All the armies of the Mexican Revolution were accompanied by women. As no side had professional support units, the work of female camp followers was vital to provision the troops and to provide logistical support. Many women, however, also took up weapons and joined the fighting.
According to one newspaper reporter, in 1913 there were around 200 female soldiers scattered in all warring factions. Some were wives or daughters of soldiers; others were outlaws who had joined the various revolutionary bands. If they proved themselves in battle, they could rise through the ranks, as indeed many did.
Female soldiers can already be found in the early phase of the revolution among the Maderistas and Orozquistas. Rosa Bobadilla, who commanded a cavalry unit in Morelos, became famous, as did ‘La Coronela’ Carmen Parra, who participated in the first battle of Ciudad Juárez in 1911. After Victoriano Huerta had seized power in 1913, the federal army was increased by forced recruitment of men as well as women. While the women were mainly employed in supporting roles, many ended up on the battlefield.
The machismo of Pancho Villa did not care for an active role for women, and Villa tried to ban soldaderas from his army. However, even among his troops, contemporaries witnessed women on horses, equipped with rifles and cartridge belts. One of them was Petra Herrera, who first fought under a male disguise and participated in several battles. Later, she raised her own all-female unit and changed side to Carranza. The Zapatistas also had several female fighters in their ranks. One of them, Maria de la Luz Espinosa Barrera, rose to the rank of colonel and was described as a woman who “smoked, drank, gambled, and feared no man”.
How did they look? There is ample photographic material on the Mexican Revolution and we have many contemporary images of Soldaderas. From those pictures and descriptions in books and newspaper articles, we learn that some women retained their traditional costumes and wore dresses. Most of those who took up a combat role, however, seem to have donned male clothing, such as the khaki uniforms used by the Federal troops. In any case, the cartridge belts across the chest, which have become such an iconic piece of equipment for the period, can be found on almost all of the images of female soldiers.
What figures are available?
In 28mm Gringo40s offer several Soldaderas in their Mexican Revolution range. Those are very nice figures and they even include some unusual poses, such as the woman throwing a dynamite stick.
Old Glory have a pack of Mexican camp followers which contains 15 figures in five poses. They paint up nicely and go together well with the women offered by Gringo40s.
In 20mm, Early War Miniatures offers a pack of Soldaderas.
15mm is badly served for the period. Only Peter Pig have some armed Mexican women in their Wild West range which might work at a pinch.
Fuentes, Andrés Reséndez: “Battleground Women: Soldaderas and Female Soldiers in the Mexican Revolution,” The Americas 51 (1995), 525-553.
Poniatowska, Elena: Las soldaderas. Women of the Mexican Revolution, El Paso, Texas: Cinco Puntos Press 2006.
Salas, Elizabeth: Soldaderas in the Mexican Military: Myth and History, Austin, Tx.: University of Texas Press 1990.