Clara Campoamor, suffragette
Born in Madrid in 1888, Campoamor was a politician and feminist best known for ensuring women were guaranteed the same rights as men in Spain’s 1931 Constitution.
Funnily enough, she was elected to the constituent assembly in the same year even though women didn’t have the right to vote yet. She fled Spain during the Civil War and died in exile in Switzerland in 1972, having refused to give up the names of her allies to Franco.
Isabella I of Castile, queen and conqueror
Arguably the most influential Spanish woman of all time.
Here’s a quick summary of her exploits: she and her husband unified Spain after centuries of Moorish occupation, she reorganised the government system, brought the crime rate down, unburdened the kingdom of Castile and Leon of the enormous debt brought on by her brother, ordered the conversion or exile of Jews and Muslims from Spain (exiling those who didn’t) and last but not least financed Columbus’ voyage to the New World in 1492.
Margarita Salas, scientist
One of Spain’s most respected scientists, Salas has published over 200 scientific articles and is responsible for the most profitable patent in Spanish history. The royalties from her discovery of a protein make up half of all royalty funds going into Spain’s National Research Council.
María Pita, heroine
María Mayor Fernández de Cámara y Pita (1565–1643), better known as María Pita, is Spain’s version of Joan of Arc.
A heroine in the defence of the Galician city of A Coruña (Galicia) against the English Armada in 1589, she killed the rival commander – the brother of Admiral Francis Drake – and kept on fighting despite her husband also being killed in battle, demoralising the invading troops and leading them to retreat.
Pita was honoured by King Philip II, who granted her the pension of a military officer.
Teresa of Ávila, saint
Born in Ávila in 1515, Teresa was a prominent Spanish mystic, a key Counter Reformation figure and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was canonised forty years after her death and is a key figure among Catholic believers in Spain. Photo:
Lola Flores, artist
Lola Flores (1923-1995) is flamenco’s greatest ever star.
She popularised the artform internationally and – together with Andalusian folklore – shaped people’s views abroad of what was and is quintessentially Spanish, even though for many this is just a stereotype.
She also gave a voice and recognition to Spain’s native gypsy population, who today number around 650,000 people.
Penélope Cruz, actor
There are many great Spanish actresses that are worthy of praise – Carmen Maura, Maribel Verdú, Concha Velasco, Sara Montiel – but none have reached the international celebrity status of Hollywood’s number one Spanish actress Penélope Cruz.
She has been nominated three times for an Oscar including in 2022 for Madres Paralelas (she won best supporting actress for Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona) and is arguably the most famous Spanish woman of modern times.
Rosa María Calaf, journalist
Calaf is widely considered as the most experienced foreign correspondent in Spanish TV history.
For more than thirty years she covered wars and crises in the United States, Russia, Argentina and Asia, overcoming sexism throughout the decades to prove that she could be the best in her profession.
Elena Maseras, pioneer
Maseras was the first Spanish woman who was allowed to enlist as a university student with special dispensation in 1872.
Having been formally admitted to study medicine at the University of Barcelona in 1875, she was finally allowed to graduate in 1882, which set a precedent for other Spanish women to start enrolling at universities across the country.
Lita Cabellut, painter
Practically unknown in Spain, Cabellut is the most sought-after female Spanish painter in the international art world, her larger-than-life paintings – often depicting the female form – sell for hundreds of thousands of euros to Hollywood actors and Arab sheiks.
A tough upbringing (she was abandoned as a baby and grew up in the streets) did not stop the 60 year old from achieving wide success, and she represents the many Spanish female artists who preceded her – Maruja Mallo, Remedios Varo, María Blanchard and more – who never achieved the same recognition as their male counterparts.