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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal's Beatriz Ângelo: 1st Woman Voter, 1911

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

“I would like to thank the board and the assembly for their sympathy, and I will send word to our suffragette sisters abroad, who congratulated me so much that the Portuguese men are with us."


Carolina Beatriz Ângelo was the first female surgeon and the first woman to vote in Portugal.

When she dropped her vote for the National Constituent Assembly into the ballot box on May 28, 1911, she received a round of applause.

“I would like to thank the board and the assembly for their sympathy, and I will send word to our suffragette sisters abroad, who congratulated me so much that the Portuguese men are with us,” she said, while still at her voting poll at Club Estefânia in São Jorge de Arroios, Lisbon.

The national and international press reported the event at a time when women’s suffrage in Europe was enshrined only in Finland, according to the Assembleia República website.

Beatriz Ângelo had to fight all along the way.

After a rejection of her electoral registration that only would be resolved in court, Beatriz Ângelo still had to face the doubts of the parish polling station president, reported Correio da Manhã (October 7). In a series of supplements devoted to 30 inspirational figures, the newspaper included her and the American boxer and civil rights activist Muhammad Ali.

O Século newspaper immortalized the electoral breakthrough with a story and photograph by Joshua Benoliel, who is considered to have created in Portugal reportage photography, a photographic style that captures a moment or event.

Correio da Manhã (October 7, 2022) wrote:

“The republican revolution (October 5, 1910) was not yet a year old. All hopes for a better, more participatory and more democratic future came to the fore. But only for men. Women still reserved solely the role of wives and mothers. Many fought against this centuries-old fate, took higher education, became doctors, journalists, writers, editors, teachers and joined in movements and committees and in Freemasonry to fight for their rights.

“Voting, in particular, was forbidden to them. In 1911, after the overthrow of the monarchy and the opening of the country to a democratic regime, the suffragettes hoped to see their greatest wish fulfilled: to vote.”

According to the Assembleia República, the Electoral Code determined the right to vote for “all Portuguese people over twenty-one years of age, on May 1 of the current year (1911), residing in national territory, included in any of the following categories:

1. Those who can read and write;

2. Those who are heads of families … “

Living in Lisbon, the Portuguese citizen met the residency stipulation. A 1902 graduate of Escola Médico-Cirúrgica de Lisboa, Beatriz Ângelo met the literacy requirement. As a widow raising her daughter who was about eight years old, she was the head of family. She met the conditions to vote since the law did not exclude any gender.

Still, the Census Bureau and the Ministry of the Interior rejected her application to be included on the electoral roll.


On left, suffragette Ana de Castro Osório, whose jurist father ruled in favor of keeping the name of Carolina Beatriz Angelo (on right) on the electoral roll: "Excluding women from being a voter and having an intervention in political matters – just for being a woman – is simply absurd and in opposition to the very ideas of democracy and justice proclaimed by the republican party.” (Photo by Joshua Benoliel in the newspaper, Illustração Portuguesa on June 5, 1911)


She appealed to the courts, where she was granted a favorable decision. The presiding judge was João Baptista de Castro, the father of the writer, Ana de Castro Osório, president of the Liga das Sufragistas Portuguesas. The judge wrote:

“. . . excluding women from being a voter and having an intervention in political matters – just for being a woman – is simply absurd and in opposition to the very ideas of democracy and justice proclaimed by the republican party.”

The newspaper, A Capital (April 29, 1911) published the court decision and added:

“This order of the justices of the Republic represents a victory for national feminism. . . . All the more so since the victory corresponds to the intimate feeling of some members of the government. . . .

“Our congratulations, therefore, not only to the directly interested party, but also to the provisional government, and also to the country. . . .”

Even then, as described in the minutes of the election, the president of the polling station consulted the chair about her eligibility, finally acquiescing:

The president declared that “the right to vote for women was a matter of great consideration because this civic right demands great responsibility from those who exercise it; that, however, Sra. D. Carolina Beatriz Ângelo, graduated as she is, with a higher education, has more than enough education, in addition to a beautiful talent, to be able to face this responsibility.”

It was a victory for the suffragettes but a short-lived one. Most of the politicians whom Beatriz Angelo supported for office disappointed her. According to Assembleia República:

“In the debates of the National Constituent Assembly, elected on May 28, 1911, there were few mentions of women’s suffrage.”

