Republican school colonies. Spain, 1936-1939

par Cristina Escrivá Moscardó

(contribution donnée lors du symposium organisé par l’ISCHE en 2012 à l’université de Genève)

Started the civil war in Spain in July 1936 and until its conclusion in April 1939, both the Government of the Republic as anti-fascist organizations, had the mission of saving children from increasingly more continuous bombing of open cities. Objectively, the work of seeking the welfare of children during the civil war was formidable. In addition to preserving the children of military aggressions, their training needs were met. One of the formulas used was through “The permanent school Colonies”, offered, in a pleasant environment, a dual purpose, on the one hand, educate and the other hand, protect children, the future of the country.

Initially, children, especially in Madrid, were sent to the Mediterranean coast.

These children were distributed in a “State of the Family”, and the classes, taught by teachers of the host municipalities. This group of permanent settlements and settlers, who live together in a properly conditioned homes and a school well prepared, were introduced from January 1937. Later, that year, there were more than 45,000 children, if we consider, the families who lived in the colonies, the colonies the type of school, and children who were displaced by the war, some 30,000 children sent abroad. Any effort was little, to make sense of the future of the country, that through a peaceful, enjoy everyone, especially, at that time, the children. This was fighting, trying to surround the children, of good physical and moral atmosphere. On the trained, was used, to develop in a gradual and comprehensive, each and every one of the faculties of the child. The evacuated children were cared for as never been in any war.

The model example and guide, was “The Family Community Education” of the teacher Angel Garcia Llorca, incorporated in “El Perelló” in the city of Valencia. The spirits of the colonies were governed by several important tasks, for example, the guarding of the food, the health, the educational plan, and the academic and support staff.

A circular of “The National Council for the Children Evacuated” from The Ministry of Education and Health, dated January 1938, said: “The school Colonies are both family and school and must be a work of the total education. The group of people forming a colony have one and only mission: Education. To educate is to educate yourself. No one can be educated without at the same time educate. The Colony is a house of education, a makeshift family that incorporated elements of many natural families that the circumstances have come together…”

The commitment of the Republic with the children displaced by war was helped by the international solidarity through humanitarian organizations that patronized Colonies and sent the supplies and needed materials in order to help children.

The Journal of Madrid, “Mundo Gráfico”, the May 12, of 1937, published an interview with the news of the aid of Swiss children. “To help the evacuation of non-combatant population of Madrid, the Swiss people sent us these trucks, continually be in service from Madrid to Valencia, and the opposite route”. The news is reinforced by images of the departure of the expedition, bound for the provinces away from the fight:

On this spring morning cleaner Madrid departed from the cities four trucks, heading to the East. Were loaded with children, who cheerfully undertook the journey. Large letters on the side of the vehicles were the four symbolic names: Pestalozzi, Dunant, Wilson, Nansen. The four names were read one by one in four trucks, as a great yearning for peace, as the desire and the dream of a better humanity.

There were help committees in: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cuba, France, Holland, England, America, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay and Egypt. The “Bureau International pour l’Enfance” came to be composed of 17 national committees, coordinated through an office in Paris.

For the part of “The Libertarian Movement” was made a great effort to maintain their own colonies outside of the Official Government of Spain.

Some were sponsored by international anarchist organizations and the International Solidarity Antifascist related with the, “Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista”(SIA).

The getting sufficient financial resources to obtain independence, was a hard task that required a collective effort towards that sole purpose. An example is the colony promoted by the “Madrid Ateneo Libertarian South”. In May of 1937, had evacuated Mogente, a small town and later Valencia to Altea in Alicante an initial issue of 17 children.

