez

Manuela S√°enz was born an illegitimate child in an aristocratic family in Quito, Ecuador around the year 1797. Because of hardships and first-hand experience with inequality throughout her childhood, she desired independence and change, and found both when she left her aristocratic husband in 1822 to become a spy under the guidance of Sim√≥n Bolivar in the South American revolution of the 1800s. Manuela was actively engaged in political and military affairs, an intelligence officer for the revolution, and the lover and savior of Sim√≥n Bolivar from 1822 until his death in 1830. Saenz protested for women’s rights, promoted revolutionary behavior, and was one of the first women involved in the revolution.

S√°enz was a spitfire from an early age. She was taken to a convent to be educated when she was young, because as an illegitimate child her family saw her as a stain on their reputation. She was thrown out of the convent when she was seventeen because of an affair with a military officer, and spent many unhappy years in an arranged marriage with an older, aristocratic man in Lima, Peru. As an aristocratic wife, S√°enz met a number of high ranking military and political officials who shared information about rebel activity ‚Äì she sympathized with the revolutionaries, and left her husband in 1822 to join the cause and provide the rebels with the information she’d gleaned from the officers. In May of 1822, S√°enz joined her future lover Sim√≥n Bolivar and his soldiers on the battlefield at Ayacucho, Ecuador. S√°enz acted as a nurse and combatant and supplied food and aid during the battle. When the rebels won, she earned the rank of lietuenant, and became actively involved in planning rebel activity and fighting battles throughout the 1820s, while continuing her work as an intelligence agent for the revolution. At one point in Bogota, Colombia, S√°enz saved Sim√≥n Bolivar from an assasination attempt by throwing herself between him and his enemies, which allowed him to leave through a window. Bolivar referred to her afterward as ‚Äúlibertadora del libertador‚Äù or ‚Äúliberator of the liberator,‚Äù and for her efforts to aid the revolution she was eventually awarded the Order of the Sun, one of the highest military honors in Peru.

Maneula S√°enz, like many women in history, is often written off as inconsequential in the wars for independence in Latin America in the 1800s. But thinking of her as nothing more than the lover of revolutionary leader Sim√≥n Bolivar completely disregards her courage, political and military knowledge, and commitment to the rebel cause. S√°enz fought for independence in her lifetime, and her work as a female officer, military hero, and spy in the 1800s still serves as a valuable record of women’s independence and ingenuity today.

-Rebecca Valley
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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