In 1913, a new Electoral Code clarified that voters had to be male. This step backwards lasted many years.

In 1931, women obtained the right to vote but not on equal terms with men. Secondary education was required for women, while men only needed to be able to read and write. The electoral law was broadened in 1946 and in 1968.

The electoral law of 1946 extended the right to vote to women heads of families and married women who, knowing how to read and write, had their own property and paid at least 200 escudos of property taxes. It allowed men the right to vote who, being illiterate, paid at least 100 escudos in taxes to the State.

The 1968 law recognized women’s electoral rights, although the literacy requirement discounted many women as the literacy rate was much lower for women. Also, only male heads of families could vote in elections for parish councils.

After the overthrow of the nearly half-century rule of the authoritarian Estado Novo in 1974, Portugal abolished restrictions on the right to vote based on gender and embraced universal suffrage.

In October 3, 1911, about four months after she cast her historic vote, Beatriz Ângelo died at age 33 of acute myocardial infarction, commonly referred to as a heart attack. She passed at home. Reports at the time said that she felt unwell during the tram ride after returning from a political meeting with other feminists from the Associação de Propaganda Feminista.

In July and August of 1911, she had complained of extreme fatigue:

“I have worked a lot” for this struggle, from whole days discussing and thinking and, perhaps, for this reason, she wrote “a declaration to be buried civilly.” She also made arrangements for the future of her eight-year-old daughter, Maria Emília Ângelo Barreto, asking her family members who survived her “to dispense with conventional mourning” and “not to force the girl to mourn her mother”, according to a source in the National Library.


Carolina Beatriz Angelo with her colleagues at Escola Médico-Cirúrgica de Lisboa, where she was the only woman in her class


Besides her political activism, Beatriz Ângelo also was a pioneer in the field of medicine.

She was the first woman to perform surgery in Portugal at the Hospital de São Jose, also in Lisbon. Shortly after, she started working at the Rilhafoles Psychiatric Hospital. In 1903, she presented her dissertation, Prolapses Genitaes. (Uterine prolapse occurs when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments stretch and weaken until they no longer provide enough support for the uterus, according to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.) Beatriz Ângelo dedicated herself to the specialty of gynecology, and she opened a private practice in the Baixa, Lisbon, on Rua Nova do Almada.

Carolina Beatriz Ângelo was born in the parish of São Vicente in Guarda District, on April 16, 1878. Her father was a journalist, like her grandfather, and owner of a printing press that printed the periodical, Distrito da Guarda, reported Correio da Manhã (October 7).

Her family encouraged her to study and enter the Liceu da Guarda, where she did her primary and secondary school studies. She and her family traveled more than 300 kilometers southeast to Lisbon, where she first entered the Escola Politécnico and, then, the Escola Médico-Cirúrgica de Lisboa, where she was the only woman in her class.

She met and married Januário Gonçalves Barreto Duarte (1877-1910) of Aldeia do Souto, Covilhã District, her cousin and colleague, in the same year that she graduated in 1902. They had their daughter in 1903. Her husband died of tuberculosis without seeing the end of monarchy later that year in 1910.

In 1906, Beatriz Ângelo began her political activism by joining the Portuguese committee of the French association, La Paix et le Désarmement par les Femmes, which advocated the resolution of war conflicts through dialogue.

Later, she joined the Grupo Português de Estudos Feministas and joined Freemasonry. She was one of the founders of the Liga Republicana das Mulheres Portuguesas, which defended republican ideals, women’s suffrage, the right to divorce, the education of children, and equal rights and duties for men and women.

In addition, she created the Associação de Propaganda Feminista, where she developed a project for the founding of a nursing school.


Proclamation of the Republic of Portugal on October 5, 1910 in Lisbon (Photo by Joshua Benoliel)


In a letter from Beatriz Ângelo to her friend, Ana de Castro Osório, after attending the opening of the Constituent Assembly in June 1911, she wrote:

“I can tell you that I have never felt so much emotion in my life. I cried and cried and, when ashamed, furtively wiping away tears, I noticed that everyone, men and women, was the same.”

There are many tributes to Beatriz Ângelo around the country. In Loures, a city in Lisbon District, a hospital was named after her; in the city of Guarda, a primary school bears her name, and there are streets named after her in Almada, Amadora, Barreiro, Guarda, Moita, Oeiras, Odivelas, Sesimbra, Setúbal, Sintra and Tavira.

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