The censuses, newspaper and magazine articles, official documents, and photographs in this module all shed light on the changing roles of women workers in Puerto Rican society in the period after the United States took control of the island. Taken together, since they are presented in roughly chronological order, they can be used to reflect upon the ways in which gender influenced the relationship between these workers and the global economic system over 60 years of Puerto Rican history.

First, it’s important to highlight the proximity of Puerto Rico to the United States. Understanding this geographical closeness will enable students not only to visualize Mrs. Roosevelt’s trip but also to understand why Mrs. Roosevelt’s article is entitled “Our Island Possession.” Mrs. Roosevelt’s narrative highlights the islanders’ customs, the climate, and the role of women in the working environment. In addition, the article sheds lights on Mrs. Roosevelt’s concern for her fellow humans.

The two census documents included in the packet (1920-1940 and 1940) provide a profile of the island’s employed population. They show the differences between men’s and women’s employment opportunities, and women's employment over time. Particular emphasis should be made to the decade of the 1930s, the impact of the Great Depression in the world economy, and the increased industrialization and U.S. control that it enabled in Puerto Rico.

The article from a union newspaper gives an understanding of topics and issues published in the period. It is important to note the language associated with the socialist movement that the workers adopted. This discussion could fit into a more general discussion of the labor and socialist movement around the world and in the United States.

The official documents included in this packet serve to document the active role of women in the labor movement. The telegram from the Strike Committee and the letter from the Chief of Police to the Governor record the attitude of the police towards workers’ strikes. These documents also demonstrate that while industrialization was taking place in Puerto Rico, some women were subject to discrimination. Excerpts taken from minutes of a Governor meeting with his cabinet provide an excellent example of how the issue of sterilization could determine the course of a political campaign.

Discussion questions:

  • How did the new economic order affect women and in what ways did they manage to integrate into it?
  • What kind of jobs were women working from the 1930 to the 1950s?
  • As important members of the working class, what were the challenges that women confronted during the period of industrialization?
  • How did the labor movement give “voice” to the working class women?