During the 1996-1997 academic year, at the University of California, San Diego, I was an appreciative recipient of one of the J. M. Hepps Graduate Fellowships. One evening, awardees were afforded the opportunity to meet and thank the Howard and Iris (Hepps) Harris family and provide a brief synopsis of our research interests and projects. I had recently worked with Professors Rosaura Sánchez and Beatriz Pita on the transcription of a selection of Californio women's testimonios, which culminated in the publication of our coedited special edition of Crítica: A Journal of Critical Essays entitled "Nineteenth Century Californio Testimonials." One particular testimonio caught my attention: the story of Eulalia Pérez' work as a llavera, or principal housekeeper, at Mission San Gabriel, a story that seemed to have disappeared in the traditional historiography of the region. At the urging of my advisor, Ramón Gutiérrez, I had also contacted Mtra. Lucila del Carmen León Velazco, of the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. She, involved in her own research on presidial soldiers and their families in colonial Baja California, had recently published an essay on the divorce petition of Eulalia Callis, the wife of Pedro Fages, one of the governors of eighteenth-century California. Callis, in response to her accusations of Fages' adultery, was held incommunicado at Mission Carmelo in Alta California. In addition, Mtra. León Velazco very generously introduced me to Carlos Lazcano Sahagún's recovery project of Manuel Clemente Rojo's memoirs. This now-published work includes a brief, but very interesting, description of the legend of Bárbara Gandiaga, an indigenous woman of Baja California who was accused and convicted of conspiracy to murder two Dominican priests of Mission Santo Tomás de Aquino.
During the course of the evening, I met and conversed with various members of the Harris family and stumbled through different attempts at explaining my still-developing research project on these three women. I wanted to be as articulate yet concise as possible as I tried to make sure the Harris family would not be disappointed by this fellowship recipient's selection; thus, I attempted to wax poetic—and scholarly—about women's agency, mobility, and survival strategies.
Finally, after what seemed the twelfth attempt at this exercise, a woman, a Harris family friend, cut me off during what must have been a long-winded explanation and said, "Oh, it's about choices, the choices women make." I was immediately intrigued, if not shocked, by the efficiency of her statement. I wondered, could it be that simple; that is, did women truly have choices in this frontier colonial region? If so, what kind? If not, what were the restrictions or limitations of their choice making?
I recognized how the three women's stories were connected as they allowed for the articulation of separate incidents that highlighted the function of the mission project in constructing gendered roles and expectations of women in the colonial Californias. But, after locating Bárbara Gandiaga's criminal inquiry and interrogations, and with the divorce petition of Eulalia Callis and the testimonio of Eulalia Pérez, I gained access to the voices of these women, who seemed to reach across time and place and call for additional, more complex, analysis and questions: Could women have had agency in the colonial Californias? Did the social structures or colonial processes in place in the frontier setting of New Spain confine or limit them in particular, gendered, ways? Was race the predominant factor that determined access to legal recourse? And were gendered dynamics in colonial California explicitly rigid as a result of the imperatives of colonization?
Private Women, Public Lives initiates discussion of these questions, highlights these dynamics, and examines the frontier mission social spaces and their relationship to the creation of gendered colonial relations in the Californias. In addition, it explores the function of the missions and missionaries in establishing hierarchies of power and in defining gendered spaces and roles for the inhabitants of the Californias and looks at the ways that women challenged and attempted to modify the construction of those hierarchies, roles, and spaces. I seek neither to demonize nor to romanticize the missions and missionaries of the colonial Californias. As James A. Sandos proposes, neither simple Christophilic Triumphalist (mythologizing pro-mission) nor Christophobic Nihilist (anti-Franciscan missionary) perspectives result in a "complex, and interesting" or, I would add, necessarily illuminating reading of the impact of missionization on frontier societies.
This monograph, however, not only fills a critical gap in the history of colonial California—scholars of which have only recently begun to give adequate attention to Hispanic women—but it also adds to current research on indigenous, Spanish, and Mexican women and public space as I examine the lives and work of three women in colonial California.
Bárbara Gandiaga was an Indian woman in the Dominican frontier in Baja California. She was taken as a child to live at Mission Santo Tomás, where, according to legend, she was held against her will and abused by a missionary. In 1803, Gandiaga was charged with conspiracy to murder two priests at her mission.
