13 Things You Might Not Know About Eva Perón

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Keystone/Getty Images

From 1946 to 1952, Eva Perón (full name: María Eva Duarte de Perón—though she was born Eva María Ibarguren) was Argentina’s First Lady. Nicknamed Evita, she became a massively popular celebrity and icon to Argentinians, as well as a source of great controversy. Her life inspired the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical Evita (which became the 1996 film version starring Madonna), but there’s much more to the real Evita’s life. Here are 13 facts about Perón in honor of her birthday.

1. ALTHOUGH HER FATHER WAS WEALTHY, SHE GREW UP IN POVERTY.

Eva’s father, Juan Duarte, was a wealthy farmer who raised livestock and grew crops. The only problem was that he already had a wife and kids, so she, her mother, and her four older siblings were Duarte’s second family. Because they were born out of wedlock, Perón and her siblings were legally illegitimate; when Duarte abandoned them to return to his first wife, he left them impoverished in rural Argentina. Eva was 6 years old when her father died in 1926, and though her family was allowed to quickly pay their respects, they were not allowed to attend his funeral.

2. AS A YOUNG TEENAGER, SHE MOVED TO BUENOS AIRES TO BE AN ACTRESS.


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In her early teens (most sources say she was 15), Perón left home to be an actress in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Although some of her early biographical information is sketchy, most historians agree that the story (which appears in the musical Evita) that she ran off to Buenos Aires with Augustín Magaldi, a tango singer, is apocryphal. In Buenos Aires, Perón got work as a radio actress and acted in plays and films. By the early 1940s, she had achieved major financial success with her radio show on Radio Belgrano.

3. SHE MET HER HUSBAND THANKS TO AN EARTHQUAKE.


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In January 1944, an earthquake in San Juan, Argentina killed an estimated 10,000 people. The military colonel Juan Perón, who headed Argentina’s Ministry of Labor, organized a fundraiser to help the victims of the earthquake. As an actress and radio show host, Perón was invited to attend, and she met her future husband at the fundraiser’s gala at Luna Park Stadium. Despite their age difference—she was in her mid-twenties, and he was in his late forties—they got married in 1945.

4. SHE BECAME A SUPER-INVOLVED AND ACTIVE FIRST LADY.

Perón broke gender barriers in Argentina by campaigning with her husband, who won Argentina’s 1946 presidential election. As First Lady, she was no less involved. Perón unofficially took over the Ministries of Health and Labor, devoted a huge amount of time to meeting with poor Argentinians, visited hospitals and orphanages, and founded the Female Perónist Party, a political party comprised of female voters.

5. HER FOUNDATION HELPED SICK AND POOR ARGENTINIANS.

In July 1948, Perón established the María Eva Duarte Social Help Foundation (renamed two years later as the Eva Perón Foundation) to fight poverty in Argentina. She worked long hours giving money and medicine to the poor, touching and kissing the sick, and empathizing with the plight of the descamisados (the poor workers; literally, "shirtless ones"). Funding for her foundation came from unions, taxes and levies, and businesses that were pressured or forced to contribute money. Perón’s foundation gave items such as shoes, cookware, and clothing to needy Argentinians, and it funded the building of hospitals, schools, and housing for homeless women and children.

6. EVITA CITY WAS DESIGNED IN THE SHAPE OF HER PROFILE.

Located in the greater Buenos Aires area, Ciudad Evita (Evita City) was named by the Eva Perón Foundation, which funded the suburb for working class Argentinians to live in. But it’s not just named after Perón—it also resembles her. An aerial view of the city reveals that Evita City was built in the shape of her profile, with her head facing right and her hair tied in her signature chignon. After military coups in 1955 and 1976 overthrew Juan Perón and pro-Perón leaders, Evita City was renamed twice. But the city’s current name is back to Ciudad Evita, and around 70,000 people live there today.

7. SHE TRAVELED TO EUROPE ON A “RAINBOW TOUR.”


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Perón at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1947.

In 1947, Perón traveled to Spain, Italy, France, and Switzerland. Dubbed the “Rainbow Tour,” Perón’s goodwill trip included meetings with Francisco Franco, Pope Pius XII, and Charles de Gaulle. Dressed to the nines, she gave money to poor children in Spain, visited the Palace of Versailles, and encountered protesters in Switzerland who threw stones and tomatoes at her. Some Europeans distrusted aspects of Juan Perón’s fascist rule and ties to Nazi war criminals, while others disapproved of what they viewed as her ostentatious "famewhoring."

