Luisa Capetillo: A Woman With ‘Pantalones En Su Sitio’ #LatinaHistoryMonth

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For this piece on #LatinaHistoryMonth, we remember one of the greatest activists of all time, Luisa Capetillo (1879-1922). A leader in the political and labor struggles of the working class at the beginning of the twentieth century, Luisa Capetillo condemned the exploitation of workers by political parties, religious institutions, and capitalism. She was also a crusader for the rights of women.

Capetillo embroidered shirts and handkerchiefs in order to help support her family, but she soon used her education to find a position as a lectora (reader) in one of Arecibo’s tobacco factories. Addressing the workers from a raised platform, Capetillo began the day with news from local and international papers. She then moved on to socialist and anarchist philosophy, including the writings of the Colombian journalist José María Vargas Vila. After lunch, she read installments of novels chosen by the workers. Thus, Capetillo developed her skills as a public speaker and forged connections with leaders of the city’s burgeoning labor movement.

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History remembers her as the first woman to wear pants in public, which could be considered symbolic of the personal freedom she expressed in her actions and writings. Radical, generous, and iconoclastic, Capetillo is remembered as an outspoken advocate for women’s freedom and workers’ rights in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean and Latin America. In the course of her work, she was arrested, clubbed by the police, and beaten by strikebreakers, but she felt intense sympathy for the farm workers. As she wrote in her 1912 essay “Visions,” even before she joined the labor movement she:

“believed that everybody had the right to be clean and clothed, to wear shoes” (Valle-Ferrer, p. 75).

Her publications include:

  • Ensayos Literarios (1907)
  • La Humanidad en el futuro (1910)
  • Influencias de las Ideas Modernas (1916)
  • Mi Opinión sobre los Derechos, Responsabilidades y Deberes de la Mujer (primera edición 1911; segunda edición, 1913)

We salute you, Luisa Capetillo, in celebration of #WomenHistoryMonth.

To learn more about Luisa Capetillo, in English, visit: American National Biography Online

For Spanish links, visit:

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