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 Puerto Rico Senate
from the at-large district
In office
Personal details
Born(1857-07-27)July 27, 1857
Bayamón, Captaincy General of Puerto Rico
DiedSeptember 21, 1921(1921-09-21) (aged 64)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Political partyPuerto Rican Republican Party
Spouse(s)Belén Sánchez y Jimenez
Alma materUniversity of Michigan MED

Dr. José Celso Barbosa Alcala (July 27, 1857 – September 21, 1921) was a Puerto Rican physician, sociologist and political leader. Known as the father of the statehood movement in Puerto Rico,[1] Barbosa was the first Puerto Rican, and one of the first persons of African descent to earn a medical degree in the United States.[2]

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 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 African 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 City to attend prep school, where he learned English in a year.[3]


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 applied but was denied admission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, due to his race.[4] He then applied and 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.[2] He returned to Puerto Rico, where he set up a practice in his hometown of Bayamón.[5]

The Spanish colonial government initially 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.[2]

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.[3]

Political career[edit]

During the Spanish colonial period, Barbosa was a member of the Partido Autonomista Puro (Pure Autonomous Party), also known as "Partido Histórico" and "Partido Ortodoxo", led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, but left because of ideological differences.[6]

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.[7]

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 Partido Republicano de Puerto Rico. He became known as the father of the statehood for Puerto Rico movement.[1]

Later years[edit]

Bust of Dr. Barbosa

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.[8] 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.[9]

During this period, in 1907 he founded the newspaper El Tiempo, the first bilingual newspaper published on the island.[9]

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.[9]

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. One of his daughters, 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.[10][9]

Legacy and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Doak, Robin (2009). Struggling to Become American. Infobase Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 9781438103976. Retrieved October 3, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Visit the Fascinating Museo Biblioteca Dr. Jose Barbosa. Archived December 10, 2020, at the Wayback Machine Puerto 2019. Accessed June 19, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Virgen de los Angeles Cedeño Torres. "José Celso Barbosa y Alcalá". La Red Biográfica de Puerto Rico. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  4. ^ oliverio75 (February 5, 2015). "Jose Celso Barbosa". American Latino History. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  5. ^ Rivera, Magaly. "Famous Puerto Ricans". Welcome to Puerto Rico!. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  6. ^ De los orígenes de los partidos políticos en Puerto Rico al Partido Republicano Puertorriqueño y don José Celso Barbosa II. Claridad. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Accessed May 31, 2019.
  7. ^ Iriarte, Luis M.; Quiñones, Denise. "El Museo del 98". 1898 La Guerra Hispano Americana en Puerto Rico. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  8. ^ "Chronology of Puerto Rico in the Spanish–American War". The World of 1898: The Spanish–American War. Library of Congress. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d González Vales, Luis E. "José Celso Barbosa "Un Hombre del Pueblo"" (PDF). Oficina de Servicios Legislativos (in Spanish). Historiador Oficial de Puerto Rico. p. 6. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  10. ^ Cirilo Toro Vargas. "Pilar Barbosa de Rosario". La Red Biográfica de Puerto Rico. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  11. ^ "José Celso Barbosa Day". Puerto Rico 51st. July 27, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  12. ^ Museo José Celso Barbosa, Travel and Sports Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Pub.L. 109–253 (text) (PDF)
  14. ^ Stieglitz, Brian (March 2, 2018). "Barnum Woods lends a hand to Puerto Rico". Long Island Herald. Retrieved June 14, 2018.

External links[edit]