Like many female pioneers of the past, Latino or otherwise, not enough is known about the Puerto Rican educator and women’s rights leader Ana Roqué de Duprey. Still, what little is known about her is impressive enough to be revered.
Born in Aguadilla in 1853, young Ana possessed the powerful combination of having both an extraordinary intelligence and a steadfast aptitude for learning. Having completed her primary education at the age of nine, she went on to become the youngest teacher’s assistant in Puerto Rico at the age of 11 and founded her own school just two years later. Roqué developed a geography program at her school and wrote a textbook that was adopted by the island’s education department.
In 1872 she married local landowner Luis Enrique Duprey, with whom she would have five children. Of the three who reached adulthood, one was named after his father and the other two were named Borinquen and América. Her husband’s wealth and connections brought Roqué into the realm of Puerto Rican politics, especially after the family moved to the colonial capital in 1878. Only 25, her reputation as an intellectual and reformer already preceded her.
A known polymath, Roqué’s home in San Juan became a popular meeting place among the city’s intelligentsia who came to hear her lead discussions on astronomy, botany and music. Some accounts have Manuel Fernández Juncos, the author of La Borinqueña, and the poet and writer Alejandro Tapia y Rivera climbing onto Roqué’s roof to hear her speak before packed rooms. For her commitment to the greater understanding of astronomy, she was made an honorary member of the Paris Society of Astronomers.
Whether her husband died or the couple simply separated, financial concerns forced Roqué to accept a teaching position in Arecibo in 1884. Now 31, and ever industrious, she began studying toward a bachelor’s degree, which she earned a year later. In 1894 she founded La Mujer, Puerto Rico’s first women-only magazine, the first of many revolutionary publications she would launch, including La Evolución, the Álbum Puertorriqueño, the Heraldo de la Mujer and the trailblazing La Mujer del Siglo XX.
A year after the United States invaded Puerto Rico in 1898, Roqué was appointed the director of San Juan’s teachers’ college and later began teaching English in Mayagüez, where she founded a college. In 1903 she became one of the principal founders of the University of Puerto Rico, which incorporated Roqué’s Mayagüez college as one of its campuses.
Despite all of this — her pioneering work as an education reformer and intellectual, the countless magazines she founded, the fiction and nonfiction books she published, the essays and articles — Ana Roqué is probably best remembered today as the leading figure in Puerto Rico’s women’s suffrage movement. She founded the Feminine League of Puerto Rico in 1917 along with Ángela Negrón Muñoz and Carlota Matienzo Román, two other early Puerto Rican feminists and educators. The League was the first group in Puerto Rico whose sole purpose was the advancement of women’s rights. In 1921 the group, now as the Suffragist Social League, began focusing on securing women the right to vote.
Women who passed literacy tests were given the right to vote in 1929 but, ironically enough, this did not suit the famous educator, who continued pressuring the Puerto Rican legislature to recognize the voting rights of all women. The franchise was finally extended to all women in 1935, but unfortunately Roqué didn’t live to see one of her lifelong goals realized. She had died two years before at the age of 80.
Remembering Ana Roqué — and that her dream of equal education and voting rights in Puerto Rico remains unfulfilled — is how we celebrate our heritage.