Eulalia Callis was the first lady of colonial California and petitioned for divorce from her adulterous governor-husband, Pedro Fages. Callis, a member of the Catalonian elite of New Spain, was detained and held incommunicado at Mission San Carlos (commonly referred to as Mission Carmelo) for defying the missionaries' directives to recant her accusations.
Eulalia Pérez, a mestiza, was a llavera, or head housekeeper, at Mission San Gabriel, a position of significant authority and responsibility in the most successful of the Alta California missions. However, neither missionaries nor historians have recognized her role in the commercial development of the mission and have relegated her work to the "domestic" (and thus private) sphere.
To understand how women navigated the various social spaces of the Californias, we must examine the ways in which the notion of public and private spaces functions in this frontier colonial setting. It bears remembering that the boundaries between the public and the private are inherently discursive, constantly changing, and socially constructed. Thus, we will find that boundaries between public and private spaces in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century California frontier are also socially constructed and continually redefined. And it is in those changing social, temporal, and spatial boundaries—that is, the boundaries between Españolas, mestizas, and indígenas, the colonial and Mexican Californias, and the public and private domains—that women constructed their own individual identities, asserted agency, sought recourse, and attempted to reposition themselves across those various spheres.
These women were socially situated, and, to paraphrase Mary P. Ryan, their movements were charted by class and race distinctions. Women were constrained or able to negotiate within and beyond traditional gender roles in ways intimately tied to their specific racial and social status. Certainly, indigenous women, who were the focus of concerted colonial efforts to transform the indigenous communities, experienced varying degrees of restriction and violent coercion in this process. Some mestizas in this colonial region were allowed a certain amount of mobility, particularly as this mobility served the colonial system. There were, however, relatively few Españolas in the eighteenth-century Californias, and, as will be later demonstrated and despite the established legal recourse that Spanish women had and accessed in Spain and other centers of urban life in the Spanish Americas, in this colonial frontier the urgency of colonial control over the region dictated the degree to which these women were bound by Spanish codes of honor and virtue.
What is especially interesting is how, in the case of the Californianas, their subordinate positioning was also determined by their relationship to the ecclesiastical institutions in Alta and Baja California, that is, whether they were in conflict, supported by, or in cooperation with the missions and missionaries. Thus, the degree to which their actions were either in harmony with or were seen to threaten the mission project determined the nature of both the treatment they were given and the constraints imposed on their mobility and agency.
Current Chicana/o scholarship on the Southwest is creating new approaches to the study of the diverse peoples of the Southwest. One of these approaches explores cases, themes, or concerns about Californianas through gender-centered questions that help us understand the complex reality of women's life experiences. Antonia Castañeda's work on Spanish/Mexican women in the frontier has begun to foreground the centrality of the gender issues that underlie California's colonization process. Her analysis calls attention to the gendered differences that contextualize the experiences of women in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century California and provides us better, or more nuanced, insights into Californianas' daily lives. More specifically, Castañeda calls attention to the gendered nature of the politics, policies, and power structures of Spanish colonialism.
This book builds on Castañeda's foundational work and interrogates the nature and consequences of those gendered power structures in the Californias while bringing together multiple fields of history. In addition, I am approaching the study of gender in the colonial Californias by joining nationalist historiographies—of Baja and Alta California and the United States, Mexico, and Latin America—that traditionally have been artificially separated.
The book is also informed by pioneering research by Latin Americans that focuses on women and their role in Latin American societies. This early work initiated a scholarly conversation the goal of which was to situate women in a variety of public spaces (economic, political, legal, etc.) across time (in pre-Hispanic, colonial, and independent Latin American societies) and across social and racial strata (indias pipiltin [of the nobility] or macehualtin [of dominated Indian groups], Spanish elite or frontier women, and a variety of mixed-race women of the Americas), thus problematizing generalized notions of women's roles and place in society and history.
