Family of trailblazing female Spanish mayor hail DNA match to remains

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid
·2-min read

More than eight decades after she was murdered, the remains of Spain’s first female mayor of the second republic have been identified, wrapping up a months-long investigation that has helped to cast a spotlight on María Domínguez Remón’s trailblazing legacy.

An exhumation, carried out earlier this year in the small town of Fuendejalón, Aragón, ignited hopes that the remains of Domínguez had been found. A handful of clues hinted that the remains were those of the feminist and rights activist; the location dovetailed with reports of where she was believed to be, the skull bore a hole where it had been punctured by a bullet and lying with the remains was a small brown comb like that worn by Domínguez.

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On Tuesday, Juan José Espligares, the great-grandson of Domínguez’s sister, was informed that the DNA recently taken from his finger was a match with the remains.

“It’s an immense joy,” he told the Guardian. “Her remains had been there for 85 years.” The family has said they intend to keep the remains in Fuendejalón’s cemetery.

Born to a family of illiterate fieldworkers, Domínguez taught herself how to read and write, setting off on her own after her family forced her to marry an abusive man. Her term as mayor of the small Aragonese town of Gallur lasted about eight months, but she used the time to build a school and usher in labour legislation before returning to teaching and journalism.

She was 54 years old when she was killed by troops loyal to General Francisco Franco in September 1936.

Pilar Gimeno, who heads the Association for the Relatives and Friends of Those Murdered and Buried in Magallón, told the Guardian last month: “She was persecuted because she was different and because she thought differently. She was persecuted for her bravery and for her republicanism. She was leftwing and so they put a bullet in her head.”

In recent weeks, as a government laboratory in Aragón diligently probed the DNA samples, the quest helped to cast a spotlight on Domínguez’s legacy, said Gimeno.

Municipalities across Spain are weighing tributes, roundtables and posthumous honours for Domínguez, said Gimeno. Among those who have hailed her legacy is Carmen Calvo, one of Spain’s deputy prime ministers and the minister for historical memory, who recently described her as a “great fighter for socialism and feminism” on Twitter.

While Gimeno was celebrating the find, she noted that it was another step in the tremendous task of uncovering Spain’s murky past. “Each time you are able to identify and find remains for a family, you close off a cycle of pain,” she said. “What the fascists forgot was that the dead leave behind those who live. And the living have memory.”