A small children’s, nothing missing. Our partners, that are in charge of their education, hygiene and nutrition, can tell you this […] they are not talking about the war. Even less of anarchism. Only, one thing, learn. The World is too big, you have to know every inch, for that, you need to know reading, writing, accounts, multiple accounts, geography, all languages ​​and in all this mess, one thing inseparable: Your brothers are mankind. […][1]

The war was more and more dangerous, every day survival in Madrid is very difficult and the need to safeguard the children of the Ateneo, is a priority. Joining them in September 1937, he moved to another group of children:

Will be transferred over a hundred kids and following our rules, will, like others, assisted in its educational aspect, food and hygiene, while supervised in their play and companies, the latter aspect that we consider of great importance for better education. […][2]

Another example is found in the colony called “Espartaco”, whose name is a symbol of the struggle for the emancipation of slaves. Located on the property known as “Can Gros” palace owned by a banker in Argentona, Barcelona, ​​seized by the workers in July 1936 and ceded to the National Federation of Railway Industry, the union CNT, for the Colony, who received 100 children from Madrid.

All the little ones are listed in aged of the 6 to the 12 years, the right age for this homework, and have sought to address them in this important need with the establishment of three classes. A colleague and two partners are in charge of the school of Cologne, well served by them and provided with material.

Teachers have realized the responsibility and libertarian characteristics of the institution and are fully aware embedded in their work… in a healthy environment of brotherhood with small, constant care and vigilance emulation for children, who are constantly wall posters with phrases how are you: “Be good and you can get as close to perfection” or “Goodness is the purest virtue of anarchy.” This goodness not only sees it written. The see -and this is mainly- into action.[3]

The anarcho-syndicalist newspaper, “Solidaridad Obrera” in August 1937, inserted a story which included a description of the colony, accounting for waste and unnecessary luxury which led, at the beginning of the century, new construction and practical use since the Revolution had been given to indoor and outdoor. These kids today “are the free men of tomorrow”, was one of the messages transmitted the report. Without subsidies, they neither expected nor be admitted, according to the testimony of the manager of the colony, only with voluntary contributions from colleagues, in assembly, had authorized a committee to carry out the management of the institution, which started the rescue and evacuation of children with full guarantees. The transport was carried out on trains and trucks and the speed was a factor of success. The initial purpose was to build a small society to live without laws to natural and cultural interest with no school and fraternity life. What method was used in this school? Asked the journalist, the answer was: “The rationalist. Is wasted in practice, which is scarce in textbooks. This school does not look anything like those in which other children thought only of the departure time.”[4]

As mentioned, the School Colonies, as well as provide shelter, played an important educational function, but are not synonymous single model of education. With the change of ministers of Education, in April 1938, the communist Jesus Hernandez Tomás (1907-1971) gave way to anarchosyndicalist, Segundo Blanco González (1899-1957) who tried to embrace the rationalist model. The same education to all, regardless of sex, this is what preached the libertarian education. The boy and girl, different universes, considered individually in relation to others, had to live in co-education, to facilitate the development of a sense of sociability and understanding. For these reasons, the primary purpose of the Colonies, was preparing to save and educate children for life in fraternity.

With a simple, but beautiful, environment, developed for the harmonious collaboration and fostering the personality of children, fleeing the discipline and punishment. Pedagogically intended that children be respected as brothers, having a friendly and respectful treatment of the elderly who lived with them. In practical matter the estimated number for the optimal functioning of the Colonies was in twenty places. But the reality was different almost always surpassing that figure.

Children had to collaborate in all efforts, according to his ability, taking turns in the work and taking responsibility of what will be assigned as the standard of education. Everyone had to get up at the same time ensuring that there were no stragglers, except in cases of illness or medical prescription. The right time was, according to the seasons, between half past six, and the half past seven. He then practiced half an hour of calisthenics, then showering and grooming, always assisted by relatives staff. In all facets of everyday life the children, they help each other, for fostered the collaboration and mutual assistance among them.

After breakfast a short rest and on about nine o’clock of the morning, the colonists would have to start three hours of class intervals, to avoid fatigue that could accumulate and may reduce their attention. In the morning working the materials of more intellectual effort: Arithmetic, Geometry, Language and Sciences Physical and Natural. Then, and before going to the dining room, a little rest and grooming necessary to sit at the table. The food, is served, each day, by one of the boys or girls residents, start from the 12:30 to 13:00. This meal, consisted of two dishes healthy enough and abundant, as well as dessert. Then again, the children are washed, and rested until the new classes in the afternoon, the subjects that are making those requiring less intellectual effort: Geography, History, Crafts and various workshops. At 17’00, the lunch and three hours of free activity, allowing all kinds of games, unless it be counterproductive to your health or morals. Group games, educational, library reading comics, magazines, stories, film sessions and other activities. At eight o’clock the dinner, easily digested foods. At nine o’clock in the afternoon the children were sleeping. Teachers, teachers and support staff would ensure that all settlers were well accommodated in their beds, being an adult on duty, to monitor the sleep of children. Wherever possible, public holidays and rest, there would be tours, trying to relate to the social life of the contour where the colony was located.

