Eva Perón’s story is fraught with upheaval. She went from rags to riches, with her too-short life becoming an enduring legend to the people of Argentina. So, how did young Eva begin her journey? And how did it end with her becoming Evita, the icon loved by so many of her countrymen and women? Let's step back in time and find out.
1. She Destroyed Her Birth Certificate
Eva Perón was born as Eva Maria Ibarguren on 7 May, 1919, in Los Toldos—a small town not too close to Argentina. However, it took some time for these simple details to be confirmed. Why, you ask? Well, Eva kept the circumstances of her birth and early life hidden for much of her life. And there’s a heartbreaking reason why.
2. She Was Part Of A Big Family
Perón’s parents were Juana Ibarguren and Juan Duarte, an extremely wealthy rancher. Here's the strange thing: Even though the couple lived together and had five children, they never got married. Eva was their youngest child and because of that, she was also the one who spent the least time with her father. You see, he abandoned little Eva and her family when she was only one year old. And that's not all...
3. Her Family Situation Was Unusual
Eva's dad didn’t just abandon his family. He abandoned them to go back to his other family. You see, this guy already had another wife and a bunch of other kids, which is why he didn’t want to marry Eva’s mom. This arrangement was quite common in rural Argentina, but to little Eva, it was anything but okay. As we'll see, her father's rejection impacted her tremendously.
4. She Didn’t Have A Father Figure
Eva may have been too young to miss her father when he left her, but she would feel the effects of his absence as sharply as her other siblings. Her father's abandonment left Eva and the rest of her family completely impoverished, leading her mom to move the family to a low-income neighborhood where she mended clothes to stay afloat.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to live in abject poverty, Eva and her siblings also had to put up with snide remarks because of their illegitimate status. And then things got even worse.
5. She Had To Say Goodbye
The most tragic part of this whole mess was that the kids couldn’t even say a proper goodbye to their dad. He passed in a car crash when Eva was six. And because his first wife didn’t want her husband’s mistress and her brood sticking around at the funeral, all they could do was say a quick goodbye before getting shooed out of the church.
6. She Never Forgot
Eva never forgot that funeral for a heartbreaking reason. Not because she’d lost her dad; I mean, she hardly knew the man. The funeral was where she learned how it felt to have people look down at her and her family because they were poor. The feeling stayed with her forever and later inspired some of her most impassioned speeches against the well-heeled.
7. There Was An Unpleasant Rumor About Her
Of course, everyone prefers a sordid story to a simple one, so one account of Eva’s early years claims she was a working girl at a bordello headed by her mom. One reason why this rumor became part of collective imagination was because Jorge Luis Borges, a famous Argentinian writer, endorsed it. However, Perón's biographers are adamant that it isn’t true.
8. She Had Some Fun Times
All Eva’s dad left his mistress was a document confirming that the kids were his (so they could use his surname) and a one-room rental apartment in Junin. However, the "gift" didn't help very much. Eva and her siblings had to pitch in to cover the rent and her life continued to be one big struggle. The one bright light was the cinema, where they family went as a treat.
Eva started to dream of a different future in one of these darkened theaters.
9. She Left For The City
Eva was only 15 when she decided she’d had enough of living in poverty. She wanted to try her fortune at Buenos Aires, the "Paris of South America". However, some accounts say that the real reason for her escape was much darker. Allegedly, Perón's mother threatened to give her away to the first local bachelor who proposed. Desperate to avoid that, Eva ran off to the big city.
10. No One Knows How She Got There
There are many theories about how Eva got to Buenos Aires. One says she ran away with a musician who fell in love with her. Apparently, Perón used his adoration to her advantage, knowing that he could help her escape her hometown. But when they reached the bright lights of Buenos Aires, she kicked him to the curb. But no matter how she arrived, Perón was in the bustling city by her 15th birthday—and she was determined to make her dreams come true.
11. She Hustled Hard
Sure, Eva lacked education and social connections, but she had something that mattered even more: Grit. She took any job that came her way, starting out as a small-time model before booking small roles in a few radio plays and touring with an acting troupe. Whatever money she made, Eva made sure to send a part back home, to her family. Eventually, her focus and hard work would pay off.