8. YOU CAN SEE HER ELABORATE CLOTHING AT THE OFFICIAL EVITA PERÓN MUSEUM.


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In July 2002, to commemorate 50 years since her death, Museo Evita (The Evita Museum) opened in Palermo, Buenos Aires. Founded by Cristina Alvarez Rodriquez, Perón’s grand-niece, the museum is housed in a building that the Eva Perón Foundation set up for homeless women and children to live in until they found work and a more permanent home. Visitors to the museum can see Perón’s portraits and designer clothing on display—she famously wore Dior dresses, tailored suits, and eye-catching jewelry, especially after her return from Europe.

9. SHE HELPED ARGENTINIAN WOMEN WIN THE RIGHT TO VOTE.

Perón believed that all women should have the right to vote, so she gave radio addresses, wrote articles, and made speeches at rallies supporting women’s suffrage. Although some scholars argue that her real political power in gaining women’s suffrage may have been exaggerated, she nevertheless succeeded in her goal. Argentina’s senate sanctioned the women’s suffrage bill in 1946, and it became law in 1947, making it legal for women to vote and run for office.

10. CANCER PREVENTED HER FROM RUNNING FOR VICE PRESIDENT.


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In January 1950, Perón fainted and was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer (though other sources say she had uterine cancer). She underwent various procedures including a hysterectomy, and she was the first Argentine to undergo chemotherapy, but the cancer metastasized. In 1951, she announced her candidacy for vice president to her husband as president. Millions of working class Argentinians and members of labor unions supported her, but members of the military elite did not. Due to their opposition as well as her cancer—she was weak, thin, and in great pain—she decided to withdraw from the race.

11. SHE MAY HAVE HAD A LOBOTOMY IN A LAST-DITCH EFFORT TO EASE HER PAIN.

Perón’s medical records suggest that she may have had a prefrontal lobotomy in June 1952, a month before she died. Although the purpose of the lobotomy was to control the pain and anxiety caused by her advanced cancer, a neurosurgeon at Yale argued that Juan Perón also ordered the lobotomy as part of a political conspiracy, trying to control her violent, erratic behavior and silence her to prevent a civil war. Despite the possible motives or surgery, she died on July 26, 1952 at 33 years old.

12. MILLIONS OF MOURNERS ATTENDED HER FUNERAL.


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Although she had detractors who despised her and viewed her as a megalomaniac, millions of Argentinians loved her and saw her as a saint. Before she died, Argentina’s Congress gave Perón the official title of “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.” Her state funeral was fitting for a queen, and throngs of weeping people stood outside the president’s house, mourning her death with flowers. Three million people in Buenos Aires reportedly attended her funeral and mass, and long lines of people waited to see her body on display at the Ministry of Labor.

13. HER CORPSE WAS MISSING FOR 16 YEARS.


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The bodies of Juan and Eva Perón on display in Buenos Aires.

After her body was embalmed and put on display, a military coup overthrew Juan Perón in 1955. He fled to Spain, and the new military leaders banned anything that was pro-Perón. They removed Eva Perón’s corpse, reportedly made wax decoy bodies to confuse her supporters, and stored the real corpse in a van and then an office. In 1957, they sent the body to a cemetery in Milan, Italy, to be buried under a fake name.

Her corpse stayed in Milan until 1971, when it was disinterred and given to Juan Perón in Madrid. Because the body was damaged, he and his third wife, Isabel, brushed her hair, cleaned the body, and put it on display in their dining room. By 1973, Juan Perón had come out of exile and won the Argentinian presidency again (with Isabel as his vice president). He died in office the following year, and Isabel had Evita's corpse returned to Buenos Aires, where it was put on display next to Juan Perón’s corpse for a time. Finally, in 1976, her body was buried in her maiden family’s tomb in a secure, tamper-proof spot in a cemetery in Buenos Aires.

All images via Getty.

When Harriet Tubman Helped Lead a Civil War Raid That Freed 750 People

A portrait of Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor and Civil War nurse, scout, and spy
A portrait of Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor and Civil War nurse, scout, and spy
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

As clouds flitted across the moonlit sky on the night of June 2, 1863, three gunboats snaked up the Combahee River in South Carolina’s Lowcountry region. The Civil War was raging and the vessels were filled with Union troops, many of them from the 2nd South Carolina Colored Infantry, on a mission to strike Confederate plantations. There to guide them on this perilous expedition was a black woman already famed for her bold excursions into hostile territory: Harriet Tubman.

