Biography and History

María Rosa Lucía Oliver Romero was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on September 10, 1898. She was the first of eight children born to her parents, Francisco José Oliver and María Rita Romero. Her siblings, in order of their birth, are Isabel Joaquina, Julia, Francisco J., Juan Pablo, Luis Ramón, Magdalena, and Samuel F. As documented in her memoirs, Mundo, mi casa, María Rosa Oliver had a normal childhood until she contracted polio at the age of ten. With the assistance of a Swedish physiotherapist, Olga Carlsson, she began a recuperation during which she developed a love of reading and drawing. In the late 1910s, Oliver began publishing journalism in magazines in Buenos Aires. Though confined to a wheelchair, Oliver travelled widely throughout her life. She travelled with her family in Europe in 1921, throughout Latin America, through much of the United States on lecture tours while working in the U.S. in the years 1942-1946, and to China, the Soviet Union, and other countries as part of her work for the World Peace Council (Consejo Mundial de la Paz) in the period 1948-1962. In her work for the World Peace Council, an international peace organization, Oliver served as a vice-president and an advisor to the directorial board of the council. The World Peace Council was formed after the convocation of several peace congresses in Europe: a congress held in Wroclaw, Poland, in 1948, and congresses held in Paris and Prague in 1949. During 1942-1946, at the invitation of the Roosevelt Administration, Oliver worked in Washington, D.C., as Special Coordinator in the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs.

In the 1920s and 1930s, María Rosa Oliver met writers and artists active with the association “Amigos del Arte” in Buenos Aires. During this period, the city of Buenos Aires was home to writers and intellectuals from around the world, many of whom were fleeing Nazism in France and Germany. She became a friend and colleague of Victoria Ocampo (1890-1979), the founder of Sur, a literary magazine published in Buenos Aires, and was a member of Sur's editorial board (Comité de Colaboración) from the magazine's inception in 1931. Though they had disagreements over politics (see the letters in the collection, dated 1958 and 1961), Oliver and Ocampo were lifelong friends, and Oliver made many visits, especially in the 1930s, to Victoria Ocampo's house, “Villa Victoria,” in San Isidro, Buenos Aires; there she met and became friends with Eduardo Mallea, novelist, critic, and literary editor of La Nación in Buenos Aires, and Waldo Frank, the American novelist and critic who was a popular figure in Latin America for his book America Hispana and other writings. Oliver was also friends with other cultural figures, such as Mexican author and diplomat Alfonso Reyes, French writer Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, and Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca. Oliver's memoirs, La vida cotidiana and Mi fe es el hombre, document this period of her life. She was also a close friend of Luis Saslavksy and his sister, Dalila Saslavsky. Luis Saslavsky was an Argentine film director who excelled in creating movies depicting fin-de-siècle Argentina.

María Rosa Oliver grew up in a home in Buenos Aires at Charcas 628, which is described in detail in her memoirs. She also lived some years with her mother on a small farm in Merlo, a town outside of Buenos Aires. Eventually, Oliver returned to Buenos Aires to live. After her mother's death in 1962, Oliver lived with two of her married brothers and sisters. She also had an attendant for many years, Josefa “Pepa” Freire, who accompanied Oliver on many trips to Europe, the Soviet Union, and other countries. The presence of María Rosa Oliver, with Pepa Freire pushing her wheelchair, became a well-known sight at conferences of the World Peace Council and other organizations. María Rosa Oliver died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 78 on April 19, 1977.

María Rosa Oliver was widely admired for her courage in the face of her physical disability, for her kindness and interest in people from all walks of life, and for her ability to transform the circumstances of her disability into a life of personal, political, and cultural engagement. She is mentioned several times in Simone de Beauvoir's memoirs, and Oliver, herself, wrote memoirs which critics have praised for the quality of her observations and literary style. Mundo, mi casa, in particular, has been described as a sympathetic evocation of life in Argentina at the start of the century, depicting a society long since changed.

The noted Argentine critic, Pedro Orgambide, wrote in the magazine Entre Todos in 1988, “ María Rosa Oliver escribió centenares de artículos, notas críticas, ensayos y se acercó a la ficción a través del cuento....Pero su aporte singular a nuestra literatura, queda en sus libros de memorias, un género que ella cultivó con extrema sinceridad, con pasión y con un estilo muy sobrio y muy bello al mismo tiempo.” (María Rosa Oliver wrote hundreds of articles, critical notes, and essays, and she approached fiction through short stories.... But her singular contribution to our literature rests in her books of memoirs, a genre which she cultivated with the utmost sincerity, with passion, and with a style very sober and very beautiful at the same time.)

Major publications include: Geografía Argentina (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1939); with co-author Norberto A. Frontini, Lo que sabemos, hablamos. Testimonios sobre la China de hoy (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Botella al mar, 1965); Mundo, mi casa (Buenos Aires: Falbo Librero Editor, 1965); La vida cotidiana (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1969); Mi fe es el hombre (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Carlos Lohlé, 1981).

Source: From the finding aid for C0829