In addition, I am building on recent scholarship that focuses on Spanish-speaking women in Spain and the Americas in active engagement with the courts as they availed themselves of their judicial rights and sought redress for a variety of grievances. This scholarship demonstrates the legal tradition of women's rights within the Spanish Empire and the history of women exercising those rights. For example, Basque working-class women, as early as the sixteenth century, brought lawsuits against men for a number of offenses such as seduction, abandonment, and sexual assault; colonial-period Ecuadorian women sought legal redress against physical violence, adultery, lack of financial support, and rescinded marriage proposals and filed for participation in local, interregional, and international economies. New Mexican Hispanas secured legal recourse to protect their businesses and property, and women in California contested the loss of patrimonial rights during the late colonial, Mexican, and early period of American domination.
But a gendered analysis of the past has to go beyond an exploration of "women's concerns." It requires the study of socially constructed roles and expectations for males and females, their relationship to each other, and the dynamics that correspond to their position in the prevailing social and racial hierarchy. In the setting of the colonial and Mexican Californias, this type of analysis allows the reader to understand the ways that men and women of different classes experienced frontier life. As Iris A. Blanco points out, women are not part of a static group, independent of broader social dynamics; rather, they participate in, and are affected by, gendered social hierarchies and are often the target of specific male oppression even when they share the same social condition. These dynamics are evident in the gendered hierarchy of the colonial Californias, as women attempted to negotiate constraints generated by the priorities of the colonial project. This approach calls for an analysis of how roles and expectations were structured, how they perpetuated the social status quo of the inhabitants of the region, and how these roles and expectations conflicted with, or upheld and promoted, the mission project.
Some contemporary scholars have also used a gender approach to the study of indígenas and Hispanas in California and the American Southwest, while others have focused on gender, politics, and public space in the United States. Few, however, have considered the possibility of highlighting the juncture of these lines of inquiry and redefining public space as it relates to missionization in the context of the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century frontier Californias.
Space, as a point of inquiry, has undergone several conceptual transformations from simple public/private dichotomies to more nuanced, and complex, examinations of the interstices of the public and private divide, including the development of innovative definitions of multiple gendered spaces. Emma Pérez has contributed to this debate by suggesting an additional area, third space feminism, as a discursive locus where feminists are engaged in deconstructing colonized explanations of relations of power, or constructing new paradigms and approaches for understanding gendered frameworks, hierarchies and power relations, that is, creating decolonial imaginaries.
This book is situated in this theoretical and discursive space because I am redefining the gendered relations of the colonial mission by linking the demands of colonial policy in the development of the Californias to the age of exploration's globalized imperatives while examining the role that California missions, as colonial public spaces, played in defining gendered hierarchies. Further, I am engaging the scholarly debate on the notions of women's access and ability to negotiate public spaces and how mobility and agency intersect certain socially constructed categories such as race, class, and gender in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century frontier Californias.
Jürgen Habermas discusses the notion of bourgeois public space as the broad domain within which politics and public opinion were discussed, defined, and constituted. Habermas proposes that the bourgeois public sphere was "the sphere of private people [coming] together as public." In his analysis the private realm consisted of civil society, which he identifies as the realm of commodity exchange and social labor and the conjugal family's internal space. By contrast, the sphere of the public, which Habermas associates with authority, was relegated to the state and the courtly-noble society. Thus, "the line between state and society . . . divided the public sphere from the private."
Scholarly work, however, has gone beyond Habermas' propositions to question the very category of the "public" and has contributed arguments regarding the penetration of the private or civil society by the state. Private Women, Public Lives contributes to this ongoing scholarly conversation that proposes that there is no essential public space; rather, there are different "publics," or different spaces where "public" activity takes place.
Habermas' paradigm continues to be widely debated and critiqued, especially by feminist scholars and historians. Mary Ryan's treatment of this concept, using gender as a socially constructed phenomenon, redefines the public sphere and expands it to include those areas in which women lived, toiled, and contested their situation within the context of the nineteenth-century United States. Such an approach to the issue of public space informs research on gender by questioning the very conceptualization of the gendered notions of public and private, particularly as they relate historically to women.
As Ryan notes, the very establishment of gendered social space has functioned as an instrument of containment for the allowed activities, roles, and role expectations of women in everyday life: "Social space . . . serves as a scaffolding upon which both gender distinctions and female identity are construed. Although women's status is often, perhaps inappropriately, defined in [a] spatial metaphor of [a] woman's place . . . by its very definition, however, public space defies exact boundaries between male and female spheres."