From Underground Railroad to Union Spy

Born into slavery, Tubman—the subject of the soon-to-be-released movie Harriet—had liberated herself in 1849, fleeing north from bondage in Maryland to freedom in Philadelphia. Though a fugitive with a price on her head (her former slaveholder promised $50 for her capture, $100 if she was found out of state) Tubman repeatedly returned to Maryland to usher other slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a clandestine network of people, both black and white, who facilitated the escape of enslaved people northwards. It is believed that Tubman rescued around 70 slaves this way, and by the end of the Combahee River Raid on that June night in 1863, she had helped free some 750 more.

After the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, John Andrew, the abolitionist governor of Massachusetts, had asked Tubman to head to the South and assist with the "contrabands"—a term used to refer to the thousands of enslaved people who fled to Union camps amid the chaos of the conflict. It was a fitting role for Tubman, since helping African Americans shed the bonds of slavery had become the driving purpose of her life.

She volunteered in Fort Monroe, Virginia, before heading to Port Royal, South Carolina, where she worked as a nurse for soldiers and liberated slaves. Disease ran rampant during the war, and Tubman was skilled in herbal medicine. She also oversaw the building of a laundry house, so she could train African American women to become laundresses—a vocation that would prove useful as they embarked on a new, free chapter of their lives. But according to H. Donald Winkler, who writes about Tubman’s wartime exploits in Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War, “many believe that the humanitarian aspects of her trip … were a cover for her real work as a spy operating within enemy lines.”

Biographer Catherine Clinton, author of Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, agrees that it is possible Tubman was sent to the South at least in part to gather intelligence. “Certainly she was someone who was able to go behind the lines and make contact in a way that the soldiers were not, because she had done that on the Underground Railroad,” Clinton tells Mental Floss.

Time and again as an Underground Railroad rescuer, Tubman had proven her cunning, charisma, and steely resolve, slipping into slavery territory and back out again with multiple fugitives in tow. She secretly reached out to enslaved people to encourage their escape, scouted dangerous areas, and cultivated contacts who were ready to offer shelter and support. Tubman liked to stage her rescues on Saturday nights, because Sunday was a day of rest; by the time they were discovered missing on Monday, Tubman had been given a head start.

She also possessed an uncanny ability to avoid detection, often with the help of disguises. In her book, Clinton writes that on one trip through a town near her former Maryland home, Tubman caught sight of a man who had once been her master. Fortunately, she had a bonnet pulled low over her face and two live chickens in her hands. When the man came close, Tubman pulled on strings tied to the birds’ legs, causing them to fuss and flap—and giving her an excuse to avoid eye contact.

Such exploits earned Tubman a legendary reputation among abolitionist circles. She was nicknamed “Moses,” after the biblical figure who led the oppressed to freedom.

Whatever the initial purpose of her journey south, by 1863 Tubman was working as a covert Union operative. She recruited a small but trustworthy group of black scouts, several of whom were water pilots with a thorough knowledge of the coastal landscape. The spies would sail along waterways, take note of enemy positions and movements, and communicate the information back to Union brass. Colonel James Montgomery, a fervent abolitionist, relied on Tubman’s intelligence to stage several successful raids, according to Winkler. The most famous of these was the Combahee River Raid.

Tubman's Turn to Lead

Combahee River basin, near the Harriet Tubman Bridge, Beaufort County, South Carolina
The Combahee River basin in Beaufort County, South Carolina, near the Harriet Tubman Bridge and near where the raid is believed to have taken place.
Henry de Saussure Copeland, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The goal of the mission was to destroy Confederate supply lines, disable mines in the Combahee River, and cripple prosperous plantations along the shore. As Tubman had shown with her Underground Railroad rescues, “the great weapon was to go into enemy territory and use the subversive weapon of the enslaved people themselves,” Clinton says. So if all went according to plan, Tubman and Montgomery intended to free the plantations of their slaves, too.

But first, they would need to plot their attack. Before the fateful night, Tubman and her team of spies secretly sailed up the Combahee to map the locations of rice and cotton storehouses. Tubman also found the enslaved people who had laid Confederate “torpedoes”—stationary mines beneath the water—and promised them liberation in exchange for information. It was important to spread the word about the upcoming raid, so that when it happened, the slaves would be ready to run.

Montgomery, who had worked with Tubman to raise the 2nd South Carolina Colored Infantry, was in command of the several hundred black troops who ultimately set out up the Combahee to execute the raid on June 2. But Tubman was there to guide the ships through the mines, which were difficult to spot on a dark and cloudy night. She thus became, according to Smithsonian Magazine, the first woman in U.S. history to lead a military expedition.

