Badass Ladies in History: The Mirabal Sisters
Hello, Germ readers! I hope your April is going well and that you are loving this beautiful beginning of spring!
For today’s installment of Badass Ladies in History, I am extremely excited to introduce to you four of the most badass ladies of the 1950s. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, the Mirabal sisters are not only a legend to their country to this day, but they’re a symbol of resistance under a regime that terrorized the people of the Dominican Republic during the 1930s–50s.
The story of the Mirabal sisters began when a man by the name of Rafael Trujillo fraudulently “won” his way into the Dominican Presidency in 1930. Once he was elected into the presidency, he used his immense power in office to create a climate of intimidation throughout the Dominican Republic, which would soon make him one of the most terrifying dictators in all of Latin American history. As president, he established a secret police called the SIM and used them to terrorize the public and to take control of the press and wealthy businessmen throughout the country. Trujillo took control of plantations, land, and businesses, and if anyone stood in Trujillo’s way, he would simply have them killed.
The Mirabal sisters grew up in this climate of tyrannical terror, which would not only dictate their paths to fight for justice, but would also eventually cause their untimely and brutal deaths. There were four sisters in total: Patria, Minerva, Dede, and Maria Teresa. The sisters were born in to an affluent family and were well-educated during a time when the majority of women did not have access to a good education. All four sisters were put through school and, eventually, were married and had families of their own.
Minerva was moved by her uncle’s political work and by the stories she heard from friends about their relatives being tortured and killed by Trujillo’s henchmen. So, Minerva was the first to express a serious intention to fight against Trujillo’s dictatorship, becoming extremely active in anti-Trujillo political movements. Because of Minerva’s passionate ideals of right vs. wrong and justice for the people, she eventually went to law school so that she could play her part in making a difference. Patria and Maria Teresa saw their sister’s involvement and followed suit by joining the underground movement to take down Trujillo (Dede would join the movement later due to her husband not allowing her to join earlier).
Because the Mirabals were an affluent family, they were invited to one of Trujillo’s parties at his mansion. While there, the Mirabal sisters left the party early, and Trujillo, feeling a “lack of respect” by the women and their party for leaving early, eventually had the family imprisoned for disrespecting his hospitality. The women and their husbands were eventually released because the family was well connected, but this incident became the start of the Mirabal sisters’ battle against the most powerful man in the country.
When Minerva went on to study law, Trujillo was determined to put her in her place. It was known to the public that Minerva did not like Trujillo, so he made sure that she was barred from her university. It is said that Trujillo’s hatred for Minerva stemmed from the fact that in 1949, Trujillo made romantic advances toward her, but she did not reciprocate his feelings; Trujillo couldn’t handle the snub or the fact that he was disliked by a beautiful woman.
This setback did not stop Minerva and her sisters, however. Minerva eventually went back to school in 1957 and received her degree, and the sisters helped found the anti-Trujillo underground movement: The Movement of the 14th of June — named after a massacre of revolutionaries that Patria had witnessed while she was on a spiritual retreat in the mountains. The Mirabal sisters became known as “Las Mariposas” (Spanish for “The Butterflies”) in their underground movement, which would eventually become a symbol of resistance. The women and their husbands were all a part of the movement to enlighten the country to Trujillo’s villainous activities by handing out pamphlets about Trujillo’s victims and the true nature of his dictatorship. Because of this activity and their growing popularity in the public eye, the sisters and their husbands were incarcerated on multiple occasions.
It was during one of these incarcerations — Patria and Minerva’s husbands were both being jailed at Puerto Plata — that three of the four sisters were met with their untimely deaths by Trujillo’s henchmen on November 25th 1960. After leaving the prison, Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa, and their driver, Rufino de la Cruz, were intercepted by Trujillo’s men on the road back from the prison. According to one of the henchmen’s accounts, all three women and their driver were taken into the sugar cane fields near the main highway, separated from each other, and subsequently clubbed, beaten, and then strangled to death alongside a mountain road. Patria was 36, Minerva was 34, and Maria Teresa was 24 years old. After they were sure that the women and the driver were dead, the henchmen put them back into their Jeep and pushed the car off of a cliff to make it look like an accident. Although, when the news of the Butterflies’ deaths were made known to the public, everyone knew that Trujillo had played a part.
The assassination of the Mirabal sisters ended up being Trujillo’s demise rather than silencing the leaders of the revolution against Trujillo. Instead of silencing the movement against his regime, Trujillo only highlighted the fact that he was indeed a monster that needed to be stopped. The Mirabal sisters’ story and death became so popular throughout the country that six months after their assassination, a group of conspirators ambushed Trujillo’s car and fired into his vehicle, thus ending Trujillo’s regime.
After the assassination, the Dominican Republic was thrown into civil war, but it eventually found a way to instill democracy throughout the country.
The assassination of the Mirabal sisters became the catalyst for change in a country drenched in the blood of innocent victims who fought against an evil regime and dictator. Soon after their deaths, the Mirabal sisters became a beloved symbol of more than just resistance, becoming a symbol of freedom and justice for the people. Simply known as “The Butterflies” in their country, the Mirabal sisters’ legacy is seen everywhere in the Dominican Republic. The UN created the International Day Against Violence Against Women on November 25th in honor of the day that they were assassinated, and they have been given recognition in Dominican textbooks as national martyrs.
Dede, the only surviving Mirabal sister, took it upon herself to raise her sisters’ children after their deaths (she sadly passed away last year). Dede also ran the Mirabal Sisters Museum in their hometown.
In the truest form of justice, murals dedicated to the Mirabal sisters cover Trujillo’s 137-foot obelisk that he had built in honor of changing the name of the capital city to Ciudad Trujillo. The obelisk, built during a time of terror, intimidation, and injustice now commemorates the Mirabal sisters’ fight for justice and their sacrifice for their country.
So three cheers for the Mirabal sisters and their unwavering belief and passion to fight for what is good, never giving up on what is right! Although their lives were filled with tragic events and a brutal end, they never gave up on their people and hoped that one day their country would find peace. Their lives may have been taken away from them, but their spirit of resistance lives on in their people and those who have the honor of hearing their story.