In August 2019, the Florida & Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project came to an end.
During the last six years (Sept2013-Aug2019), we have digitized more than 500 microfilm reels with over 300,000 pages of newspapers equating to approximately 13 terabytes worth of data. All the digitized content comes from 43 newspaper titles published in Florida and four newspaper titles from Puerto Rico.
Lucky for us (and you!) when this door closed another one opened.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded the UF Libraries a new grant to continue its digitization efforts alongside our partners at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras (UPR-RP). Our digitization efforts will continue under our new project- the US Caribbean & Ethnic Florida Newspaper Project!
Over the next two years (Sept2019-Aug2021) we’ll work on expanding the efforts of our previous project by continuing to digitize content from Puerto Rico and Florida, with the focus for Florida on ethnic publications. We’ll also introduce content from a new territory, the US Virgin Islands, with the help of our new partners at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI).
We’re very excited to continue participating in the National Digital Newspaper Program, digitizing and providing access to historic newspapers. We encourage you to follow along and stay tuned for information regarding title selections and other project updates!
Phase 3 of the Florida & Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project is now complete!
During this phase (2017-2019), the following newspaper titles were digitized and added to Chronicling America where all digitized content is accessible to the public for free!
Boletín mercantil de Puerto Rico
Over 50,000 pages of content from 1871 to 1915
The Boletín mercantil de Puerto Rico first appeared on March 2, 1839, published as the Boletín Instructivo y mercantil de Puerto Rico, in San Juan. The Puerto Rico scholar Antonio S. Pedreira, in the voluminous El periodismo en Puerto Rico, underlined its importance as “a newspaper of transcendental significance in the history of newspapers in Puerto Rico”. The Boletín mercantil is regarded as one of the most important newspapers, second to the Gaceta, published in Puerto Rico during the last of the four centuries of Spanish domination on the island. It started as a bi-weekly publication, eventually becoming a daily paper.
Established in 1878, the newspaper appeared weekly through 1907, became a monthly in 1908, and continued through June 1911 when it ceased publication. Its first editor was Christopher O. Codrington, a native of Jamaica and an importer of ornamental and exotic plants. Many of Codrington’s specimens were used in the landscaping of new Florida tourist attractions. Some catalogers of U.S. newspapers regard the Florida Agriculturalist as a periodical rather than as a newspaper, because plant orders could be sent to the newspaper’s subscriptions office. George P. Rowell and Co.’s American Newspaper Directory suggests that the Florida Agriculturalist was established as early as 1874, but this early appearance may have been a forerunner of the newspaper and perhaps even a catalog for Codrington’s plant business.
The Outpost was known to be “the southernmost service newspaper in the U.S.A.” and was a member of the Armed Forces Press Service. It was printed weekly at the Artman Press “at no cost to the government with monies from the Naval Base Recreation Funds, in conformance with the provisions of Appendix B of Nav Exos P-35 Rev, Nov 1945.”
This paper has classified itself as Democratic since its inception but always vowed to provide unbiased news. The Citizen is considered a “paper of record,” having outlived most other local newspapers during times of war, peace, and prosperity. For decades, the Citizen has prided itself on being the “southernmost newspaper in the USA” and has been a member of the Associated Press. The paper’s aim has remained “advancement of the interests of Key West and Monroe County.”
In 1913, The Lakeland Evening Telegram was one of five papers in Florida (and the only inland paper) receiving service from the Associated Press. The following year, the paper moved into its own building. For the entirety of its run, the paper acknowledged its unforeseen success every year on its birthday. The Lakeland Evening Telegram covered international and national news related to World War I, the women’s rights movement, and presidential elections. It also reported on local events including agricultural news with emphasis on the citrus industry, local school events, and other happenings like personal travels, church notes, and fashion tips.
The Ocala Banner was founded in 1883 as a successor to the Ocala Banner-Iacon, itself the product of a merger between the East Florida Banner and the Florida Iacon. In 1890, the Ocala Banner became a daily. Over the years it bore alternate titles: the Banner, the Daily Banner, and the Ocala Daily Banner. Situated in rural Marion County, the Ocala Banner covered farming, business, and civic issues in Ocala, where the Freeze of 1895 had devastated the citrus industry and paved the way for diversified agriculture and the growth of tourism.