12. She Tried To Make A Mark
Of course, being second best wasn’t good enough for Eva. She dreamed of making it big and becoming a movie star. She started her career in small roles, mostly in low-budget commercial melodramas, hoping they would pave the way towards something bigger and better. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be. Legend has it that a Hollywood director even told her she’d "never amount to anything".
Clearly, that man had something in common with Jon Snow because he knew nothing.
13. Her Hard Work Paid Off
Eva soon realized she wasn’t going to be an Oscar-winning actress, so she set her sights towards radio. Luckily, the stars aligned. She got a role in a daily drama, Muy Bien, airing on one of the most popular radio stations of the time. This led to a five-year contract with another radio station where she earned enough to afford a nice apartment in a desirable neighborhood.
It was a far cry from her impoverished roots and by this time, it was starting to look like Eva Duarte had finally made it. Little did she know, so much more lay ahead.
14. She Was Hard To Forget
One thing Eva had going in her favor was that she was a bit of a knockout. She dyed her naturally black locks blonde to keep up with Hollywood trends, and while her looks and figure were enough to attract anyone who met her, she had a personality to match. She was witty and vivacious and could make any man feel like he was the most important person in the room.
This personality trait would be hugely helpful, as we shall see.
15. She Met Her One True Love
We might all have crazy stories about how we met our soulmates, but Eva’s just might take the cake. An earthquake made her cross paths with Juan Perón, the man who would become the most important person in her life. Here's the story: Juan Perón, Argentina's Secretary of Labor, organized a fundraiser to help victims of the San Juan earthquake.
He asked actors and celebrities to raise funds for a week. When they were done, they all attended a gala where they’d hand over the dough. Eva came to the Gala and met Juan Perón. The rest, as they say, is history. The couple was so smitten with each other that they spent the entire event together. Obviously, neither believed in playing hard to get.
16. She May Have Shown Him Who’s Boss
Some sources claim that Eva began the affair with a bang. She put her heeled foot down and demanded that Juan Perón get rid of his existing mistress immediately if he wanted to be with her. Perón must have complied post haste, because he left the Gala with Eva at 2AM that morning. The next thing the world knew, the couple were living together!
17. Her Lover Took Her Under His Wing
Perón was 48 when he began seeing Eva. She, meanwhile, was half his age. Despite the age gap, the couple didn’t give two hoots about public opinion. If anything, it just brought them closer together. Heck, Perón even included Eva in meetings and discussions with his inner circle. Back in the day, that was unheard of—and looking back, it was just the beginning.
18. She Was His "Pupil"
Juan Perón had plans not just for himself, but also for his new lady love. He wanted to create a "second I". Basically, Perón wanted Eva to be his "mini Me!" He even wrote about it in his autobiography, stating that he purposely selected her as his "pupil". Hmm...is this romantic or creepy/narcissistic? I'll let my reader decide...
19. It Worked For Her
Eva did not seem to have any issues with Perón’s plans. And why would she when they were totally helping her step up in the world? Perón announced that broadcast performers should form a union. Feeling they had to please Perón somehow, the union decided their first course of action should be to elect Eva as their president. Get it girl!
20. She Became An Influencer
Perón had clearly bet on a winning horse. After becoming Union President, Eva started a daily program on the radio titled, Toward a Better Future. No prizes for guessing who was going to lead the Argentinians towards the "better future". Not only did the show dramatize Perón’s achievements in soap opera form, his speeches also played throughout its duration.
Eva herself would talk to her listeners in ordinary, everyday-speak, encouraging them to believe in Juan Perón, like she did. This wouldn’t be the last time she used the radio to campaign for her man.
21. She Was A Smart Cookie
Some sources suggest that Eva was the one who pushed Perón to widen his base and gain the support of poor and working class Argentinians. She felt this would help her hubby become the top politico.
22. She Overcame Any Blips That Came Her Way
In 1945, a year after Eva had moved in with her beau, she woke up to a chilling sight. Perón’s political opponents were taking him into custody. They feared his rising popularity, with the president himself worrying that Perón would overthrow him. In such a situation, did our girl Eva panic? Not at all. Instead, some sources say that she organizing a protest against her partner's detention.
But while she may not have had a hand in his release, there were whispers that she may have unwittingly caused his apprehension...
