Milagros Benet de Mewton

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Milagros Benet de Mewton
Milagros Benet Colón.png
Born
Milagros Benet Colón

(1868-11-22)22 November 1868
Died26 December 1948(1948-12-26) (aged 80)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
NationalityU.S.
Other namesMilagros Benet de Newton
Occupationteacher and suffragist
Years active1901–1940
RelativesJosé Benet Colón (brother)

Milagros Benet de Mewton (22 November 1868 – 26 December 1948) was a Puerto Rican educator, women's rights advocate and suffragist. From an intellectual, liberal family, Benet trained as a teacher. After the United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain, inhabitants of the island gained U. S. citizenship. Benet was active in the struggle for women's enfranchisement and joined the first suffragist organization Liga Femínea Puertorriqueña in 1917. When U.S. women gained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, Benet led the push to extend its coverage to Puerto Rico. In 1924, she filed a lawsuit challenging the right of the electoral board to refuse to register women as they were U.S. citizens. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled that states and territories have the right to determine who can vote and denied her claim.

Benet continued pressing through the Liga Social Sufragista for the filing of various bills, which continued to be rejected by the insular legislature. In 1928, she pushed for the U.S. Congress to resolve the discrepancies in voting rights for women in Puerto Rico. Faced with the possibility that the federal legislature might give women the right to vote, the Puerto Rican legislature finally passed a law in 1929 granting suffrage to literate women. Benet is remembered for her work in education and for expanding women's rights in Puerto Rico.

Early life[edit]

Milagros Benet Colón was born on 22 November 1868[1][Notes 1] in Cayey in the Captaincy General of Puerto Rico of the Spanish Empire to Ulpiana Colón Collazo and Felix L. Benet Rivera.[2][12] Her family was influential; both her father, who served as Secretary of the Provincial Council, and her brother José, who served in the House of Representatives, were politicians.[17][18] Upon her father's death in 1898,[19] Benet, her mother, and her younger sister Cruz, went to live with her oldest sister Ulpiana de Gordils in the barrio Santurce in San Juan.[5] It was also in 1898 that the United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain at the conclusion of the Spanish–American War.[20]

In 1901, both Benet and her younger sister Cruz earned their teaching certificates.[21] Her sister became a nun[14] but Benet went on to teach in the schools in Ponce, Puerto Rico.[22] In 1911, she married Herbert Edwin Mewton (1873–1927)[23][24][25][Notes 2] who was from England.[23]

Activism[edit]

In 1917, Puerto Ricans gained U.S. citizenship and universal male suffrage.[28] That year, the Puerto Rican Feminist League (Spanish: Liga Femínea Puertorriqueña) was founded by Ana Roqué.[29][30] The League was active in trying to gain the right for women to vote. In 1919, when their local senator, Antonio Rafael Barceló, refused to discuss the matter, Benet, Isabel Andreu de Aguilar and María L. de Ashford traveled to Washington, D.C. to plead their case.[31] Upon passage of the 19th Amendment, the Bureau of Insular Affairs clarified to Governor Arthur Yager, that its passage or ratification would not grant suffrage in Puerto Rico, because of the island's unincorporated status.[32][33] In 1921, the Feminist League changed its name to the Suffragist Social League (Spanish: La Liga Social Sufragista), broadening its narrow focus on women's suffrage to demands for full civic and political participation for women.[34] Benet served as the inaugural president of La Liga.[35] That year, and subsequently in 1923, they submitted bills for women's enfranchisement to the insular legislature.[36]

Benet in 1922

In 1922, Benet, along with one of the first women lawyers in Puerto Rico, Ana Teresa Paradas, attended the Pan-American Conference of Women,[37] which led to the formation of a permanent Pan-American Women's Association.[38] While there, she spoke on working conditions for women in her country.[39] In 1923, Benet became president of the Puerto Rican branch of the Pan-American Women's Association.[40][41] Both she and Mariana Morales Bernard, a leader in the women's labor movement, filed court cases to assess the applicability of the 19th Amendment to Puerto Rico,[42] as had been suggested by José Tous Soto, after the 1923 bill had been rejected in the Senate.[36] Benet also sued the electoral registration board for refusing to allow her to register.[40][43] Her case argued that as a U.S. citizen, she should be allowed to vote in accordance with the U.S. Constitution,[44] because territorial law was not allowed to contravene U.S. law. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled that the electoral law was not discriminatory because Puerto Ricans were not allowed to vote for federal electors,[45] and that the territory, like U.S. states, retained the right to define who was eligible to vote.[46] Though both cases were unsuccessful,[40] they caused a rift in La Liga along political and social lines.[29][42]

