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Gautier, Felisa Rincón de (1897–1994)

Gautier, Felisa Rincón de (1897–1994)

Political leader who was mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for over 20 years (1946–69). Born Felisa Rincón in Ceiba in Puerto Rico on January 9, 1897; died in San Juan on September 16, 1994; eldest daughter and one of eight children of Enrique Rincón Plumey and Rita Marrero Rivera de Rincón; married Jenaro A. Gautier (a lawyer), in 1940; no children.

The eldest of eight children, Felisa Rincón de Gautier was born in Puerto Rico in 1897 and left high school to care for her sisters and brothers after her mother died when Felisa was 11. As a young woman, she spent several months in New York working as a seamstress in a fashionable Fifth Avenue shop then returned to San Juan to open her own dress salon. She proved to be a savvy businesswoman and within a short time had several stores including a flower shop. Her political career began in 1932, the year Puerto Rican women won enfranchisement, when she assumed leadership of San Juan's Liberal Party. In 1938, she became a member of the Popular Democratic Party founded by Muñoz Marin and as such worked to organize poor and disadvantaged voters. She served as president of the party's San Juan committee from 1940 and became mayor of the city in 1946, upon the resignation of Roberto Sanches Vilella, who left to take another government post. She was reelected to office unanimously each consecutive term until 1968, when she declined to run. "My opponents campaign just before elections and then they disappear," she once said. "I start campaigning the day after the election and never stop."

As mayor, Gautier was closely aligned with "Operation Bootstrap," a program introduced by Muñoz Marin in 1946 to industrialize Puerto Rico and raise the standard of living. Building on Marin's initiative, Gautier cleaned up the existing slums, built new schools and housing projects, and set up a network of neighborhood medical dispensaries linked to the city's hospitals. By far her most popular innovation was her Wednesday open house at city hall, when hundreds of the island's underprivileged visited her to solicit help and personal attention. As a goodwill ambassador, Gautier toured Latin America and made frequent trips to the United States. Approaching her job at the level of human relations rather than politics, she delighted the local children by having planeloads of snow flown in for Christmas parties.

Felisa was married in 1940 to Jenaro A. Gautier, a lawyer who also served as assistant attorney general of Puerto Rico. Politics was something of a family affair to Gautier, who awarded a large number of city jobs to members of her family, a practice that rankled her detractors. "I wish I had 20 more nieces," she told critics. "They work better—for less."

Gautier also served as a member of the U.S. Democratic National Committee and, in 1992, was the oldest delegate to the Democratic National Convention, held that year in New York City. Felisa Rincón de Gautier died in San Juan on September 16, 1994, at the age of 97.

sources:

Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography 1956. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

The [New London] Day (obituary). September 19, 1994.

Graham, Judith, ed. Current Biography 1994. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1994.

collections:

Felisa Rincón de Gautier Museum, organized by the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Foundation, Box 6607, Loiza Station, Santurce, Puerto Rico 00914-6697.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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