Woman of the Month

Paulina Luisi

September 22, 1875 - July 17,1950

Early Life

Paulina Luisi was born in Argentina in 1875. Her mother, Maria Teresa Josefina Janicki was of Polish descent and her father, Angel Luisi was believed to have come from an Italian ancestry. Paulina Luisi received a bachelor's degree in 1899 and later was the first female physician and surgeon that graduated from the School of Medicine of the University of Uruguay.  

Her mother Maria encouraged her daughter to pursue her dreams despite the social stigma placed on women at the time. Her father, Angel, an educator and socialist, instilled in her “an uncontainable desire for justice and liberty.”  

Thus, throughout her life, Luisi recognized herself as a socialist and her attention was mainly focused on getting people to practice moral unity. By this she meant that all people should be aware of their responsibilities in a society. In her case, the main purpose of moral unity was: (i) to restrain the practice of prostitution; (ii) to check the spread of venereal disease; (iii) to protect the future of the human race; and (iv) to elevate motherhood from the realm of lust to that of progenitor and guardian of the species.

Her Career

Luisi was the first Latin American woman that participated in the League of Nations as a government representative. She acted as Delegate of the Uruguayan Government to the Commission for the Protection of children and youth and for the fight against women and children trade.  

She worked as a teacher at the Teacher's Training College for Women and as an advocate reaching out for social hygiene related to the teaching profession. A controversial aspect of Luisi’s moral reform platform was obligatory sex-health education programs in the public school system. She suggested having these programs first introduced in the primary schools and then continuing on to the secondary level. She defined sex education as “the pedagogic tool to teach the individual to subject sexual drives to the will of an instructed, conscientious, and responsible intellect.”  

In 1917, Luisi published a definition of feminism in the magazine Acción Femenina stating: "…demonstrating that woman is something more than material created to serve and obey man like a slave, that she is more than a machine to produce children and care for the home; that women have feelings and intellect; that it is their mission to perpetuate the species and this must be done with more than the entrails and the breasts; it must be done with a mind and a heart prepared to be a mother and an educator; that she must be the man’s partner and counselor not his slave."  

Classes in sex education would emphasize the need for will power and self-discipline, regular moderate physical exercise to burn up sexual energy, and the desirability of avoiding sexually stimulating entertainments. As opposed to sex education, health education classes would focus more on the scientific aspects of reproduction of the species, natural history, anatomy, personal hygiene, and the prevention of venereal diseases. Due to these suggestions, Luisi was called an anarchist and a revolutionary. She was also accused of wanting to teach students how to become prostitutes. However, in 1944, her suggestions about sex-health education were finally incorporated into the Uruguayan public school system. 

Luisi is also known for writing several papers addressed to students, as well as, to the general public which were included in magazines, brochures, and even in Congresses' acts. Some of these articles were: 

  • Prophylaxis of contagious diseases; 
  • Hygiene in human growth;  
  • Eugenics;  
  • Open air schools;  
  • Improvement of hereditary qualities, Social diseases;  
  • White slave trade and Regulations – a social disgrace;  
  • Regulations on prostitution;  
  • Fight against venereal diseases. 

Through her inspiring writing, Luisi was able to become the founder and primary editor of the magazine "Acción Femenina" (Feminine Action), which was primarily focused on topics revolving around women. She was fondly appreciative towards poetry and drama. Luisi is also known for being the chief figure in starting the Movement of women's liberation in Uruguay. 

Conclusion

In her later years, although retired from active life, she kept conscious of and attentive to social developments.  

Paulina Luisi, Uruguayan leader of her country’s feminist movement, the first Uruguayan woman to earn a medical degree, a highly respected educator. She died at age 65 in Montevideo. The Medicine School of Montevideo named one of the library pavilions of the Faculty after her.

 

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