Isabel Oyazabal

* 1878 (Malaga) 1974 (Mexico) Spain
Fields of activity: Politician, diplomat, actress, journalist, writer
Author: Isabel Goicolea

Isabel Oyarzabal Bild ok


Isabel Oyarzabal Smith was a multifaceted woman; in addition to being the first female ambassador of Spain, she was a journalist, dramatist, translator, folklorist, writer and actress.

From a young age she was class conscious: she taught in the “school for poor girls”, but criticised the fact that receiving these classes and the aids supplies provided by the middle class was subject to whether or not the parents of the girls went to mass.

Her first job was as a Spanish teacher in the United Kingdom, and later, following her interest in theatre, and despite the scandal she caused, she made her acting debut in the play Pepita Tudó.

Isabel was a correspondent with the English magazine Laffan News Bureau, and a contributor to the The Standard newspaper and the Spanish magazines Blanco y NegroEl HeraldoNuevo Mundo and La Esfera. She held conferences in the Ateneo and published the magazine La Dama y la Vida Ilustrada. As a writer she translated texts from English into Spanish and published stories, plays and novels, such as Hambre de libertad. Memorias de una embajadora republicana (Hunger for Freedom. Memoires of a Republican Ambassador), En mi hambre mando yo (I´m the One in Charge of My Hunger), and Smouldering Freedom. The Story of the Spanish Republicans in Exile. Alongside this, she had a section in the Madrid newspaper El Sol, called “Crónicas Femeninas” (Women’s Chronicles), which she signed with the pseudonym “Beatriz Galindo”.

A feminist and republican, she took part in different international forums for women’s and workers’ rights. She was the first female Spanish ambassador, carrying out her functions in the United Nations and in Sweden.


She was born on June 12th 1878, to a Scottish mother and Andalusian father in a well-to-do family in Malaga. Her first job was as a Spanish teacher in the United Kingdom and soon afterwards she made her acting debut in the play Pepita Tudó. Isabel was also a correspondent with and contributor to several Spanish and English newspapers. In 1909 she began to contribute to the magazines Blanco y NegroEl HeraldoNuevo Mundo and La Esfera. She also published stories, plays, and novels.

In 1918 she started to become politically active as a feminist in the Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Españolas (National Association of Spanish Women (ANME)), and in 1920 was a representative at the XIII Congress of the Alianza Internacional para el Sufragio de la Mujer (International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage) in Geneva, in the capacity of Secretary of the Supreme Feminist Council of Spain (Consejo Supremo Feminista de España). In 1929 she chaired the Spanish Women’s Society for Peace and Freedom (Liga Femenina Española por la Paz y la Libertad) and specialised in International Law. In 1930 she became the only woman on the United Nations’ Permanent Committee for Slavery. That same year she was permitted to enter prison and photograph the Republican Revolutionary Committee (Comité Revolucionario Republicano). Her photographs were published in London’s Daily Herald.

In 1931 she was the socialist candidate in the Constituent Cortes and two years later became the first female labour inspector in Spain by open competition. She represented the government of the Republic in the League of Nations, acting in the capacity of plenipotentiary minister in the name of the Republic, in the United Nations. She also became involved in the Global Committee of Woman against War and Fascism . In 1935 she attended the International Labour Conference in Geneva, as a workers’ representative.

When war was declared, in 1936, she joined the Women’s Help Board (Comisión de Auxilio Femenino) and embarked on an exhausting trip of conferences around the United States and Canada to obtain support for the Republic. In October of that year, she was appointed second class plenipotentiary minister and was posted in Stockholm, becoming the first female ambassador of Spain. Her work during these months developed as an intense activity in support of the Republic. In April 1939 she left the embassy and prepared, with her entire family which had now been freed from the French concentration camps, to begin their exile to Mexico, where she lived and continued to write until her death in 1974.

Sources of information

  • Isabel Oyarzabal. Hambre de libertad. Memorias de una embajadora republicana. Granada: Editorial Almed, 2011.
  • Isabel Oyarzabal. En mi hambre mando yo.  México: Libro Mex Editores, 1959.
  • Isabel Oyarzabal. Smouldering Freedom. The Story of the Spanish Republicans in Exile. New York: Longman, Green and Co, 1945.
  • Isabel Lizarraga. La canción de mi añoranza. Logroño: Editorial Siníndice, 2013.

Photo used with the kind permission of its author Matilde Eiroa.