Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
María Eva Duarte de Perón (most commonly known by the affectionate diminutive Evita) (May 7, 1919 - July 26, 1952) was the First Lady of Argentina and the second wife of President Juan Perón (1895-1974).
She was born in Los Toldos , Argentina, one of five illegitimate but recognized children born to an unwed cook, Juana Ibarguren (1894-1971), and her married lover, ranch owner Juan Duarte (1872-1926), and was raised in nearby Junín . At age 15, she travelled to Buenos Aires with a travelling musician, where she became a radio and film actress, acting in B-grade movie melodramas and Radio El Mundo soap operas. She eventually came to co-own the radio company and she was considered to be a talented radio actress. She regularly appeared on a popular historical-drama programme Great Women of History in which she played Elizabeth I of England, Sarah Bernhardt and the last Tsarina of Russia. She met Colonel Juan Perón at a charity event to raise funds for the victims of San Juan earthquake. She and Perón married on October 21, 1945. Her impoverished roots and inclinations led her to assume the role of her husband's liaison with labor becoming a co-leader of the descamisados ("the shirtless"), the foundation for her husband's political support.
She campaigned heavily for Perón during his 1946 presidential bid. Using her weekly radio show she delivered powerful speeches with heavy populist rhetoric urging the poor to rise up. Although she became quite wealthy from her radio and modeling successes, she would highlight her own humble upbringings as a way of showing solidarity with the impoverished classes.
After Perón was elected Evita immediately took a prominent political role in the government. She created the Eva Perón Foundation, an institution to assist the poor. It was incredibly popular and made valuable contributions to Argentine life. The hospitals and orphanages that the Foundation established endured long after Evita's own premature death. The Foundation also increased her political power within Argentina and soon she organized the women's branch of the Justicialist Party. By 1949, Evita was the most influential figure in Argentina.
She became the center of a vast personality cult and her image and name soon appeared everywhere. Despite her dominance and political power, Evita was always careful to never undermine the important symbolic role of her husband. Though she was very much in control of the president's agenda, Evita was always careful to justify her actions by claiming they were "inspired" or "encouraged" by the wisdom and passion of Perón. Privately, however the marriage was often tense. The couple never had any children.
Though Evita was worshipped by her working-class followers, she was bitterly hated by Argentina's wealthy Anglophile elite. They detested her humble roots. Many felt that as a woman she was far too active in politics. Evita herself referred to them disparagingly as "The Oligarchs."
In 1946 Evita went on a much-publicized "Rainbow Tour" of Europe, meeting with numerous Heads of State, including Francisco Franco. It was aimed at being a massive public relations coup for the Perón regime, which in the post-World War II world was increasingly being viewed as fascist. She was well-received in Spain, where she visited the tombs of Spain's first absolutist monarchs - Ferdinand and Isabella and handed 100-peseta notes to every poor child she met on her journey. She also met with the Pope in Rome and went to Paris.
Eventually Evita sought to formalize her power by seeking the vice-presidency in 1951. This move angered many military leaders who despised Evita and her increasing powers within the government. Under heavy pressure, Juan eventually withdrew Evita's nomination from the post.
Like her husband's first wife, Eva Perón died of uterine cancer, at the age of 33. Her body was embalmed and kept on display until a military coup overthrew her husband in 1955. Her body was then flown to Milan, Italy, and buried. Sixteen years later, in 1971, the body was exhumed and flown to Spain. Her husband returned from exile to Argentina as president. He died there in 1974, and Eva's body was returned to Argentina and (briefly) displayed beside his. She was reburied in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.
Her life and career are dramatized in the popular musical, Evita, co-produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which starred Elaine Paige in London's West End, Patti LuPone on Broadway, and Madonna on film. She has also been portrayed on television by Faye Dunaway.
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