Third person subject pronouns are widely hypothesized to arise from the grammaticalization of demonstratives. Analysis of variation between pronominal and unexpressed subjects in 13th-16th century Spanish texts (N = 1,947) reveals that subjects referring to women favored pronominal expression and were more sensitive to the syntactic role of the previous mention. The data distribution shows that feminine referents were less topical, or more deictically distant: they occurred less frequently than masculine ones as subjects, and their previous mention was more likely to have been in non-subject role - a particularly favorable environment for pronoun ella 'she'. Thus, as a vestige of demonstrative origins, variable subject pronoun use could express topicality. An intermediate stage of demonstrative > pronoun grammaticalization may be use of the pronoun for unexpected subjects.