‘The Señorita’, much more than a pioneer

Eclectic, singular, distinguished. Only. Elia María González-Álvarez y López-Chicheri (Rome, 1905) walked through life with her head held high and the pride felt by the pioneers, of those women who had to break through the hostile and reactionary reality of much of the 20th century . She was Lilí, Lilí Álvarez, Aunt Lilí. But she was also the tennis player, the climber, the skater, the skier, the motorist. The extraordinary athlete who shone in everything she set out to do. The intellectual, the writer and the journalist. The Missthey told him at Wimbledon. A convinced feminist, she was always ahead of the times that she had to live and raised her voice with an absolutely rebellious speech, when few dared. Thus he squeezed out a multifaceted and passionate life, of a film, which only lacked the icing on the cake: the true recognition of Spain.

“It was scarce and late. Perhaps, because of the political times we were living then or because it had been a bit groundbreaking; Perhaps, because although their fleeting appearances in the media and less fleeting literary appearances were tolerated, they did not quite please some; or, perhaps, because his entire sporting career was spent practically abroad ”, Jaime López-Chicheri Dabán tries to reason, great-nephew of a woman who wrote his story“ in docile Europe, comfortable Europe and luxury ”, and that She grew up far from the conventions or a formal education, halfway between travel and languages, the Alpine mountains, the Côte d’Azur and the conversations of the aristocracy. No schools or standards. “My true schools were restaurant tables, hotel lounges, social receptions, sporting events, and social events,” he used to boast.

His mother Virginia, belonging to the Valencian bourgeoisie, fled to Switzerland with the aim of forgetting her failed marriage with the Marquis de Sotelo, after her son died as soon as he was born. There he met Emilio González Álvarez and they had Lilí, who came to the world during one of the couple’s stays in Rome. While she influenced the intellectual formation of the girl, he, a lawyer and athlete, did so in her physical development. “He always had governesses, his education was tremendously individual,” says López-Chicheri. “She was a very cultured woman, very cultured, very cultured, who had great admiration for herself. She was nice and also a bit vain, but rightly so ”, says the man before recalling that the protagonist lived mainly in Switzerland, a neutral territory in the middle of the bellicose international scene, until she decided to return to Spain at the age of 35, after the Civil War. .

The return would mark a before and after. Until then, Álvarez had been leaving one notch after another in the sport. With only 12 years old he won the Saint Moritz ice skating championship, and later would receive the International Gold Medal of that modality; In 1924, at the age of 19 and while practicing other disciplines such as mountaineering or horse riding, he won the Catalonia Motor Racing Championship, beating men in a test that, with the exception of her, had an entirely male participation; and later she replaced the skates with the racket, due to an injury that deprived her of attending the Winter Games in Chamonix, to become the first Spanish tennis player of international repercussion. She was, in fact, the first woman, along with the Catalan Rosa Torras, who attended the Olympic Games, those of Paris, 1924. Hand in hand, they reached the fourth in the doubles modality.

With her white linen shirt, her long skirt, a red cardigan and a wide ribbon in her hair, she left her mark on the temple of temples. She was a finalist at Wimbledon in 1926, 1927 and 1928. There she was known to the English as Miss. “The first final [contra Kitty McKane (6-2, 4-6 y 6-3), con el rey Alfonso XIII en el palco real] I lost her because of a foolish thing, ”he recalled in an interview with this newspaper in 1979. In the other two he yielded to the American Hellen Wills, although later, fortunately, he found the reward in the Roland Garros doubles in 1929, along with the Dutch Kea Bouman. “That day, after winning, she and Marshal Foch were leaning on a railing and he told her: ‘How well he plays, I wouldn’t dare to propose a tennis match …’. To which she replied: ‘Don’t worry, Marshal, I wouldn’t dare declare war on you either.’

