Prudencia Ayala was a renowned writer, activist, and women’s rights campaigner in El Salvador. She was a black woman of afro-indigenous descent who was the first woman to run for President in El Salvador and Latin America. Added to her political and literary life, Ayala was said to be a fortune teller. She claimed to be able to predict the future through messages she received from strange voices. Four years before World War I, Ayala predicted the fall of Germany’s emperor and the involvement of the United States in the war.
Prudencia Ayala was born on April 28, 1885, to Aurelia Ayala and Vicente Chief in the state of Sonsonate, El Salvador. They were all members of the working class. Ayala never had the opportunity to finish her studies due to a lack of resources for her family. She dropped out after the second grade while attending Maria Luisa de Cristofine’s elementary school. Nevertheless, she was able to navigate her learning through self-teaching. Ayala learned to sew and worked as a seamstress.
In 1913, 28-year-old Ayala began her activism by publishing Op-Eds in the newspaper, Diary in the West, when she travelled to the western part of the country. She also became associated with many movements, including anti-imperialism, feminism, and Central American reunification. She protested the United States invasion of Nicaragua. Ayala was also a poet and her works were published in newspapers in El Salvador.
Ayala had a reputation as a clairvoyant. She claimed she could accurately predict the outcome of future events through messages she received from “mysterious voices.” This revelation made her popular and relevant among her close relatives. Her claim, however, was ridiculed by others. Her predictions were published in Santa Ana newspapers, where she’s referred to as “la Sibila Santaneca” meaning “the Sibyl (diviner) of Santa Ana.” In 1914, she predicted the fall of Germany’s Kaiser and the involvement of the United States in the war.
In 1919, Prudencia was arrested and jailed for two months for the criticism in one of her columns on the mayor of Atiquizaya. She also suffered imprisonment on claims that she was covertly collaborating in the planning of a coup against the government. Her first book was published in 1921 titled Escribe: Adventures of a Trio to Guatemala. In the book, she narrated her trip to Guatemala during the last months of the dictatorship of Manuel Estrada Cabrera. She also published other books, including Amores de Loca (1925) and Fumada Mota (1928). She also ran a newspaper called Rendencion Femenina, where she expressed her stance and position on the fight for women’s rights.
In 1930, Prudencia Ayala publicly made her intentions clear to run as a candidate for the presidency of the El Salvadoran republic, although the country’s laws did not recognize women’s rights to vote. She ran under the Unionist Party label. Her presidential campaign message included the support of unions, honesty and a transparent government, the control of the distribution and consumption of alcohol, the respect of the freedom of worship and the recognition of kids born out of wedlock. Unfortunately for Ayala, her presidential nomination was rejected by the Supreme Court. This move instigated many feminist movements, eventually resulting in the women’s suffrage right being reconsidered in 1939. In 1950, the constitution legally gave recognition of women’s rights in El Salvador.
Prudencia Ayala died on July 11, 1936, at the age of 51. After her death, she was deliberately ignored and erased from history books until information about her was recently brought to the public’s attention by feminist movements in El Salvador. In 2017, Ayala was publicly recognized by a street named in her honour called Avenida Prudencia Ayala in the San Jacinto neighbourhood of San Salvador. It is one of only two streets in the Salvadoran capital named after a woman. In March 2009, to celebrate Women’s Day, and in tribute to Prudencia Ayala, the play Prudencia en tiempos de brujería was staged.