The Weekly Floridian (Tallahassee, FL) began publication on September 28, 1828 under the direction of William Wilson as The Floridian. During this time, The Floridian was one of only four papers in print in the area. The newspaper changed titles and owners several times during its publication history: the Southern Journal (1846-1849), the Floridian and Journal (1849-1865), the Semi-weekly Floridian (1865-1867), finally becoming the Weekly Floridian (1867-19??). In its various iterations the Floridian, in an age of ultra-partisanship, was decidedly Democratic. As the Floridian and Journal, it was among a small number of newspapers that continued to operate during the Civil War, although very few issues survived from those years.
The Seminole Indians have a long and storied past with the settlers of Florida. Following the Third Seminole War (1855-58), the few hundred remaining Native Americans settled deep within the Everglades where they could live without conflict. Relations gradually improved between the two groups, and by the 1890s, white residents were offering opportunities for trade and state assistance to their Seminole neighbors. Friendship between Indians and settlers spurred hope for a new era of cooperation. Unfortunately, the 1907 grave robbery of a beloved Seminole Chief, Captain Tom Tiger, threatened the burgeoning relationship. The crisis that followed highlights the complicated relationship between the Florida tribes and their non-Indian neighbors. While the conflict proved whites would work to preserve Indigenous rights and values, it also revealed the continued suspicion, ignorance, and mistreatment of the Seminole peoples.
In Tom Tiger’s obituaries, the chief’s non-Indian friends remember him as a stately, clever and good-natured leader, stressing his extraordinary stature and good looks. At over six feet and 200 pounds, he towered over his native counterparts. In stories of his adventures, newspapers praise his good-humor and wit, with one going so far as to declare him “the handsomest Indian in Florida” (Morning News, 1896). Shortly before his death, Tom Tiger made headlines when he accused a white man of stealing his horse. The Society of Friends of the Florida Indians aided Tiger in his legal case, even convincing government officials to provide the natives with free transportation to Titusville to act as prosecuting witnesses. Though the judge acquitted the man based on lack of evidence, Tom Tiger made history as the first Seminole to testify in court on his own behalf (Florida Agriculturalist, 1899). Unfortunately, it would not be the last time the Seminoles would fight a legal battle against white settlers.
In mid-January of 1907, a Pennsylvanian named J.L. Flournoy came to the Everglades claiming to be writing a history of Florida Indians. When he arrived at the settlements of Big Mound City and Hungryland, the traveler expressed particular interest in the grave of Captain Tom Tiger, who had died not too long after his famous court case in 1899. Tiger had been carving a canoe near his home on Lake Okeechobee when a bolt of lightning struck and killed him. When the Seminoles found the body, axe still gripped in hand, they fashioned the unfinished canoe into a makeshift mausoleum. After hearing this tale, Flournoy secretly hired a white trader to take him deep into the swamp to search for the tomb. Upon finding the burial site, Flournoy desecrated the grave, stuffing the chief’s bones and personal relics into his hunting coat. He discreetly shipped the stolen remains north, confiding to one of his companions that he intended to bring the artifacts to the Smithsonian Institute.
After receiving word of the grave-robbery, native leader Billie Smith traveled to the settlement of Tantie (now a ghost town) to denounce the abduction of his friend’s skeleton. Despite town officials’ attempts to pacify Smith with a monetary settlement, he threatened war on the white settlers if the remains were not returned in “one moon.” In response, county commissioners convened in Fort Pierce and promised to do everything in their power to retrieve the stolen corpse and bring the thief to justice (St. Lucie County Tribune, March 1907). The Florida Legislature even introduced a bill to allot $300 for the safe return of Tom Tiger’s skeleton (Ocala Evening Star, 9 April 1907). Flournoy, meanwhile, had fled to the North to escape the wrath of the Seminoles. He likely was not expecting the Florida locals to share the Native’s outrage over the grave robbery; but the desecration was not only an affront to morals; it endangered the relatively steady peace in the region. The Pensacola Journal wrote: “For the protection of the white man and for humanity sake, so far as the Indian is concerned, outrages of the kind mentioned should not be permitted. They are revolting to every sense of decency and right” (Pensacola Journal, March 1907).