This approach provides an alternative locus to the public in the nineteenth-century United States, not primarily in literary and political clubs, but in outdoor assemblages, in open urban spaces, along the avenues, on street corners, and in public squares. This reexamination of what constituted public space broadens our understanding of the social base that characterizes inclusion and exclusion within the public sphere. As such, "publicness" in the nineteenth-century United States took shape in a distinctive class and social context. Ryan notes that the "urban public found its social base in amorphous groupings of citizens aggregated according to ethnicity, class, race, pet cause and party affiliation." Further, it is critical to underscore the specificity of the development of public spheres that respond differently within given unique temporal and spatial conditions. Access to gendered rights was mediated by frontier demands and conditions, despite the rights accorded to women through Spanish law. Silvia Arrom explains that women of Mexico City, by the late eighteenth century, were actively conducting, for example, "their own legal affairs: women could participate in a wide range of public activities, they were allowed to buy, sell, rent, inherit, or bequeath properties of all kinds, they could lend and borrow money, act as administrators of estates, and form business partnerships. They could initiate litigation [and] be their own advocates in court." By broadening and calling these categories into question, this line of inquiry has opened up new spaces for research and afforded new research avenues.
Other feminist scholars have also addressed the analytical feasibility of the notion of public space, particularly as it applies to women's everyday experiences. Feminist scholars who have examined the issue of the domestication of politics point to the need to go beyond the definition of the "political" in order to understand the importance of women-centered activities and the effect and influence these activities may have on the polity. They have found that nineteenth-century women's exclusion from "traditionally defined politics" necessitated their creating avenues of "acceptable" civic-minded involvement and have demonstrated how the vectors of class and agency figure in discussions of public/private male/female spaces. Women's participation in societies and organizations, which ultimately affected local governments and politics, further complicates the distinction between female private and male public spheres.
Along the same lines, other scholars have proposed that women's everyday activities were not confined to the kitchen or bedroom but involved a variety of operations that were driven by economic, familial, religious, and social necessity. In nineteenth-century Latin America, the vectors of the private and public were further blurred when, for example, Peruvian women endured, and confronted, the private being made public, as spousal "private" conflicts were debated and resolved by neighbors in community settings.
It is in this sense that this book redefines the public sphere and the role that the missions, as public institutions, played in the late-eighteenth- early-nineteenth-century frontier Californias. By highlighting the public character of the California missions, that is, by pointing to their role as Christianizing institutions, as colonial trading posts, banks, haciendas, cultural transformation centers, and so on, one can appreciate their public function as agents for the Spanish Crown that carried out colonizing policies and worked to define social, racial, and gendered hierarchies in the region.
The notion of public space in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is the framework within which the cases of the three women of this study must be understood. I am proposing that public space in colonial California has less to do with ordinary indoor/outdoor designs or work patterns. In the colonial Californias, what was key to this formation was the role and function of missionization as the foremost architect of colonization. Thus, wherever this process was taking place there were no private spaces. As such, the missions' churches, monjeríos (gendered—female—sleeping quarters), talleres (workshops), obrajes (logging camps or other work spaces), the friars' quarters, and colonial homes such as the governor's house were the very locus of the public.
But it is critical to note that, as Rosaura Sánchez has correctly pointed out, "there can be no essential gender discourse, only gender discourses in articulation with other discourses," and "gender can only be read across time and space." I would add that public space must also be read chrono-geographically, and that women's access and ability to negotiate within and across the colonial California public space must be read as they intersect with issues of race and class. Further, in order "to chart the borders of public and private as an exercise of social geography," it is imperative to understand "the patterns which arise from the use social groups make of space as they see it, and of the processes involved in making and changing such patterns."
These propositions are further problematized by the geographic and temporal specificities of the colonial frontier. It should be remembered that California was the last region to be settled in the Spanish borderlands, over two centuries after the colonial project had begun in central Mexico. The mode of production at the time did not necessarily coincide either in stage or degree of development with that in other places in Mexico or Latin America. Nevertheless, as was the case in most colonial frontier communities, women could be found actively engaged at many levels and participating in the development of the regional economies.
