Matilde Hidalgo - a Loja woman of many firsts

Photo of young Matilde Hidalgo of Loja Ecuador

One of the most famous women in Ecuador's history was born in 1899 in Loja, where a museum exists today to honor her. Her list of Ecuadorian accomplishments include:
  1. First woman to graduate high school (and with honors!) in 1913
  2. First woman to attend university and study medicine, earning the degree of Bachelor of Medicine in 1919
  3. First woman to attend university and pass exams to receive a PhD in Medicine and become a doctor, in 1921
  4. First woman in any Latin American country to successfully argue for, and win, the right to vote in an election, in 1924
  5. First woman to be elected to a public office, in 1941, the position of Diputada Suplente (Alternate Deputy)
  6. She was awarded the Medal of Merit and the Medal of Public Health by the government, and at the request of the Red Cross of Ecuador, awarded the Medal of Services.
1920s era photo of Matilde Hidalgo of Loja EcuadorHer full birth name was Deifilia Matilde Inés Hidalgo Navarro, and after marriage in 1923 to the lawyer Fernando Prócel, she became known as Matilde Hidalgo de Prócel.

She was the youngest of six children. Her father died while she was still a child and her mother had to work as a seamstress to support the family. Her initial studies were made in the Immaculate Conception of the Sisters of Charity where she also volunteered in the hospital run by the nuns. It is thought that this planted the seed for her later vocation of medicine and caring for the needy.

Biographers have discovered that Matilde Hidalgo was able to read, write, play the piano and recite classical poetry before the age of four. In fact, she wrote numerous poetic works during her life.

As previously noted, she was permitted to enter Bernardo Valdivieso College of Loja thanks to the efforts of her brother Antonio. During her six years there she was ostracized by peers, and even forced to listen to Catholic mass from outside the church's entrance. Despite this, she succeeded in her studies and graduated with academic honors.

She went on to study medicine and get her Master's Degree at the University of Azuay in Cuenca, where she garnered the highest grades possible of the program. This accomplishment allowed her to further her studies at the Central University of Quito where she earned her doctorate, becoming the first female Ecuadorian doctor.

Photo of Dr. Matilde HidalgoShe was the first woman to run for public office in Ecuador, and she won, but through ballot manipulation the position was filled by a man, under whom she was allowed to be his elected deputy. She later ran for, and won, positions in city council, and became vice-president of the council.

Dra. Hidalgo practiced medicine in Guayaquil until 1949, when she obtained a scholarship to specialize in pediatrics, neurology and dietetics in Argentina. Upon returning to Ecuador, she dedicated herself to developing social works, which led to an appointment as Vice President of the House of Ecuadorian Culture, and also as president of honor and life for the Red Cross in El Oro.

She died of a stroke at age 84 in the city of Guayaquil on February 20, 1974. Even today she is remembered, and she was honored on November 21, 2019 with a "Google Doodle" on search pages displayed in Latin America, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Ireland.

Should you wish to delve deeper into her incredible story, I can recommend a book of her collected poetry: Matilde Hidalgo de Prócel. Biografía y Poemario by author Cecilia Ansaldo Briones. There is also a movie available on Youtube at And I can also suggest visiting the museum established in her honor here in Loja, the Museo Matilde Hidalgo de Procel. The museum houses artifacts of her life, including diplomas, recognitions, titles, positions held, personal objects, photographs, poetry books and other belongings that were donated to the museum.


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