Juana Ahumada was an indigenous Chilean woman who became famous as the Mother of Chile in the 19th century, but her story and her achievements have been all but forgotten in recent years. Find out more about Juana Ahumada, the Chilean heroine who fought against Spanish colonialists and for the independence of her country and join her on her journey to triumph over racial prejudice and inequality.
Who was she?
Although she never knew it, Juana Ramírez de Córdoba had an heir to her fortune. Her granddaughter, Juana Ahumada La Chilenita inherited her wealth and then used it to support projects in Chile. Ahumada spent a lifetime of philanthropy and was honored as Chile’s top businesswoman in 1982 by The Mercurio newspaper.
Who was her family?
Juana’s father, Benjamín A. A. Aguirre was a wealthy businessman, and her mother was Mercedes Rodríguez. Her grandparents were originally from Spain, but had settled in Chile following their marriage at La Cumbre Church in 1882. Her grandfather, Juan Bautista Aguirre (who was born in Aranda de Duero), owned several haciendas and mines. He also served as mayor of Santiago for two terms (1899-1902). Her great-grandfather on her mother’s side was an industrialist who established one of Chile’s first paper mills.
Was she known in Chile?
No, Juana has never been known in Chile. Her story was brought to my attention by one of my students in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up watching reruns of telenovelas (soap operas) from Latin America. In one of these shows, she saw a woman with a very familiar face and couldn’t believe it when I told her that she had never heard about her. Since then I have done some research on her and found out that most people don’t know who she is or where she comes from.
How did she die?
A few years after her murder, rumors began to circulate about how Juana had died. At first, people believed that she was poisoned by her jealous lover, but that was later disproved. Many also thought that she had suffered from tuberculosis, as it’s a common illness in Chile and Juana had contracted it at least once in her life. These rumors were also soon proven false as doctors could find no signs of TB on her body during their autopsy of her remains.
What were her final wishes?
It’s hard to imagine a woman who had it all taking out a deathbed will, but that’s exactly what Juana did. In it, she bequeathed her wealth to charities, religious orders and hospitals in Santiago as well as to poor families she felt had been overlooked by her fellow citizens. She also declared her fortune should not be touched for 100 years. What happened after that is even more fascinating.
Her legacy today
Most people in Chile know about Juana and her impact on history. However, many of them don’t know much about her private life or personality. They don’t know what she looked like or how she dressed or that she was a native from Santiago. She has become an icon in Chile, often representing women empowerment during such period of time.