Victoria Kent Siano

* 1889 (Málaga) 1987 (New York) Spain
Fields of activity: lawyer and politician
Author: Elisa Chilet Rosell


She was a Spanish lawyer and republican politician. One of the first three female Members of Parliament in the Spanish Courts, together with Clara Campoamor (with whom she had a notable debate about passing women’s voting) and Margarita Nelken. She was born to a well-to-do and liberal family, had private tuition and later moved to Madrid to enter the Central University (Universidad Central) where she studied Law. She was the first woman worldwide to intervene before a war council and achieve the acquittal of her defendant, a member of the Republican Revolutionary Committee. She dignified the life of prisoners in jails. She devoted her life and work to fighting to improve the living conditions, not only of women, but of anyone living in conditions of inferiority: prisoners, orphans and people in exile. She never defined herself as a feminist, although she supported equal opportunities for men and women.


1917: She moved to Madrid where she studied Law in the Central University.

1924: She graduated as a lawyer, being the first woman to enter the Bar Association during Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship.

1930: She achieved fame as the first women to intervene before a war council. She defended Álvaro de Albornoz from the Republican Revolutionary Committee for his involvement in the republican revolt in Jaca before the Supreme Court of War and Navy. She had her defendant acquitted, which brought her public recognition.

1931: She was elected as a Member of Parliament by the Radical Socialist Party (women could be elected but could not vote). She was appointed as the General Director of Prisons until 1934. Following the example of Concepción Arenal, she worked to improve prisons, with the criteria of rehabilitating the prisoners: she removed chains and punishment cells and created the Women’s Prison Department for the Women’s Prison and the Institute of Penal Studies (Instituto de Estudios Penales).

She held intense debates about women’s voting with the Member of Parliament Claro Campoamor. Kent opposed the idea, arguing that it was an inappropriate measure, since women of her time were not yet autonomous enough to vote freely by themselves, and that they would let themselves be guided by their fathers, husbands or confessors, in such a way that if they voted en masse it would threaten the Republic and conservatism would win again.

1933: She was not elected in the elections (the first in which women could vote). She left the prison management after a misunderstanding with Álvaro Albornoz (whom she had defended before the Supreme Court of War and Navy) who believed that the reforms proposed by Kent were too humanitarian.

1936: She was elected a Member of Parliament again, this time as part of the Republican Left (a party that grouped together the right-wing parties that had been defeated in the 1933 elections).

1937: At the height of the Spanish Civil War she travelled to France as Secretary of the Spanish Embassy in Paris. In this position, she gave refuge to Spanish boys and girls who were leaving the country as the nationalist army was occupying the territory and sending them to refugee camps, and helped Spanish refugees to go to America.

1940-1944: During the Nazi invasion of Paris, Kent decided not to flee France and to live under a false identity, Madame Duval, working and writing on behalf of Spanish exiles.

1948: She went into exile in Mexico, where she undertook intense intellectual activity, in universities and prisons.

1950: She travelled to New York as a UN official. She managed the magazine Ibérica, which published news from Spain, for republican exiles in the United States. Two years later she left her position, claiming that it did not meet her expectations, as she could not act on her own initiative; it was purely “bureaucratic”.

1977: Victoria Kent returned to Spain, for the first time since 1937 after 40 years spent in exile, but she decided to return to New York.

1987: She died in New York.

Autora: Elisa Chilet Rosell

Sources of information