Women in San Juan: 1820-1868

Women in san juan 1When the threat of political revolution lurked behind the shadows of the Spanish colonial state in Puerto Rico, one of the earliest casualties of anti-independence persecution in San Juan was a woman — Maria de las Mercedes Barbudo, who was exiled in 1824. However, as the 19th century advanced, economic and urban changes weakened patriarchal structures and provided spaces of autonomy for sanjuaneras.

Women in San Juan locates the historical roots of women’s contributions to urban modernization, showing how women reacted to and shaped the effort to transform San Juan into a modern, progressive city. Elite and professional women fought to limit the impact of economic changes on their lives from within the city, while poor women and women of color created survival strategies in their newly formed extramural barrios once they had been relocated as part of the state’s modernizing agenda. Beneficence afforded elite women opportunities to support their class-based privilege and leisure while serving as a control mechanism to police poor women. The author moves beyond the standard focus on rural and agricultural issues to explore issues of Puerto Rican urban social history.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez is President of Hostos Community College  in New York City. He was chair of the Puerto Rican and Caribbean Studies Department at Hunter College, CUNY.