Luisa Capetillo

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Luisa Capetillo circa 1919 wearing men's clothes

Luisa Capetillo (October 28, 1879 – April 10, 1922) was one of Puerto Rico's most famous labor leaders. She was a labor movement organizer and a writer who pushed for equal rights for women's rights, free love and human emancipation.


A Nation of Women (1911)[edit]

  • No me explico por qué el hombre crée tener siempre derechos sobre la mujer
    • I don't understand why men always think they have rights over women
  • Estudiemos y preparemos nuestra generación para las luchas futuras, que se avecinan.
    • Let us study and prepare our generation for the future struggles, which lie ahead.
  • Si la mujer estuviera convenientemente ilustrada, educada y emancipada de formulismos rutinarios, la politica de los pueblos seria distinta
    • If women were appropriately enlightened, educated and emancipated from routine formulism, the political life of most nations would be different
  • No hay duda que la primera y mejor escuela es el hogar. La mejor y superior maestra para el niño, es, la madre instruida.
    • No doubt, the first and best school is the home. The best and most superior teacher for the child is an educated mother
  • Useful hands are preferable to ones that are merely beautiful
  • I refuse to accept the assertion of any historian who erroneously believes that women have no right to use their freedom without being considered corrupt or immoral, while men have been able to do whatever they want and indulge the most absurd and ridiculous whims, without being judged, repudiated or prevented from going where they choose, with no concern about not being paid attention to, respected or sought after. We are going to put an end to those unequal laws-where the few have a lot and the many have a little-in order to finally secure peace for the just and achieve the truth and justice that our sex deserves.
  • Although we are all brothers, some die of hunger and of foodstuffs, clothing and shoes. And with so many naked and bare-while what is useful and necessary rots at the depots and warehouses
  • My great worry is the problem of poverty…Instead of prisons, I would have schools, art and vocational academies, free trade, free love, the abolition of marriage and the substitution of private property for public property.
  • Why call George Sand a wild woman in the publicity for her books? I protest the use of such an inaccurate epithet for such a cultivated and intelligent woman
  • Education is the mother of freedom; science is her eldest daughter; and her sisters, tolerance and discretion, with rights and responsibilities.
  • In the middle of great abundance, and without having studied the social question, I believed that everybody had the right to be clean and clothed, to wear shoes, and I didn’t understand why it wasn’t so. I thought everyone knew how to read and write and I was astonished when I saw the opposite
  • She’s a woman, not only when she’s powdered and wearing lace and ribbons, just like a man doesn’t stop being a man when he learns to cook, mend, sweep and sew.
  • Women, by force of will and energy, are quite capable of doing certain jobs that they previously had been denied. This theory is constantly disputed by those who claim women's inferiority due to sexual difference, which, it is said, seems to be an immutable law of nature. But there is nothing more false than to attempt in this way to uphold the permanent superiority of men.
  • As a general rule, women nowadays dedicate all their energy, all their attention to their appearance; they are not concerned with anything except wearing the latest fashion; they squander all their intelligence in trying to become more beautiful, and not even in any practical way, by some beneficial and hygienic method, like practicing gymnastics, exercising in the fresh air, or swimming every morning. But no, it must be done with ribbons and lace, by cutting their breath short from the excessive use of tight-fitting corsets. And this translates to a waste of time, health, and money.
  • a true beauty, real and lasting, [is] achieved by a healthy diet, without eating meat or drinking alcoholic beverages, by practicing gymnastics and taking walks in the open air, not a fictitious beauty such as that of adornment, without which, she is no longer herself.
  • Could there exist true happiness in a marriage when the man is the only one who can regularly exercise his free will and satisfy his desires, without caring whether or not his wife agrees? Accustomed to the passive obedience of women, he does not bother to find out whether or not she is satisfied with his conduct. And if she is not, he does not attempt to please her, nor to adapt his conduct to a new way of life. How can the holy priestess of the hearth preserve the sacred fire of love in the home when she has to officiate alone? Where is the principal object of her devotion? Look for him outside the home at those times when he should be at the side of his companion. Will a solid foundation for domestic happiness be established by this behavior? No. Men have the right to do or undo, without his companion. He goes to a masked ball or not, to the casino, to gamble, or chases other women.... and meanwhile, poor woman! A sad scenario for domestic bliss! She is subjected to a sad solitude for days and nights on end, orphaned of love, of sweet attentions and joys while the above-mentioned companion gambles, dances... or falls in love.
  • For women it is generally admitted that her sexual life is null or subordinate to that of the companion-legal or otherwise-that she has chosen. She should live and feel for him; be passionate if he is, and maintain herself neutral if he is cold. Until now a man has considered sensual desire as something that pertains to him, not recognizing in women a moral and physical self organized like him.
  • The only thing we want to put forth is that women must acquire greater freedom and rights. The current system, with all its errors, is sustained by the ignorance and slavery of women.
  • They call themselves patriots and fathers of the homeland. What idea of the homeland can they have? One that is egotistical, which begins and ends with them. They are everything.
  • Harmony within a marriage greatly influences the education of children, our future citizens. How many times have a mother’s tears, cried in moments of pain and contradiction, powerfully influenced her children!
  • Women must become enlightened or educated, because being enlightened encompasses all the fields of human science: Physiology, Geology, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Engineering, Agriculture, Geometry, History, Music, and Painting...Education is a beautiful and necessary thing.
  • If a woman is not instructed and educated will she be able to educate, counsel, and guide her children suitably? No. And this is an important matter that should interest women, the home being the first and most necessary of schools. Whatever the child sees the mother do or say is what the child will observe and learn.
  • Education means cultivating patience, tolerance, a sweet disposition, harmony, abnegation, and temperateness. Anyone who cultivates these virtues is truly educated.
  • There are many women who think that being a mother means contradicting a child, and later they beat them, and order them about for the sake of giving orders, to see herself obeyed, ordering the child not to run, not to jump, not to yell, in sum, a whole bunch of ignorant things, the truth is, to prohibit a child from doing all this is to prohibit them from being healthy. They act like this with girls precisely because they are girls, as if a girl's organism did not have to develop, so that they can grow up beautiful and strong, and not scrawny and pale, nor become mothers full of pains and ailments. They think that being a mother authorizes them to mistreat and order the children at whim, and oblige them to do things against their will, that is an error.
  • How many girls pay for the tantrums, jealousies or vexations of their mothers, who act without any justifying motive, only because they need to blow off steam and they can’t do it in front of their husbands.
  • There is nothing more harmful to the success of an endeavor than timidity and doubt. This type of cowardice that I believe only the lazy possess. I do not believe anything to be impossible; nor am I amazed by any invention or discovery, which is why I do not find any idea utopian. What is essential is that the idea be put into practice. Begin! The rest is weakness and an erroneous concept of human power. Wanting is doing!

