Felisa Rincón de Gautier
|Felisa Rincón de Gautier|
|Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico|
January 2, 1947 – January 2, 1969
|Preceded by||Roberto Sánchez Vilella|
|Succeeded by||Carlos Romero Barceló|
January 9, 1897|
Ceiba, Puerto Rico
|Died||September 16, 1994
San Juan, Puerto Rico
|Political party||Popular Democratic Party|
|Spouse(s)||Genaro A. Gautier|
Rincón de Gautier, was born in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The oldest of nine siblings, she was politically influenced by her father, attorney Enrique Rincón Plumey, nephew of an earlier Mayor of San Juan. Her mother, teacher Rita Marrero Rivera, died when she was only 11 years old. However, despite this, her father was determined to give her the best education possible. She went to school in Fajardo, Humacao and Santurce where she graduated from high school; after this she studied pharmacy and became a pharmacist.
Rincón de Gautier later moved to New York City where she learned the art of high fashion design. When she returned to Puerto Rico, she opened a store called Felisa's Style Shop and a flower shop in San Juan.
Women's rights activist
Rincón de Gautier was a firm believer in the women's right to vote and was an active participant in the suffragist movement, motivating many women to register. When the law allowing women to vote was passed, Rincón de Gautier was the 5th woman to officially register. In 1932, she joined the Liberal Party of Puerto Rico, which believed in Puerto Rico's independence, and was named representative by the party's president Antonio R. Barceló. Motivated by the political ideas of Luis Muñoz Marín, she left the Liberal Party and in 1938 helped organize the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico.
Marriage and family
In 1940, Rincón de Gautier married the San Juan lawyer Genaro A. Gautier, who served as the Assistant Attorney General of Puerto Rico and Secretary General of the Popular Democratic Party. They had a long marriage, but produced no offspring.
In 1946, she ran for and was elected mayor of San Juan - the first woman to have been elected mayor of a capital city in the Americas. Under her leadership, San Juan was transformed into a great Latin-American urban center. Rincón de Gautier designed innovative public services and established the first pre-school centers called "Las Escuelas Maternales", which would eventually become the model for the Head Start programs in the United States. She also renovated the public health system and was responsible for the establishment of the School of Medicine in San Juan.
Rincón worked together with Ricardo Alegría to restore and conserve the historical structures of Old San Juan and provided housing and basic services to thousands of people. In 1951, during the Cold War era, she ordered the establishment of the island's first Civil Defense system which was under the directorship of Colonel Gilberto José Marxuach, a relative of hers. She often opened City Hall to the public and listened to concerns of the residents of the city. In 1959, San Juan was awarded the All American City Award.
Rincón de Gautier started a Christmas tradition, which would be continued every year by the governors of Puerto Rico. On the Día de los Reyes (Three Kings Day), celebrated on January 6, she would bring gifts and treats to the poor and needy children. On 1952, 1953 and 1954, she even had plane loads of snow delivered to San Juan so that the children who had never seen or played in snow, would be able to do so.
Rincón was mayor of San Juan for 22 years, from 1946 to 1968. Upon retiring, she served as the American Goodwill Ambassador for four United States Presidents. She served in Latin America, Asia and Europe promoting friendship between those regions and the United States. When Felisa Rincón de Gautier died in San Juan, aged 97, on September 16, 1994, she was given the burial honors of a head of state. Dignitaries from all over the world attended her funeral service.
In both Puerto Rico and the United States, numerous public structures and avenues have been named in honor of Rincón de Gautier. There is a Felisa Rincón de Gautier Museum and a parking lot with the name of Doña Fela on Recinto Sur Street in Old San Juan. In New York City, both the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Institute for Law & Public Policy in the Bronx, and a public school (PS 376) in Brooklyn, New York are named in her honor.
Awards and recognitions
Among her many awards and condecorations were the following:
- "The Medal of Joan of Arc" from France
- The "Golden Medal of Honor"
- "The Don Quixote Medal" and the "Order of Queen Isabel the Catholic" from Spain
- The "Order of Simón Bolívar" from Venezuela
- "The Order of Merit" from Israel
- The "Golden Medal of Honor" from Ecuador
- She was named "Woman of the Americas" in 1954 by the Union of American Women of New York
- The "Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem" by Francis Spellman, Cardinal Archbishop of New York
- The "John Adams Medal" from the Federated Women's Club of America
- In 1961, Eleanor Roosevelt awarded her the "Madeline Borg Award from the Philanthropic Hebrew Federation of New York".
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- This name uses Spanish marriage naming customs; the first is the maiden family name "Rincón" and the second or matrimonial family name is "Gautier".