A zoologist and scientist, Bertha (or "Berta," as her name is sometimes recorded) Maria Júlia Lutz was a prominent Brazilian feminist and campaigner for women's rights in Brazil, as well as an important naturalist.
Born on August 2, 1894, in São Paulo, her father was Adolfo Lutz (1855–1940), an important physician and epidemiologist, as well as a pioneer of tropical medicine. In 1881 he had moved to Brazil and settled in São Paulo, where he became a microbiologist specializing in the link between sanitation and epidemics, especially the plague, malaria, and yellow fever.
Bertha Lutz was educated in São Paulo and then went to France, where she studied at the University of Paris (Sorbonne). She specialized in natural sciences, biology, and zoology and returned to Brazil to follow up on her interests in amphibians.
Her major scientific discovery was a type of frog, to which she gave her name: Paratelmatobius lutzii ("Lutz Rapids Frog"). In 1919 Bertha Lutz started work at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of Brazil, which made her stand out at an early age, as public service jobs were officially supposed to be taken by men.
In Paris Bertha Lutz had been hugely influenced by feminist ideas from France and Britain and had made contact with many French women suffragettes. When she returned to Brazil in 1918, she started agitating for the establishment of a feminist movement there. Only a year after her return, Lutz formed the Federacao Feminista Progresso Brasileira ("Brazilian Federation of Feminine Progress").
In 1922 she attended the Pan-American Conference on Women and gained much useful advice from Paulina Luisi and Carrie Chapman Catt. She was also elected vice president of the conference. After the conference Lutz returned to Brazil and spent much of her time working for the women's movement.
She had seen the advances made by women in Europe and the United States and wanted to get the same rights recognized in Brazil, especially the right of women to work, the abolition of child labor, equal pay for equal work for women, and the right to maternity leave.
In 1932, owing to agitation by Lutz and others, women in Brazil were enfranchised and allowed to vote in elections, an act confirmed by the Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas in amendments to the Brazilian constitution.
Lutz made two unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the parliament on behalf of the Independent Electoral League. However, the death of one of the deputies, Candido Pereira, led to a casual vacancy, which was filled by Lutz, who became a deputy in 1934.
In parliament she argued for women's rights, three months' maternity leave, and a reduction in the hours in the working day for both men and women. She also campaigned for young men to be able to get exemptions from national service.
On October 6, 1940, Adolfo Lutz died, and his daughter not only ensured that his papers were sent to the National Archives of Brazil but also that she cataloged them meticulously, a task that took her the next 30 years.
The papers are still regularly studied by many scholars from all around the world and have been hugely augmented by her own collection of papers and books, which she also donated to the archives. Lutz remained in charge of botany at the National Museum for much of the rest of her life.
Her main work in English, British Naturalists in Brazil, was published in Rio de Janeiro in 1941. In 1948 Bertha Lutz was one of the four women who signed the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the others being Minerva Bernardino from the Dominican Republic, Virginia Gildersleeves from the United States, and Wu Yi-tang from the Republic of China. In the 1930s Lutz had written a number of technical papers published in Rio de Janeiro.
In 1968 she completed three papers that were all published by the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin: "Geographic Variation in Brazilian Species of Hyla" (1968), "Taxonomy of the Neotropical Hylidae" (1968), and "New Brazilian Forms of Hyla" (1968, republished in Rio de Janeiro in 1973). She also wrote a substantial book, Brazilian Species of Hyla, written with Gualter A.
Lutz and with a foreword by W. Frank Blair, which was also published in Austin, Texas, in 1973. In 1975 Lutz represented Brazil at the first International Congress of Women at Mexico City, organized by the United Nations. Bertha Lutz died on September 16, 1976, in Rio de Janeiro. The Bertha Lutz Foundation was established in her honor; its symbol is a green butterfly.