Citizen Explorer: The Life of Zebulon Pike

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April 05, 1807 Spanish Women

5th April, Sunday….Accompanied Malgares to the public walk, where we found the secretary, captain Villamil, Zuloaga, and other officers of distinction. We here likewise met the wife of my friend Malgares, to whom he introduced us. She was like all the other ladies of New Spain, a little en bon point, but possessed the national beauty of eye in a superior degree. There were a large collection of ladies, amongst whom were two of the most celebrated in the capital–Senora Maria Con. Caberairi, and Senora Margeurite Vallois, the only two ladies who had spirit sufficient, and their husbands generosity enough to allow them to think themselves rational beings, to be treated on an equality, to receive the visits of their friends, and give way to the hospitality of their dispositions without constraint; scandal to prudes; their houses were the rendezvous of all the fashionable male society; and every man who was conspicuous for science , arts or arms, was sure to meet a welcome. We, as unfortunate strangers, were consequently not forgotten.

Today, Pike strolls along Chihuahua’s promenade, where the city’s upper crust go to see and be seen.

By “en bon point,” Pike means plump. Even while he is ogling the Spanish women, Pike is revealing a hint of the proto-feminist tendencies that occasionally characterized a few early-republic men. Throughout the documentation he left behind there are occasional snippets of his appreciation for women’s intellectual capacity and disdain for men who reduce women to objects. Of his wife, he said she shared his ambitions, and of the absence of women in the Upper Mississippi country, he indicated a longing for their conversation and intellectual companionship. He frequently urged his younger sister Maria to pursue her education. In a few days he will criticize Spanish men’s treatment of women even more directly than he implies here. In all this he reflects his era. Enlightenment intellectuals, even men, increasingly accepted that women were equally rational to men. Not only were they capable of rational thought but their minds ought to be cultivated to provide company to their husbands and to raise enlightened sons. We should not overestimate this, however. Much of this thinking was oriented toward enhancing a male-dominated world. Men like Pike still had little use for women adopting public leadership roles–note, for example, that he values Caberairi and Vallois for the traditionally feminine task of providing hospitality to men rather than for advancing interesting ideas and plans of their own.


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