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Henriqueta Martins Catharino

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Feminist educator, Pioneer

Henriqueta Martins Catharino

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 10/01/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

In the histories of Education and Feminism in Brazil, the important figure of Henriqueta Martins Catharino cannot be forgotten. She was born in Feira de Santana on 12 December 1886. Her parents were Ursula Costa Martins Catharino and Bernardo Catharino, a Portuguese immigrant who became one of the most prosperous entrepreneurs in Bahia.

The great wealth of her family allowed Henriqueta to enjoy the best education available at the time at home, something few women could afford. In her studies, she was tutored by teacher Cândida Campos Carvalho, and from the German preceptor Louise von Schiller she learned some foreign languages. She also had piano and arts classes. In addition to a fine education, she was able to expand her training through trips to Europe, in particular to France – the cultural centre of the world.

By the time she was thirty years old, Henriqueta had already set up a book-lending library – Propaganda de Boas Leituras [the Propaganda of Good Readings] – and a garment manufacturer called Tardes de Costura [Sewing Afternoons] – a philanthropic entity where Bahia ladies sewed clothes that were donated to the needy population.

Together with Monsignor Flaviano Osório Pimentel in 1923, Henriqueta created Casa São Vicente [St Vincent House], in order to protect the working woman. This House functioned as a kind of employment agency, and it also offered vocational courses in the areas of secretarial and accounting.

In 1931, Henriqueta acquired a collection of wooden sculptures by popular artists from Santo Estevão de Jacuípe, and began to build the embryo of the future Museu de Arte Popular [Museum of Popular Art], the first museum of its kind in Bahia. From these experiences came the Instituto Feminino da Bahia [Women’s Institute of Bahia] (IFB), which in 1950 became the nucleus of the Fundação Instituto Feminino da Bahia foundation, an institution that was praised by distinguished personalities, such as the writer Érico Veríssimo. On the work of Henriqueta, he wrote the following in the Jornal da Bahia in 1951:

I do not know of anything equal in all the colleges in Brazil where I’ve been and visited. And I do not know if I saw anything at least equal in the United States.

During the National Eucharistic Congress in 1933, Henriqueta organised an exhibition of Ancient Art, with pieces donated by Bahia families, such as antique dresses, jewellery, images with rich garments, furniture, and other elements. The success of the exhibition stimulated the founding president to continue with these cultural initiatives, and she decided to “collect what the Bahia woman did or possessed.” From then on, the collection of the Henriqueta Catharino Museum was begun. With the death of Monsignor Flaviano in 1933, the Bahia woman continued the work alone.

Four years later (in 1937), Henriqueta began the construction of the definitive headquarters of the Women’s Institute, with an advance obtained from her paternal inheritance. Built in two years, the definitive headquarters of the Institute was erected in an area of five thousand square metres. The entire collection was to be transferred there in 1939. But the activities expanded so much that Henriqueta was obliged to subdivide the Institute into three departments: Culture, Home Economics and Social Assistance. The Department of Culture included the Library, the Museums, the Technical School of Women’s Trade, the Women’s Gymnasium [school], as well as courses in Secretary, Commercial Assistant, Languages, Literature, Typing, Shorthand, Mechanography, Philosophy and Religion. Part of the Department of Home Economics were the São José Boarding House, the Restaurant, the Cutting and Sewing Courses and the Culinary Arts. And it was the responsibility of the Department of Social Assistance to assist the needy women through the Santa Terezinha Holiday House, the Placement Agency, Employment Agency, Bethânia and the Friendship Circle. In 1950, the Institute was recognised as being a State Public Utility, at which time its name was changed to Instituto Feminino da Bahia.

In addition to coordinating all these activities, Henriqueta also assisted people who were victims of racial prejudice and founded the Frente Negra [Black Front], one of the first racial defence organisations in the country. For such initiatives, among educators and feminists, she was one of the first women to be concerned about the active role of women in society. She fought against gender inequalities, for the extension of civil rights and for the insertion of women into the labour market.

Henriqueta Martins Catharino – the altruistic Northeast woman who abdicated her private property to help and educate needy people – died in Salvador on 21 June 1969. As a tribute to this personality, the Government of Bahia named a college and a street in the State Capital after her.

Today’s Museu Henriqueta Catharino – Fundação Instituto Feminino is one of the most important memorial spaces in the country. It is located at 2 Monsenhor Flaviano Street in the neighbourhood of Politeama, in Salvador. Its telephone number is (071) 3329-5520.

The institution contains a rich collection of women’s clothing, from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as furniture, paintings, jewellery, crystals, silver pieces and much embroidery, totalling about fifteen thousand pieces. One of the highlights is the dress worn by Princess Isabel, on the occasion of the signing of Lei Áurea [Emancipation Law].

Recife, December 2007.
(Updated on 21 December 2007).
Translated by Peter Leamy, November 2016.

sources consulted

FUNDAÇÃO Instituto Feminino da Bahia. Disponível em:<>. Acesso em: 22 mar. 2007.

HENRIQUETA Martins Catharino. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 2 mar. 2007.

MUSEU Henriqueta Catharino. Disponível em: <> Acesso em: 2 mar. 2007.

REVISTA Museu cultura levada a sério. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 23 mar. 2007.

SCHUMAHER, Shuma; BRAZIL, Érico Vital (Org.). Dicionário mulheres do Brasil: de 1500 até a atualidade.  Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2000.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Henriqueta Martins Catharino. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em:dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.