These historical differences must be addressed, as they necessarily affected the way in which gender roles changed, were transformed, or remained the same. In addition, in the Californias, gendered spheres and women's ability to maneuver within them were distinctly linked to the degree to which women contested their prescribed roles and whether they were contesting, being supported by, or supporting the coercive institutions of the colonial project, namely, the mission system established by the Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican orders. It must be noted that the overall conditions in the northern frontier pressured women in particular ways, as the precariousness of colonial life often rendered them widowed or forced to contribute to their families' support. The frontier economy provided little if any opportunity for women to gain employment; thus, women who lived on or near the missions sometimes were compelled to work for the mission project.
It is, furthermore, clear that the blurring of public and private spatial boundaries becomes even more evident in the nineteenth-century U.S. frontier, where many women were involved in manual and backbreaking work. The gender division of labor expanded, but the gender inequity was nevertheless maintained. Although this is not an uncommon development (historically, women have often endured an unequal burden of the division of labor), the dynamic merits scrutiny in order to demystify essentialist explanations for its persistence.
Late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century California was a frontier site to which women were brought to assist in populating and building settlements which would further the Spanish colonial and, later, Mexican projects. Thus, the Californias must be understood first and foremost as the locus where the sexual reproductive and the economic productive orders operated together. That is to say, in the context of the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Californias, women provided a variety of "services" to the settlement project. As Rosaura Sánchez explains, biological reproduction "was not only women's primary family obligation but also a civil duty." And where women relinquished "the role of progenitrix, [they] played other 'feminine' roles in Californio society as teachers, nurses, and in service outside their own immediate family, but still fully within the idealized patriarchal norm." As a consequence, women served in a reproductive/sexual capacity as the producers of the frontier settlement's inhabitants, further performing a productive role in the execution of a variety of tasks required in the course of daily survival in the missions and ranches and as participants in the ideological reproduction that would serve to legitimate colonial dominance in the region.
Historians, literary critics, and social scientists have examined, analyzed, and redefined socially constructed hierarchies and structures that have subordinated women. But only a few writers have crafted an interpretive approach to relational studies that addresses the intersection of gender, race, and class. The work of feminist scholars who utilize gender not as a variable of study but as a central point of inquiry provides the organizing principles of this book. While referencing a range of interdisciplinary work, my research draws primarily on that which examines gender, culture, and agency as central issues in women's studies.
Further, since the 1970s, historians have exponentially advanced research on the history of the Southwest, particularly in studies that focus on the period of the Spanish colonization of California, the development of the mission and rancho economies, and the disenfranchisement of Mexicans as a consequence of the U.S. invasion of 1846. Scholars have focused on issues surrounding Mexican resistance and reaction to these changes as well as ethnic representations (historical, literary, oral, etc.) during these distinct periods. Whether focused on ties of comadrazgo (spiritual godmotherhood) and compadrazgo (spiritual godfatherhood), the interrelations of power and powerlessness, marriage and sexuality, poverty and sexual violence, racial and ethnic conflict, structures of difference and power, or political disenfranchisement, in each of these projects historians are fleshing out the inner dynamics of California in the nineteenth century and, in the process, reshaping our understanding of a period that experienced rapid transformations. David Gutiérrez describes the thrust of these historiographic projects thus: "Scholars writing during this period broadened and deepened comprehension of the west, by pulling Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants out of obscurity by rendering them visible and significant in regional history. And perhaps more importantly, [by replacing] the traditional stereotypical representations that long dominated regional history with more complex and subtle renderings of individual Mexicans and Mexican culture."
The breadth and scope of these studies, often grounded in history and literary analysis, have produced a growing corpus of research on the early settlers of the Southwest prior to U.S. westward expansion. These scholars are involved not only in the process of mapping the particulars of California history but also in interrogating the underlying presuppositions embedded in canonical texts and in earlier historical interpretations. As a result, scholarship on the inhabitants of the Californias is also beginning to provide us with multiple and corrective insights into the lives of this diverse eighteenth- and nineteenth-century frontier population.
There is a growing field of scholarship that examines the gendered dynamics of the missionization process and the persistence and transformation of indigenous lifeways in the Californias. Although women's resistance strategies have become the focus of much feminist and historiographic scholarship, few historians have devoted attention to women as agents and subjects in the Spanish colonial frontier. This study contributes to this scholarly impetus by highlighting the role that the California mission project played in gendering agency, behavior, work, and recourse in the California frontier.