J.M. Wilson, Jr., the Secretary of the Society of Friends of the Seminole Indians worked tirelessly on behalf of his indigenous neighbors. He personally investigated the claim that Flournoy was working under the direction of the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian wrote to Wilson claiming Flournoy had sent them a letter in March of 1907, proposing the sale of various Indian relics and the skeleton of an Okeechobee chief. The Smithsonian Official explained they were unaware the collector had illegally procured the relics; and were equally surprised that the bones actually belonged to the Seminole (not Okeechobee) Chief whose desecrated grave was making national headlines. The Institution promised their full cooperation with the investigation should Flournoy or his shipment of artifacts surface (St. Lucie County Tribune, April 1907). Wilson soon received his own letter from Flournoy denying any intention of wrongdoing. The northerner claimed he legally purchased a collection of Indian relics for $17 dollars during his Everglades expedition. Making no mention of the missing Chief, Flournoy offered to discuss the issue with Wilson upon his next trip to the region (St. Lucie County Tribune, April 1907).
The lethargic pace of the investigations heightened tensions between the Seminoles and nearby settlements. With three months having passed since Billie Smith demanded the return of Tom Tiger’s body, townsfolk worried the Indians might soon fulfill their threats of violence. On April 17 1907, papers across the Southeast published the first of several frightful reports of the Indians’ assault on a rural Florida village along Fish-Eating Creek. Over the next few days, further details of the raid followed with salacious headlines like “Redskins on War Path Attacked the Whites” (Hartford Herald, 1907) and “Seminoles on the Shoot” (Ocala Evening Star, 18 April 1907). News of the attack even reached Puerto Rico, with the newspaper, La Correspondencia publishing a story titled “Los Indios Seminolas han cumplido su amenaza” (“The Seminole Indians have made good on their threat”)(La Correspondencia, 1907). Three days after the initial reports, The Pensacola Journal published a full description of the terrifying scene:
“Monday night, the red braves, 400 of them, in war paint and with the methods which characterized their forefathers in the days when the tribes were the lords of the woods, swamps, and morasses, which are now known as the Everglades, suddenly appeared in the clearing along Fish-Eating Creek and with rifles instead of bow and tomahawk, proceeded to take that silent revenge which their savage forefathers cherished as their inherent right and duty.”
The four-hundred Indians surrounded the small village, firing into every home before escaping back into the protection of the Everglades. After getting their families to safety, the men of the town, along with the Sheriff of De Soto County, formed a posse to track the assailants (The Pensacola Journal, April 1907). Tragedy struck the vigilante band a few days later when The Ocala Evening Star reported a group of Seminoles had ambushed the expedition and murdered the Sherriff. The paper’s attempts to communicate with Arcadia to confirm the bloodshed were unsuccessful (Ocala Evening Star, 19 April 1907).
By April 20, The Ocala Evening Star had finally received an update on the state of the attacks in De Soto County. “Second War with the Seminoles” warned the author, “Dreadful Stories of Death and Destruction Come from the Everglades.” The paper transcribed an hour-by-hour summary from an eyewitness at Fish-Eating Creek. The informant described a horrific scene of 4,000 Seminoles in war paint, armed with tomahawks, rifles, revolvers, clubs, and even bombs. As he hid in a nearby tree, the reporter observed Seminoles dragging massacred townsfolk into an enormous bonfire as they danced and celebrated their victory. The eyewitness devotes several more paragraphs describing the atrocity and calling for state leadership to take action against the Natives. The most shocking report comes in the final paragraph, subtitled: “Above is All Jest; Here are the Facts,” revealing the satirical update and the initial reports were a farce. After the very-much-alive Sheriff returned to town, he denied any signs of an imminent uprising. Upon locating the Seminole settlement, the surprised Indians confirmed, “All big lie of white man. Indian no fight; can’t fight white man. Indian no got no money. Can’t fight nohow” (Ocala Evening Star, 20 April 1907).