23. She Asked For Favors
Supposedly, Perón’s political opponents lost their cool when he hired Eva’s friend to become his Secretary of Communications. They already felt unhappy with the way he ran things, and this was the last straw. Clearly, Eva had too much of a say in state affairs and they had to put a stop to it. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t realize who they were up against.
24. She Knew How To Get Her Way
After his release, Perón decided to make a bid for presidency. Eva seized her chance and told Perón that she didn’t want his career to suffer because of their relationship. Perón, being a smart boy, took Eva's hint and asked her to marry him. After all, Argentinian society couldn’t frown on their being together if he put a ring on it and made things official.
25. She Was A Dutiful Wife
After a discreet civil ceremony in October 1945 and a Church wedding in December, Perón started campaigning in earnest. Eva was beside him every step of the way. She appealed to people on her radio show, highlighting her own poor background to connect to them and convince them that Perón was their best bet. But this wasn’t the only way she showed solidarity with her man.
26. She Was A Pioneer
Eva was definitely the first to do many things in Argentina. She was the first wife of a presidential candidate who toured everywhere with him on his campaign trail. She was also the first female celebrity to wear trousers in her country, the first and only First Lady to appear in an official portrait with her husband, and the first South American First Lady to appear on Time magazine’s cover.
27. She Was Popular
While it offended the wealthy and more established Argentinians to see Eva alongside Perón during his campaign, the working classes loved it. Eva was a passionate speaker, able to convince impoverished people that she knew what it was like to be poor and that she was truly dedicated to helping them. It was during one of these speeches that she asked them to call her "Evita," a Spanish nickname that means, "Little Eva".
28. She Became First Lady
Either because of Evita’s appeal, or his own popularity, Juan Perón won the presidential election by a landslide, silencing all his opponents and naysayers in one go. The happy couple moved to the presidential mansion in Avenida Alvear, the poshest area in Buenos Aires, where Eva had coveted a house from the time she’d arrived there.
Dreaming big clearly worked for her until that point, but unfortunately, great sorrow can sometimes follow great happiness…
29. She Went Abroad
When Francisco Franco, the Spanish Head of State, invited Eva to visit him, she was only too happy to comply. Unfortunately, this was a capital-b Bad move. You see, Franco was an unabashed Fascist. Other nations refused to sanction his rule with official visits. Clearly, Eva disagreed (whether that means she was down with a dictatorship or she was just naive, well, people still argue about that).
Either way, she hopped over to Franco's house—and kick-started a huge controversy.
30. She Became A Tourist
The Argentinian government didn’t want to offend the United States or want the UN to think the country was sympathetic to Spain and the dictatorship there. So they decided to rebrand Eva’s visit as the "Rainbow Tour" and try to distance it from a political visit. Either as a cover or as part of genuine goodwill tour, she also visited other countries after her trip to Spain. But these visits did not go according to plan.
31. She Met Some Hostility
Spain, Rome, and France showed great hospitality to Eva. She responded in kind: She gave out money to poor children in Spain, met Pope Pius XII in Rome, and promised France two shipments of wheat. However, the British royal family sent a missive stating that they couldn’t meet her and the Swiss pelted stones and tomatoes at her.
Ever the quick thinker, Eva pleaded "exhaustion" as a reason to cancel her trip to England and decided to wrap up her tour after being attacked in Switzerland.
32. Her Fashion Sense Was Impeccable
Legend has it that Perón asked his bride not to wear the expensive outfits she’d worn in Europe, as the luxurious dresses might alienate her from her impoverished supporters back home. Eva being Eva, just wore what she wanted. She even gave a moving speech about how the "shirtless ones" could rise from poverty like her if they continued to support Perón. Well played or tone deaf? I'll leave that judgment call up to you.
33. Her Style Evolved
From Argentinian-designed elaborate gowns and complicated hairdos, Eva graduated towards simpler, more sophisticated Parisian couture by the likes of Christian Dior. And remember her always bleached brunette-turned-blonde hair? Well, it became less brassy and more business-like as she began to pull it back into chic chignons and buns.
But don't get it twisted: Eva wasn’t all fluff and no stuff.
