Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer

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Isabel "la Negra" Luberza Oppenheimer
Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer ("Isabel la Negra") del Barrio Maragüez, en Ponce, Puerto Rico (DSC05441C).jpg
Isabel "la Negra" Luberza Oppenheimer, ca. 1950
Born Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer
(1901-07-23)23 July 1901[1]
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Died 4 January 1974(1974-01-04) (aged 72)[1]
Barrio Maragüez, Ponce, Puerto Rico
Cause of death Shooting
Resting place Cementerio Civil de Ponce
18°00′49″N 66°37′57″W / 18.01352°N 66.63243°W / 18.01352; -66.63243
Occupation Brothel owner
Years active Mid 1930s - 1960s
Employer Self-employed
Organization Elizabeth's Dancing Club
Home town Ponce, Puerto Rico
Net worth $500,000 USD[2]
Height 64" (5'4")[1]
Weight 140 lb (64 kg)[1]
Children Manuel Morales (adopted)[2]

Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer[note 1] (23 July 1901[1] – 4 January 1974), better known as "Isabel la Negra", was a Puerto Rican brothel owner and madam in barrio Maragüez, Ponce, Puerto Rico.[3][4] Her name and her brothel, Elizabeth's Dancing Club, became part of Puerto Rican folklore both during her life and posthumously.

Early years and youth[edit]

Street sign on Calle Isabel la Negra in Barrio San Antón

Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer was born in the San Anton neighborhood of Ponce, Puerto Rico,[5] on 23 July 1901.

Apart from her business as a madam, well documented in many Puerto Rican newspapers such as El Dia and El Vocero, not much is known about her life. One widely circulated version is that Isabel left home as a young teenager to live with a wealthy man, only to find out that he was married.[6] She then dated, and married, a much older man, a wealthy American.[7]

Business and career[edit]

From the late 1930s to the mid-1960s, she owned and operated her bordello in the municipality of Ponce. At that time prostitution was tolerated. Her bordello was allegedly visited by politicians, businessmen, clergy members, etc. but this remains conjecture.[6]

Dubbed by the public Isabel la Negra, she declared herself "Madame" of her brothel. Isabel had two brothels: one in Barrio San Anton and another one in Barrio Maraguez.[6] While her brothel businesses made her quite wealthy, the Catholic Church did not accept her donations because of her past and the nature of her profession.[6]


Tomb of Isabel La Negra in the Cementerio Civil de Ponce, adjacent to Cementerio Católico San Vicente de Paul

Isabel la Negra was shot dead on 4 January 1974, an innocent bystander of a drug-related homicide.[clarification needed] which occurred in one of her establishments. She was 72 years old. She was buried at Cementerio Civil de Ponce.[6]

Literary and media representations[edit]

Several of Puerto Rico's most important contemporary authors and filmmakers have been inspired by Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer's life and made works based on her experiences. In 1975, Rosario Ferré and Manuel Ramos Otero published two stories about Isabel la Negra in the literary journal Zona de carga y descarga. These stories were later reprinted in short-story collections by each author.[8][9][10]

In 1979,[11] a film about her life was released, starring Míriam Colón as Isabel, with José Ferrer, Raúl Juliá, Miguel Ángel Suárez, and Henry Darrow. The movie was titled Life of Sin, and was directed by Efraín López Neris.[12]

In 2006, Mayra Santos-Febres published a novel based on the life of Isabel la Negra titled Nuestra Señora de la Noche. The novel was published by Espasa-Calpe in Madrid, Spain (ISBN 84-670-2136-5).[13]


There is a street in Ponce, crossed by Papo Franceschi street, and named to the memory of Isabel La Negra at Barrio San Antón, the community where Isabel la Negra was born and raised.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Luberza and the second or maternal family name is Oppenheimer.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Funeraria Jackie Oliver. Museum. Avenida Las Americas, Ponce, Puerto Rico. 15 February 2012.
  2. ^ a b Se resolvio el Caso de 'Isabel la Negra'!,, 25 August 2006. (Commentary on Libres de pagar a Hacienda grupo herederos de "Isabel La Negra" by Mayra Santos Febres, El Nuevo Día. San Juan, Puerto Rico; retrieved 28 July 2012.
  3. ^ López Rojas, Luis Alfredo. La mafia en Puerto Rico. San Juan, P.R.: Editorial Isla Negra, 2004, page 20, note 7; ISBN 1-932271-32-5
  4. ^ Ramos Rosado, María Esther. La mujer negra en la literatura puertorriqueña. San Juan, P.R.: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1999. ISBN 0-8477-0366-5
  5. ^ José Ángel Cangiano. Receso del tribunal: vivencias judiciales. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Editoria Centenario. 2007, pg. 3.
  6. ^ a b c d e Frances R. Aparicio. Listening to salsa: gender, Latin popular music, and Puerto Rican cultures Wesleyan University (1998), pp. 3, 45, 52, 54.
  7. ^ Se Resolvio el Caso de "Isabel la Negra"! 25 August 2006. Maria Elena Salinas. Univision.
  8. ^ Ferré, Rosario. "Cuando las mujeres quieren a los hombres." In Papeles de Pandora, pp. 23-38. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz, 1976; ISBN 968-27-0106-6
  9. ^ Ramos Otero, Manuel. "La última plena que bailó Luberza", El cuento de la Mujer del Mar, pp. 47-68. Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, 1979.
  10. ^ Cuentos de buena tinta, pp. 195-209. San Juan, P.R.: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1992; ISBN 0-86581-454-6
  11. ^ Life of Sin movie at IMDb. Retrieved 14 September 2012.
  12. ^ A Life of Sin (movie),; retrieved 14 September 2012.
  13. ^ Nuestra Señora de la Noche, Nuestra Señora de la Noche. Madrid: Espasa, Pozuelo de Alarcón. 2006; ISBN 84-670-2093-8
  14. ^ Isabel la Negra street, Travel Ponce, 10 August 2009; retrieved 14 September 2012.