José Celso Barbosa

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José Celso Barbosa
Jose Celso Barbosa.jpg
Dr. José Celso Barbosa
Member of the Executive Cabinet
In office
Member of the Senate of Puerto Rico
In office
Personal details
Born (1857-07-27)July 27, 1857
Bayamón, Puerto Rico
Died September 21, 1921(1921-09-21) (aged 64)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Nationality Puerto Rican
Political party Puerto Rican Republican Party
Spouse(s) Belén Sánchez
Children Twelve (12)
Alma mater University of Michigan MED
Profession Medical physician, sociologist, and political leader in Puerto Rico

Dr. José Celso Barbosa (July 27, 1857 – September 21, 1921) was a Puerto Rican physician, sociologist and political leader. Known as the father of the Statehood for Puerto Rico movement,[1] he was the first Puerto Rican to earn a medical degree in the United States and was among the first of African Americans to do so.

After his return to the island in 1880, Barbosa made many contributions to medicine and public health. He initiated an early form of health insurance, encouraging employers to pay a fee to cover future needs of their employees. In 1900 Barbosa was among the first five Puerto Rican leaders appointed to the Executive Cabinet under Governor Charles H. Allen, in the first civilian government organized by the United States. He served in the Cabinet until 1917. From 1917–1921, Barbosa served in the first elected Puerto Rican Senate.

Early years[edit]

Barbosa (birth name: José Celso Barbosa Alcala [note 1]) was born in 1857 in the city of Bayamón, Puerto Rico to parents of African and European ancestry. He received both his primary and secondary education in Puerto Rico. He was the first person of multi-racial ancestry to attend Puerto Rico's prestigious Jesuit Seminary. After graduating from the seminary, Barbosa tutored private students to save money to attend college. In 1875, he moved to New York to attend prep school, where he learned English in a year.[2]


Museo José Celso Barbosa, the doctor's birthplace and childhood home

Originally Barbosa wished to become a lawyer, but after he suffered a bout of pneumonia in New York City, his doctor recommended that he study medicine. In 1877, he was admitted to the medical school of the University of Michigan, where he graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1880. Barbosa was the first person from Puerto Rico to earn a medical degree in the United States. He returned to Puerto Rico, where he set up his practice in his hometown of Bayamón.[3]

At first the Spanish colonial government did not recognize Barbosa's medical degree, as it was not from a known European university. The American consul to the island intervened on behalf of Barbosa to have his United States degree recognized, so that he could practice.

Barbosa provided medical care all over the island. He introduced the novel idea of employers paying a fee for the future healthcare needs of their employees (a very early health insurance system). In 1893, Barbosa founded the first Puerto Rican cooperative and named it El Ahorro Colectivo.[2]

Political career[edit]

During the Spanish colonial period, Barbosa was a member of the Autonomous Party led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, but left because of ideological differences.

In 1898, when the United States bombarded and blockaded San Juan during the Spanish–American War, Barbosa and other doctors who lived in Bayamón, traveled to the town of Cataño and took a ferry to the capital. Barbosa, as a member of the Red Cross, went to the aid of the wounded Puerto Rican and Spanish soldiers. He and his party on the ferry had to travel across San Juan Bay at risk, as they were under cannon fire. Barbosa and those with him were recommended by the Spanish government for the Cruz de la Orden del Mérito Naval (The Cross of the Order of Naval Merit) for their bravery.[4]

As a result of the war, the United States made Puerto Rico one of its territories. On July 4, 1899, Barbosa formed the pro-statehood Puerto Rican Republican Party. He became known as the father of the statehood for Puerto Rico movement.[1]

Later years[edit]

On June 5, 1900, President William McKinley named Barbosa, together with Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, José de Diego, Manuel Camuñas and Andrés Crosas, as part of an Executive Cabinet under U.S.-appointed Governor Charles H. Allen, the first civilian governor of the island. The Executive Cabinet also included six American members.[5] Barbosa served on the Executive Cabinet until 1917, dealing with a variety of governors appointed by the US during that period, and providing continuity in administration.

During this period, in 1907 he founded the newspaper El Tiempo, the first bilingual newspaper published on the island.

With representative elections authorized in 1917, Barbosa ran for an at-large seat. He was elected, serving as a member of the first Puerto Rican Senate, from 1917 to 1921.

 Bust of Dr. Barbosa

José Celso Barbosa died in San Juan on September 21, 1921. He was buried in Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in Old San Juan. His daughter Pilar Barbosa became a historian, serving as the Official Historian of Puerto Rico from 1993 to 1997. She was also a political activist who carried on her father's work.[6][self-published source?]

Legacy and honors[edit]


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Doak, Robin (2009). Struggling to Become American. Infobase Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 9781438103976. Retrieved 3 October 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Virgen de los Angeles Cedeño Torres. "José Celso Barbosa y Alcalá". La Red Biográfica de Puerto Rico. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  3. ^ Rivera, Magaly. "Famous Puerto Ricans". Welcome to Puerto Rico!. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  4. ^ Iriarte, Luis M.; Quiñones, Denise. "El Museo del 98". 1898 La Guerra Hispano Americana en Puerto Rico. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  5. ^ "Chronology of Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War". The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Cirilo Toro Vargas. "Pilar Barbosa de Rosario". La Red Biográfica de Puerto Rico. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Museo José Celso Barbosa, Travel and Sports Archived September 27, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Pub.L. 109–253