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83 years ago, Mexico said goodbye to a woman who paved the way for women in medicine. On January 26, 1938, the renowned Matilde Montoya, the country’s first doctor, passed away.
Her life has been told for generations, as her courage and determination became an example to challenge obstacles imposed by machismo in society.
Matilde was born in a difficult time for women to study. There were professions that were exclusive to men, but she did not settle for this imposition. As a child, she had a dream that she did not put aside and insisted on fulfilling.
Studying was a great pleasure for her since she was little. Born in Mexico City, she learned to read at the age of four and at 12 she was ready to study higher education, but her age and gender-related disabilities delayed her for a few years.
At 17 she wanted to become a doctor and help people, but at the time it was not possible. Women were not allowed to study medicine, only obstetrics.
Faced with the refusals of the authorities, Montoya relented a little. She became a midwife and soon became popular. Although she studied in Mexico City, most of her work was done in Puebla. She secretly helped single women who had become pregnant and provided free services to low-income people.
This did not cause Matilde to lose the idea of being a doctor, on the contrary. Seeing that she could be a support to many people, her desire to fulfill his goal grew. She worked as an apprentice to doctors Luis Muñoz and Manuel Soriano in the surgery area, which annoyed colleagues. They started and a campaign to discredit her and saw to it that the rest call her bossy and complaining, but they did not discourage her.
Her mother, Soledad Lafruaga, saw that her daughter still had the desire to become a doctor. She also did not believe that women could not pursue what they wanted just because of their gender, so motivated her to try to apply again to study and become a doctor. So she returned to Mexico City and again requested to enroll in the National School of Medicine.
In 1882 it was finally accepted, although against the views of the student community that it was totally male. However, there were people, academics and politicians who supported her and were called “Los Montoyos”.
From the beginning she showed a great academic performance, but the professors and classmates began to hinder her. One of them was that the institution did not validate that she had finished with some subjects of high school education. Therefore, while studying medicine, she had to go to the Colegio de San Ildefonso to use them.
In 1887 she finished hers degree, but the authorities told her that she could not graduate. They didn’t give her clear reasons, but she knew: they didn’t want her to become a doctor because she was a woman. Montoya didn’t stop. She and her mother struggled to communicate with the then president Porfirio Díaz, who supported them. So that same year he received his degree from the School of Medicine.
Later, although still with obstacles in his professional life, he dedicated himself completely to the profession that he had wanted so much to practice. She helped those most in need and soon other women who had the same dream as her, began to make it come true.
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