One of the three Union gunboats stalled after it ran aground, but the other two were able to proceed as planned. John Adams, the lead boat, pushed up to Combahee Ferry, where there was an island, a causeway, and a pontoon bridge. Montgomery’s men burned the bridge. They also set fire to plantations, storehouses, and rice mills, pillaging whatever food and cotton supplies they could carry, according to an account by the U.S. Army. And when the gunboats approached, slaves came pouring onto the shore, where rowboats were waiting to bring them to the ships. Tubman was floored by the scene.

“I never saw such a sight,” she later recalled. “Sometimes the women would come with twins hanging around their necks; it appears I never saw so many twins in my life; bags on their shoulders, baskets on their heads, and young ones tagging along behind, all loaded; pigs squealing, chickens screaming, young ones squealing.”

The scene grew all the more chaotic when it became clear that there were too many fugitive slaves for the rowboats to accommodate at once. According to The New York Times, those left behind held onto the vessels to stop them from leaving. Hoping to restore some calm, a white officer reportedly asked Tubman to speak to “your people.” She didn’t care for the turn of phrase—“[T]hey wasn’t my people any more than they was his,” she once said—but she nevertheless began to sing:

“Come along; come along; don’t be alarmed
For Uncle Sam is rich enough
To give you all a farm.”

Her voice had the desired effect. “They throwed up their hands and began to rejoice and shout ‘Glory!’ and the rowboats would push off,” Tubman remembered. “I kept on singing until all were brought on board.”

All of this commotion did not go unnoticed by Confederate troops. But their response was sluggish. “With malaria, typhoid fever and smallpox rampant in the [Lowcountry] from spring through early fall, most Confederate troops had been pulled back from the rivers and swamps,” Winkler explains. A contingent did approach Combahee Ferry, with orders to push the Yankees back, but reportedly only succeeded in shooting one fugitive slave. Major Emmanuel, the Confederate ranking officer in the area, came after the retreating ships with a single piece of field artillery, but his men got trapped between the river and Union snipers. They were only able to fire a few shots that landed in the water.

The raid was, in other words, a tremendous success, and Tubman’s contribution was “invaluable,” Clinton says. For the next year, Tubman stayed in the South, assisting in guerrilla activities and working to support liberated slaves.

Recognition Deferred

During her three years of military service, Tubman had been paid just $200 (about $3000 in today's money). Finding herself in difficult financial straits after the war—she was the sole supporter of her elderly parents, whom she had extricated from the South during her Underground Railroad days—Tubman appealed to the federal government for additional compensation. Her cause was backed by a number of influential supporters who believed that Tubman deserved a veteran’s pension, but her campaign for payment would nevertheless span more than 30 years.

It was only in the early 1890s that Tubman began receiving a pension—not for her own wartime work, but because her late husband, Nelson Davis, had served with the Eighth United States Colored Infantry, which entitled her to $8 per month as a veteran widow. In 1899, Congress approved an Act raising that sum to $20, but as the National Archives points out, “the Act did not acknowledge that the increase was for Tubman’s own service.” The government’s resistance may have stemmed, at least in part, from the fact that documentation of Tubman’s activities on the frontlines was lacking. But Clinton believes other factors were at play.

“I found evidence that one of the members of the [pensions] committee was a South Carolina politician who blocked her pension,” Clinton says. “And it was really in many ways a point of honor ... that a black woman not be given recognition as a soldier.” Upon receiving the increased funds, Clinton adds, Tubman used the money to “bankroll a charity. That’s who she was.”

When Tubman died in 1913, she was buried with military honors in Auburn, New York. The Combahee River Raid was just one remarkable chapter in her remarkable life, but it left a powerful impression on her. Looking back on that night, when hundreds of slaves rose up and made a dash for freedom, the woman known as Moses would remember them like "the children of Israel, coming out of Egypt.”

30 Words and Phrases From Victorian Theatrical Slang

An 1884 illustration of spectators in the theater
An 1884 illustration of spectators in the theater
suteishi/iStock via Getty Images

In 1909, the English writer James Redding Ware published a dictionary of 19th-century slang and colloquial language called Passing English of the Victorian Era. Relatively little is known about Ware’s life—not helped by the fact that much of his work was published under the pseudonym Andrew Forrester—but among the other works attributed to him are around a dozen stage plays, many of which were first performed in the theaters of London in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

It was this firsthand experience that undoubtedly helped Ware to flesh out his dictionary with a host of slang words and expressions used by Victorian actors, actresses, theatrical producers, and backstage workers. From nicknames for incoherent actors to mooching companions and noisy babies, although many of the entries in Ware’s Passing English have sadly long since dropped out of use, they’re no less useful or applicable today.