34. She Became More Involved
Eva decided she wanted to do more than just look pretty and support her husband in his campaigns. She unofficially took over the Health and Labor Ministeries, devoting time to poor and sick Argentinians. She would tour hospitals and orphanages and meet with homeless women to help them. Perón met with some obstacles though…
35. She Started A Foundation
The ish hit the fan when a government-funded charity group refused to elect Eva as president—even though they always elected the First Lady. It was a snub, clear and simple, likely because the group disliked Eva's poor and uneducated background. However, this didn’t deter our girl. Eva founded her own charity group, The Eva Perón Foundation. She ran it on money from taxes, levies, and donations.
Her aim: To help the poor, sick, and needy. And depending on which source you believe, the foundation did just that. According to some, it provided scholarships, built homes and hospitals, and helped women get on their feet. But according to others, the foundation was not what it seemed. Instead, it may have been a front to funnel government money into Swiss accounts. What is true? Your guess is as good as mine.
36. It May Have Contributed To Her Saintly Image
Eva spent so much time visiting the poor and sick through her foundation, that some people started considering her as akin to a saint. The woman would work 22-hour days, spending time with the poor, giving medicines to the needy, and kissing and touching the sick. It was unheard of for a President’s wife to do so much.
Of course, this increased her popularity with the masses, though her critics called it a front. Hey, you can't please everyone.
37. She Believed In Girl Power
Not only was Eva a friend of the poor and needy, she was also a full-on champion of women’s rights. She made fiery, impassioned speeches about granting women the right to vote in Argentina. She wrote articles championing the cause and vociferated about it on the radio. And guess what? By 1947, she got her way. Women received the right to vote.
Juan Perón signed the law during a public celebration. After he finished, he handed over the paperwork to Eva, making it clear that she was the reason for the long-overdue change. Clearly, the husband-wife duo were great at PR.
38. She Took Care Of Her Tribe
Not only did Eva champion women’s right to vote, she also established a Female Perónist Party, comprising of women from all walks of life. These women had previously been uninterested in politics. Eva’s charm and power pulled them out of their comfort zones and they joined hands to support her and Perón. By the time of the 1952 Presidential Elections, the party had 500,000 members and over 3,000 offices across Argentina.
While detractors argue that it’s an exaggeration to call Eva a suffragist, no one can deny her contribution in mobilizing Argentinian women and bringing them in politics.
39. She Was A Devoted Wife
However, Eva sometimes went a little too far. She talked about Perón as if he had god-like qualities and designed her public speeches to create a personality cult around him. Eva also claimed that only Perónists were true Argentines, and a real Perónist wouldn’t hesitate to give their life for Perón. Um, we get that you love your husband, but that’s pushing it.
40. She Was Complicit
As we know, many people disliked Evita and her values. And sometimes, they're right to judge. Eva tacitly condoned dictatorships by visiting with leaders like Franco and hen her husband pretty much opened Argentina up to runaway Nazis, she didn't do anything to stop him. To this day, her complicity (whether it was intentional or a sign of her naiveté) casts a horribly dark shadow over an otherwise inspiring career.
41. She Courted Office For A While
Despite Eva's dicey behavior, Juan Perón recognized that his wife was a force of nature. He knew that much of his popularity was thanks to her, so he chose her to be his running mate in the 1952 election. Perón and his bride-turned-Vice-President planned to greet a huge crowd of supporters in August of 1951. It was a huge occasion—in fact, up to that point, it was the largest show of support for a female political candidate.
Despite all her fans, Eva stunned everyone by turning down the offer. She declined the role of Vice President for two painful reasons.
42. She Declined The Chance For A Title
Eva knew that Perón’s opponents, and even some people who supported him, were unhappy about her running for Veep. She addressed her supporters, saying that her only desire was to act as a bridge between them and the president. To her, she was happy to do this without becoming Vice President. Her supporters considered this a noble act and called it the "Renunciation," appreciating her selflessness and sense of duty. However, that wasn't the whole story.
43. She Wasn’t Well
Eva's supporters didn’t know that their beloved Evita was battling a terrible enemy in secret. They knew that she had fallen sick and fainted a year ago in 1950, but people believed that an appendectomy had fixed whatever problem the First Lady had. However, they were very wrong. Eva Perón needed much more than a simple appendectomy.
She had an advanced form of cervical cancer. And the worst was yet to come.
