Las Mariposas: The Mirabal Sisters’ Role as Heroines of the Dominican Republic

Las Mariposas; (L to R) Patria Mirabal, Minerva Mirabal, and María Teresa Mirabal | Courtesy of

The Mirabal sisters, three resilient and determined women, sought not only to serve as advocates for women’s rights, but ultimately to act as heroines for their country. Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa Mirabal lived with their family in Ojo de Agua in Salcedo Province, Dominican Republic. Their parents were successful land and business owners, and the girls lived a very conservative and humble life.1 The girls were taught the importance of education by both of their parents who worked hard to send the girls to the Colegio Inmaculada Concepcion in La Vega, a Catholic Boarding School.2

The Mirabal Sisters | Courtesy of

The sisters grew up during a time of intense turmoil in their country. In 1930, the Dominican Republic was placed under the rule of Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina.3 Trujillo served as the dictator of the Dominican Republic for nearly three decades, and his rule “established the most totalitarian control over his people that any Latin American country had theretofore experienced.”4 His rule included instances of bribery, murder, the disappearances of anything or anyone who challenged him, sexual advances towards a number of unwilling women, along with a number of other injustices.5

Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina | Courtesy of

The Mirabal sisters, being the strong, intelligent, and outspoken women that they were, realized that they were unwilling to live under Trujillo’s corrupt and harmful regime. Their involvement and leadership in the revolution against Trujillo was unprecedented, not only because of the “essentially passive role [of women] in Hispanic societies,” but also due to the fear that a majority of Dominican citizens had of Trujillo.6 Still, though, three of the Mirabal sisters–Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa–along with their husbands, became symbols and leaders of political activism and opposition to Trujillo and his regime. Specifically, by 1960 the women and their husbands became synonymous with “the underground Movimiento Revolucionario 14 de Junio (MR14J) by the code name of Mariposa (butterfly)…[and] their activities to agents of Trujillo’s secret police, the dreaded SIM.”7

The sisters and their husbands were jailed multiple times for their involvement in the various protests and movements against Trujillo.8 Their movement in opposition to Trujillo came to a staggering halt on November 25, 1960. Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa were traveling back home from a jail in Puerto Plata, where their husbands were imprisoned, when they were attacked by Trujillo’s secret police. “The three women and their driver were taken out, strangled and clubbed to death. Then, in a feeble attempt to cover up the murders, their bodies were put back in the jeep and thrown off a cliff.”9 Word of the sisters’ death spread like wildfire throughout the Dominican Republic, especially among those who worked alongside Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa in opposition to Trujillo. Their deaths were described in “Trujillo’s puppet newspaper El Caribe…[as an] ‘automobile accident'”; however, “few people at home or abroad were fooled by the story,” and Trujillo’s attempt to cover up the murder was unsuccessful.10

Domincan currency featuring Las Mariposas | Courtesy of

The bravery of the women, their refusal to stay quiet or give up, and their unwavering organization efforts against Trujillo were all integral in the events that ultimately led to Trujillo’s downfall. The Mirabal sisters, now largely known as “the Mariposas,” have come to be recognized as heroines in the Dominican Republic. The country shows their appreciation and respect for the women in “virtually every Dominican [town]…[with] some commemorative marker, school, or main street bearing their names.”11 Furthermore, the women have become symbols of women and human rights worldwide. Every year, November 25, the anniversary of the sisters’ murder, is recognized as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; November 25 is also “the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which culminates on Human Rights Days on Dec. 10.”12