While war was no longer an imminent threat, the issue of Tom Tiger’s disappearance remained. Whether pressured by the previous week’s bloody headlines or the continued anger of city officials, Flournoy conceded to returning the stolen remains (Ocala Evening Star, May 1907). The missing bones arrived around early June and the precious cargo returned to its rightful place with the Seminoles. While various local papers questioned the authenticity of the bones, the Indians seem to consider the matter concluded and asked no further questions (The Pensacola Journal, June 1907) With Tommy Tiger’s bones finally at rest, peaceful relations resumed between the Seminoles and the White Floridians.
Despite the appearance of a happy ending, the long-term outcomes were—in fact—bleak. Outside of the court of public opinion, Flournoy faced no repercussions for his crime. While the incident represented the continued abuse of native peoples, many residents remained ignorant of their part in the dark legacy of colonialism. Since Floridians had been successful in retrieving the body of Tom Tiger, Senator A.M. Taylor had an ironic proposal for the state’s next project: secure the bones of Ponce de Leon from their tomb in Puerto Rico to be buried in St. Augustine. The move would only be fitting, he claimed, to honor “the grand old knight who was the first to plant the white man’s banner of civilization on the Western Continent” (The Pensacola Journal, June 1907). After grave-robbing, legal battles, and a possible race war, Florida’s main takeaway from the Tom Tiger affair was a precedent for securing the body of the Conquistador who first brought disease and warfare to the Seminole 400 years prior.
The phrase: “Bubonic Plague” conjures images of medieval times, when the infamous “Black Death” swept through mainland Europe and Asia, decimating cities and inciting mass chaos. Experts estimate this deadly epidemic killed over half the population of Europe in the 14th century, making it one of the most lethal diseases in history. Less known, however, is that the bubonic plague still exists today, with about 650 cases reported a year. In the early 20th century, the United States faced a renewed threat of the Black Death (caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis), with causalities hitting major port cities across the South (Kugeler et al, 2015).
The Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project offers insight into this terrifying, yet often forgotten, moment in American medical history. Early reports on bubonic plague suggest that South America and the Caribbean, particularly Cuba and Venezuela, were hit hard by the infection. Florida news outlets relayed the quarantining of port cities in these countries and several American harbors refused to welcome incoming steamships. The port of La Guayra, Venezuela was said to average about 10 plague deaths a day in 1908 (Ocala Evening Star, 1908). In March 1914, The Ocala Evening Star described panic in Key West following rumored cases in Havana, causing tourists to rush from Cuba in fear. While the paper assures that “with modern knowledge and science, it is declared that there is no reason to fear an epidemic,” (Ocala Evening Star, 1914) fears of the plague dominated Florida newspapers for the rest of the decade.
Despite no confirmed reports of the bubonic plague, Florida’s position as a gateway to the tropics led many to worry that infection was an imminent possibility. Government and public health officials worked tirelessly to curtail possible transmissions of the disease. “To avoid the germ,” cautioned The Pensacola Journal, “the rat and the flea must be banished, or rather must be denied entrance at the seaports of this country…This deadly and inseparable trio must be fought as one, for they can not be parted” (The Pensacola Journal, May 1914). In addition to the disease’s deadly potential, an outbreak of the plague in Florida would have disastrous economic consequences. “Once entered here, it would probably be stopped here, but at what cost to Florida? Quarantine, stoppage of traffic, immense commercial loss and infinite delay to the splendid development of the state—these are some of the possibilities” wrote a Pensacola journalist (Pensacola Journal, May 1914).
