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Luisa Capetillo (1879 - 1922)

Updated: Jan 17

Luisa Capetillo was one of Puerto Rico's most famous labour leaders. She was a writer, activist and labor organizer who fought for workers' rights, women's rights, free love, and human emancipation. She was born on October 28, 1879 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and died on April 10, 1922 in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the age of 42.

Capetillo was raised and home schooled by her parents who were both very liberal in regard to their philosophical and political ideologies. In 1898, Capetillo had the first of her two children out of wedlock. She found a job as a reader in a cigar-making factory in Arecibo. After the Spanish–American War, the American Tobacco Company, which had gained control of most of the island's tobacco fields, would hire people to read novels and current events to the workers. It was in the tobacco factory that Capetillo had her first contact with labor unions.

In 1904, Capetillo began to write essays about her ideas which were published in radical and union newspapers. She wrote about and criticized the labor conditions that tobacco workers were exposed to and advocated fo

r women’s rights. “Oh you woman! who is capable and willing to spread the seed of justice; do not hesitate, do not fret, do not run away, go forward!” she wrote in her essay “Mi opinión.”

Luisa Capetillo dressed as a man

By 1905, Capetillo was a leader of the American Federation of Labor and traveled throughout Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, New York City, Florida, and Cuba. She’s famously remembered for being one of the first women to use men’s clothes publicly in the island. Capetillo died of tuberculosis in 1922.

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