Historical Puerto Rican Women
These are just some of the women who, historically speaking, has played a critical role in our communities. Feel free to post a comment and a link of other historical Puerto Rican women that have played a critical role in our society!
Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, J.D., 1955
A feminist, activist, and lawyer. She was the third woman and the first Puerto Rican of obvious African descent and openly gay President of Puerto Rico’s Bar Association.
Ana Roque de Duprey, 1853-1933
A teacher and feminist, she founded the first “women’s only” magazine in Puerto Rico. She also helped found the University of Puerto Rico campuses in San Juan and Mayagüez.
Dr. Antonia Pantoja, 1922-2002
An educator and organizer, Pantoja founded the educational institution ASPIRA in 1961, Boricua College in 1970, and several other organizations and institutions throughout her life. She was integral in getting bilingual education in New York City schools and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.
[Photo: Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños]
Blanca Canales Torresola, 1906-1996
A member of the influential Canales family of Jayuya, Torresola was a teacher and revolutionary, playing a leading role in the 1950 Nationalist Insurrection, where she declared the Second Republic. For this she spent 17 years in prison.
Caridad de la Luz, “La Bruja,” 1977
La Bruja is a Bronx born and raised poet and actress who started performing at the Nuyorican Poets Café. She has performed and acted on film, television and web series. She also facilitates writing workshops for inner-city youth and was named in 2005 by El Diario/ La Prensa as one of the 50 most distinguished Latinas.
[Photo: Shirley Rodriguez]
Esmeralda Santiago, 1948
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, Santiago is a graduate of Harvard University and the author of When I Was Puerto Rican and other critically acclaimed novels and memoirs. She is also a spokesperson for public libraries and has advocated for women survivors of domestic violence.
Dr. Evelina López Antonetty, 1922-1984
Called the “Hell Lady of the Bronx” for her fierce advocacy on behalf of Puerto Rican, Black and other historically oppressed peoples in New York City. She fought for bilingual education, community control of public schools, the creation and survival of Hostos Community College, and founded the community institution United Bronx Parents in 1965.
Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, 1929-2001
Pediatrician, educator, and women’s rights activist, she was born in New York City and earned her M.D. at the University of Puerto Rico. In 1960, she helped establish the island’s first center of care for newborn babies and in 1970 she became the head of pediatrics at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. In NYC, she brought attention to the mass sterilization of Puerto Rican women and reproductive rights. She was the first Puerto Rican and Latina president of the American Public Health Association and was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal in 2001.
Julia de Burgos, 1917-1953
Poet, Teacher, Essayist, and Feminist. She was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico and died in El Barrio/ East Harlem, NY. De Burgos had her first verses published at age 19 and published several books including, Poemas en Veinte Zurcos, Poemas Exactos de mí Misma and Canción de la Verdad Sencilla.
Jennifer Lopez, July 1969
Jennifer Lynn Lopez (born July 24, 1969), also known as J. Lo, is an American actress, author, fashion designer, dancer, producer, and singer. She became interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry following a minor role in the 1986 film My Little Girl, to the dismay of her Puerto Rican parents, who believed that it was an unrealistic career route for a Hispanic
Lolita Lebrón, 1919-2010
A leader in the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, New York Chapter, Lebrón led a small brigade on an attack of the U.S. Congress on March 1, 1954 to bring global attention to Puerto Rico’s colonial status. For this act she was incarcerated until 1979. She later became a voice for human rights and non-violent protest against the U.S. Navy’s presence on the island of Vieques.
Luisa Capetillo, 1879-1922
Capetillo was a labor organizer, essayist, and radical feminist born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. She was a leader in the American Federation of Labor, organized tobacco workers and women for universal suffrage and helped pass the island’s minimum wage laws. She is also credited with being the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear pants in public, for which she was arrested.
Dr. Mayra Santos-Febres, 1966
A novelist, literary critic, and intellectual, her works have been translated into several languages. Her novels and poems are used by colleges and universities to engage in challenging topics, such as race, gender and sexuality in Caribbean societies. She organizes the Festival de la Palabra in Puerto Rico.
Melissa Mark-Viverito, 1969
She is the Speaker of the New York City Council – the first Puerto Rican and Latina to hold the position – and represents a district encompassing El Barrio/ East Harlem and the South Bronx. She is a graduate of Columbia University and has worked in labor and human rights issues.
Miriam Colón, 1936
A stage and film actress for over 60 years, she is the founder and director of New York’s Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and winner of the Obie Award’s Lifetime Achievement in the Theater category in 1993.
Nicholasa Mohr, 1938
A Nuyorican writer, her books such as Nilda and El Bronx, detail Puerto Rican life in the barrios of New York. She has won several awards including the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year and was a National Book Award finalist.
Nydia Velázquez, 1953
The first Puerto Rican woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Velázquez serves since 1993 and represents a district encompassing Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Born in Puerto Rico, she has an M.A. in political science from New York University and has been the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus since 2011.
[Photo: Queens Courier]
Pura Belpré, 1899-1982
The first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City’s public library (NYPL) system, Belpré was a writer, a collector of folktales and advocate for bilingual and children’s literature. Her work in the 115th Street library branch during the 1920s integrated Latin American and Spanish-language literature in the NYPL and validated the presence of the growing Puerto Rican community. She was awarded the New York Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture in 1982.
Rita Moreno, 1931
An actress and winner of the Grammy, Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards, Moreno was born Rosa Dolores Alverio in Humacao, Puerto Rico. She is known best for playing Anita in West Side Story in 1961 for which she was the first Puerto Rican and Latina to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Rosie Pérez, 1964
Pérez is a screen and stage actress, dancer, choreographer, filmmaker and activist born in Buschwick, Brooklyn. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Fearless in 1993. Pérez also directed the 2006 film Yo Soy Boricua Pa’ Que Tú Lo Sepas. She also participated in acts of civil disobedience against the U.S. Navy in Vieques.
Sonia Sotomayor, J.D., 1954
Born and raised in the Bronx, NY, Sotomayor went to Yale Law School and served on the U.S. Circuit Court and Court of Appeals in New York. Since 2009 she has been an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the first Puerto Rican and Latina to hold this position.