Given frontier conditions, one of the principal contradictions in this setting was how the social, patriarchal hierarchy, which rendered women's participation for the most part indiscernible, was preserved and bolstered by the coercive role of the missionaries as well as by the Californio families, including women who on occasion contributed to the reinforcement of the hierarchical structure which maintained their subordination in society. This dynamic helps explain how the work of Californianas of the Spanish colonial and, later, Mexican national projects became "domesticized," constrained, rendered invisible, and yet was part and parcel of the colonial enterprise.
But locating the contribution of women to California society is not the only, or even possibly the most significant, aspect of this line of inquiry. I am also concerned with identifying the very access that women had to the public sphere and the treatment they experienced as they negotiated within and across this space. Thus, a gendered approach to the study of the social processes that construct identity, agency, and spatial mobility sheds light on the way in which men and women (of different racial and social strata) experienced the Californias. Only in this way can we question the, at best, fuzzy dichotomies of public/private spheres and place these women's work, lives, and contestation of their socially constructed roles within the larger framework of California social production and reproduction.
There are precious few works that address the participation of European women in exploration and early empire, although there are increasingly more about elite women in certain Spanish colonial societies. But, by now, most scholars involved in reconstructing the daily life of poor women recognize that there is a dearth of historical records that attest directly to their movements and actions, particularly those of lower-class and indigenous women in the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Californias. François Giraud explains:
We know much about some of the privileged sectors of New Spain's society, like the women of Spanish aristocracy, or nuns, also largely Spanish women. But little is known of the lower classes, servant women, slave women, and, more generally, of the poor women of the countryside and city, belonging to indigenous, black, or mixed-race groups. In other words, historiography reflects the power relations of the colonial society and offers many more documented sources about women, who, because they enjoyed more power, the right to speak, write, and engage in [C]ulture, had a greater possibility of leaving their imprint, remembrances, and testimonies.
Thus, in part, my project is one of excavation. The sources I used for this study include a variety of documents that describe women's lives, including a broad selection of journals, letters, memoirs, published and unpublished interviews, statements, and other historical documents that reveal a complex reality for women of the Californias during the late Spanish colonial period.
Specifically, I reviewed a number of Californio testimonials, including that of Eulalia Pérez, from the Special Collections Archives at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. In addition, I was able to study legal depositions, mission records, and correspondence relating to Fathers Eudaldo Surroca's and Miguel López' murders at Mission Santo Tomás in Baja California; Eulalia Callis' petition for divorce and related correspondence, retrieved from the Archivo General de la Nación's microfilmed documents housed at the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico; and the California Mission Archives at Mission Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, California, which also houses documents that reveal the process of development of the Alta California missions. I am including eight appendices, the Spanish transcriptions (and English translations) of the archival documents of Bárbara Gandiaga's interrogations regarding the murders of Frs. Eudaldo Surroca and Miguel López, Eulalia Callis' divorce petition, and Eulalia Pérez' testimonio. I tried to keep to the Spanish colonial spelling of the Gandiaga transcriptions, inserting accents only for the sake of tense agreement or continuity. I was also able to inform the chapter on Bárbara Gandiaga through the retelling of her legend included in the published memoirs of Manuel Clemente Rojo.
The Introduction foregrounds the book's primary queries and theoretical framework. Although this book builds on the scholarly traditions of sociological and cultural studies and, thus, is an interdisciplinary project, it is firmly grounded in historical method and inquiry and makes use of a variety of sources such as case studies, diaries, and testimonials, as well as more traditional ones, such as court records.
Case studies have proven to be rich sources for reconstructing dailiness in the nineteenth century, as they provide us a grounded, nuanced, and intimate window onto larger processes. For this purpose, I have examined three women (indigenous, Spanish, and mestiza) who lived in the Californias during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These women's stories inform my analysis of gender and public space as these notions intersect with other analytical categories, such as race and ethnicity, that make up the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century social frontier of the Californias.