The unfavourable circumstances during the war, coupled with the experiences and realities of the moment, made in late 1938, design a new plan to accommodate large numbers of orphans and displaced people aged between 8 and 14, who was respected by the bombing. The Spanish Republic was trying to make a plan, well thought out in its methodology, children Madrid, and other cities, where he had spent with their hecatombs destruction and misery. I wanted to get children’s camps located outside the danger zones. To make this possible was necessary to organize a flow of financial support. A project that worked with international will coordinate networking and donations. The initiative would take place on Spanish soil, under international flags.

A pamphlet published in early 1939, dedicated to raising funds to create a city of children in Spain is the proof. The idea was to build pavilions funded exclusively with materials from different countries. The booklet was published by the Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, drawing the cover was done by Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990). The title is “Children’s cities in Spain”. So we know that in addition to the Colonies school in the immediate future children were to reside in a city Lilliputian, with capacity for 1.000 people, divided into units, under a community. The booklet discusses the features, with full participation of its young people in the life of the “City”. The sponsorship was developed through international anti-fascist thinking of building a set of neutral flags and peace.


The educational model, mutual support, it was built on the basis of the ideology backed by the Republican government, with Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Instruction and the anarchist educator, Juan Puig Elias (1898-1972). A project libertarian in their approach to the social function of education placed in the confidence of the ability of children, linked to their responsibility and skills training, protected by nature.

Methodological practice of writing in terms that would solve the vital problems of children, educating for life in community, learning skills that give added stability to the city.

The influence of the concepts of Puig Elias, are in the background, but we must put ourselves in a country at war, a war advanced and in this time, almost with the definitive defeat of the Republic, where you design a superior system to that used in the colonies. One idea that was neutral platform to start building cities to educate. They were therefore the result of a single thought, were the findings of a long and persistent evolutionary work and past experience with the evacuated children.

In short words, the political realities, along with teaching ideas, designed these Lilliputians cities. Clearly differentiated from the School Colonies, both in number of residents, as in the educational system. It was not just an educational innovation that is raised, it was simply the logical conclusion of an evolution in the war, in order to prepare in peace and for the peace. An attempt to educate based on the idea of ​​self-development, in a climate of self-management, in a communal space.

An admirable project which we can extract a theoretical conclusion. Lilliputian cities, the safeguarding of the young people and children in armed conflict. We could say that were cities for the innocents.

Pour télécharger la version espagnole de l’article cliquer ici

[1] GUTIÉRREZ, José, Las escuelas y el momento actual, Lacing in the Union Radio Station the night of June 19, 1937, PS Madrid C 932. Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica

[2] GUTIÉRREZ, José, Los trabajadores disponen de un nuevo centro de cultura, Lacing in the station Union Radio on September 4, 1937, PS Madrid C 404. Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica

[3] Una obra humanitaria de la revolución. La Colonia Espartaco de Argentona. Refugio de víctimas de la guerra, July 1937. Biblioteca Nacional de España

[4] Solidaridad Obrera, Barcelona, August 27, 1937, page 2. Fundación Salvador Seguí

2 réflexions sur « Republican school colonies. Spain, 1936-1939 »

  1. Chère carnetière, cher carnetier,
    Nous avons particulièrement apprécié votre billet. Pour que la communauté puisse plus aisément le découvrir, nous avons décidé de le mettre en Une d’Hypothèses (sur et
    Bien cordialement,
    L’équipe d’Hypothèses

    • Un grand merci pour cette valorisation. Nous avons rajouté la possibilité de télécharger en fin d’article la version espagnole
      L’équipe du carnet

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