Margaret Sanger, "Modern Schools in Spain, Part I," May 1916.

Source: " Modern Schools in Spain, Part I, Modern School, May 1916, pp. 5-9.."

This article was the first of a three-part series. For next two articles see "Modern Schools in Spain," June 1916 and "Schools and Education in Spain," Aug. 1916. For draft version see Library of Congress Microfilm 130:126.


When the Spanish Government, dominated by the Catholic Church, shot Francisco Ferrer in the fortress of Montjuich at Barcelona on October 13th 1909, and contemptuously threw his body into a ditch resembling a rubbish heap, it knew well the innocence of the man it had murdered.

The Spanish people knew that Ferrer was innocent. Ferrer's friends and comrades knew that his death was a consequence of a well designed plot by both Church and State, and they have not forgotten it.

The Spanish people do not look upon the Government as a vague, mysterious something of which no one can be held responsible, or no one held accountable for its deeds or blunders; they look upon those in authority as responsible for the results of their authority. They make the responsibility quite definite. They never forget a wrong, and usually the responsible party pays the bill.

The death of Francisco Ferrer has not been forgotten by the Spanish people. The memory of it burns in the hearts of his comrades like a cankered wound, and shall continue to embitter their lives until those they know responsible for his death shall have been called to account.

Spain is one of the last countries to continue in the clutches of the Church of Rome, and even here one can feel the ebbing tide of its downfall by the attitude of the people who sneer and joke at the priests in passing, to say nothing of the convents and churches burned and demolished by the people each time there is an uprising.

The first awakening and forward step of Spain will be to drive the priests out of the country as was done in France only a few years ago, and the Catholic Church realizes that day is not far distant.

In all modern countries the superstition inculcated by the teaching of the Church has had to give way before the facts of natural science and evolution. The church in Spain knows it, and seeing that the Modern School was to advance these teachings, not only to the adult but to the child, it furiously began preparations to annihilate the ideas, as well as to assassinate its advocate.

The teachings of freedom, truth and reason, based on science undermines the very structures of the church; consequently they shall not be taught if the powers that rule can prevent it. Thus it was that the Modern School was doomed in Spain, and its founder and advocate, Francisco Ferrer, sentenced and shot to death, with "Long Live the Modern School" as the last words from his lips.


To know something of the Modern Schools in Spain as they are today, it is necessary to know something of Spanish life and Spanish character, but especially is it essential to know the conditions existing there, as well as those under which the schools are conducted and continued.

It has been difficult to obtain any exact information concerning the Schools in Spain for that reason. So many explanations must accompany the facts that one must see or know the bulwark of ignorance, prejudice, poverty, existing there, before we can realize the task of the Modern School, as well as realize the vision, courage and idealism which must have prompted Ferrer to establish the Modern School in Spain.

In America the average child attending public school has included in his educational studies music and art, while in Spain the average child is considered very fortunate indeed if it has the opportunity to learn to read and write. If one can keep this fact alone in mind, it will help us to understand how very difficult and ponderous is the work of pushing an advanced line of education when the first essentials of all education are looked upon as a luxury.

However, I believe that to Ferrer this might not have been an obstacle, but rather an advantage, and I feel more convinced than ever, after a two-months' visit to Barcelona and coming in constant contact with his closest friends and comrades, that Ferrer had hopes of realizing his ideal quicker through the teachings of the Modern School in Spain than elsewhere, mainly because of the strong individualism in the Spanish character.

Spain is a gaunt, denuded, tragic country, with vast, desolated steppes and red impoverished soil which gives one the feeling that it has been soaked in human blood for centuries. And perhaps it has, for anyone who knows the history of that at one time strongest and most powerful country in the world, knows that the spilling of blood was of a very little concern for centuries back.

Many Spaniards count the downfall of Spain from the date when the Jews were driven from its land in the sixteenth century, for with the Jews went the greatest force for commercial initiative, a quality, fortunately or unfortunately, greatly lacking in Spain today. Others think that an important cause of its downfall came from all classes thinking the same way, and advocate opposition and strugle as essential to vigor and growth.

