Argentine actress and politician. As wife of President Juan Perón, she became a legendary – if somewhat controversial – figure, idolized by the poor (who called her Evita) but feared and opposed by the army, who saw in her a dangerous socialist threat to its reactionary power base.
Born in Los Toldos, the youngest of a large poor family, Maria Duarte was educated at a school in Junin before leaving for Buenos Aires with theatrical aspirations. During the 1930s and 1940s she worked as a radio and later film, actress, primarily for Radio Belgrano.
Her initiation into politics came in 1944, as a member of the radio workers union. Through various benefactors she met many of the leading personalities in the Argentine hierarchy, including Juan Perón, then minister of war, whom she married in 1945. When he was elected president the following year, she devoted much of her time, energy, and influence to social welfare and the alleviation of poverty. Exercising increasing influence within her husband's regime, she became de facto minister of health and labour, organized female workers, secured the vote for women, and directed large amounts of government funds to social welfare. She was nominated for the vice-presidency in 1951 but was forced by the army to withdraw. She died the following year from cancer. At the height of her influence her book La razón de mi vida (1951; ‘The Purpose of My Life’) was made compulsory reading in Argentine schools.