DOÑA FELISA RINCON DE GAUTIER
Felisa Rincón de Gautier, known as Doña Felisa in her native Puerto Rico, was the first woman Mayor of a major capital city in the Western Hemisphere, serving for 22 years as Mayor of San Juan, from 1946 – 1968. She was a pioneer in the movement for women’s political rights, in establishing children’s pre- school educational day-care programs, and in establishing the first public legal and medical aid centers for the indigent. A leader and role model for Hispanic Americans, Doña Felisa also served as U.S. Ambassador of Goodwill under four American Presidents. She is one of the most prominent Puerto Rican personalities in the twentieth century and undoubtedly one of the most distinguished women in Puerto Rican history.
Through the force of her imagination, initiative and perseverance, Doña Felisa became one of the first women to vote in Puerto Rico, to assume a leadership position in a political party in the 1930`s and to be appointed to a major public office in the 1940`s. She broke the traditional barrier of predetermined sex roles when she was appointed Mayor of San Juan in 1946, a position she held with overwhelming popular support until January 1969. She was a model public servant and has paved the way for hundreds of women to enter the political process. She has worked tirelessly to promote electoral participation among Hispanics living in the United States mainland, actively campaigning in U.S. Presidential, Congressional and Municipal races since 1936.
Doña Felisa was born in the town of Ceiba; Puerto Rico on January 9, 1897.She is the daughter of Enrique Rincon, a lawyer, and Rita Marrero, a school teacher. She was the eldest of nine brothers and sisters and at the age of 12 her mother died, leaving her with the responsibility of caring for her younger brothers and sisters.
As mayor of San Juan, Doña Felisa`s first priority was the well being of people, especially the disadvantaged and the poor. Under her Administration outstanding projects and pioneering programs were accomplished. Doña Felisa organized the first pre-school child care centers in the Hemisphere-the ¨Escuelas Maternales¨- which more than a decade later were used as a model for the U.S. Operation Head-Start program of the 1960`s. She renovated the entire municipal hospital center in San Juan. She initiated diagnostic health clinics in the slums in different areas and at San Juan’s Municipal Hospital, improving out-patient services. The San Juan Municipal Association became the first on the island to be fully accredited by the School of Medicine in 1950. Doña Felisa also established the first municipal centers to care for the elderly and the first legal-aid center to serve persons of limited resources. In the 1959, Doña Felisa`s exemplary leadership in early conservation techniques secured for San Juan the ¨All American City Award¨.
The success of the ¨Alcaldesa¨, the Lady Mayor of San Juan, is not limited to Puerto Rico or the United States alone. Doña Felisa was asked by four American Presidents to serve as an official and unofficial Ambassador of <Goodwill to countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe. Her work in Latin America is perhaps one of her greatest legacies, for few Americans have done as much as Doña Felisa to promote understanding and friendship among the peoples of Latin American and the United States. She has been an apostle of American democracy and social justice throughout the hemisphere for more than half a century.
Doña Felisa devotion to her country and promotion of values of integrity, democracy, and dedication form part of her life until she died in 1994 at the age of 97 years.