Victoria Kent Siano (1892-1987). Spanish lawyer and politician, born in Malaga. She was a deputy for the Republican Courts and general director of Prisons.
She settles in Paris to help Spanish refugees after the Civil War, although the Nazi occupation of France forces her to be locked up and hidden for four long years.
After the liberation of Paris, she will live in Mexico City and later in New York, where she will continue with her life as a lawyer and in contact with the republican Spaniards in exile.
She returns to Spain in 1977, two years after Franco’s death, although she finally returns to New York, the city where she passed away in November 1987.
Victoria Kent’s life
What were her origins?
Victoria Kent Siano, she was born in Malaga on March 6, 1892 (in some documents she changed her date of birth to 1897). She is the fourth daughter of the marriage formed by José Kent Román, a textile merchant with English ancestors, and María Siano González.
How were her first years and her arrival in Madrid?
She spends her childhood and her early youth in Malaga. After this stage, she moved to Madrid in 1916 to finish high school and study at the university. In this city, she will reside in the Residencia de Señoritas, linked to the Institución Libre de Enseñanza. During these years she pays for her studies by giving private lessons and working as a teacher in secondary education. During these years, she came into contact with various feminist associations that sought the emancipation of women.
In 1920 she entered the university to study law, and four years later she obtained her doctorate and in 1925 she entered the Madrid Bar Association, being the first woman to do so. We can say, therefore, that she began her professional career in times of the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera. In 1930 she became the first woman to participate as a lawyer in a military court. She defended the republican leader Álvaro de Albornoz, judged for having participated in the preparations for an uprising against King Alfonso XIII. Finally, Victoria Kent, gets the acquittal of her defendant in March 1931, which brought her great popularity.
How did she become a deputy in the Courts of the Second Republic?
In 1931 she joined the ranks of the Radical Republican Socialist Party, which would later become the Republican Left, by joining the Republican Action party. It would be that same year, after the proclamation of the Second Republic, when she was elected deputy for Madrid in the elections to the Constituent Cortes. She was one of the only three women who were part of the parliamentary arch, along with Clara Campoamor and Margarita Nelken.
What was her position on the female vote?
Despite being a convinced feminist, she was not in favor of women’s right to vote, since she was convinced that it was not the right time for it, due to the lack of education of the majority of women, and because she thought that it would be a vote highly influenced by their husbands and by their religious confessors, so that the Republic itself could be endangered. She confronted this position with the deputy for the centrist Radical Republican Party, Clara Campoamor, who did defend the right to vote for women, a position that she eventually won. However, the victory of the center and right-wing parties in the 1933 elections, the first elections with a female vote, would reinforce the position of Victoria Kent.
How was her work in the General Directorate of Prisons?
Her political work did not remain solely in the role of her deputy. In 1931 she received a proposal from Alcalá Zamora (President of the Republic) to take charge of the General Directorate of Prisons, since Victoria had studies in criminal matters. In this position she remained fourteen months, a short time, however, her work was very important, so much so that it is considered one of the most important prison reforms in the history of Spain. Victoria Kent believed in the idea of humanizing prisons, since she thought that they should have the function of correcting the offender and recovering him for society. Among her measures that she proposed were the closure of prisons due to their poor conditions, the creation of new and modern prisons, such as the Women’s Prison in Madrid; the abolition of punishment cells and the use of chains and shackles; the increase in the food ration; freedom of worship; claims mailboxes; exit permits for family reasons; and the creation of an Institute for Criminal Studies. Unfortunately, many of her reforms were not liked by many members of the government, who thought that they were “very humanitarian” measures, and that they would not have sufficient social support, so she decides to resign from her position.
What happened after your resignation from the General Directorate of Prisons?
Victoria Kent dedicated herself to giving conferences and rallies around the Spanish geography. In the elections of November 1933, she does not get a seat, so she continues her task as a lawyer. In the 1936 elections, she obtained a deputy certificate for Jaén, but the outbreak of the Civil War that same year put an end to this stage.
What was her work in the Spanish Civil War and in the postwar period?
In the war, she was at the Guadarrama front, near Madrid, where she took care of clothing and food supplies for the Republican side and the protection of children. In 1937, the Republican government appointed her secretary of the Spanish embassy in Paris, for which she helped many to seek asylum in France.
After the war, she continues as an exile in Paris, continuing with her work to help refugees. The Nazi occupation of Paris forces her to remain hidden and locked up, from 1940 to 1944, under a false name, to avoid being captured by the Gestapo. Of these years she testifies in her work Four Years in Paris.
Where did she live after the liberation of Paris and the end of the Nazi occupation?
After the liberation of Paris, she goes to Mexico where she lived giving classes, lectures and maintaining direct contact with the Spanish exiles. During these years, she founded the Training School for Prison Personnel and traveled to Argentina on several occasions.
In 1952 she began a new stage in New York City, to be an advisor to the Republican Spanish government in exile, however, she resigned shortly after. In 1953 she founded and directs the Iberian magazine, a magazine that aimed to help reestablish democracy in Spain and to be a forum for debate on Spanish affairs.
How were the last years of her?
In 1977, two years after Franco’s death, she briefly returned to Spain. During her stay, she called for harmony and the restoration of democracy and continued to insist on the idea of a prison reform.
In 1986 she received the Grand Cross of the Order of San Raimundo de Peñafort by the Spanish Ministry of Justice, in recognition of her work, but she could not go to pick it up. Finally, she passes away on September 25, 1987 in New York.
Juan Manuel López