Floridians had reason to panic, nearby New Orleans had witnessed several fatalities caused by plague in 1914 after infected populations of “wharf rats” were discovered in the warehouse and shipping districts (Pensacola Journal, July 1914), Local governments took quick action to rid neighborhoods of disease-carrying rodents. “It is war against the rat” declared one newspaper (Pensacola Journal, May, 1914). Florida’s State Health Officer, Dr. Joseph Y. Porter, advised a simultaneous attack on rats, their food supply, and their habitats. More would be done to fight the disease, he claimed, by eradicating rat populations than by quarantining persons and shipping vessels (Pensacola Journal, July 1912). In the Pensacola City Hall, the state bacteriologist examined dozens of rats each week for signs of illness (Pensacola Journal, Sept. 1912). City commissioners offered a reward of five cents for each rat delivered to the board of health office, urging every man, woman, and schoolboy in Pensacola to do their part in ridding the city of infectious critters (Pensacola Journal, June 1914). A Pensacola businessman, Nat Kaiser, offered to personally pay a premium of $25 to the citizen catching the most rats. The fight against the plague was a community effort, but it could also be quite lucrative for an enterprising individual (Pensacola Journal, July 1914).
In the end, Florida managed to avoid any cases of the plague in the early 20th century. While the outbreak did hit New Orleans, it never reached the same levels of infection as Pacific port cities. While the Western strain flourished among urban rats and native ground squirrels in San Francisco, a mix of inhospitable ecology and extensive public health efforts stunted the disease’s transmission on the East Coast (Kugeler, 2015). Thankfully, community and government cooperation reduced what could have been a disastrous epidemic to a minor anecdote in the region’s history.
Kugeler, K. J., Staples, J. E., Hinckley, A. F., Gage, K. L., & Mead, P. S. (2015). Epidemiology of human plague in the United States, 1900-2012. Emerging infectious diseases, 21(1), 16–22. doi:10.3201/eid2101.140564
UF Libraries receive NEH grant to digitize newspapers: Project will provide access to ethnic and Caribbean newspapers
The George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to expand their newspaper digitization efforts and continue participating in the National Digital Newspaper Program. The funds provided by NEH will support the U.S. Caribbean and Florida Ethnic Newspaper Project to digitize 100,000 pages of historic newspapers published between 1690 and 1963.
The US Caribbean and Florida Ethnic Newspaper Project (USCFENP) will build on work completed for the Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project (FPRDNP), a $923,000 NEH-funded project focused on digitizing newspapers from Florida and Puerto Rico, bringing the combined project total to over $1 million. The FPRDNP is approaching the end of its third phase, with over 300,000 pages digitized of historic newspapers provided by UF and partners at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. The USCFENP expands the scope of the FPRDNP, bringing on the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) as a new partner to include digitization of newspapers published on the islands.
“This funding is extremely important since it allows us to not only continue our previous collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico, it also provides the opportunity to work with the UVI to preserve and make accessible newspapers from the Virgin Islands that otherwise may have never been digitized. In addition, the project focus on ethnic newspapers from Florida will guarantee that many of those titles, which are such an important part of documenting the history of the state, will be preserved as well,” said Patrick Reakes, Senior Associate Dean, Scholarly Resources & Services.
The project will run from September 2019 to August 2021. All digitized content will be text-searchable and freely accessible in the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC) (www.ufdc.ufl.edu/ufndnp) and Chronicling America (www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov), a site created and maintained by the Library of Congress for the National Digital Newspaper Program.
In a 1915 editorial, journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote, “Advertising successfully sells almost everything within the range of human needs. There is one thing, however, which it cannot sell: health” (Adams, 1915). Although Adams established himself as one of the leading voices of medical fraud in the early 20th century, he was mistaken; cunning businessmen could—and did—find success in selling a number of “miraculous” cures and remedies for everything from a minor headache to tuberculosis. Adams was not the first whistleblower of fraudulent medicine; in 1858, Massachusetts physician Dr. Dan King published Quackery Unmasked, a tome that criticized the country’s obsession with snake oil salesmen and unlicensed healers. It would take more than 50 years, however, for the government to start enacting meaningful pharmaceutical reforms.
