USA Today’s list of influential women, Women of the Century, includes a number of women from Puerto Rico. The feature listed women from all 50 states, and from the U.S. territories. This is a celebration of the 100 year anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States.
Women in Puerto Rico did not get the right to vote until 1935, and they still cannot vote in presidential elections.
Representing Puerto Rico:
- Dr. Antonia Novello was the Surgeon General of the United States from 1990 to 1993. She was the first woman and the first Hispanic person to hold the office. She earned her M.D. at the University of Puerto Rico. As Surgeon General, she focused on underserved populations. She educated the American people on AIDS in women and children, the importance of vaccinations, the need for equal healthcare provisions for ethnic minorities, and the problems of underage smoking and drinking. Dr. Bovello continues to have a global influence on public health.
- Mónica Puig is a reigning Olympic tennis champion, the first person to win a gold medal for Puerto Rico.
- Sister Isolina Ferré was born into a wealthy family in Puerto Rico, but at the age of 21, gave up her worldly position to become a nun. She ended up in Brooklyn, where she worked with gang members to build truces and limit violence. She helped to establish community centers in Philadelphia, New York City, and across Puerto Rico, including Centro de Diagnóstico y Tratamiento de la Playa de Ponce. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton. She was also visited by Mother Teresa in Puerto Rico. The two reported that they shared a common goal.
- Julia de Burgos was an important poet from Puerto Rico. Often described as “a literary foremother of the Nuyorican movement,” De Burgos explored issues of social justice in her poetry. Schools in Puerto Rico, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago bear her name.
- Ivy Queen, born Martha Ivelisse Pesante Rodríguez, is a reggaeton singer, songwriter, and record producer known as “The Queen of Reggaeton.” As a pioneer of Reggaeton, she made a point of writing songs of empowerment for women. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, the first black and lesbian woman to preside over the Puerto Rico Bar Association
- Rita Moreno, born Rosa Dolores Alverío, has won an Oscar, two Emmies, a Tony, and a Grammy. This shows her extremely high level of talent and skill as a singer, dancer, and actress. She is also known as an activist, focusing on racial justice, arts and arts education, and health issues. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush and the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.
- Ana Irma Rivera Lassén was the first Black woman to head the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, which she did from 2012 to 2014. She is a feminist and a human rights activist, as well as a teacher at colleges and universities in Puerto Rico. She is also known for her writing, from academic works to poetry.
Puerto Rico has been a possession of the United States for more than 120 years, and the men and women of Puerto Rico have contributed significantly to the accomplishments and cultural richness of the United States.