Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Felisa Rincón de Gautier, 1897-1994

By Susan Goodier, SUNY Oneonta

Felisa Rincón de Gautier, born January 9, 1897 in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, was the daughter of Enrique Rincón Plumey, a lawyer, and a teacher, Rita Marrero Rivera. Her mother died by the time Felisa, the eldest of their children, was twelve. Felisa continued her schooling until the age of fifteen when her father, despite his remarriage, asked her to stay home to care for her siblings.

After Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1917, Rincón paid more attention to the news of the mainland. She admired the courage of the radical U.S. suffragists who had picketed the White House. Soon after, she met Doña Ana Roqué, one of the leading women's rights activists on the island. Challenging her father, she convinced him to allow her to register to vote when the law allowing women to vote passed in 1932. At the prodding of the head of the Liberal Party that day, she became an official party representative and helped other women to register to vote, even teaching some of them how to write the letters of their name so they could register. Politics increasingly absorbed Rincón's time and energy. A social activist and an advocate for marginalized groups, she lobbied for childcare and elder care programs, as well as for legal aid for poor people.

Rincón became one of the founding members of the Popular Democratic Party, traveling the island to promote the power of voting. She married Jenaro Gautier, a lawyer and aide to Luis Muñoz Marín, leader of the party in 1940 and eventual governor of Puerto Rico. She moved up in the party, accepting committee appointments and committing herself to political work without pay.

The party appointed Felisa Rincón de Gautier to serve out the term of mayor of San Juan in 1946; Puerto Rican voters elected her in 1948. She became the first female mayor of a major capital city in the Western Hemisphere. She held Wednesday open-house public forums at the city hall and paid attention to women's and family needs, including housing, hospitals, schools, and sanitation, making her very popular. She gained the signatures of forty thousand women during the ultimately successful effort to make Puerto Rico a commonwealth of the United States, leading a delegation to Washington, DC in 1952. Rincón de Gautier held the office of mayor until 1969; her interest in politics stayed with her for the rest of her life.

Although she had once briefly joined an organization that promoted independence for Puerto Rico, Rincón de Gautier also sought to improve relations between Puerto Rico and the United States. Doña Felisa served as a good will ambassador in Central and South American countries under four American presidents. At the age of 95, Rincón de Gautier served as the oldest delegate to the Democratic National Convention, held in New York City during the summer of 1992.

Felisa Rincón de Gautier died in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 16, 1994.

Sources:

Ruth Gruber, Felisa Rincon de Gautier: The Mayor of San Juan (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1972); Kate Clarke Lemay, Votes for Women! A Portrait of Persistence (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution and Princeton University Press, 2019), 223-27; Mariola Espinosa, "Rincón de Gautier, Felisa," In Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century, edited by Susan Ware and Stacy Lorraine Braukman, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2004, 545-46; Katherine Hutt, "Former San Juan Mayor Felisa Rincon de Gautier Dead at 97," AP News, September 17, 1994; Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, "Rincón de Gautier, Felisa," in Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Vicki Ruiz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, (Gale Virtual Reference Library; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 624-25; Luis R. Negrón Hernández "Felisa Rincón de Gautier: Official Biography." Translated by Ann Shevlin. https://www.preb.com/biog/felisare.htm; "The 1992 Campaign: 2 Delegates are Hurt and One Loses Purse," New York Times, July 17, 1992; Eric Pace, "Felisa Rincon De Gautier, 97, Mayor of San Juan," New York Times, September 19, 1994 (obituary); https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/felisa-rincon-de-gautier-dona-fela; http://www.museofelisarincon.com/english.htm; and https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/directory/felisa-rincon-de-gautier/.

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