By Joshua Biragbara
Every decent parent wants their child to excel in life and many do whether it's through sports clubs or dance troupes. But during the early 20th century in Spain, one mother took that to an extreme length by specifically grooming her daughter to be among the most brilliant and accomplished women of her day before brutally murdering for reasons that are still debated on today. This is, about the story of Hildegart Rodriguez Carballeira.
Hildegart Leocadia Georgina Hermenegilda Maria del Pilar Rodriguez Carballeira was born on December 9, 1914 to Doña Aurora Rodriguez in Madrid. Her mother was originally from the town of Ferrol in the region of Galicia in northwestern Spain. She was conceived with the sole purpose of an experiment to create the perfect child to advance her mother's socialist and feminist beliefs, using a precedent in helping raise her nephew and turning him into a musical prodigy. Her biological father remained unknown to this day and it was said that Aurora only met him once and was selected for his intelligence and high status. Despite her mother's atheism, she was baptized in 1915.
Hildegart was raised a child prodigy. Her mother was intimately involved in her education and pushed her to the highest standards possible. Hildegart could read at 2 years old and type at 4 years old. By age 10, she was fluent in German, French, and English and by age 11, she spoke at feminist conferences. Aurora controlled every aspect of her life and forbade her daughter from doing anything that'll distract her- including close friendships and romance. At the age of 13, she enrolled at the law school of the Complutense University of Madrid and earned her bachelor's by the age of 17 while simultaneously teaching lessons at its School of Philosophy. While in university, she joined the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) whom she would later be expelled for publishing an article in La Libertad magazine against a reactionary candidate the PSOE supported. Hildegart's main interest was feminism and women's liberation. She believed that the key to Western misogyny was for women to take control of their bodies in the form of contraceptives and sexuality and advocated for desire and procreation. Hildegart, like many people across all social classes and education levels in the years before the rise of Hitler, was a proponent of eugenics and believed that humanity can only advance through deliberate natural selection. She published these beliefs in a series of books and pamphlets all before the age of 16, which received widespread acclaim and circulation and spoke at speaking engagements throughout Spain where newspapers at the time reported that standing ovations often lasted over five minutes.
In 1931, Hildegart began interacting with some of Europe's and North America's foremost intellectuals. She began corresponding with Margaret Sanger, the American founder of Planned Parenthood, who was taken aback by Hildegart's intelligence at such a young age. Hildegart was practically fangirling in her letters- explaining her accomplishments while telling Sanger that she owned a picture of her in her room. Hildegart also asked Sanger for advice on how to navigate American cultural customs as a woman. That same year, she started writing to British social reformer and psychoanalytic expert Havelock Ellis who became enchanted with her writings and christened her "The Red Virgin" after her socialistic and feminist beliefs. In 1933, Ellis would publish an article titled The Red Virgin about Hildegart's childhood upbringing and made sure to include her mother Aurora's master plan to raise the perfect child using eugenics. He wrote in the article that Aurora often told Hildegart that to "remember the mission, love is only passing.” Ellis emphasized how close Aurora and Hildegart were and how much Hildegart was guided by her mother through every step. Other than Ellis and Sanger, Hildegart was friends with War of the Worlds writer, H.G. Wells who rejected her offer to work as his secretary.
Hildegart's plans for life didn't stop at law. She wrote to Sanger saying that she took up studying medicine and that she established the first birth control clinic in Spain, in Valencia and was in the process of opening another one in Malaga. She invited Sanger and Ellis to attend a birth control summit in Madrid she organized as she recently formed the Spanish chapter of the World League for Sexual Reform (Liga Mundial Para la Reforma Sexual). Although proud of Hildegart, Ellis shared his concern with her being involved in so many projects at one time and suggested in a letter that Sanger should take on some aspects of the conference. That would be the last time Ellis and Sanger interacted with Hildegart.
On the night of June 9, 1933, Aurora snuck into Hildegart's room and shot her several times to death. There's no clear explanation of why her mother committed filicide. Some theories point that Hildegard had fallen in love with a Barcelona politician and planned to elope with him. Aurora may have found Hildegart's letters and killed her in response to the idea that she might leave her. Another theory points that Hildegart planned on visiting Wells or Ellis in the UK without her mother's permission. Lastly and what may be the most believable one, is that Aurora simply killed Hildegart out of jealousy. She was reported to have said in her trial that, "the sculptor, after discovering a minimal imperfection in his work, destroys it."
Aurora was immediately tried for her crime. She claimed Wells and Ellis tried to coerce her to join an international spying cabal. This did not work as Aurora was sentenced to 26 years in prison in May 1934. Throughout the trial, Aurora was said to be calm and collected and showed almost no emotion at all other than sniffing a pot full of red carnations once. She was later transferred to a mental institution due to apparent schizophrenia, where she begged to be pardoned. She died in 1955 from cancer and was buried in a mass grave, during the height of Francisco Franco's regime.
In 18 short years, Hildegart Rodriguez Carballeira accomplished what would have taken a lifetime to accomplish and involved herself with ideas that were decades ahead of her time and spoke with the top intellectuals of her day. This came at the price of a domineering and obsessive mother who ultimately led to her untimely death and her mother's shameful demise. A cautionary tale on how dreams must be independently curated and not be a carbon copy of a parent's vicarious living.
Hildegart Rodríguez Carballeira. (2022, March 30). In Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegart_Rodr%C3%ADguez_Carballeira
Coleman, E. (2013, July 24). Hildegart Rodríguez Carballeira: a Prodigy, a Champion & the Tragedy. Margaret Sanger Papers Project. https://sangerpapers.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/hildegart-rodriguez-carballeira-a-prodigy-a-champion-the-tragedy/
Meghan and Teghan, (2022, December 2). Spain & Czech Republic. In Destination: Murder. Spotify.