Born in Santiago de Cuba, Espin studied chemical engineering at Oriente University and completed a postgraduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. As a student, she participated in a political movement that demanded the re-establishment of the 1940 Constitution.
As part of this movement, she distributed proclamations to summon the people to come to her university on June 8, 1952, for a rally of patriotic reaffirmation. As a member of the Eastern University Student Federation (FEUO), Espin also took part in a 72-hour teaching stoppage in Feb. 1953 to reject the murder of student Ruben Batista in Havana.
This strike provoked a broad student mobilization, which placed black ties in the lapels of citizens as a public expression of feeling and starred in a symbolic burial of the murdered student in the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia.
#OnThisDay 4/7/1930: Vilma Espín was born. Espín was a leader in the Cuban revolution & the women’s movement in #Cuba. She was part of the July 26 Movement that overthrew the #Batista dictatorship in 1959. After the revolution, Espín was a founder of the Federation of Cuban Women pic.twitter.com/QOHT7d4mQs
Under the combat name "Deborah," Espin participated in the clandestine struggle against Batista. With revolutionary leader Frank Pais, she organized the uprising of Nov. 30, 1956, in Santiago de Cuba to support the landing of the Granma yacht expedition.
In 1958, she joined the Rebel Army in the Sierra Maestra mountains, where she taught many soldiers and farmers to read and write. After the Revolution triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959, Espin promoted gender equality through actions such as the founding of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) in 1960 and the establishment of nurseries throughout the country.
Her commitment to gender equality was remembered by President Miguel Diaz-Canel as a "Revolution within the Revolution" that set a permanent example of firmness and conviction.
“The Cuban revolution has really been two revolutions for women. It has meant a double liberation: as part of the exploited sector of the country, and second, as women, who were discriminated against not only as workers but also as women,” said Espin, a guerrilla fighter whose remains lie since 2007 in the Mausoleum of the "Second Eastern Frank Pais Front".