Quotes about Luisa Capetillo[edit]

  • One of the most outstanding women leaders in this movement was Luisa Capetillo...She wrote on education and the importance of women working outside the home, on the benefits of a Communist society free from oppression and religion, on love, and on the future of society. In all her writings she insisted on her affiliation with socialism, on her support for women's liberation, and particularly her defense of "free love." She never married, and had three children in open relationships. Capetillo traveled to New York, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Florida, and published the feminist magazine La Mujer. She was arrested in Cuba for wearing slacks. In Puerto Rico she is remembered in a popular song that says: "Doña Luisa Capetillo, intentionally or not, has created a tremendous uproar because of her culottes."
    • Yamila Azize-Vargas, "The Emergence of Feminism in Puerto Rico, 1870-1930"
  • We identified as revolutionary nationalists' committed to ending exploitation and colonialism. We were inspired by the herstories of women activists in Puerto Rico. We learned about Lola Rodríguez de Tió and Mariana Bracetti, early fighters for the abolition of slavery and the island's independence from Spain; Luisa Capetillo and Juana Colón, working class organizers and women's rights advocates; and Lolita Lebrón and Blanca Canales, Nationalist Party militants imprisoned for their actions to free Puerto Rico. We studied the lives of African American women such as Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women's rights activist, and Harriet Tubman, who freed slaves through the Underground Railroad. Our sisters in the Black Panther Party were diversifying the image of the revolutionary, and we joined the protests to demand the release of Angela Davis from a California prison, and of Afeni Shakur and Joan Bird in New York. The long line of women activists, from contemporary social justice movements, became our role models and mentors.
    • Iris Morales Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords 1969-1976 (2016)

Luisa Capetillo, Pioneer Puerto Rican Feminist, Norma Valle-Ferrer[edit]

Translated from Spanish to English by Gloria Waldman-Schwartz and graduate students

