Instituto de Óptica “Daza de Valdés”

Two photographs of María Egües Ortiz (1917-2008): a periscopic gaze in times of misty silence

Ciencias de la imagen-en, Divulgación

  • María Egües was an essential figure to understand the development of optical engineering in the first decades of Francoism

Madrid / July 26, 2023

This essay published by our colleague Sergio Barbero from the IVIS group focuses on the figure of María Egües Ortiz ( 1917-2008), a researcher and technologist in the field of optical instruments during the first decades of Francoism in Spain. Through two unpublished photographs of Egües at key moments in his professional life, the essay reflects on about how a woman like her perceived herself at a time when the presence of women in the techno-scientific field was often rejected or ignored.
Old black and white photo in which 7 men in suits are seen on a staircase behind another older man holding a book. To one side, a woman on the same step as the older man
Franz Weidert (foreground) in the company of researchers from the Optics Section of the Alonso de Santa Cruz Institute of Physics. The only woman is María Egües. José María Otero-Navascués is the first on the right of Egües and Pedro Jiménez-Landi Martínez the first on the right of Otero Navascués. Armando Durán, in a white suit, located behind Weidert / Courtesy of the Duran Escribano family

The essay uses the metaphor of underwater periscopes, which allow one to see without being seen, to describe how Egües managed to progress in institutions such as the CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas), the University and the Army, despite hostile or suspicious looks. As the Franco regime had severely restricted science in Spain, it required the important participation of women like Egües in the reconstruction of the techno-scientific system, especially in the development of the optical instrument industry, including those for military use.
The essay describes the obstacles that Egües faced due to her gender, such as failing a university course for a minor problem and being threatened with expulsion from the Optics Institute for being a woman. Despite these difficulties, Egües persevered and became a leading figure in the design and manufacture of the first purely Spanish periscopes of the 20th century. Her work was recognized with the award of the Naval Merit Cross First Class with White Badge in 1974.

Vintage black and white photo showing 6 men in suits on a staircase posing around a woman holding her hands in front of her
Armando Duran (second from the left). María Egües (only woman). Pedro Jiménez-Landi Martínez (second from the right). Leonardo Villena (first from the right) / Courtesy of the Jiménez-Landi family
The essay highlights the importance of Egües as a subvisible figure in the history of Spanish science, and suggests that his life and achievements deserve a fuller biography.

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