Recognizing Dr. Eloísa Díaz

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SANTIAGO – Universidad de Chile said its North Campus (Campo norte) will be renamed after Dr. Eloísa Díaz. A native Chilean, Dr. Díaz was the first woman to study medicine in South America. The university’s announcement comes during an important week for feminist causes, peaking on Friday, March 8, which is International Women’s Day.

One of the Chile’s most important and oldest universities will rename its North Campus to honor Dr. Eloísa Díaz, the first female doctor in South America.  

In an interview with Cooperativa news site, the university’s president, Ennio Vivaldi, said it “is so important today to become aware of how inequitable society has been with respect to the opportunities offered to men and women.”

At present, the North Campus houses the medical school and the dentistry, chemistry, and pharmacy departments.

The First

Eloísa Díaz was the first woman to enter the medical school, a milestone that not only marked the history of Chile but also South America’s.

A decree signed in 1877 allowed Chilean women to enter university. Four years later, at the age of 15, Eloísa Díaz started studying at Universidad de Chile’s medical school.

Newspaper El Mercurio, according to Revista de Educación, wrote at the time, “The Dean expressed his pleasure at [Eloísa] being the first of her sex who wanted to enter the medical profession; he told her that there was no problem in allowing her to study the branches of that career with the other students, and she promised to recommend it to the professors and students of the medical chairs so that they would keep all the considerations and respect due to the sex of the aspirant.”

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Not an easy path

But entering college was not easy. Eloísa had to attend classes with her mother because society viewed a single woman surrounded by so many men with suspicion. She also had to take classes – particularly of anatomy – behind a screen.

Nevertheless, Eloísa became Dr. Eloísa Díaz on December 27, 1886, when she received her medical and pharmacy degree. On January 3, 1887, she received a surgeon degree as well. She was a trailblazer for future generations of women in Chilean and South American education.

#UnMetroParaEloísa

But renaming the campus was not an ad-hoc decision. University officials took it after Metro de Santiago refused in 2017 to name one of its stations after Dr. Eloísa Díaz.

During the construction of the metro’s recently inaugurated line 3, the university proposed the station now named Hospitales should be Dr. Eloísa Díaz station.

But the metro responded with a resounding no. News site Emol reported that the company replied “metro stations have always been associated with the names of the streets, urban landmarks such as plazas, neighborhoods or parks, or the communes where they are located. It is a strategy to contribute to the navigation of passengers through the network.”

In response, the university started shortly after the opening the new line a Twitter campaign, #UnMetroParaEloísa (A metro for Eloísa).

But Metro de Santiago stuck to its decision – and the university opted for renaming one of its campuses instead.

Currently only seven of the 136 metro stations in Santiago are named after a woman. Four of those are Catholic saints (Santa Rosa, Santa Ana, Santa Lucía, Santa Julia, and Santa Isabel) and only two are historical figures, Inés de Suárez and Elisa Correa.

Historical women at the center

But Dr. Eloísa Díaz has not been in the media this week just because of the campus renaming. On Monday, Coordinadora Feminista 8M staged a protest by renaming 46 metro stations in honor of renowned women in Chilean history.

Among them were, apart from Dr. Díaz, Violeta Parra, Margot Loyola, Elena Caffarena, Carmen Bueno, Gladys Marín, and even drag queen and LGBTQ artist Hija de Perra.

Alondra Carrillo, spokesperson for the feminist collective, told Chile Today that Coordinadora Feminista 8M wanted to “claim the right of women in the city.” She added, “women also have the right to public space, women can also exist there. We have to be part of this, through an exercise to recover a memory of women who have been relevant to our history.”

A feminist week

The move was part of a “feminist week” filled with demonstrations and activities to vindicate and insert into the national conversation the role of women in society.

Activities included display of a canvas in Costanera Center shopping mall on Monday, which called for joining the feminist strike and march through the streets on Friday, International Women’s Day.

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