  1.  Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Mirabal Sisters,” by John Haag, Ed. by Anne Commire.
  2. Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994), 13.
  3. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Mirabal Sisters,” by John Haag.
  4.  Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, 2008, s.v. “Trujillo Molina, Rafael Leónidas (1891-1961).”
  5.  Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, 2008, s.v. “Trujillo Molina, Rafael Leónidas (1891-1961).”
  6. Nancy Robinson, “Women’s Political Participation in the Dominican Republic: The Case of the Mirabal Sisters.” Caribbean Quarterly 52, no. 2 (January 6, 2006): 172.
  7. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Mirabal Sisters.”
  8. Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994), 257-260, 337.
  9. Nancy Robinson, “Women’s Political Participation in the Dominican Republic: The Case of the Mirabal Sisters,” Caribbean Quarterly 52, no. 2 (January 6, 2006): 172–73.
  10.  Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Mirabal Sisters.”
  11. Nancy Robinson, “Women’s Political Participation in the Dominican Republic: The Case of the Mirabal Sisters,” Caribbean Quarterly 52, no. 2 (January 6, 2006): 173-74.
  12. Charlotte Alter, “The Brutal Triple Murder Behind the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women,” Time Magazine (December 2, 2014), 1.

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53 Responses

  1. There were 4 sisters and he was try to get them killed and he was also trying to cover up what he was doing wrong and then he like got very angry and then it just kept going on and on.

  2. I find the story of the Mirabal sisters inspiring, and as one that transmits courage and willingness to think and ponder over and over. Their figures resemble those of women throughout the world who did not refrain themselves in pointing at the flaws of society and asking for a renewal, as many human beings have done in history. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo is indeed a terrifying character: an incarnated brutality well depicted in La Fiesta Del Chivo, by Mario Vargas Llosa, I think. Women should always be remembered when thinking on the past: heroism is a human feature, after all

  3. They were traveling back from visiting their sister, Dede, in jail. She was imprisoned because of her protests alongside her sisters. She outlived them since she was not in that car that day passing in 2014

    1. They were coming back from visiting their husbands in jail. Dede was never involved in the activities of the other sisters because she was in charge of the family farm and business after their father died.

  4. Why did you leave out Dede Mirabal? Why do so many leave out Dede? She fought alongside her sisters as well but no one mentions her. There is a 4th sister.

  5. I have heard the story of Las Mariposas, it is very interesting and it shows the bravery that a few women had and they created change to a country. They each lived an important and unique live and struggled to fight for their believes. When I was reading the article I learned a lot, besides form the previous knowledge that I had on their story. The article is well written and it represents their story as hey are, strong women who fought with everything that they had.

  6. What fierce bravery these women and their husbands had to stand against a cruel regime like this one. This was very evident in how you described the injustices by the regime as well as the fear as the people. It took these women their lives to fight for what was right for themselves and their people. A story that is always worth telling.

  7. Nice article. The three sisters’ work was extremely important to the Dominican Republic. They led much of the opposition to a harsh dictator. The things he did, or had done, were terrible. Without the voices of these women the revolutionary movement in the Dominican Republic would have not been as successful. It is terrible that they died in what was clearly an act of assassination, but I bet their deaths only made the love for them and their noble cause stronger.

  8. These women are so brave and I am glad to have read this article. I had no prior knowledge of Trujillo Molina’s dictatorship and this is the first piece of information I have read about the Dominican Republic and I am glad it was about these women. It is great to learn about these types of leaders because they are the foundation for modern-day feminism. Thank you for writing this article.

  9. It was interesting to read about and learn of these brave and bold sisters. I have heard and learned about Trujillo’s dictatorship and know how horrible the Dominican Republic and the people suffered during his Dictatorship. It was such a great act of courage to do the things that the mariposas risked in order to bring some change and awareness about Trujillo. It is sad that the sisters were murdered but their death was not in vain.

  10. I had never heard of the Mirabal Sister’s before reading this article, so I want to thank you for writing about them since I am sure not many people have heard of them and their work in human rights. The dictatorship of Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina in the Dominican Republic is unfortunate to the country, but I am glad that his ruling inspired the sisters to advocate for their rights and the people of their country. The fact that he had the sisters killed and tried to cover it up makes me angry, but even then, they were persistent because their work did not go unnoticed since they are symbols of women and human rights today.

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