Abstract

By the mid-twentieth century a core group of feminist educators in Panama had cemented their reputations as community organizers invested in the empowerment of poor and working-class women. Yet this was a state that rejected calls for female suffrage, labeled attempts at worker organizing as threats to the nation, neglected to provide basic infrastructure and financing for education, and protected the rights of an elite few over those of most citizens. This article offers a window on the work of these feminist educators by examining the organizational leadership of Felicia Santizo and Sara Sotillo, two Afro-descendant contemporaries who taught and organized within predominantly Black and working-class communities while demanding greater access for all poor and working people throughout the country. Through their organizing in the realms of education, labor, community welfare, and politics, including the creation of Panama’s largest teacher’s association and leadership of a pro–working people’s party, both women challenged sexism and looked to education in and outside the classroom as a vital force of transformation. Their work placed them at odds with a state more willing to ignore or silence outspoken feminist organizers and community leaders than to center them in national agendas.

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