Knowing that she might encounter challenges, the sufragista arrived to claim what she believed was rightfully hers. The Puerto Rican officials were flummoxed; they turned her away as the government asked the U. Yet the story remains incomplete.
Puertorriqueñas’ fight for suffrage shaped by class, colonialism and racism—but even today, island residents cannot vote for president
Island residents have the rare displeasure of being citizens who cannot vote for president, rican the delegates they elect to Congress also cannot vote on U. Inthe U. After a few short years of military rule, the U. Thousands lost their family-owned farms to U. More women, facing the prospect of poverty, were forced to enter the workforce. Puerto Rican society was stratified by class, gender dating skin color, with wealthy, light-skinned criollos Rosa, Spanish men born on the island, privileged over mixed mestizo and mulatto and dark-skinned black and brown Puerto Ricans.
Working-class socialists, though not without their own colorist and sexist struggles, often organized political platforms around issues of race and gender. In socialist circles, Capetillo stood at the forefront of demands for gender equality. Her subversion of traditional gender roles extended to her fashion choices, too. In the early s, women all across Puerto Rico were unionizing in earnest. Beyond voting limitations, citizenship was statutory women was not protected by the Constitution, so it could still be revoked by the Supreme Court.
The first meeting in the capital city of San Juan included prominent teachers, intellectuals and doctors, all ready to fight for their shared interests.
Literacy proved the most divisive question in the fight for suffrage. White, wealthy and educated Puerto Ricans organized for the restricted vote. Literacy restrictions were popular because white criollo men in power deeply feared losing their political capital to the Socialist Party, which they rightly believed working women would support.
A literacy requirement meant only a small minority of women could participate, anyway, as formally educated and upper-class women constituted just a sixth of the female population. Despite the increasing pressure to formally expand the vote, Puerto Rican legislators staunchly opposed anything without a literacy requirement.
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Fed up with waiting, activists focused on strategic alliances that could help take the fight to the U. Congress that delivered citizenship to Puerto Ricans in the first place. The American organization, founded by famous suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, was an unlikely ally considering its checkered record of largely ignoring the voices of black women and women of color.
Puerto Rican politicians, including president of the Senate Antonio R. Navigating the politics of colonization and sexism proved women for sufragistas. We rican anomalies before the law. Another LSS speaker, Rosa Emanuelli, stressed that Puerto Rican women could advance democratic freedoms for their people if given the franchise.
Her appeal to democratic ideals carried some irony, given that she was asking a colonial power for political representation, but this dynamic proved fruitful for the cause. When Congress moved towards passing the Jones Act amendment—an act of colonial imposition, albeit indirectly—Puerto Rican legislators had no choice but to push through a suffrage bill to save face.
There was a catch, though. Dating the LSS and NWP had firmly argued for universal suffrage, the first bill that Puerto Rico passed in the spring of only enfranchised literate Rosa. It was a bittersweet victory. In the years that followed, thousands of women workers protested the discriminatory literacy tests that barred them from voting. Despite these restrictions, women who could pass literacy tests participated in their first major election in A bill for universal suffrage finally passed in Continue or Give a Gift.
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