1. Agony Piler

An actor who always seems to perform in weighty or sensationalist parts.

2. Back-Row Hopper

An audience member who visits bars frequented by actors and flatters them into buying him a drink.

3. Blue Fire

“Blue fire” was originally the name of a special effect used in Victorian theaters in which a mixture containing sulfur would be ignited to create an eerie blue glow on stage. The effect astonished audiences at the time, who had never seen anything like it before, hence "blue fire" came to be used to describe anything equally amazing or sensational, or that astounded an audience.

4. Bum-Boozer

A heavy drinker.

5. Burst

The sudden swell of people out onto a street when a play ended.

6. Button-Buster

A terrible comedian.

7. Celestials

Also known as “roof-scrapers,” the celestials were the audience members in the “gods” or the gallery, the highest tier of seats in the theater.

8. Charles His Friend

A nickname for any uninspiring part in a play whose only purpose is to give the main protagonist someone to talk to. The term apparently derives from a genuine list of the characters in a now long-forgotten drama, in which the lead’s companion was listed simply as “Charles: his friend.”

9. Deadheads

Audience members who haven’t paid to get in (as opposed to those who have, who were the livestock). Consequently, a nickname for journalists and first-night critics.

10. Decencies

A term referring to an actor’s strategically padded costume, defined by Ware as “pads used by actors, as distinct from actresses, to ameliorate outline.”

11. FLABBERDEGAZ

A fluffed line, a stumbled word, or a mistimed joke. Also called a Major Macfluffer.

12. The Ghost Walks

A reference to the famous opening scene of Hamlet, saying that “the ghost walks” (or, more often than not, that “the ghost doesn’t walk”) meant that there was (or that there wasn’t) enough money to be paid that week.

13. Gin And Fog

Hoarseness caused by heavy drinking the night before.

14. Greedy Scene

A scene in a play in which the lead actor has the stage all to him or herself.

15. Joey

To mug to the audience, or to lark about to attract someone’s attention.

16. Logie

A fake gemstone, or fake jewelry in general. Supposedly named after David Logie, an inventor who manufactured fake jewels out of zinc.

17. Matinée Dog

A nickname for the audience of a matinee performance. To "try it on the matinee dog" meant to test a new act or a new reading of a scene during a daytime performance, as the afternoon audiences were considered less discerning than the more seasoned and more demanding evening audiences.

18. Mumble-Mumper

An old, inarticulate performer whose lines cannot be easily heard or interpreted by the audience.

19. On The Pross

If you’re on the pross then you’re looking for someone to buy you a drink or a meal—pross is a shortening of “prosperous,” in the sense of searching for someone wealthy enough to buy you dinner.

20. Palatic

Very, very drunk. Probably derived from a deliberate mispronunciation of “paralytic."

21. To Play to The Gas

To make just enough money to get by—literally just enough to pay your gas bill.

22. Scorpions

An actor’s nickname for babies, whose constant noise could ruin a performance.

23. Star-Queller

An inferior actor whose terrible performance ruins the excellent performances given by everyone else.

24. Swan-Slinger

The playwright Ben Jonson famously called Shakespeare “The sweet swan of Avon” in a memorial poem published in 1623. A swan-slinger, consequently, is a Shakespearean actor.

25. To Take a Dagger And Drown Yourself

To say one thing but then do another. To stab yourself and pass the bottle, meanwhile, meant to take a swig of a drink and then pass the bottle onto the next person.

26. Thinking Part

A role in which an actor is required to say little or nothing at all. Likewise, a feeder was any role in which an actor was only required to “feed” lines to the more important character.

27. Toga-Play

Also called BC-plays, toga-plays were either classical period dramas, like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or plays by classical-era playwrights.

28. Twelve-Pound Actor

A child born into an acting family.

29. Village Blacksmith

“The Village Blacksmith” is the title of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the third verse of which begins, “Week in, week out, from morn till night, / You can hear his bellows blow.” It was the “week in, week out” line that inspired this expression referring to a performer or worker who isn’t a complete failure, but whose contracts rarely last longer than a single week.

30. Whooperup

A terrible singer.

[This list first ran in 2015 and was republished in 2019]

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