  • Her progressive ideas and her lifestyle inspires amazement, then respect and admiration, because of the enormous personal sacrifices she made in order to live a different life and fight for her vision of a new world.
  • I believe that it is essential, especially for women active in the feminist movement in our country, as well as for those who are affirming their cultural identity, to know about the struggle of Puerto Rican female workers at the beginning of the twentieth century. Luisa Capetillo is a symbol and model to emulate because she was not satisfied with merely having principles and believing in them. She actually lived those principles with an indomitable rectitude, in spite of her contradictions.
  • Luisa Capetillo, Historia de una mujer proscrita belongs to the contemporary cultural phenomenon of women's biographies. Only now are we becoming familiar with María de las Mercedes Barbudo, who struggled for Puerto Rican independence during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and was jailed in El Morro, the infamous military garrison in old San Juan; with Ana Roqué (often referred to as Ana Roqué de Duprey), pioneer journalist and novelist; Carmela Eulate Sanjurjo, travel writer, translator and poet; Librada Rodríguez, labor and political leader; Julia de Burgos, the poet of love and nationhood; and Ruby Black, the United States feminist and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's friend and confidante, who made a successful career writing as a correspondent for La Democracia, a Puerto Rican daily newspaper.
  • She revolutionized the role of women in Puerto Rican society and became a paradigm for the new woman.
  • When I initiated my research, motivated by the desire to learn more about the history of Puerto Rican women, I found that everyone who knew Luisa Capetillo when she was alive, or knew about her, remembered her as the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear pants in public. At first I thought these recollections were based on an implied societal intention not to recognize this revolutionary for her important role, but rather to brand her an eccentric, remembered only by what could be considered superficial actions. I was saddened by the fact that even respected intellectuals didn't value her feminist, labor and anarchist work in its true perspective. What I found out was that Luisa Capetillo did not wear pants in public as a whim or to attract attention. She did not preach free love because she was immoral or libertine. She did not become the first feminist in Puerto Rico, both in theory and in action, because she was disappointed in love. The theories developed by Capetillo and her actions in daily life came from the legitimate theoretical political formation that ruled her life, Luisa Capetillo must be situated in her historical moment. The fact that she was a vegetarian and a true believer in Swedish calisthenics and in yoga, as ways to keep the body in optimum health, has to be discussed. To fully understand this woman, it is not enough to know her intellectual and public accomplishments; how she lived also has to be known.
  • Along with theories about "spontaneous revolution" and the organization of campesinos and industrial workers into unions and libertarian federations, the anarchists also transmitted a set of ideas about everyday life that included free love and free education, which would result in men and women "free" from conventional ties. The books by Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta (who lived in Latin America for many years), significantly shaped the education of Puerto Rican workers and deeply inspired them. The educational theories of the Catalonian Francisco Ferrer and the French writers Sebastian Fauré and Madeleine Vernet (whom Luisa Capetillo called Magdalena Vernet), became the ideal of Puerto Rican workers.
  • The defense of a woman's right to education was the motivating and uniting issue which would eventually culminate in a more liberal complete and progressive education for Puerto Rican women. Tempered by their struggle, women emerged who would lead the feminist movement in the early twentieth century. These women were the liberals Ana Roqué, María Luisa de Angelis, Isabel Andreu de Aguilar, and the workers Luisa Capetillo, Franca de Armiño and Concha Torres. A better and more complete education for women of all social strata remained the unifying cause within the feminist movement throughout the years.
  • During her lifetime, Luisa Capetillo was often compared to George Sand.
  • Where Luisa Capetillo truly acquired her vast culture was through the independent reading that she did during her lifetime, beginning in childhood. She read the works of the French writers, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, the Russian Romantics, Leo Tolstoy and Turgenev, and the French astronomer, spiritualist and freethinker Camille Flammarion, whose research on astronomy and psychical studies she avidly read. Her own work reflects the ease with which she handled the theories and texts of influential authors such as the French doctor Paul Vigne, of Hugo and Tolstoy, the writings of anarchist educator Madeleine Vernet, and the philosophical-political essays of Peter Kropotkin and John Stuart Mill.
  • The play that Luisa Capetillo wrote in 1909, Influencias de las ideas modernas (The Influence of Modern Ideas), published in San Juan in 1916, was inspired by Tolstoy's philosophy and included a main character who resembled him.
  • José María Vargas Vila, Colombian journalist and novelist, whose radical political ideas resonated with the workers, was also a favorite of Capetillo and her audience.
  • Journalist Santiago Carreras described the historic moment and Capetillo's passion as he recalled, "Luisa Capetillo at the head of the march, along with other leaders, haranguing the workers...her great mission was to read aloud to them, which she did, atop benches of the plaza." Her role in the Arecibo strike determined the direction of her life. There Luisa Capetillo became a union leader, from that moment on dedicating herself, with equal success, to organizing workers and to spreading anarcho-syndical ideas through her writings in pamphlets and newspaper articles, in talks, rallies, lectures and private gatherings.
