Eva Maria Ibarguren was born on 7th May 1919 in the Argentinian rural village of Los Toldos, the youngest of five children. Her father Juan Duarte already had a wife and family in nearby Chivilcoy. When Eva was a year old, Juan returned to his legal wife, leaving Eva’s mother Juana and her children suffering severe hardship, but he did leave a document stating that the children were his, enabling them to use the Duarte surname. Juana sewed clothes for neighbours, but the family were somewhat stigmatised by the illegitimate status of the children. They moved to a one-room apartment in Junin, where Juana and her daughters took up jobs as cooks in local houses of note.
Eventually Eva’s older brother was able to give financial support to the family, and they moved to a bigger house which they transformed into a boarding house. During this time Eva often took part in school plays and concerts, and was determined to become an actress.
At the age of 15 Eva ran off with a young musician to Buenos Aires, in an attempt to escape her poverty-stricken village. The relationship ended but Eva remained in the capital, pursuing jobs on the stage and the radio. She eventually did become a film actress, and through several relationships also acquired modelling appointments, bleaching her black hair blonde. In 1936 she toured nationally with a theatre company, and On 28th March 1935 she had her professional debut in the play La Senora de Perez at the Comedias Theater. In 1942 she experienced economic stability at last when she was hired for a daily radio drama role on the most important radio station in the country, Radio El Mundo. By 1943 Eva was one of the highest paid actresses in the nation, and she moved to the exclusive neighbourhood of Recoleta.
Eva met Colonel Juan Peron during a charity event at the Luna Park Stadium on 22nd January 1944, and they were married the following year. Eva campaigned tirelessly for her husband during his 1946 presidential bid, and delivered powerful speeches using her radio show. The general public adored her. Juan Peron was elected President in 1946, and during the next 6 years First Lady Eva became powerful within the pro-Peronist trade unions, speaking on behalf of workers’ rights. She also ran the Ministries of Labor and Health, and founded and ran the charitable Eva Peron Foundation, sometimes working as many as 22 hours every day for the poor. She championed women’s suffrage in Argentina, and founded and ran Argentina’s first female political party, the Female Peronist Party.
In 1951 Eva announced her candidacy for the Peronist nomination for the office of Vice President of Argentina, receiving much support from ‘the shirtless ones’, the low-income working-class Argentines. However, ill-health and opposition from the nation’s military forced her to withdraw her candidacy.
On 9th January 1950 Eva fainted in public, and underwent surgery 3 days later. She was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. She was the first Argentine to undergo chemotherapy, but the cancer metastasised despite a hysterectomy, and Eva died aged only 33 on 26th July 1952. Nearly 3 million people attended her funeral in the streets of Buenos Aires, and within a day of her death all flower shops had run out of stock. She was given a state funeral.