Petra Herrera became a well-known figure on the battlefield during the Mexican Revolution. Under the pseudonym “Pedro Herrera,” Petra disguised her gender in order to engage in combat alongside her male counterparts. An aggressive fighter, Petra took on leadership roles and responsibilities in combat that distinguished her amongst her peers. She carried out military instructions efficiently and was successful in implementing the tasks assigned her troupe, including such projects as blowing up bridges and commanding a force of 200 men.(21) Upon establishing a strong reputation amongst her peers, Herrera revealed her identity as a woman. For most female soldiers, this would have been an incredibly risky confession, as they would likely have faced discrimination and immediate ousting from the army. Herrera, though, was able to establish credibility and justify her position as a fighting soldier before the truth of her identity was known.
Herrera had an especially notable role in the second battle of Torreón, as she fought alongside approximately four hundred other women. Her strong performance in the 1914 battle earned her the admiration and respect of her troupe. She was described by a fellow Villista as “the one took Toerreon, she turned off the lights when they entered the city.”(22) Herrera further demonstrated her leadership capabilities when she decided to form her own brigade comprised of female soldiers. It is unknown the exact number of female soldiers that were part of her army, estimations vary greatly; it is possible there was anywhere between twenty-five to one thousand women under her command.(23) Despite such notable skills on the battlefield, Herrera was never promoted to the honorable rank of general. She did receive some acknowledgement for her accomplishments, though, when she made colonel by General Castro. After the ordered disbandment of her female brigade, Herrera served as a spy for the Carrancistas, a northern revolutionary army in Chihuahua. Serving under this disguise of a bartender in Jiménez, Herrera was shot by a group of drunken men and died from these wounds.(24)
Herrera’s involvement with the war effort was especially notable because her strong leadership role and activism on the actual battlefield. She successfully demonstrated the power of women in combat and proved that women could be just as effective on the battlefield as men.
Beatriz González Ortega
Beatriz Ortega, a follower of the Villistas revolutionary army, served as a nurse to the wounded soldiers. She contributed to the physical well-being of the fighting soldiers. Despite her ties to the revolutionary forces, Ortega cared for both Villistas and Federal troops. Though Pancho Villa believed in the custom of executing prisoners of war, Ortega worked to protect the lives of the Federal troops that had been captured. In order to offset this practice, Ortega burned the uniforms of all the wounded soldiers so that Villa would be unable to distinguish Federales from revolutionaries. She refused to reveal their true identity and cared for the patients in an altruistic manner, setting aside the politics of the war. Her noble efforts were not recognized in such a favorable light by the revolutionary leaders; Ortega was whipped and her life was threatened because of her actions.(25)
Her ability to look beyond the uniform of a soldier and appreciation for humanity was inspiring. She exercised great compassion and strength in preserving the lives of the enemy, even if that meant sacrificing her own well-being. Ortega remains a respected figure today, acknowledged for not only her role as a nurse during the Mexican Revolution but also her integrity and strength.
Angela ‘Angel’ Jiménez
Angela Jiménez, born in 1896 in Jalapa del Márquez, Oaxaca, would grow up to be one of the most adamant fighters against the federales. When Jiménez was only fifteen years old, she witnessed the attempted rape of her sister by an officer searching for rebels in their home. Her sister was able to grab the officers gun in time and shot him before she killed herself.(26) Upon witnessing this tragic event, Jiménez pledged her dedication to combating federales and joined the rebel forces. Disguised as a male soldier, she entered the army in hopes of finding justice and peace for her country. Jiménez served various roles in the army, including “soldier, flag bearer, explosives expert, spy, and on occasion she made sure her fellow soldiers did not go hungry.”(27) She was an active participant in the revolutionary army, taking on various tasks to further their cause. Though her appearances suggested she was a male soldier, Jiménez was not entirely disguised, and the General of her troop knew her true identity as a female. Because of her gender, Jiménez had a difficult time gaining recognition, however, she was eventually acknowledged and named lieutenant.(28)
As a woman, Jiménez was able to use her gender to her advantage on several occasions. Upon being incarcerated with her brigade, she was able to escape prison by dressing up in women’s clothing. After escaping prison herself, Jiménez formulated and successfully carried out a plan freeing her fellow soldiers. On another occasion, Jiménez was able to use her identity to escape prison and execution.
Beyond her physical efforts and contribution to the war, Jiménez also served as a spokeswoman for the soldaderas, defending their role in the Mexican Revolution. She confronted the male discrimination against women soldiers in her address to General Amaro, who barred the soldaderas from the army in 1925. Challenging General Amaro, she candidly stated her beliefs that she did not need the physical body of a male to be a brave soldier. As a fighter and advocate of women’s rightful role in the army, Jiménez remained an active part of the revolution for several years before emigrating to the United States.(29)
Dolores Jiménez y Muro
Born in Aguascalientes, Mexico on June 7, 1848, Dolores Jiménez y Muro would rise to become one of the most legendary Soldaderas figures during the Mexican Revolution. While never becoming involved on the battleground, Jiménez made a name for herself through her writing ability and political influence both during and after the war. In her early years, Jiménez worked as a school teacher and used her writing abilities to become an editor for La Mujer Mexicana, a left-wing, socialist journal publication.(30) Next, she would rise to become president of Las Hijas de Cuauhtemoc, a group identified with wanting social reform and having a desire to overthrow President Diaz. Her involvement with this group would result in her arrest and being thrown in jail in 1910.(31)
Jiménez’s time in jail is when she would become her most active as a revolutionary during the Mexican revolution began. While incarcerated, she founded a group called Regeneracion y Concordia. With this group, she would draft a series of plans, one whose aim was to overthrow the now President Francisco Madero’s regime, and the other outlined the need for a number of economic and social reforms in Mexico. The latter demanded the need for better working conditions, higher wages, maximum hours of work, and educational reform. Specifically, her background as a teacher led to her strong influence with the educational reform outlined in the plan, where she felt the need for a decentralized educational system, so that individual schools could have the personal attention that they needed. She also played a major part in writing about the need for better, more affordable housing for poor-inner city families. (32) Ultimately, her involvement in drafting “the plan” gained the attention of rebel leader Emiliano Zapata, who adapted many of her ideologies into his own. Zapata was so impressed by Jiménez that he asked her to join the ranks in his military, making her a colonel, where she would serve until Zapata’s assassination in 1919.(33) By this time Jiménez was a very old women, and would live out the rest of her life in Mexico City, until passing in 1925.