Whatever the cause of its downfall in the past matters little, but the fact is that to-day the Church of Rome has the Spanish Government by the throat and both together in harness have killed the peoples' faith in government, as well as crushed all public initiative, which a people so naturally individual might have. The Spanish are a people born for action and passionate deeds, but these two vipers have continually cramped their development, while it held them in its toils.

In many respects Spain has changed little since the sixteenth century. There are today five thousand villages and towns which can only be reached by bridle paths. Donkeys are used for transportation in parts even where the roads are good, and it is the quaintest sight to one coming from a land of subways and elevated electric railways to watch the donkey with the pack on its back, which consists of vegetables, eggs, butter, etc., and the owner, woman or man, walking beside it, saunter leisurely up and down these winding roads, master of at least himself, if not the donkey. It is the northern part of Spain that is, commercially speaking, the most progressive. Barcelona is the main and largest city.

Catalonia is the largest part of the north, and the Catalan is the progressive and industrial force of all Spain, without which Spain would be little. Consequently, Barcelona is the main industrial center, and you are warned that it is one of the most dangerous and lawless cities in Europe, where thousands of anarchists gather and plot and where bomb-throwing has become an art.

It is not only the people of Barcelona who are lawless, for in a certain sense the whole Spanish people are; they are very hostile to rulers and government, for every child knows the evils of "El Caciqusmo" (Tammany Hall), and by nature they are a nation of individuals. Each is a law unto himself, whose chief qualities are independence and personal dignity.

As capitalism has never strongly got a footing there, the Spanish nature, as yet, has not been turned into a machine-made product for its use. They despise routine and toil, and simply won't get into its meshes if they can avoid it.

A story is told of the Spaniard going to "seek his fortune" in South America, who, after finding a position to his satisfaction, worked three hours and then asked for his pay. He was refused, and immediately walked off. When asked by the employer the the cause of his departure, he exclaimed in anger: ""Do you think I'm going to work for you all my life!"

Another is related of an American businessman, who, while travelling through Spain, saw a fine business for himself if he could purchase some of the lovely baskets so commonly used there. He went to a man who sold them and tried to give an order for a half-million, but the size of the order disgusted the Spaniard who refused to accept it. A large order could not interest him, it seemed impossible to fulfill it. There are so many interesting characteristics about the Spanish people that it is difficult to stop when one begins, but one cannot over-emphasize their hatred of government.

One well known Spaniard has said of Spain: "Democracy, Republicanism or Socialism has in reality little to do in our country, for we do not willingly accept either king, president, priest or prophet." And not only against authority but also against all drudgery does the Spanish temperament rebel: he has little persistence in his nature, but acts mainly on impulse. He has the qualities which Anatole France ascribes to men of action. He would have no system of government at all if it were possible, for his nature is restive and tumultuous under restraint.

He knows, too, how to use freedom without abuse, as one can see in hundreds of instances in his daily life. For instance, the waiter at the hotel where I lived in Barcelona calmly left the dining-room and went down the street for a shave while we were having our soup! He returned quite in time to serve the following course, happy and clean, while no one seemed even conscious of his absence. A waiter often stands and talks to his guests, listens to their conversations and enters into it quite naturally and with as much dignity as if he were sitting and being served instead of serving. No one seems surprised at this, which in any other country would be resented as insolence. Instead, there is every courtesy and respect shown to him just as he shows it to others.

Courtesy, ceremony, dignity is in the marrow of the Spaniards' bones. Even the beggars (of which there are thousands) address each other as " Lord " (Senor). "Is your lordship a thief?" "Yes, to serve God and all good people." And again, "Where is your excellency to sleep tonight?" "Under the bridge, my lord."

Individual pride and personal respect are dominant notes of Spain, but besides these outward qualities there is a natural intelligence dominant in the most ignorant peasant.


(To be continued.)

Subject Terms:

Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project