44. She Suffered Behind The Scenes
Although Juan Perón didn’t tell Eva about the details of her illness, she realized that her condition wasn’t getting any better. The fainting spells continued throughout 1951, leading Eva to realize that she couldn't run for Vice President in her weakened condition. After her "Renunciation" speech, she had a secret hysterectomy as a last-ditch attempt to cure her. Sadly, it didn’t work.
45. Did She Have Another Secret Procedure?
But perhaps Eva Perón’s rapid decline was the result of something more sinister, like a secret lobotomy. Neurosurgeon, Daniel Nijensohn claims that he obtained scans of Eva’s skull in 2011. According to him, they show that she underwent the procedure, which tampers with neural connections to dull emotional responses. Did Perón want to spare his wife the pain of cancer, or did he have a darker reason for putting her under the knife?
46. Her Illness Changed Her
It is no secret that Eva had become startlingly aggressive in her speeches over the last year. She called upon her supporters to "fight the oligarchy" and there appears to be evidence that she ordered arms to equip them for a revolution. Worried that she might incite her fans into starting something he couldn’t control, Perón may have thought that a lobotomy would calm her down, while also relieving her pain.
47. She Lived Out A Nightmare
Somehow, the lobotomy story gets even worse. According to some sources, poor Eva did not consent to the procedure. Instead, a heavily armed guard held watch as Perón and his men whisked Eva into a make-shift medical office and forced her to undergo the lobotomy. If that's really what happened, it sounds utterly terrifying.
48. She Was In Bad Shape
We don't know the circumstances surround Perón's alleged lobotomy, but here is what we do know. In 1952, Juan Perón successful won the election, leading Eva to celebrate his victory at a parade. But as her fans watched her wave to them, they didn’t know the devastating truth: Eva was so ill and had lost so much weight that she couldn’t move without support.
She was only standing by holding on to a wire frame that was hidden under her fur coat. Poor Eva had to take five times her normal dose of medication pre and post-parade, just to get through the ceremony.
49. Her Fans Mourned Her Deeply
Sadly, even chemotherapy treatments didn’t help Eva beat the cancer. The First Lady of Argentina passed a month after the parade. Her admirers and supporters were distraught by the news. So much so that restaurants and movie theaters closed down, and the government suspended all activities for a few days after her passing. They even lowered the flags to half-mast.
Mourners thronged outside her residence and the mob crushed eight people when her body was transported to the Ministry of Labor. As a sign of her immense political contributions, Eva received a state funeral, although she never held office. Even in the weeks following her passing, mourners would line up across the city blocks, hoping to catch a glimpse of their beloved Evita.
50. Her Body Disappeared
Seeing the kind of love and madness Evita inspired, Perón decided to preserve her body. He had it embalmed and originally planned to display her body in a monument made in her honor. However, a disturbing event kept that from happening. After an armed coup overthrew him, Eva's body disappeared for many years. And that isn’t the strangest part of the whole saga.
51. They Finally Found Her
Supposedly, the army found Eva Perón’s body in Madrid. But they only exhumed and returned it to her widower when an Argentine rebel group made off with the lifeless body of an Argentine general. If the officials didn't give Eva's body back, they'd hold onto the general's body in retaliation. At that, Eva's body magically came back to Argentina.
52. She Had A Strange Resting Place For Some Time
The army originally handed Eva's body to Perón and his third wife, Isabel, who were in Spain. Strangely, they decided to keep Eva in, of all places, their dining room. Don’t know about you but I sure wouldn’t want to be a dinner guest in that household. Thankfully, this arrangement didn't last for too long. After Perón passed in 1974, his widow had Eva’s body flown back to Argentina. It was displayed with Perón’s body for a while, but eventually, Eva was finally laid to rest in the Duarte family crypt. What a saga.
53. There’s A City Named After Her
The Eva Perón Foundation had a suburb named Ciudad Evita (Evita City) built in the shape of her profile. While successive governments renamed it twice, it is back to its original name now. Over 70,000 people live there.
54. She’s Unforgettable
Evita has captured imaginations and there have been many books, articles, plays and musicals about her life. The most recent (and the most famous) is the 1996 film Evita starring Madonna. Additionally, Perón is present on Argentinian coins and has a museum dedicated to her clothes. The first Argentinian female president, Cristina Kirchner, acknowledged that she owed a debt to Eva Perón for leading the way.
Though Perón was a complicated, imperfect woman, one thing is for sure. It was impossible to overlook her.