Enriqueta Favez: first female doctor in Cuba
By Petra Joaquina
Although she was not born in Cuba, Enriqueta Favez (1791-1856) was the first woman to practice medicine in this country.
Wrapped in stories of misfortune, her life and professional career are examples of vindication and emancipation. Due to the scope of her legacy, it has been the source of inspiration for works of literature, theater, cinematography, even sculpture.
Enriqueta Favez was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, into a bourgeois family. She married a French soldier at the age of 15 and with him she had a daughter who died within days of birth. The husband, for her part, also died when Enriqueta was 18 years old. From that moment on, she moved to France to begin her career in medicine.
In Paris she enrolled at the university under the name Enrique Favez. She had adopted the masculine identity and dressed in her late husband’s old suits, who also carried his military rank. She graduated from the career and arrived in the eastern Cuban region of Baracoa in 1819. It is said that in that region she practiced her profession, and helped the less favored.
In Baracoa she met Juana de León, a young sick woman, whom she offered help and whom she later married. Much is speculated about the marriage, but investigations carried out confirmed that Juana de León knew the true gender of her husband. However, this secret was exposed and became a social scandal that ended in trials and convictions.
The image of Enriqueta Favez was immortalized in the work of the Cuban artist José Villa Soberón, who made a sculpture in her honor. It was located next to the Church of Paula in Old Havana, where she was transferred during her judicial process, because in those years there was a hospital where convicts were held, since there was no prison for women.