Streets of Mexico – November 2023

Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

If Miguel Hidalgo was the Father of Mexican Independence, then Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez was its mother.

Josefa married Miguel Domínguez who became the corregidor (chief magistrate/mayor) of Querétaro; and soon she was known (and still is) as “La Corregidora.” Together they had fourteen children.

Because of her sympathy for the criollos, mestizos and especially the Natives in New Spain, Josefa began attending underground “literary groups” to discuss prohibited books about the Enlightenment. She even convinced her husband to come. Eventually, they hosted such meetings together in their home, entertaining the likes of Father Miguel Hidalgo and Captain Ignacio Allende. Their talk quickly progressed from the Enlightenment to revolution, and the group has been known ever since as the Querétaro Conspiracy.

Ironically, when the Conspiracy was betrayed, it was Miguel Domínguez who, as corregidor, received orders to conduct a thorough investigation.

What to do? Hoping to protect himself and his family, Miguel went through the motions. He even arrested one of his fellow conspirators. Knowing that his wife would never approve, he locked her in her bedroom.

He should have known better. Josefa found a way to get a warning out to Allende and Hidalgo; and the rest is history. Without her, there never would have been a Querétaro Conspiracy, much less a Grito de Dolores or a revolution.

Both Miguel and Josefa were eventually arrested. He was released very quickly since he’d been so beloved as Corregidor that imprisoning him might itself have fanned the flames of rebellion.

Josefa, however, was too notorious. As one accuser summarized, “There is an effective agent, audacious, shameless and incorrigible, who does not miss an opportunity, not a moment to inspire hatred to the king, to Spain, and to the just measures of the legitimate government of this kingdom. And such is… the corregidor’s wife.”

Despite the fact that Miguel defended Josefa at her trial, she was convicted and sent to a monastery to serve her time; but, given her unrepentant, outrageous behavior there, she was soon moved to a strict convent. Finally, she was sent home under house arrest with a stern admonition to obey; but she never did.

After the revolution, when Agustín de Iturbide sought to reward her with an invitation to become one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting, Josefa refused this and all honors, explaining that she’d struggled to establish a republic, not install an emperor. She remained a radical visionary for the rest of her life.

Today Mexico honors Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez for her misbehavior with street names, coins, and even a Mexican postage stamp.

This is a selection from Ellison’s recently published book, Mexican Streets: Tales of Tragedy and Triumph.

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David Ellison
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