Chapters 1, 2, and 3, on the Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan mission efforts, respectively, review the global events and colonial policies leading to missionization in the Californias, the interconnectedness of Baja and Alta California (with the former's role in the founding and development of the latter), the precariousness of life for the indigenous population (men and women) and the missionaries during this process, and the consequences brought about by the very public character of the mission system in these regions. I chose Missions Santo Tomás de Aquino (Baja California) and San Gabriel Arcángel (Alta California) as windows through which to view the broader colonial frontier project. In addition, these two missions are the sites where the life stories of two of the women examined herein take place.
These chapters build on the understanding that the goal of the colonizing project was the acquisition of land, wealth, and power, and that the mission system was the cornerstone of this endeavor. The social/religious regulation of the settler populations and the domination of the indigenous peoples—and the exploitation of their labor—were key to the colonial project. In order to show the multifaceted strategies of frontier women who attempted to manage their social environment and contest and resist social containment, it was necessary, first, to address the processes through which the missionaries established, organized, and reorganized indigenous and settler social spheres.
In Chapter 4, I examine the life story of the Indian woman Bárbara Gandiaga, a resident of Mission Santo Tomás in the Dominican frontier of Baja California. Gandiaga was accused of being the intellectual author of the murder of two missionaries. Little is known of her life story that is not directly associated with her court case. Accounts of her experiences, including alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of the missionaries, were later recovered and reconstructed within local legends. Despite the fact that Spanish and mestiza women during the colonial period were engaged in accessing legal recourse for a variety of offenses, Gandiaga's defense against the murder accusations is attenuated by her perceived threat to the maintenance of colonial order. The alleged conspiracy was seen as a threat not simply to the remaining missionaries but to the entire mission effort. Missionaries responded by ordering the most brutal of punishments as an example to the rest of the Indian population. What becomes significant in Gandiaga's case is neither her guilt nor her innocence. Instead, given her racial and social positioning in this colonial frontier, Gandiaga had few means to air grievances and seek justice. The case was judged in relation to the broader state of colonial affairs, that is, in relation to the precariousness of life for the colonists due to hostile relations between colonizers and colonized.
Chapter 5 considers the case of Eulalia Callis, the Spanish wife of California governor Pedro Fages, who was likewise limited in her ability to negotiate her choice of residence and agency on the frontier. Callis reluctantly moved to the Alta California frontier to live with her husband and soon discovered him in flagrante delicto with an indigenous girl. The local ecclesiastical authorities attempted to suppress her allegations of his immoral behavior, for the First Lady's charges, not the governor's alleged immoral actions, were seen as threatening the social order of the region.
Spanish colonial scholarship has proposed that honor and power in the borderlands intersected with and served to ensure the consolidation and perpetuation of social hierarchies, perhaps more than in Spain or Mexico at the time, and that Spanish colonists placed honor at the very center of their moral system. Callis' accusations were deemed a threat to the honor of the highest regional colonial representative, the Spanish governor, and to the moral and legal authority of the Catholic Church. When she insisted on submitting an official petition for divorce, she was forcibly detained by the presidial soldiers and confined by the local missionaries in a convent to reconsider her charges. Ultimately, however, she was forced by mission authorities to withdraw her accusations of adultery against her husband. Although her social status allowed her a voice with which to contest her situation, her high visibility in the colonial frontier worked against her, as her petition for divorce challenged the prevailing colonial order.
Chapter 6 considers the life and work of a mestiza Baja Californian, Eulalia Pérez, who was the llavera of Mission San Gabriel in Alta California. Her participation in the compilation of testimonials gathered by the H. H. Bancroft interview project of old Californios in the late 1800s affords a more accurate picture of her significant contribution to the mission's role in the region's economy. Perez' work was highly influential and central to mission operations. However, her gendered status largely contributed to her virtual anonymity in histories about the California missions. In addition, Perez' social status was defined and mediated by the missionaries. She for the most part organized the productive activities at the mission, including selecting women from the pueblo to train mission Indians in weaving, sewing, and other skills, organizing the daily work schedules of the mission Indians, and supervising the trading of mission goods. The missionaries, however, relying on prevailing patriarchal relations, held sway over her personal life and social status, even forcing her to remarry against her wishes.
The Conclusion brings together the stories examined in this book to reveal how women of colonial California negotiated within and beyond gendered roles, depending on their specific positioning in the social and racial hierarchies of the region and according to the nature of their relationship to the colonial mission project.