In Paris and later London, she left everyone speechless when she hit the runway wearing a transgressive ankle-length skorts designed for her by Elsa Schiaparelli. She also triumphed in Monte Carlo and Rome, among other tournaments, and with an “unusually daring” game, the chronicles recall, she was able to rank among the best and beat other historical players like Suzanne Lenglen, Molla Mallory or Simonne Mathieu. I did not quite approve of the amateurism of the Santana, Gisbert and company – ”it is a tremendous hypocrisy. They are called amateurs, but they live off tennis, therefore they are not amateurs; that’s brown amateurism“- and regretted the scant support he received from the Federation:” I only cost him five hundred pesetas in my life, which they gave me once as expenses, or something similar. “

Upon her return to Spain, she left the sport in the background, although in 1941 she had time to proclaim herself the national ski champion, in slalom and downhill. However, the federation took away the title and removed her from the competition. The reason was that Lilí, modern and free, accused the jury of being macho, since the women had had to wait for the male test to finish to compete. “Offenses to Spain”, they justified. “She was rebellious because she did not tolerate anyone having the slightest presumption of behaving in a way superior to her,” says López-Chacheri; “In that sense, she was very feminist, but not a propagandist for feminism. She spread it through her writings and journalistic articles, in an intellectual way. He wrote about things that then, in those fifties in Spain, were not talked about, such as sex or birth control ”.

Married to the Count of Valdéne, they did not last long. Five years. She had a pregnancy, but the child was never born. “It is said that I am a feminist”, Lilí Alvarez points out, “but I would say that I am couple, because I am in favor of the fully human development of the encounter between man and woman ”, he told the journalist Miguel Ángel Calleja in EL PAÍS. “What aroused feminism in me was to see, when I returned to Spain, that they were asking you for certificates and marriage contracts for everything, and that the husbands looked like babysitters,” she argued; “Women are idiots because they have made us idiots; on the other hand, the defect of men is their primitivism, that is, their need for humanization ”.

Catholic, “but not retrograde”, supported divorce and contraceptives, and in 1960, together with other intellectuals, founded the Seminary of Sociological Studies of Women (SESM), in order to demand access to work and education, as well as the legal protection of them; disappeared in 1986. In 1951 he participated in the V Hispanic-American Feminist Congress, giving a speech entitled The battle of femininity, and wrote more than a dozen works, including Fullness (1946), In a strange land (1956), Feminism and Spirituality (1964), The myth of amateurism (1968), Diagnosis about love and sex (1977), Ideology of an atypical saint (1985) or Male religiosity and its misery (1993).

In parallel, he wrote sports chronicles for the newspaper The nation, and later texts for Above, The vanguard or Notebooks for dialogue, among other means. He was also a correspondent for the Daily Mail Londoner.

“I do not represent anything for Spanish sport, I am totally ignored. I am a zero to the left ”, he portrayed. “Coming to your country and seeing that you don’t count for anything in the entire sports movement, after knowing your trajectory, it hurts a lot, that’s the truth. I do not know. I think it should be something like the old woman of women’s sport, I think that it could possibly have helped the younger generations of athletes a lot and … I am nobody ”, lamented Álvarez, who as a tennis player won 40 individual trophies, 19 in doubles and 21 in mixed.

Despite his legacy, recognition came late. His family had to collect the Gold Medal for Sports Merit when he had already passed away, posthumously. He died on July 8, 1998, in Madrid, after fighting Alzheimer’s. Before, he enjoyed his last stage on a 700-hectare farm in Amonacid, 14 kilometers from Toledo, which in gratitude he donated to the guardian who had guarded it, Juan Mora. Since 2017, the Institute for Women and Equal Opportunities (IMIO) has been granting awards annually in her honor, in collaboration with the Higher Sports Council (CSD). “Proud of what you did? Undoubtedly. Happy? I do not know. It is impossible to find such a versatile champion today, but she was an exceedingly lonely woman. He did everything, and he did almost everything well, except golf. She hated golf ”, closes her great-nephew while floating in the air the great doubt: What would history and stories say today if a man had achieved what she achieved?

Lilí, or much more than a pioneer.

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