Matilde Hidalgo de Prócel (Loja, September 29, 1889 – Guayaquil, February 20, 1974) was an Ecuadorian physician, poet, and activist who was a pioneer for women’s rights in Ecuador and Latin America, becoming the first woman to vote in the country and the continent in 1924. As a doctor, she also became the first woman to earn a Doctorate in Medicine in Ecuador, using her platform to fight for women’s rights and improve healthcare for women and children. She was an active member of feminist organizations and expressed her views through poetry. Her legacy as one of the most important women in Ecuadorian history endures, inspiring future generations to fight for gender equality. Matilde Hidalgo was honored by Google on November 21, 2019, with a Google Doodle commemorating what would have been her 130th birthday.
Matilde Hidalgo Navarro de Procel made history as the first woman to graduate from high school in Ecuador, and went on to achieve several other groundbreaking milestones. Born in Loja to Juan Manuel Hidalgo and Carmen Navarro, Matilde grew up with five siblings. After her father passed away, her mother worked as a seamstress to support the family. Despite limited means, Matilde was able to attend school at the Immaculate Conception of the Sisters of Charity, where she excelled in her studies.
After finishing sixth grade, Matilde expressed to her older brother, Antonio, her desire to pursue further education. Antonio approached the director of Colegio Bernardo Valdivieso, a secular high school, to request admission for his sister. Angel Rubén Ojeda, the school’s director, initially hesitated but eventually relented after a month of consideration. However, Matilde faced opposition from the community, including the local priest who forced her to stand outside the church during mass and mothers who forbade their daughters from befriending her. Despite these challenges, Matilde’s mother supported her throughout. Despite facing social rejection, Matilde persevered, and on October 8, 1913, she became the first woman in Ecuador to graduate from high school.
Initially, Matilde Hidalgo was denied admission to the Central University of Ecuador due to her gender. The dean of the faculty of medicine told her that she should focus on starting a family instead. Undeterred, Hidalgo traveled to Azuay in 1919 and eventually graduated with honors in medicine from the University of Cuenca. In 1921, she returned to Quito and was finally admitted to the Central University of Ecuador for her doctorate program, becoming the first woman in Ecuador to earn a doctorate. Hidalgo later married Fernando Procel, a lawyer, and they had two children, Fernando and Gonzalo Procel. Fernando became a doctor and Gonzalo became an architect.
Matilde Hidalgo de Procel passed away in Guayaquil, Ecuador at the age of 85 in 1974 due to complications from an earlier stroke. Following her death, a museum dedicated to her life and accomplishments was established in Loja, Ecuador.
Professional life and suffrage
Matilde Hidalgo made history during the presidency of José Luis Tamayo when she announced her intention to vote in the 1924 Ecuadorian presidential election, despite women being prohibited from doing so. The matter was put under ministerial consultation and was ultimately decided in her favor. On June 9, 1924, Hidalgo cast her vote in Loja, Ecuador, becoming the first woman in Latin America to exercise her constitutional right to vote in a national election. This event also made Ecuador the first country on the continent to grant women the right to vote.
Matilde Hidalgo broke yet another glass ceiling when she became the first elected councilwoman of Machala and the first vice-president of the Council of Machala. She continued her political journey in 1941, becoming the first woman candidate and elected woman public administrator in Loja, despite the initial resistance from the city, gaining the title of “Assistant Deputy”. Matilde also worked as a physician in Guayaquil until 1949, when she was awarded a scholarship to study Pediatrics, Neurology, and Dietetics in Argentina.
Awards and recognitions
- Matilde Hidalgo was the first woman to receive a high school diploma in Loja and in the country.
- She was also the first woman to be licensed in medicine from Universidad del Azuay (now Universidad de Cuenca) and the first to receive a doctorate in medicine from Universidad de Quito.
- Matilde Hidalgo was the first academic professional woman in the country.
- She made history as the first woman to vote in Latin America and served as the first female Vice President of a Municipal Council and the first Deputy Elected to Congress.
- Matilde was a teacher, politician, poet, professional, public official, wife, and mother.
- She received numerous awards and honors, including the National Merit Award in 1956 and 1971, granted by Presidential Decree and the Public Health Minister of Ecuador respectively.
- In 1966, the city of Loja declared her an “Illustrious Woman” and in addition to her other accolades, she was also the Vice President of the House of Ecuadorian Culture.
- Her contributions were so significant that she was granted the title of Honorary Lifetime President of the Ecuadorian Red Cross in El Oro province.
- Medical Federation of Ecuador (founding member)
- Surgical Association of Quito (founding member)
- Press circle of Quito
- Machala Feminine Institute of Culture
- Committee of Women of the Red Cross in the Gold Province.
- House of the Ecuadorian Culture, center of the Gold Province.
- Committee of Women Lions of Machala.
- Medical Society of Ecuador.
- Society of Women Physicians of Guayas.
- National Federation of Journalists.
- College of Physicians of El Oro.
- Union of American Women, UMA.
- National Union of Ecuadorian Women, UNME.
- Pan-American Medical Association (PAMA), Ecuador Chapter.
- Benemérita Surgical Society of Guayas
Films about her life
In 2004, movie and TV director César Carmigniani directed the film “Matilde, la dama del siglo”. Nearly a decade later, he directed another film about Matilde called “La dama invencible”. This movie portrays her life in Machala between 1907 and 1924.
La dama invencible (Film)