María Luisa Arcelay

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María Luisa Arcelay
Born December 23, 1898
Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
Died October 17, 1981 (aged 83)
Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
Nationality Puerto Rican
Occupation educator, businesswoman and politician
One of the halls of Puerto Rico's Capital Building, "Maria Luisa Arecelay", named in her honor.

María Luisa Arcelay (December 23, 1898 – October 17, 1981), was an educator, businesswoman and politician.

In November 1932, she became the first woman in Puerto Rico to be elected to a government legislative body,[1] when she was elected to represent the district of Mayagüez in the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico.

Early years[edit]

Arcelay was one of five siblings born to Ricardo Arcelay and Isabel de la Rosa in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. There she received her primary and secondary education before moving to the then town of Rio Piedras, where she earned her teachers certificate.[2][3]


Arcelay began her career as an educator when she was hired as an English language teacher at Theodore Roosevelt High School. Later she taught at the Jose de Diego High School, both schools located in the city of Mayagüez. During her spare time she worked as a bookkeeper for various commercial firms in the area.[2][3]

Businesswoman and politician[edit]

By 1920, Arcelay abandoned her career as an educator and together with Lorenza Carrero founded a needlework workshop which evolved into a needlework factory.[3] Her company employed many local women, who had no other means to sustain themselves economically. She was also an activist who defended the island's needlework industry in many public hearings. These hearings were held in Puerto Rico, and in New York City and Washington, D.C..[2][3]

Arcelay was member of the Partido Coalicionista de Puerto Rico (The Puerto Rican Coalition Party). In the November 1932 elections, she was elected to represent the district of Mayagüez in the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico. This made Arcelay thereby the first Puerto Rican woman, and the first woman in all of Latin America, to be elected to a government legislative body.[2][4]

Arcelay used her position as president of the Agriculture and Commerce Commission, to continue her defense of the needlework industry before local and federal authorities. She also played an instrumental role in making the industry (both its prices, and it products) compatible with the United States market, by opposing any minimum wage legislation for seamstresses and common workers.[4]

In August 1932 the needleworkers went on strike, to request higher salaries for their work. Police, who were called to protect employer properties, killed and wounded some strikers who stoned the workshop of Arcelay.[5] Puerto Rican musician Mon Rivera wrote a song titled Alo, Quien Llama? (Hello, Who's Calling?), sometimes also referred to as Que Será. which describes the seamstress' strike and mentions Arcelay in the song.[6]

In 1934, Arcelay presented a bill before the Puerto Rican legislature which established the Lottery of Puerto Rico. She was re-elected in 1936, during which time she introduced the bills to establish an orphanage for children, and a Juvenile court. She also presented bills to establish a teachers' pension and a School of Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.[3]

Arcelay was named president of the Prices and Rationing Board #49 of Mayagüez, and was the director of the Victory bonds program in Puerto Rico during World War II.[2] During the decades of the 40s and 50s, under her leadership, Puerto Rico's needlework industry grew to become the island's second-largest industry...second only to agriculture.


Arcelay participated in civic-oriented organizations such as the Women's Civic and Cultural Club of Mayagüez, and was the founder of the Altrusa Club of that same city. She served in the government until 1940 and, in 1965, retired from her business career.[2]

She died on October 17, 1981, in her hometown Mayagüez and is buried in Mayagüez's Old Municipal Cemetery,.[2] The city named a school in her honor.[7] There is a portrait of Maria Luisa Arcelay at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. It is located in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Harvard University.[8]

On August 22, 2005, the Chamber of Representatives of Puerto Rico, by the act la C. 2631, named a portion of Puerto Rico's Capital Building as the Maria Luisa Arecelay hall, in her honor.[3]

Further reading[edit]

  • Arcelay, Carmen L. (January 2004). Alo, Quien Llama?, Maria Luisa Arcelay: Pionera de La Legislatura Olvidada En El Tiempo. S.N. ISBN 0-9755107-7-0. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mayaguez Plans Welcome". The New York Times. July 6, 1934. p. 5. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Arcelay, Carmen L. (January 2004). Alo, Quien Llama?, Maria Luisa Arcelay: Pionera de La Legislatura Olvidada En El Tiempo. S.N. ISBN 0-9755107-7-0. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Camara de Representantes de Puerto Rico
  4. ^ a b "Latino thought"; By: Francisco Hernández Vázquez, Rodolfo D. Torres; page 182; ISBN 978-0-8476-9941-4
  5. ^ "Home to work: motherhood and the politics of industrial homework in the ..."; By Eileen Boris; page 233; Publisher: Cambridge University Press; ISBN 978-0-521-45548-0
  6. ^ Mon Rivera
  7. ^ Maria Luisa Arcelay School
  8. ^ Harvard University Library