Eulàlia Ferrer, managing ‘El Brusi’ from the shadows

The corner of Carrer de la Llibereteria and Carrer de la Freneria, where the families of Antoni Brusi and Eulàlia Ferrer had their respective businesses.
Photo: Dani Codina

Born in 1780 into a family of booksellers and printers, Eulàlia Ferrer first collaborated with her husband, Antoni Brusi, in the management of the Diario de Barcelona. Following her spouse’s death, she headed the newspaper known popularly by the family surname. This prototypic entrepreneurial woman overcame all the obstacles that her profession, society and the law placed in the path of women.

Up until the end of the 19th century, the bookseller’s guild did not allow women to become master booksellers. Women were obliged to transfer their businesses to a man, and therefore they only received limited training in the workshops. The laws in force only allowed women to do jobs that “befitted” their status as women; their destiny was never to work in a business, even if they inherited one, but rather to marry a man from the guild who would be the actual bookseller. From the 17th century onwards, the Ferrer family were printers and booksellers by trade, although it was their wives who had traditionally provided the money and fortune. It was precisely for this reason that Eulàlia Ferrer’s grandfather had adopted his wife’s surname.

Eulàlia Ferrer was born in Barcelona on 12 November 1780. Her father was the well-known bookseller Josep Ferrer, who died when she was still a child. He left the Casa Ferrer bookshop, located at number 22, Carrer de la Llibreteria, to his two sons, both of whom then also died, meaning that Eulàlia inherited the family business at the tender age of twelve. She met Antoni Brusi i Mirabent, a bookbinder and seller by trade, whose shop on Carrer de la Llibreteria, at the corner with Carrer Freneria, was very close to her own. They were married on 5 May 1799. It was probably Eulàlia who put up the capital needed to start up a printing enterprise and extend the store’s business, and although it was quite uncommon in those days, she had the business registered in both their names. 

A period engraving of riots in Barcelona caused by the capture of Montjuïc by French troops in 1808.
Photo: Prisma

In 1808 the war between Spain and the French Empire broke out. The first Napoleonic troops entered Catalonia on 9 February 1808, and four days later a column of 6000 men reached Barcelona, soon followed by another larger contingent. The so-called Peninsular War had broken out.

Many inhabitants of Barcelona chose to leave the city, including the Brusi family. Together with their employees, they packed up the printing press and headed for Tarragona, which was still free of the invading French. Once there, Antoni Brusi offered his printing services to the army commanders, even though doing so meant exposing Eulàlia and the whole family to the risks and sacrifices that come along with war. Thanks to his printing press, the authorities that had held out in Catalonia enjoyed the great advantage of being able to transmit their orders quickly and broadly. They also printed all kinds of proclamations calling for rebellion, as well as publishing the Gazeta Militar, which was printed in the most unlikely places. 

When Tarragona fell to the French, the Brusi family lost virtually all its printing materials and machinery. They hurriedly set sail for Palma de Mallorca, with their children, two brothers and three apprentices in tow. On the island, they enjoyed a period of some peace and quiet and set up a new workshop, a business that prospered and helped them to get back on their feet. In 1812 Antoni Brusi made several trips to Catalonia to attend to the businesses they still had there, and Eulàlia Ferrer took care of things in Palma. 

In 1813, in the dying days of the French occupation, the whole family returned to Barcelona. Besides the Gazetathey printed a great deal of material for the Spanish army which raked in financial profits that they subsequently invested in new projects. As for their family life, the Brusis had had six children, of whom only two girls, Antònia and Eulàlia, managed to survive. 

The cover of the newspaper from June 6th, 1814, the first edition they published as owners once the Peninsular War was over.
Photo: Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat

On 28 April 1814, the French finally withdrew from Barcelona and absolute monarchy was restored under Ferdinand VII, along with very strict press control. In return for services rendered, and by virtue of a royal privilege that established a single publication in Barcelona, Antoni Brusi was granted the publication and ownership of the Diario de Barcelona, a daily newspaper founded in 1792, which, for a short period during the occupation, had been published in Catalan and French. From that time onwards, Eulàlia Ferrer and her husband dedicated all their time and effort to publishing the daily. Not long afterwards, in 1815, Eulàlia gave birth to her seventh child, Antoni, although this did not keep her away from the publishing business, and husband and wife continued to work side by side.

In 1819 they added a type foundry to the press, and a year later introduced lithography to Catalonia. They were highly innovative, applying steam power, relatively unknown in Catalonia at that time, to the workshops. The Brusi family also broke away from the prevailing traditions by recruiting talented and erudite people of eminence for the newspaper, who authored highly-celebrated and novel articles. Unfortunately, Antoni Brusi passed away two years later, having fallen victim to a devastating epidemic of yellow fever. In those sad circumstances, Eulàlia Ferrer took over the management of the printing business and steadfastly upheld the company’s interests. 

For a short time, the Diario de Barcelona lost its privilege of being the only daily newspaper in the city. Changes in government permitted freedom of press, spawning a proliferation of other publications. However, in 1823, severe restrictions were enforced once again and the Diario de Barcelona recovered its absolutist privileges, which it maintained until the death of Ferdinand VII in 1833, when once again it had to face up to competition. In the meantime, the Brusis’ youngest child, Antoni, received a good education to ensure that he would be able to head up the family business in future. He spent several years studying typography in Europe and modern daily newspaper printing methods. In 1838 he returned to Barcelona to visit his mother. He saw that the family business was far from buoyant, and decided to settle in Barcelona to take over. 

Eulàlia realized that the time had come for her son to manage the company, leading her to retire. Antoni Brusi junior gave the paper the push it needed to become the journalistic benchmark of Catalan conservatism, and it eventually became popularly known as the Diari dels Brusi, and even as El Brusi. The name of Eulàlia Ferrer disappeared from the documentation related to the business that she had put so much into, although she did enjoy the satisfaction of seeing it boom. She died in 1850 at the age of seventy.

An illustration on the newspaper that appeared in the Guía satírica de Barcelona (Satirical Guide to Barcelona) in 1854.

Known as Eulàlia Brusi after her marriage to Antoni Brusi, she was a publisher, bookseller, printer and the manager of the Diario de Barcelona for 20 years. She was also involved in various legal proceedings brought mainly by the official association of booksellers of Barcelona simply for practicing her profession. However, the crucially important aspect lies in the fact that she was the epitome of an enterprising woman, who made the most of her circumstances and demonstrated a great capacity to overcome the obstacles placed in her path, as a woman, by her profession, society and the law.

Elisenda Albertí

Editor, writer and author of books including 'Dones de Barcelona' [Women of Barcelona]

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