Born in EL Escorial (Madrid) in 1878, at the age of fourteen she wrote in her autobiographical notes: “I was drawn to the working classes, without being aware of this attraction.”
She was not aware then that that was a beginning of the main thrust of her being and doing, the social vocation that always marked the direction of her life.
Indeed, this young writer, future speaker and journalist, put herself and her pen at the service of the lower classes, particularly working women, from the vantage point of her clear ethical and Catholic convictions. Thus her prolific involvement developed around public, political, and ecclesial circles, and her emphasis was always along the lines of burning issues in favor of women.
The thought and action of the Church in those years gave way to the creation of the so-called “Social Weeks.” María was invited –inaugurating the female presence in them- to present on issues such as “The Social Action of Women” or “Work at Home for the Woman of Madrid.” She contributed with many talks, that were published later, on fundamental criteria and practical issues such a “The Return of the Working Mother to the Home,” and the need of paid vacation for working women.
Called by ecclesial dignitaries, she presented at many Catholic Social Conferences in different countries of Europe. She was appointed National Secretary of the International Social Catholic Conferences for the Protection of the Youth and others to stop white slave trade. After the creation of Catholic Action of Spanish Women, she worked in her Secretariat, which was in charge of the international area for women, and represented it at different International Conferences of Women. Under her leadership the first Catholic Union of Women in Spain was created, which was a milestone at that time, and its continuous growth gave rise to the creation of the National Confederation of Working Women in Catholic Unions.
Given such enthusiastic activity, “efficient because she was well prepared,” it is only natural that she would receive many awards. These include the Cross of Leopoldo II, awarded by the Belgium royalty; the Arcade of Rome, given by Pius X; and the insignia Emeritus of Catholic Action, awarded by the Cardinal Primate of Spain.
Also, her presence in the most socially committed circles is noteworthy. In 1918 the President of the Institute for Social Reform appointed her as Labor Superintendent. She was a member of this group till she had to resign because she did not want to abandon her involvement with the Catholic Women’s Union.
However, it is the first years of the 1920’s that mark a double milestone in the biographical itinerary of María de Echarri. On the one hand she is appointed Councilor of the Town Hall of Madrid. She was one of three women that accessed public life due to a Decree by General Primo de Rivera. Soon after she moves to the National Assembly in the department of Social Issues, Charity and Health. From this vantage point she continues fighting for the social improvements that would humanize the work of women such as la Ley de la Silla (The Chair’s Law), the right to unionization, and the right to equal pay as men under the same working conditions.
In 1925, her early relationship and continued collaboration with P. Poveda and his Work made her commitment stable. They had met in Covadonga before the beginning of the Academies. They were united by a great friendship and mutual support, given the concern that always marked Poveda and that translated itself into work opportunities, soup kitchens, economic help for widows, and scholarships for students.
The media that Echarri used the most for the benefit of her social ideals was the press. Her tireless work as a writer of articles appeared in a variety of publications. In the first phase her articles were published in “Noticiero Universal de Barcelona,” “La Vanguardia” under the pseudonym of Raissa, “Gaceta de Cataluña”; Catholic newspapers of “Prensa Asociada”; “El Debate”. Later on her articles were published by “Ya,” “ABC,” “Diario Vasco de San Sebastián,” “Boletín de la Institución Teresiana,” “Paz Social,” “Revista Católica de Cuestiones Sociales”, “El Universo,” of which she was a writer, and many other periodic publications, both at the level of provinces and at the national level.
Examples of her numerous articles are the following:
“Pedagogía femenina” (Feminine Pedagogy) in El Debate. Madrid January 1919; “Las obreras católicas en la Asamblea” (Working Women in the Assembly), in La Verdad de Murcia 1928; “Así lo han entendido”(This is how They Understood It) in Diario de Menorca 1943; “¡De acuerdo!” (All Right!) in Ya, Madrid 1943;
From other publications with a large number of biographies, it is worth mentioning the following:
La acción de la mujer (The Action of Women), Center of Social Defense, Madrid 1908; Vida de Santa Luisa de Marillac, Fundadora de las Hijas de la Caridad (Life of Saint Luisa de Marillac, Founder of the Daughters of Charity), Madrid 1943; Biografía de Doña Luz Casanova. Fundadora de las Damas Apostólicas del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Biography of Doña Luz Casanova, Founder of the Apostolic Ladies of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), Madrid 1951. Vida de la Santísima Virgen María (Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary),Madrid, Marian Year 1954.
Among her literary work the following novels may be highlighted:
Favor por favor, Santander 1906; Los misericordiosos. Narraciones para niños, Madrid 1909; Las vacaciones de Elena y otras narraciones, Barcelona 1915.
Her work as a translator includes:
“El libro de la madre” by Paul Combes, in Biblioteca de la mujer cristiana, Barcelona 1909; “Les Lectures” de L.Cl. FILLION, in 1927; “El legado supremo de Cristo. He aquí a tu madre” de GALLAY, Alata, 194?
Also it is worth noting the following publications that collect her social involvement in favor of women:
“Mujeres en la Historia de España” (Women in the History of Spain) Ed. Planeta, 2000; “Echarri, defensora de la mujer trabajadora” (Echarri, a Defender of the Working Woman), El Ideal Gallego, March 1993; “El diario del s. XX” La primera mujer alcalde y varias concejalas en toda España” (The First Woman Mayor and several Female Councilors in Spain), El Mundo, April 1999. Also Echarri is found in various studies of the Ministry of Culture on “The Incorporation of Women into the Government of the Country, Municipalities, and other Governing Bodies” (1918/1936), 1981; and “Work and Education of Women in Spain” (1900/1930), 1996.
After this passionate and tireless trajectory that made so many contributions to areas that were banned to women until then, María de Echarri died in San Sebastián in 1955.