Eva María Duarte's birth certificate places her birth at the city of Junín, Buenos Aires Province, but some questions still remain as to the true location of her birth. Her mother lived with her brothers at "La Unión" farm, some 60 kilometers south of Junín, near the village of Los Toldos. Most biographers agree that Eva was born in Los Toldos. There is evidence, however, that Eva may have been born in Junín. All biographers agree that Eva spent her childhood and early teen years living with her mother and siblings in Junín.
At age 15, Eva Duarte travelled to Buenos Aires. There is some disagreement about how she arrived, with the most popular version being that she was brought to the big city by a travelling singer (named Agustín Magaldi in the version put forth in the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Evita"), and with others saying that there is indication that she arrived in Buenos Aires by aid of her mother.
Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, Eva Duarte was faced with the difficulties of surviving without formal education and without connections. After years of struggle, she eventually found work as a radio and film actress, being credited as Eva Duarte, to make it appear that she was not an illegitimate child, eventually starring in B-grade movie melodramas and Radio El Mundo soap operas. She eventually came to co-own the radio company and she was considered to be a talented radio actress. She regularly appeared on a popular historical-drama programme Great Women of History in which she played Elizabeth I of England, Sarah Bernhardt and the last Tsarina of Russia. Her personal favourite movie was the 1938 epic Marie Antoinette, starring Norma Shearer.
Relationship with Juan Perón
Eva Duarte met Colonel Juan Perón at a charity event to raise funds for the victims of the San Juan earthquake. She and Perón married on 21 October 1945. On her marriage license, she stated her maiden name as María Eva Duarte, so it would appear that she had her father's last name; she also put that she was several years younger, and had her birth certificate destroyed. After her marriage to Juan Perón, all of Eva's movies were banned from being shown in Argentina. During this period in Argentine history, politicians were not expected to socialize with entertainers â€” particularly entertainers born out-of-wedlock and who worked in soap operas.
Shortly before his marriage to Eva, Juan Perón was arrested by his opponents within the government who feared that due to the strong support of the descamisados, the workers and the poor of the nation, Perón's popularity might eclipse that of the sitting president.
Eva has often been credited with organizing the rally of thousands that freed Juan Perón from prison on 17 October 1945. This version of events was popularized in the movie version of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Evita". Most historians, however, agree that this is not likely. At the time of Perón's imprisonment, Eva was still merely an actress; she had no political clout with the various labor unions that supported Perón, and she was not well liked within Perón's inner circle, nor was she liked by many within the film and radio business at this point. When Juan Perón was imprisoned, Eva Perón was suddenly disenfranchised.
Letters between the two during Juan Perón's imprisonment indicate that the two actually considered leaving the country after Perón's release, if indeed he were to be released at all. The two feared that Perón might actually be killed while in prison.
In reality, the massive rally that freed Perón from prison was organized by the various unions, such as General Labor Confederation, or CGT as they came to be known. To this day, the date of October 17th is something of a holiday for the Justicialist Party in Argentina (celebrated as Día de la Lealtad, or "Loyalty Day").
Juan Perón's campaign for presidency
Eva Perón campaigned heavily for her husband during his 1946 presidential bid. Using her weekly radio show she delivered powerful speeches with heavy populist rhetoric urging the poor to align themselves with Perón's movement. Although she had become wealthy from her radio and modeling successes, she would highlight her own humble upbringing as a way of showing solidarity with the impoverished classes.
Eva visited every corner of the country, becoming the first woman in Argentine history to appear in public on the campaign trail with her husband. (Incidentally, she was also the first woman in Argentine public life to wear pants.) Eva's appearance alongside her husband often offended the establishment of the wealthy, the military, and those in political life. However, she was very popular with the public, who knew her from her radio and motion picture appearances, and was therefore an excellent means of getting attention from the poor and working class voters of Argentina. It was during this phase of her life that she first encouraged the Argentine population to refer to her not as "Eva Perón" but simply as "Evita", which is a Spanish diminutive.
Juan Perón elected president, Evita becomes politically active
After Juan Perón's first election to the presidency on March 28, 1946, Evita gradually took a prominent political role in the government, eventually overshadowing even the vice-president of the nation in all but military affairs. It has often been said that she became more powerful than her husband, but this is an exaggeration. Nor did she ever truly become more popular than her husband. Only for a brief time, the last few months of her life and the public mourning of her death, did Evita's popularity match her husband's.
In reality, Evita's main role within the Peronist government was to create a personality cult around her husband, whom she elevated to nearly divine status, often comparing him to Christ and saying that all Peronists must be ready to die for Perón. Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro say that this apotheosis was what ultimately corrupted Perón and debased the Peronist movement. In light of Evita's often verbose praise for her husband, the slightest criticism of Juan Perón was easily interpreted as unpatriotic. Evita even stated explicitly that only the Peronists were truly Argentine, and anyone who was anti-Peronist was not truly Argentine.
"Perón is the heart, the soul, the nerve, and the reality of the Argentine people. We all know that there is only one man in our movement with his own source of light. We all feed off of that light. And that man is Perón!" â€” 1951 speech by Eva Perón
In 1947, Evita embarked on a much-publicized "Rainbow Tour" of Europe, meeting with numerous heads of state, including Francisco Franco. It was aimed at being a massive public relations coup for the Perón regime, which in the post-World War II world was increasingly being viewed as fascist. She was well-received in Spain, where she visited the tombs of Spain's first absolutist monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. Francoist Spain had not recovered from the Spanish Civil War; the autarkic economy and the UN embargo meant that the country could not feed its people.
During her visit to Spain, Evita handed out 100-peseta notes to every poor child she met on her journey. She later met the Pope in Rome, and then travelled to Paris. Only in Spain was Evita welcomed with an overwhelmingly positive response. In France and Italy she received mixed reactions.
