Nise da Silveira – to be a woman, to be revolutionary
Nise da Silveira was born in the city of Maceió, Brazil, on February 15, 1905. An only child, her father was a Math teacher and a journalist, while her mother was a pianist. Studying was fun in a house filled with music and warmth, often visited by people from the press, foreigners, and artists.
After getting her high school degree from Liceu Alagoano, Nise went to Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia [Bahia School of Medicine], in the city of Salvador, where she enrolled at the age of 15. She married her cousin Mário Magalhães, who would become one of the best sanitary physicians in Brazil.
In spite of being very young and living in conservative times, Nise carried within her the seeds of her revolutionary bearing:
From an early age I became interested in the outcasts, so much so that my great hero was Zumbi dos Palmares. I think that was why it was easy for me to adapt to the insane.
– Nise da Silveira
1920 – QUALIFICATION: DOCTOR NISE
I think we must call her a doctor–this title has long been denied to women or used in mockery. You, who were the first woman to graduate from Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia in 1926. The only woman in a class of 157 men—there wasn’t even a women’s restroom! Nise, the utmost dedication to a lifelong job.
– Amanda Rigamonti (2016)
1927 – ARRIVING IN RIO
When Nise finished her studies and returned to Maceió at the age of 21, she became deeply distressed over her father’s death a few months after her arrival. She moved to Rio de Janeiro with Mário that same year.
Although they were unable to find work, Nise and Mário had many close friends on Rua do Curvelo in Santa Teresa, the neighborhood where they lived, who were very supportive, and they used to share views on many subjects, including Marxist readings. The same neighborhood was the home of poets Manuel Bandeira and Ribeiro Couto, as well as Communist Party leader Octávio Brandão and his wife, poet Laura Brandão, and the family of doctor Manuel Isnard and his companion Zoila.
In 1932, Nise moved to Hospício da Praia Vermelha [Praia Vermelha Asylum], a refuge for students and low-income doctors of that time. There, during her studies for the civil service examination as a psychiatrist, she started to establish a close relationship with patients that would last throughout her life.