top of page

Luisa Capetillo - the trouser adorn activist

circa 1919

One of the most prominent labor activists of Puerto Rico was Luisa Capetillo (October 28, 1879- October 10, 1922). She was a social labour activist and a writer who campaigned for civil justice, free love and human liberation for women's rights.

Capetillo was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, to a Basque-born Spanish father, Luis Capetillo Echevarría, and to a Corsican immigrant, Luisa Margarita Perone.

Capetillo had the first of her two kids out of wedlock in 1898. She got a job at a cigar making factory in Arecibo as a reader. The American Tobacco Company, which had taken ownership of most of the tobacco fields of the island, would employ individuals to read novels and present activities to the staff during the Spanish-American War. Capetillo had her first contact with trade unions in the tobacco factory.

In 1909, her first novel, Ensayos Libertarios (Liberation Essays), was published by Capetillo, which envisaged a modern democratic system established by unions and cooperatives of workers. Two years later, she wrote a novel that became a seminal feminist treatise, Mi Opinión Sobre las Libertades, Derechos y Deberes de la Mujer (My View on Women's Liberty, Privileges and Duties).

Capetillo paid a price for her radicalism, amid encouragement from many. She was convicted in Cuba for this alleged crime as one of the first women to wear trousers in public and went to trial in 1915. Furthermore in 1916, Captellio was beaten by police and strikebreakers and even deported from the Dominican Republic by U.S. authorities for her association with workers and feminist groups.

“Do not buy finery or jewels, because books are worth more than they are. Adorn your understanding with their precious ideas, because there is no luxury that dazzles like the luxury of science.”― Luisa Capetillo

Capetillo has continued to campaign for universal suffrage and democratic rights and to insist on the freedom of women to dress openly and express themselves as they wish. A vegetarian, she opened one of New York's first vegetarian restaurants in 1919. Capetillo's political philosophy of democracy, education, and justice remains thoroughly present and progressive today, unfettered by the social mores of her day.

Luisa died on October 10, 1922, from tubercolosis, in Río Piedras.She has been a rolemodel to many, challenging the societies sterotypes in a time where change was not acceptable. Wee should look back at her story and pay the respect that she deserved.

21 views0 comments
bottom of page