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Rincon deGautier, Mayor of San Juan, receives medal from Mayor Wagner, New York City, n.d.

Rincon deGautier, Mayor of San Juan, receives medal from Mayor Wagner

Rincon deGautier, Mayor of San Juan, receives medal from Mayor Wagner

New York City Municipal Archives, NYCMA_RFW_426-1332_26
Document Description
New York City Mayor Robert Wagner, Jr., honors Felisa Rincón de Gautier, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In the photo, how can you tell that something important is taking place?
In the photo, what is the attitude of both mayors toward each other?
Why do you think they wanted to meet?
Why was Felisa Rincón de Gautier considered a pioneer?
How did she improve the lives of her people?
Why is she remembered in Puerto Rico with great affection?
How did Mayor Wagner fight against discrimination?
How did he change the “face” of New York City?
Compare the careers of both mayors. Name two ways that their careers were similar.
Historical Challenges
Imagine that you are a tourist in Puerto Rico and:
  1. find out what there is to see in Old San Juan.
  2. decide which colonial building — fortress or church — you would like to visit first.
  3. find out where the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Museum is located.
  4. create a travel brochure for the island and include these sites.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Music: Decide what music you would have played at a celebration honoring these two mayors.
English Language Arts: Write a newspaper article reporting on this event. Remember to include who, what, when, where, and why in your first paragraph.
Judith Graham, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1994. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1994.
Ruth Gruber. Felisa Rincón de Gautier. New York: Crowell, 1972.
Michael Quinn Lofaro, et al. “Obituary.” In Time Magazine, October 3, 1994.
Mireya Navarro. “Three candidates wage tough campaign in drive to become San Juan's second female mayor.” In New York Times, September 29, 1996.
Eric Pace. “Felisa Rincón de Gautier, 97, Mayor of San Juan.” In New York Times, September 19, 1994.
Julia Vitullo-Martin. Breaking Away: The Future of Cities: Essays in Memory of Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Twentieth Century Fund Books, 1996.

Historical Context
In the 1930s, large numbers of Puerto Ricans began to arrive in New York City as part of "la gran migracion" (the Great Migration), which grew in intensity during the 1940s and the 1950s.  By the time Robert Wagner, Jr. first became mayor (serving between 1954 and 1965), New York had a larger Puerto Rican population than San Juan, the island’s capital.  Thus, it was only natural that the mayors of both cities would meet, especially since both were popular reformist politicians.

The first woman to be elected mayor of a capital city in the Americas, Felisa Rincón de Gautier had a remarkable career as San Juan’s alcadesa (female mayor) for twenty-two years. A seamstress who became a successful businesswoman, she was a pioneering women’s rights advocate, co-founder of the Partido Popular Democratico (Democratic Popular Party), a defender of the poor, and a model civil servant.

Beloved by her people, Dona Felisa helped to transform San Juan by clearing slums and restoring the beautiful colonial architecture of the old city.  She helped raise the island’s standard of living by working with Governor Luis Munoz Marin, the legendary "Father of Modern Puerto Rico." Under Dona Felisa’s administration (1946–1968), many important projects were accomplished — establishment of schools, public housing, and daycare centers, as well as legal aid and medical care programs. However, she is also remembered for a planeload of snow she imported to amuse the poor children of San Juan during Christmas.

Admired as a defender of democracy and social justice, she attained international recognition, receiving many awards and honors and serving as goodwill ambassador for Puerto Rico and the United States throughout the Americas.

New York’s counterpart to Dona Felisa, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. was a significant public figure who initiated many important reforms dealing with urban problems.  He helped reshape the physical appearance of the city, created the City University of New York system, and enacted measures to fight poverty and discrimination.

A good summary of Wagner’s accomplishments is provided by Joseph Mercurio:

"During Wagner’s twelve years as mayor, several large-scale projects were initiated or completed, including the construction of the Van Wyck Expressway, the Verrazano-Narrows and Throgs Neck Bridges, Shea Stadium, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. During Wagner’s tenure, the city also hosted the 1964–65 World’s Fair. Wagner is credited with making gains in slum clearance and the creation of the largest municipal public housing program in the nation. He reduced corruption in city government and expanded the police force. Wagner appointed talented professionals to serve in his administration, greatly increased the number of minorities in civil service, and he authorized city workers to establish unions with real powers. He approved local legislation forbidding racial discrimination in housing in 1957, and Wagner installed the first black Democratic Party leader, J. Raymond Jones, in 1964."


Essential Question
How do political leaders influence society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the significance of this document in encouraging civic participation by new immigrants.