Inspiring Thursday: Maria Teresa Horta

Maria Teresa Horta is a Portuguese writer, journalist and poet, born in Lisbon in 1937,  known for her fascinating and provocative writing, in times where freedom of speech was heavily censured. In 1972, along with Maria Velho da Costa and Maria Isabel Barreno (they were known as “As Três Marias” ,The Three Marias), she published the controversial book, “Novas Cartas Portuguesas” (New Portuguese Letters). This book challenged the moral authority of the regime in the 1970s and was declared “pornographic and offensive for public morality” and has since became considered the revolutionary text of Portuguese feminism of the 20th century. The book consists of letters, essays, poems, and fragments that portray Portuguese society, and more specifically the condition of women in Portugal.

The book brought about a tremendous discussion in Portuguese society and also internationally. The “New Portuguese Letters” stands as a recognized contribution to Portuguese culture. The book was translated and published in many countries. Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velho da Costa have continued to develop their own individual paths in life, but their collective part in changing the lives of Portuguese women for the better, remains imbedded in the nation’s history.

In 1972, the controversial book was banned, but not before most copies had sold out. The authors smuggled a copy to French feminists in Paris, who also arranged for the book’s translation. Maria Teresa Horta, along with her two co-authors, was imprisoned and allegedly tortured by the PIDE (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado), the Salazar’s regime notorious secret police, in order to establish who was responsible for writing the most explicit passages .All three authors refused to talk, and stood trial for obscenity and “abusing the freedom of the press.” The trial of the Three Marias, as they became known, made worldwide headlines and inspired protests outside Portuguese embassies in Europe, the United States, and Brazil.

The trial dragged on until the spring of 1974, and the trial judge withheld his decision as it became clear that the regime was about to fall. After the nearly bloodless coup of April 25, 1974, known as the Carnation Revolution (as soldiers marched in the streets with red flowers at the end of the barrels of their rifles), the judge freed the women and dismissed their case.

Maria Teresa was an activist in the Movimento de Libertação das Mulheres (Women’s Liberation Movement)  and has helped pave the way for the current post-dictatorship portuguese feminist movement, as she was at the forefront of feminist protests in Lisbon throughout the year of 1975.

Maria Teresa Horta has received several tributes in Portugal and Brazil. Her latest novel, “The Lights of Leonor”, published in 2011, was considered one of the great works of contemporary Portuguese literature. She has been awarded the “Prix D. Dinis” and Maximum Literature Prize, two major literary awards in Portugal. In 2012, she published ‘The Words of the Body’, a collection of her works published over half a century.

Maria Teresa Horta is truly an inspiration!

Written by WAVE intern: Mariana Cunha


Guernica Magazine:

European Institute for Gender Equality:

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