Maria Eva Duarte de Perón or Eva Perón was the second wife of Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón and the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952.
Born out of wedlock, Eva, commonly known as Evita, left school when she was 16 and went to Buenos Aires to pursue her dream of becoming a star.
She found a job on one of the radio stations and remained there until, in 1943, she met Juan Peron, the Secretary of Labour and Social Welfare, who had ambitions to be president, and was working with the Argentine workers to support this bid.
Evita began a relationship with Peron and she helped him to win popular support. His popularity led to his arrest in 1945, but Evita helped to organise a mass demonstration that led to his release.
On 21 October 1945, Evita and Juan were married.
Peron stood in the presidential elections in 1946 and Evita was an active campaigner by his side, an unprecedented occurrence in Argentine politics.
She directly appealed to the worst-off groups in Argentina, claiming to understand their plight.
Peron was duly elected and Evita continued to play an active role. She kept her promise to the working classes and took such an interest that, in everything but name, she became the Secretary of Labour, supporting higher wages and greater social welfare benefits.
Evita also had a high public profile, visiting factories and hospitals, and holding meetings with those whom she was trying to help. As a result of this work, Evita also took an active interest in health policy, supervising programmes to eradicate some of the most crippling diseases including tuberculosis, malaria and leprosy.
In 1947, she set up the Maria Eva Duarte De Peron Welfare Foundation, which distributed money, food and medicines to those most in need. The money came from ‘contributions’, not always willingly given, from businesses and unions. The result was very popular with the poor masses, but far less popular with the elite.
Evita further angered the elite with her active campaign for female suffrage. Suffrage for women was enacted in 1947, largely due to the energy and soul that Evita poured into the campaign.
Evita announced that she would be standing for vice-president in the 1951 election, on the same ticket as Peron.
Her candidacy was strongly opposed by the military and, while the old Evita might have stood up to this, her bad health, combined with the opposition, caused her to decline the nomination.
She died from cancer on 26 July 1952, aged just 32. Public grief was intense, and unprecedented in Argentina. Her precise role in Argentinian politics is still hotly debated, and her supporters and enemies battle it out to write her legacy. There is no doubt, however, that she was a remarkable woman who made her mark on history.