Fearing that an alliance with working class women would promote the spread of Socialism, under the leadership of the president Rosario Belber the conservative faction of La Liga resigned from the organization.[29][35] These women formed a new organization, the Asociación Puertorriqueña de Mujeres Sufragistas (Puerto Rican Association of Women's Suffrage), to work on suffrage exclusively for literate women. The liberal faction, many of whom were members of the Partido Republicano Puro, were led by Benet.[42] New elections for La Liga were held among the remaining members who supported developing universal suffrage and maintaining the links of republicans and socialists. Marta Robert, a vice president of the Territorial Central Committee and a Republican, was elected president while Olivia Paoli de Braschi, a member of the Socialist Party, was elected vice president. Among the other members who remained, besides Benet, were María Luisa Arcelay, Ángela Caldas de Miró, Carmen Gómez de Grosas, Ricarda López de Ramos Casellas, and Irene Fluxia de Thordsen.[47]

Despite the coalition with socialists, Benet was cautious about the association. When delivering questionnaires for the Pan-American Women's Association to gather statistical information on Puerto Rican women, she was careful to drop off the forms and leave the Free Federation of Labor offices quickly so as not to attract the attention of those who might see her as an advocate of socialism. She also refused to meet with suffragists in 1928 in La Perla, preferring a more "suitable location" elsewhere in San Juan.[48] In 1927, after a lobbying campaign by La Liga on a bill submitted to the insular legislature passed the Senate, but failed in the House,[32][49] Benet pressed for suffrage in Puerto Rico to be reviewed by the U.S. Congress in 1928. She was surprised to find that some U.S. women were opposed to the federal congress granting Puerto Rican women the vote.[50] The bills did not make it out of the U.S. Senate committee and never reached a vote in the U.S. House.[51] Though La Liga continued to press for universal suffrage, they acknowledged that they would support giving the franchise to literate women alone, as a stepping stone for full voting rights.[52]

When it became apparent that the U.S. Congress was prepared to grant women's suffrage,[49] the insular legislature approved a bill for literate women to vote on 16 April 1929.[53] La Liga was the only suffragist organization that protested the measure and vowed to continue the fight until universal suffrage was granted;[54] however, few further actions were taken by members of La Liga until it disbanded in the 1940s.[55][Notes 3] Benet resigned her presidency in the Pan American Women's Association in 1933,[41] but continued activism on behalf of women and education. The following year, she was one of the intellectuals invited to assist in organizing the Puerto Rican Academy of History.[56] In 1938, she served as a delegate of the Unión de Maestros de San Juan (San Juan Teachers Union) to an American Federation of Labor conference for teachers held in Cedar Point, Ohio.[24] The following year, she attended the Pan American Conference in New York City and was an honored guest of the Alliance of Pan American Round Tables conference in San Antonio, Texas.[57]

Death and legacy[edit]

