Encyclopedia Womannica

Warriors: Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Episode Summary

Juana Azurduy de Padilla (1780-1862) is considered the Mother of Bolivian Independence.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit

This week of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Athletic Greens. Go to athleticgreens.com/ENCYCLOPEDIA to get 20 FREE travel packs valued at $79 with your first purchase.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica.  

In case you’re just tuning in, here’s the deal. Every weekday, we’re taking five minutes to tell the story of a woman from throughout history and around the world who you may not know about, but definitely should. Each month is themed and this month we’re talking about Warriors. 

Today’s warrior is considered the Mother of Bolivian Independence. She led the fight for indigenous peoples, even when it meant risking her own life. She was heroic, unafraid, and fiercely determined. We’re talking about Juana Azurduy de Padilla. 

Juana was born in 1780 to an Indigenous mother and Spanish father in Chuquisaca, which at the time was considered Upper Peru. Her mother died when she was seven, so she became particularly close with her father. He encouraged her to learn skills that were not typical for women in colonial society, including sharpshooting and riding. 

With these skills, she was able to accompany him to work where she met and bonded with indigenous laborers. She even became fluent in Quechua and Aymara, two indigenous languages. 

When she was around 12 years old Juana’s father died, leaving her an orphan. She was sent away to a convent to become a nun. Unlike the other sisters, Juana had a particular affinity for the battlefield. She looked up to Joan of Arc and talked about her dreams of becoming a warrior. Clearly, she had a rebellious streak. By the time she was 17, Juana was expelled and ordered to leave the convent.

She returned to her late father’s village and spent more time with the indigenous people there, many of whom worked in the silver mines. The hours were grueling and physically labor-intensive. Juana witnessed the harsh realities of that work and eventually, she became a dedicated supporter of the indigenous revolutionary movement. 

At the age of 25, Juana married Manuel Ascencio Padilla, who shared her love of the indigenous people of what’s now Bolivia. Together they joined the Chuquisaca Revolution, an uprising against the governor of Juana’s hometown. 

During the battle, Juana was imprisoned. Fortunately, she was rescued by her husband Manuel. Together they escaped and joined an army that fought against the Spanish occupation of upper Peru. Ultimately, they were defeated and Juana was imprisoned for a second time.

Once again, Manuel successfully rescued her. 

In 1812, Juana and Manuel helped the head of the northern Army recruit thousands of troops. Juana had a knack for recruiting, and managed to convince many indigenous people and women to join the cause. 

She got to live out her dream of being a military leader. She led a group of indigenous people called “the Locals” who fought against the Spanish forces and won. The head of the army was so impressed by Juana and her leadership that he awarded her a valuable sword.  

Juana and Manual then engaged in a phase of guerrilla warfare. In 1816, Juana led 30 cavalry to attack the Spanish forces. They succeeded and obtained their standard and rifles. 

They also captured the main source of Spanish silver, a symbolic victory given Juana’s previous anger at seeing the endless toil of the indigenous people as they labored for the material. That victory led Juana to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

In 1816, during the Battle of La Laguna, Juana was injured, and Manual was captured and killed when he tried to help her. Juana was devastated. After she recovered from her injury, she tried to attack the Spanish in an effort to recover Manual’s body and failed. 

But Juana continued to fight with determination and fearlessness. She was appointed to a high position in the army. Legend has it that just a few hours after giving birth to her fourth child, she returned to the battlefield.  

Despite her loyalty to what was eventually a successful cause, Juana died impoverished in 1862. She was 82 years old. After her commander had passed away in 1821, Juana was left with no money and the newly minted Bolivian government declined to return items that had been taken from her while she was imprisoned.

The famous liberator Simon Bolivar said of her: 

(Someone else reading in his voice): “This country should not be named Bolivia in my honor, but Padilla or Azurduy, because it was they who made it free." 

Juana is remembered for her heroism to this day. She became a symbol of bravery, determination, and hope. She tirelessly fought for the independence of others, even though it left her alone and impoverished. She was a warrior in every sense of the term.  

Stay tuned tomorrow for the story of another warrior, a woman who used the power of education to further her political mission. 

Special thanks to my favorite sister and co-creator Liz Kaplan. 

Talk to you tomorrow!