Felisa Rincón de Gautier (1897-1994)
Art by Amanda (tumblr)
Felisa Rincón de Gautier was the first woman elected mayor of a capital city in the Americas. The oldest of nine children, Felisa worked as a pharmacist, clothing retailer, and florist before entering politics. Felisa was a proponent of women’s suffrage and when the Puerto Rican voter rolls opened to literate women in 1929, she was the fifth woman to register. In 1940, she married Puerto Rican politician Genaro Gautier.
Felisa was appointed mayor of San Juan in 1949. She repeatedly won reelection, serving as mayor until her retirement in 1969. Felisa worked to restore Old San Juan, established aid centers for the poor, improved sanitation, and created a Civil Defense system during the Cold War. Healthcare and child welfare were particular focuses of her administration. Felisa renovated hospitals and created clinics in low resource areas. She created Las Escuelas Maternales, preschool centers that served as a model for the US the Head Start program. In 1952, 1953, and 1954, Felisa had planeloads of snow brought to San Juan so that children could see snow for the first time.
After her retirement, Felisa served as a Goodwill Ambassador from the US to Latin America. In 1992, Felisa served as the oldest delegate at the Democratic Convention nominating Bill Clinton for President.
Felisa’s home in San Juan is now a museum. In New York City, where Felisa briefly lived, both an elementary school and a high school are named in her honor.