28 September 1959: Revolutionary ophthalmologist Trinidad Arroyo dies aged 87

Statue of Arroyo outside Jorge Manrique institute in Madrid.
Statue of Arroyo outside Jorge Manrique institute in Madrid. / SUR
  • In spite of adversity and sexist discrimination, Arroya graduated to become Spain's first female ophthalmologist in 1896 and went on to campaign for women's rights

Born in Palencia (Spain) in 1872 to a middle class family, Trinidad Arroyo Villaverde lived at a time where women were seldom seen to have high-powered careers.

With many prevented from gaining the necessary qualifications, many women were expected to forgo a career altogether and remain at home. Arroyo, however, with the support of her father, was able to succeed at school and eagerly applied to study Medicine at university.

Despite her academic success, however, as a woman, she found herself rejected. Her mere presence in the classroom was considered likely to be a distraction and threaten the academic prowess of the institution.

The following year, she had to sit an exam in order to prove her academic excellence and convince the director of the university she was worthy of a place. No male student was expected to complete this exam.

But in spite of this early adversity, she graduated to become Spain's first female ophthalmologist in 1896. Arroyo then dedicated her life to understanding and treating diseases and conditions, with a particular focus on those affecting sight.

In 1898 she decided to return to her birthplace of Palencia and opened a practice alongside her brother. She treated patients from all over the region and often travelled throughout Spain to operate on them. Her career was flourishing.

In 1902 she married Manuel Márquez, also a doctor, and the man who had encouraged her to study Ophthalmology in the first place. Together, they continued to practice medicine successfully for many years.

However, at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936 when Arroyo was 64, the couple decided to go into exile in Mexico, allowing them to continue with their careers without disruption.

Throughout her life and especially during the Civil War, Arroyo worked closely with political and social organisations advocating especially for women's rights. Due to the struggles she faced in her own education, Arroyo was particularly focused on changing the status for women in education and the workplace.

She was a member of the Lyceum Club Femenino, vice president of the Comité Femenino de Higiene Popular in Madrid, honorary president of the Spanish Association of Women Physicians and a contributor to the Spanish Social Medicine journal for the controversial and informative section, 'Feminist Notes. From woman to woman'.

Through this work she remained a well-known figurehead in both the fields of medicine and women's rights.

Arroyo remained in Mexico until her death on 28 September 1959. A statue in her honour can be found at the Instituto Jorge Manrique in Madrid and a school in Palencia has taken her name.