Cecilia Grierson

Cecilia Grierson was born into a family of Scottish and Irish immigrants on November 22, 1859. She enjoyed a rural childhood in Uruguay first and later in Entre Ríos, where her father had a ranch. She had access to a good education in English schools and a large family library, before her life became filled with difficulties and obstacles, which would test the fortitude of her personality.

After the Entre Ríos revolution of 1870, the family's businesses began to decline and Cecilia, at only ten years old, was called to her home to help her mother with her younger siblings. Unknowingly, she began the path of difficulties and family tragedies, which marked her life and forged an unbreakable spirit.


The political tremors reduced her family assets, and the death of her father, when Cecilia was not yet 12 years old, only contributed to aggravating her painful situation. Entrepreneur and fighter as she was, at just 14 years old, Cecilia was already in charge of the rural school that her mother had to open in the countryside where they lived to support the entire family.


After a few years, she was able to travel to Buenos Aires and formalize her studies as a normal teacher. In this city she must have been employed as a governess. She would later remember that she had to lengthen her dress to get that position: “back then age, and perhaps knowledge, was judged by the length of the skirt.”


She graduated as a teacher in 1878 and obtained a position in the mixed school of the parish of San Cristobal. Everything seemed to indicate that her vocation was in teaching, but her life put her back at the helm of her destiny. A friend of hers fell ill and Cecilia wanted to find a cure for her to save her from a chronic respiratory disorder. She then made a decision, inconceivable for women of her time, that would change her life and that of many of her peers: she would study medicine, a career at that time exclusively for men.


There was no precedent in all of Latin America of a woman who had obtained a medical degree. And although there was no explicit prohibition preventing registration, there was a regulatory trap, a requirement that was impossible to meet. To enroll in the program you had to have passed Latin, but that subject was taught only at the National College of Buenos Aires, an institution that at that time was only for boys.

Armed with a will of steel, she managed to be admitted to the race. She graduated on July 2, 1889, becoming our country's first female doctor. When presenting her graduation thesis, Cecilia made explicit the motto that had long guided her life, “res non verba” (deeds not words). Her actions would confirm her vocation as a transformer of the reality in which she lived, although she was not always able to overcome the prejudices of the time and sometimes her aspirations crashed against the canons imposed by a society that resisted women's access to disciplines reserved until then for men.


In 1894, she entered a competition to be a substitute professor of the Chair of Obstetrics for midwives, but the competition was declared void. “It was only because of my condition as a woman, as reported by listeners and one of the members of the examining board, that the jury made a strange and unique ruling in this competition: not to grant the chair to either me or my competitor. The reasons and arguments presented on that occasion would fill a chapter against feminism,” she would recall years later.


In 1886 she founded the School of Nurses, later she created the Argentine Medical Association, the Argentine First Aid Society and the National Obstetric Association of Midwives. She was a member of the Commission for the Deaf and Mute, secretary of the Children's Board, and inspector of the Night Asylum. In 1899 she participated in the International Women's Congress in London, which elected her vice president. Returning to the country, in 1900 she founded the National Council of Women of the Argentine Republic and later the Home Technical School. She also founded the National Ladies' Lyceum. She presided over the First Congress of the Society of Argentine University Women and was part of the founding group of the Argentine Society of Biotypology, Eugenics and Social Medicine.


Cecilia devoted herself fully to the institutions to which she belonged, but she did not hesitate when it came to denouncing irregularities. In 1910 she left the Women's Council, which she had created, with strong criticism of the board of directors. As she said, the Council had become “a small circle full of personalisms. The board of directors (…) has not known how to act impartially in the distribution of positions, honors and material means and has believed that it could dispose of the common funds at will.” And she pointed out the origin of those evils: “Perhaps the mistake has been to appoint the leaders from among those who in our country only understand living room life and nothing else; "They are not prepared to perform such positions, like those in older countries, where many ladies of high society are also capable of understanding their duties towards other women, cooperating with their well-being and progress..."


“We must awaken currents of goodness,” she expressed. Her lucidity, vocation for service and contact with the reality of her time led her to carry out practical initiatives, such as the use of the mandatory uniform for nurses, the use of sirens in ambulances, the distribution of toys to hospitalized children and the decoration of pediatric wards. Her legacy includes numerous writings on various topics such as Practical Massage, Education of the Blind, Care of the Sick, First Aid in Cases of Accidents, and Nurse's Guide.


In 1927 she retired to the town of Los Cocos in the mountains of Córdoba, where she spent the last years of her life. Shortly before she died, on April 10, 1934, she donated her property to the National Council of Education of this town, where the school that today bears her name was later built.


That was Cecilia Grierson, a light that led the way in the continuous struggle with which the female gender asserts its rights. A struggle without end, but one that has found in the life and work of this reference, one of its many and grateful beginnings.


Pigna, Felipe: https://www.elhistoriador.com.ar/ceciliagrierson/

Alfredo G. Kohn Loncarica, Cecilia Grierson. Vida y obra de la primera médica argentina, Buenos Aires, 1976, pp. 4748.

Cecilia Grierson, Decadencia del Consejo Nacional de la Mujer de la República Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1910, pág. 4.

Alfredo G. Kohn Loncarica, op. Cit., pág. 92