Celebrate This Cool Jefa: Luisa Capetillo The Boricua Activist Arrested For Wearing Pants
Born on October 28, 1879, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Luisa Capetillo is best known for her contributions to the labor and anarchist movements in Puerto Rico at the time. She’s also famously remembered as the first Puerto Rican woman to ever have worn pants in public.
However, her commitment to break the glass ceiling and break traditional societal norms imposed on women extended beyond her fashion choices. Capetillo was a diligent organizer and passionate activist who advocated for women’s rights. She was an all-around badass.
In a children’s e-book on Rejected Princesses, you can learn more about Luisa Capetillo’s life, one learns about her beginnings and when she first started to become an activist.
In 1951, Luisa Capetillo became the first Puerto Rican woman to ever wear pants in public in 1951.
Due to this, it’s been said that she was stopped and arrested for “causing a scandal.” News outlets back then reported that Capetillo defended herself ardently against the claims that she was causing a scandal for wearing pants.
She has been quoted as saying, “Your Honor, I always wear pants,” and then slightly lifted her dress to show a pair of loose white pants. “And on the night in question, instead of wearing them underneath, I wore them just like men do, based on my perfect civil right to do so, on the outside.” Tell em, Capetillo.
Luisa Capetillo was homeschooled by her parents.
Her mother, Luisa Margarita Perone, was a French immigrant who worked in domestic work and her father, Luis Capetillo Echevarría, who was from Spain, worked in labor. Her parents never married but they formed a partnership strong enough to raise a young fiery and passionate woman.
Capetillo’s parents were also drawn together by their similar “beliefs in democratic ideals expressed in the attempted European revolutions of 1848.” They devoted their time to homeschooling her through a liberal education that was infused with ideological influences of both the French Revolution and the workers’ rights movement in Northern Spain.
Her homeschool education heavily influenced the work she would be later known for.
After a romance that didn’t end well, and that resulted in two children, she began working as a reader at a tobacco company after the Spanish-American war in Puerto Rico. Readers were needed at companies because, at the time, most of the workforce was illiterature and poorly-educated. As a result, unions hired readers to read newspapers and books out loud during work hours.
The tobacco factory was also where Capetillo first came into contact with labor unions. What she learned through unions, she used to educate many women across Puerto Rico.
Her work at the tobacco company also inspired her to write opinion essays and in her writing, she criticized the labor conditions tobacco workers were exposed to.
In an essay titled, “Mi opinión,” Capetillo writes: “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! And for the benefit of the future generations place the first stone for the building of social equality in a serene but firm way, with all the right that belongs to you, without looking down, since you are no longer the ancient material or intellectual slave.”
Further, working at the tobacco company led her to organize strikes. It also led her to become an anarchist and inspired material for the four books that she would write.
Luisa Capetillo was a feminist way ahead of her time and advocated heavily for women’s rights.
Especially when it had to do with female agency. For 1910, she definitely way ahead of the curve.
The social labor organizer became well known for her advocacy for equal rights for women, free love, and human emancipation. She developed a lot of her ideals of anarchism and romanticism from being an avid reader as a child. She read a lot of French literature from writers including Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. She also read a lot of Russian Romantics like Leo Tolstoy.
She died of tuberculosis in 1922 but her legacy and impact as one of Puerto Rico’s first women suffragists live on.
In 1912, she traveled to New York City where she organized workers in the tobacco factories there. From 1916-1918, she was involved in an intense period of strikes and she would constantly travel from New York City and Puerto Rico.
She even traveled to Cuba to work with the Federation of Anarchists of Cuba. A couple of years after she contracted tuberculosis and died at 42.