  • In spite of the fact that Capetillo's work is eminently internationalist in content, it is bound to an essential Puerto Ricanness. Whether it be in personal allusions or references to particular social problems, her love for Puerto Rico's needy children and her devotion to its workers are ever present.
  • In 1908 Capetillo participated in the Fifth Workers' Congress of the Federación Libre de Trabajadores, where she defended female suffrage with zeal, not only for women who knew how to read and write, but for all women, without exception. In this Congress, she showed herself to be a true suffragist, with more advanced ideas than those of the other women, who later, in their own professional and civic groups, would support the vote only for women who could read and write. Her fellow workers in the labor movement on the Island considered her the "First true suffragist in the country."
  • She was not interested in writing for the few, but rather for the greatest number of Puerto Rican workers. ..Her beliefs in universal fraternity and the eradication of national barriers and borders inspired her to visit other countries, allowing her to share her ideals far beyond the limits of Puerto Rico.
  • Her ideas about love and sexuality have been proven over time to be profound and visionary.
  • Julio Aybar, editor of the newspaper Unión Obrera, said that her theories did not intimidate him. "We are not threatened by anything that Capetillo says in her book because they have always been our own opinions. Luisa breaks with today's hypocrisy and faces the issues with courage, fearless about what she writes, since it seems to us that she practices what she preaches."
  • With the publication of Mi opinión, Luisa Capetillo became the first Puerto Rican woman to organize her feminist ideas and publish them as a theoretical document.
  • Capetillo could easily be a protagonist in the re-emergent feminist struggle of the 1970s, although she lived at least a hundred years earlier.
  • While Luisa Capetillo theorized about women and anarchism in Puerto Rico, her contemporaries did the same in many other countries, among them Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Spain and the United States. Juana Belén Gutiérrez (1875-1942) in México, Maria Collazo (n.d.) in Uruguay, Juana Rouco Buela (1889-1969) in Argentina, Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1914) in the United States, and Teresa Clamunt (1862-1981) in Spain, preached the emancipation of women and free love and fought for workers' rights while living lives consonant with their ideals.
  • "La mujer," one of the articles that she published in 1912 in Cultura obrera, was later included in the anthology, Voces de liberación (Voices of Liberation), published in 1921 by Lux Editorial from Argentina. Printed for the purpose of gathering the libertarian voices of the most progressive women in the world, the book contains short essays by Rosa Luxembourg, Clara Zetkin, Emma Goldman, Louise Michel, and various Latin American women including Margarita Ortega, a Mexican revolutionary, María López from Buenos Aires, and Rosalina Gutiérrez from Montevideo. The editorial note introducing the authors states, "These voices of liberation are a call to women by their own compañeras to think more and act together with men in the struggle for human emancipation."
  • About Capetillo, Jaime Vidal wrote, "For me, the author of this book is one of the most independent and free women of the Hispanic-American race, and when discussing free love she is imbued with the fiery and poetic expression of Latin writers and the ease of Anglo-Saxon thinkers. She enriches her theories and criticism with an abundance of arguments that convince even the most skeptical in the matter of free love."
  • Like the majority of the anarchists of her time, Capetillo was deeply impressed by the victory of the revolutionary forces in Russia in 1917.
  • She participated in rallies in support of the candidacy of Santiago Iglesias Pantín, whom she admired and considered her comrade.
  • Luisa Capetillo lived intensely and actively from the moment she became part of the labor struggle to the moment of her hospitalization and death. She fought for proletarian causes, education for the masses, and the emancipation of women. Her life was not easy or pleasant. She had no comforts or luxuries. She inspired hostility in many people who rejected her revolutionary ideas. However, it is also true that until her last moments, she was accompanied and comforted by the workers, her compañeras and compañeros, to whom she offered her life. In her confessional book, Influencias, she bemoans the envy and rancor that those who fight for truth and justice suffer. Yet this Puerto Rican anarchist clearly never regretted her life's direction, aptly describing herself as "a stoic of life..."
  • Although in Puerto Rico there was discussion of the liberal ideas of Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, and later, of Eugenio María de Hostos, it was Luisa Capetillo who established a new precedent by living according to her revolutionary ideals. By daring to live her own way, she was severely punished by the society she was forced to exist in. Among her peers, her lifestyle was resented by even the most progressive workers. Nevertheless, Capetillo was inspired by and steeped in her parents' readings and their adherence to the Romantic Movement. Embracing the anarchist principles that excited many Romantic European minds, she was able to live a different life with great bravery.
  • Her ideal was to achieve a communist society where all human beings would be equal, with every worker equally valued and none being more privileged than others. She envisioned a community devoid of exploiters profiting from the labor of the workers, the major producers in society.

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