The tour was originally intended to include a trip to England to visit the royal family. When it was announced that the royal family was not able to meet Evita when she wanted, and that Evita's visit would not be treated by the royal family as being as important as the official state visit of United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Evita called off the trip to England, citing exhaustion.
After returning to Argentina from Europe, Evita would never again appear in public with the complicated hairdos of her movie star days. She would henceforth appear with her hair pulled back into a bun . Additionally, her style of clothing became more simple after the tour. No longer would she wear the elaborate couture of the European fashion houses. Perhaps in an attempt to make herself appear as more of a serious political figure, Evita would henceforth appear in public wearing modest business dress suit combinations.
The change of image coincided with a focus on charity work, or "social aid", as Evita called it. She eventually created the Eva Perón Foundation, an institution to assist the poor. It was incredibly popular and made valuable contributions to Argentine life. The hospitals and orphanages that the Foundation established endured long after Evita's own premature death. The Foundation also increased her political power within Argentina and soon she organized the women's branch of the Justicialist Party. By 1949, Evita was the second most influential figure in Argentina.
Eventually, Evita became the center of her own vast personality cult and her image and name soon appeared everywhere, with train stations, a city ("Ciudad Evita") , and even a star in the sky being named after her. Despite her dominance and political power, Evita was always careful to never undermine the important symbolic role of her husband. Evita was always careful to justify her actions by claiming they were "inspired" or "encouraged" by the wisdom and passion of Perón. And though she has often been interpreted as having been singularly ambitious in her own right, Navarro and Fraser claim (op. cit.) that everything Evita did was ultimately subordinate to the larger goals and aims of her husband's political agenda.
Though Evita was worshipped by her working-class followers, she was bitterly hated by a vast number of Argentina's middle class and also by the wealthy Anglophile elite. They detested her humble roots and lack of formal education. Many felt that as a woman she was far too active in politics. Evita herself referred to them disparagingly as "the Oligarchs". She was known to be vengeful as well, often expelling from the Peronist inner circle anyone who had shown the slightest indication of not being completely loyal to the mandates Evita and her husband set forth. The slightest act of "disloyalty" was grounds for dismissal from the inner circle.
It has often been said that Evita blacklisted the artists Libertad Lamarque and Nini Marshall, but this is unlikely. Lamarque, who had starred in the movie "Cabalgata del Circo" ("The Circus Cavalcade") with Evita, moved to Mexico shortly after Juan Perón was elected president. It is more likely that, rather than moving because of a blacklisting, Lamarque moved to Mexico because the Mexican cinema was in better condition during this period than was the Argentine cinema. Additionally, Lamarque often returned to Argentina to visit her family during Perón's rule.
Evita seeks the vice-presidency
In 1951, Evita set her sights on earning a place on the ballot as candidate for vice-president. This move angered many military leaders who despised Evita and her increasing powers within the government. In an attempt to convince Juan Perón that he should allow Evita to run for vice president, the unions organized a mass rally of two million people called "Cabildo Abierto". (Incidentally, the name "Cabildo Abierto" was a reference and tribute to the first local Argentine government of the May Revolution, in 1810). The Peróns addressed the crowd from the balcony of a huge scaffolding set up near the Casa Rosada, the official government house of Argentina. Overhead were two large portraits of Eva and Juan Perón. It has been claimed that "Cabildo Abierto" was the largest public display of support in history for a female political figure.
At the mass rally, the crowd demanded that Evita publicly announce her official candidacy as vice president. Evita pleaded for more time to make her decision. The exchange between Evita and the crowd of two million became, for a time, a genuine and spontaneous dialogue, with the crowd chanting, "Â¡Evita, Vice-Presidente!". When Evita asked for more time so she could make up her mind, the crowd demanded, "Ahora, Evita, ahora!" ("Now, Evita, now!"). Eventually, they came to a compromise. Evita told the audience that she would announce her decision over the radio a few days later.
Eventually, Evita declined the invitation to run for vice-president, saying her only ambition was that in the large chapter of history that would be written about her husband, she hoped that in the footnotes there would be mention of a woman who brought the "hopes and dreams of the people to the president", who eventually turned those hopes and dreams into "glorious reality". In Peronist rhetoric, this event has come to be referred to as "The Renouncement", portraying Evita as having been a selfless woman in line with the Hispanic myth of marianismo. Most biographers, however, now agree that Evita did not so much renounce her ambition but rather caved to pressure from her husband, the military, and the wealthy, who would not have liked her to run. (There is evidence that the military said they would overthrow the government if Evita were elected vice-president, as the thought of being under the command of a woman in light of the president's death would not be acceptable to them.) By this stage in her life it had also become evident that her health was rapidly worsening and a bid for the vice-presidency was not ultimately practical in light of her condition.
On June 4, 1952 Evita rode with Juan Perón in parade through Buenos Aires in celebration of his re-election as President of Argentina. (This was the first election Argentine women had been allowed to vote in. Evita had organized women voters into the first truly powerful female political party in the country's history.) Evita was by this point so ill that she was unable to stand without support. Underneath her oversized fur coat was a frame made of plaster and wire that allowed her to stand. She had taken a triple dose of painkillers before the parade, and had to take a double dose when she returned home.
In an official ceremony a few days after Juan Perón's second inauguration, Evita was given the official title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation".
Evita's death in 1952 at age 33
Dr. George T. Pack, a New York surgeon, performed a hysterectomy on Eva in November 1951 and found that the cancer had spread to adjacent pelvic organs. Consequently, her life could not be saved.
Like her husband's first wife, Eva Perón died of Uterine Cancer (although some sources claim it was