Benet died on 26 December 1948 in the Hospital Pavia, San Juan, Puerto Rico.[2] In her lifetime, she was honored by many women's groups from North and South America.[57] She is remembered today for her activism in the fight for women's suffrage in Puerto Rico[58] and an analysis of her life points to the impact she had upon gaining the right to vote. While working women like Luisa Capetillo, Juana Colón, and Genara Pagán de Arce fought for political rights, their struggle was focused around workers rights. They had little impact on the legal discussion of citizenship and as their organizational efforts focused on unionization and socialism, they were ineffective in organizing for broader appeal.[40][59] When Benet, a member of the elite, filed her suit against the electoral board, she had the support of the liberal intellectual community, as well as a network of influential men who saw voting as an extension of democracy.[59] The voting rights case she filed is still cited as a precedent for voting laws in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.[46]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Almost every document lists a different birth date for Benet, i.e. her death record shows she was born in 1866;[2] but, other records show 1890,[3] 1887[4] and 1876. The 1910 census shows her sister Ulpiana de Gordils was older and her sister Cruz was younger than Milagros.[5] Felix's death record lists eight children,[6] besides Milagros: Ulpiana de Gordils (3 April 1866 – 20 October 1945),[7] Federíco (1871-23 January 1928),[8] José (16 December 1874 – 29 November 1956),[9][10] Luis (16 September 1876 – 21 October 1946),[11][12] Carmen (November 1880-16 May 1882),[13] Cruz (9 May 1882 – 15 November 1965),[14] and Rafael (9 July 1884 – 31 May 1957).[15][16] The dates would seem to confirm the 1868 date given in El Boricua is correct.[1]
  2. ^ Mewton is sometimes shown as Albert Newton,[2] or that name is given to his father,[25] but a review of Puerto Rican documents written by Benet confirm the original name was Mewton.[26][27]
  3. ^ Universal suffrage was finally gained in Puerto Rico in 1936, when a bill submitted by the Socialist Party the previous year, gained approval in the insular legislature.[54]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b El Boricua 1995.
  2. ^ a b c d Departamento de Salud 1948.
  3. ^ U.S. Census 1940, p. 14B.
  4. ^ U.S. Census 1930, p. 3B.
  5. ^ a b U.S. Census 1910, p. 14B.
  6. ^ Departamento de Salud 1898, p. 2398.
  7. ^ Departamento de Salud 1945.
  8. ^ Departamento de Salud 1928.
  9. ^ Selective Service 1918b.
  10. ^ Departamento de Salud 1956.
  11. ^ Selective Service 1918a.
  12. ^ a b Departamento de Salud 1946.
  13. ^ Registros Paróquias Católicas 1882.
  14. ^ a b Departamento de Salud 1965.
  15. ^ Selective Service 1918c.
  16. ^ Departamento de Salud 1957.
  17. ^ Rivera Ruiz 2007, p. 46.
  18. ^ Barceló-Miller 2015, p. 128.
  19. ^ Departamento de Salud 1898, p. 2397.
  20. ^ Morris 1995, p. 23.
  21. ^ Gaceta de Puerto-Rico 1901, p. 1.
  22. ^ La democracia 1905, p. 1.
  23. ^ a b Registros Matrimonios 1911, p. 245.
  24. ^ a b El Mundo 1938, p. 3.
  25. ^ a b Departamento de Salud 1927.
  26. ^ Rivera López 2016, p. 533.
  27. ^ La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico 1918, p. 2.
  28. ^ Sneider 2008, p. 117.
  29. ^ a b c Jiménez-Muñoz 1998, p. 145.
  30. ^ Grupo Editorial EPRL 2010.
  31. ^ Roy-Féquière 2004, p. 61.
  32. ^ a b Clark 1975, p. 43.
  33. ^ Sneider 2008, p. 121.
  34. ^ Barceló-Miller 2015, pp. 128–129.
  35. ^ a b Barceló-Miller 2015, p. 126.
  36. ^ a b Clark 1975, p. 42.
  37. ^ The San Bernardino County Sun 1922.
  38. ^ Shuler 1922, p. 636.
  39. ^ Taaffe 1922.
  40. ^ a b c d Torres Rivera 2009.
  41. ^ a b Grupo Editorial EPRL 2015.
  42. ^ a b c Roy-Féquière 2004, p. 73.
  43. ^ Rivera López 2016, pp. 536–537.
  44. ^ Rivera Lassén 2010, pp. 42–43.
  45. ^ Rivera López 2016, pp. 525–526.
  46. ^ a b Rivera Lassén 2010, p. 43.
  47. ^ Barceló-Miller 2015, pp. 130–131.
  48. ^ Barceló-Miller 2015, p. 135.
  49. ^ a b Roy-Féquière 2004, p. 74.
  50. ^ Hull 1928, p. 27.
  51. ^ Clark 1975, pp. 43–45.
  52. ^ Barceló-Miller 2015, pp. 135–136.
  53. ^ Clark 1975, p. 45.
  54. ^ a b Roy-Féquière 2004, p. 75.
  55. ^ Barceló-Miller 2015, p. 137.
  56. ^ Ferrer 2005, p. 12442.
  57. ^ a b El Mundo 1939, pp. 1, 3.
  58. ^ Grant 1932, p. 89.
  59. ^ a b Alba Acevedo 1998, p. 330.

Bibliography[edit]