Narcisa Amália ‒ First professional female journalist in Brazil

A beacon of the Brazilian intellectual scene

Dr. Ana Stjelja (opens in new window)

Narcisa Amália de Oliveira Campos left an indelible mark on the literary and socio-political landscape of her time. She shattered social norms as the first professional female journalist in Brazil, and made exceptional contributions as an intellectual, journalist, poet, translator and abolitionist. This year marks the 100th anniversary of her death.

Born on 3 April 1856, in São João da Barra, Narcisa Amália de Oliveira Campos was the daughter of Brazilian writer Joaquim Jácome de Oliveira Campos Filho and primary school teacher Narcisa Inácia de Campos. At the age of 11, she relocated to the picturesque city of Resende, which she came to adore. Her father played a pivotal role in her education, imparting to her his knowledge of languages and philosophy.

She was married twice, first to the artist João Batista da Silveira and later to the baker Francisco Cleto da Rocha. Both marriages ended in divorce. During her second marriage, she faced defamation from her husband, who falsely accused her of not writing her own poetry and instead attributed it to her alleged lovers. This defamation compelled her to leave the city of Resende, her beloved hometown, and relocate to the Brazilian capital, Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio de Janeiro, she pursued a career as a teacher and continued her work in journalism. She contributed to the magazine A leitura(Reading), where she was employed from 1894 to 1896.

Narcisa Amália the activist

Narcisa Amália’s literary journey began with fervent activism against slavery, supported through her first book, Nebulosas (Nebulae). In this groundbreaking work, she highlighted the crucial role of the press in the fight against slavery, challenging entrenched systems of oppression.

Beyond her literary prowess, Narcisa Amália was an unwavering force in the abolitionist movement, collaborating with fellow activists like Maria Firmina dos Reis (who is considered Brazil's first black female novelist and the author of the first Brazilian abolitionist novel) in challenging racist ideologies and advocating for social justice.

Narcisa Amália the feminist

In an era dominated by patriarchal structures, when women's voices were often silenced, Narcisa Amália emerged as a symbol of resilience and empowerment. She is viewed as a foremother in her country's feminist movement.

Despite a literary landscape dominated by male figures, Narcisa Amália challenged conventions and carved out her space as a prolific poet and writer. Her verses were imbued with themes of emancipation, love, and social change, reflecting the aspirations and struggles of a generation yearning for liberation.

However, her journey was riddled with challenges, emblematic of the social obstacles confronted by women during her era. Controversy arose with the publication of Nebulosas when her authorship was disputed, wrongly attributed to a male pseudonym. Undeterred, Narcisa Amália persevered, reclaiming her rightful place in the annals of Brazilian literary history. Nebulosas was first published in 1872 and reissued in 2017 by Gradiva Editorial and the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, and garnered significant acclaim upon its release. It was widely praised by renowned Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis and even caught the attention of Pedro II, the Brazilian monarch.

Through works such as “Miragem” (Mirage), Nelumbia, and O Romance da Mulher que Amou (The Romance of the Woman Who Loved), she wielded her pen as a powerful tool for change, inspiring generations to challenge injustice and strive for a fairer society.

In her work, A Mulher do Século XIX (Women of the Nineteenth Century), she issued a clear call for gender equality, urging women to assert their worth and demand their rightful place in society. Her advocacy reverberated throughout Brazil, igniting lively discussions on women's empowerment and laying the groundwork for future generations of activists.

Today, Narcisa Amália's legacy endures as a testament to the power of literature to incite social change and elevate marginalised voices. Critical analyses of her work, such as Christine Ramalho's Um espelho para Narcisa: Reflexos de uma voz romantica (A Mirror for Narcisa: Reflections of a Romantic Voice), provide deep insights into her life and lasting influence, ensuring that her contributions continue to inspire and resonate with contemporary audiences.

Narcisa Amália the translator

Amalia's translation work should not be neglected either. She translated the work of George Sand, who inspired her in both her literary and activist endeavours. She also translated the work of Gaston de Saporta, a French aristocrat, palaeobotanist and non-fiction writer.

Narcisa Amália’s legacy

Narcisa Amalia's legacy extends beyond her advocacy for women's rights. She was also a pioneer in challenging societal norms regarding gender roles and expectations. Through her actions and words, she encouraged women to break free from traditional constraints and pursue their passions and ambitions.

In addition to her activism, Narcisa Amalia was a symbol of resilience and courage in the face of adversity. She confronted prejudice, discrimination, and backlash with grace and determination, never wavering in her commitment to the cause she believed in. Her unwavering spirit continues to inspire activists and changemakers around the world to this day.

In honouring Narcisa Amalia's memory, it is essential not only to celebrate her achievements but also to heed the lessons of her life. Her legacy serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and the importance of collective action in effecting meaningful change. As we pay tribute to her remarkable contributions, let us recommit ourselves to the pursuit of justice, equality, and human rights for all.