The archived articles at the Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project offer unique insight into the world of “patent medicines:” unlicensed and unregulated products sold as over-the-counter medicine, regardless of their effectiveness. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, most local newspapers contained dozens of advertisements for these cure-all tonics, potions, and pills. Marketing, rather than science, was the key to a successful pharmaceutical business. Nostrum advertisements sought to convince the public not only to believe they were sick, but also to trick them into believing their fake treatments worked. At the local level, Arcadia’s Ed Greene was a master of marketing. From 1905 to 1908, The Champion and The De Soto County News frequently featured medical ads with salacious fear-mongering headlines. “Dancing Proves Fatal” warns readers that partygoers attending dances in the winter months are susceptible to pneumonia and consumption—two potentially fatal conditions in the early 1900s. However, if the afflicted took a syrup called Foley’s Honey and Tar at the first sign of distress, they had nothing to fear (The Champion, 1908). Greene, a local druggist who went by the title “Dr.” peddled cures for everything from a common cough to deadly epidemics. It was common for drugstores to market miracle cures during this period; in fact, advertisements for Greene’s local rival, druggist Harry Cross, often appear alongside his own in the Arcadia papers. While Cross’s endorsements also promise swift and lasting relief for a variety of afflictions, when published side by side, it is clear that Greene certainly had a unique taste for sensationalism. Just one edition of The De Soto County News from 1905, featured Greene’s anxiety-inducing advertisements with startling headlines like “Incredible brutality,” “Startling Mortality,” “Grave Trouble Forseen,” “Agonizing Burns,” and “Poisons in Food” (De Soto County, Sept. 1905). These vague yet ominous titles draw readers into what usually consists of a first-hand account of a consumer who has been cured or escaped an otherwise grim fate thanks to the products sold by Dr. Greene. “Saved His Life” claims one headline, continuing with the testimony, “I was under the treatment of two doctors, and they told me one of my lungs was entirely gone and, the other badly affected” (De Soto County, Oct. 1905). Surely, a man in such harrowing shape would be at death’s door, but thankfully, just two bottles of Ballard’s Snow Liniment cured him outright!
While such claims may seem outrageous and obviously fraudulent, the product’s creator, James F. Ballard acquired a considerable fortune through his patent medicine business. By the turn of the century, the proprietary medicine industry brought in over $70 million annually (Boyle, 2013). At a time where licensed physicians and scientists were engineering genuine medical advances, the continued use and popularity of these nostrums concerned the medical community. Early American physicians believed that patenting pharmaceuticals prioritized profit over medicine and was an ethical violation of their commitment to healing. The medical community thought that secret formulas and proprietary knowledge interfered with testing the efficacy of certain compounds and impeded further research. It was also concerned that the public could be duped into purchasing fraudulent or even dangerous goods (Gabriel, 2016).
The Peruna scandal of the early 1900s illustrates the dangerous potential of patent medicines. Marketed as a cure for Catarrh (mucus buildup), the drug Pe-Ru-Na claimed to cure all sorts of bodily troubles including stomach pains, coughs, and headaches. Dr. Samuel Hartman, the drug’s creator, launched a wildly successful advertising campaign that claimed Catarrh caused half of all human illness. Puerto Rican papers at the turn of the century were especially rife with Pe-Ru-Na marketing. Hartman’s company ran extensive half-page advertisements in La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico (San Juan) and La Democracia (Ponce). They featured images of smiling, well-dressed white women alongside testimonies from purported thank-you letters to Dr. Hartman. In one excerpt, Miss Loretta Wall from St. Paul explains that she was suffering terribly from stomachaches until she drank three bottles of Peruna. She instantly recuperated and now owes her health to the drug. Another, Mrs. Davis from Nashville, Tennessee had tried numerous remedies over twenty years and had lost all hope until she found Peruna. Now she looks and feels years younger (La democracia, 1907).
Startled by the robust endorsements of Peruna by influential businessmen, socialites, and politicians, concerned citizens investigated deeper into the remedy’s supposed cures. The aforementioned journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams made a name for himself through investigating patent medicines. In 1905, he exposed the false claims of drug manufacturers in an eleven-part series titled, “The Great American Fraud.” Adams’s exposé is often credited with the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. Pe-Ru-Na’s fraudulent claims were a central part of Adam’s investigation. He revealed that the drug was 28% alcohol, providing a stimulating effect and temporarily numbing pain, which led the consumer to believe they had benefitted from the tonic. Physicians reported that a number of their patients developed alcohol addictions after trying to cure their ailments with these homeopathic bitters (Adams, 1905).
A guide to alcohol levels in medicines and liquors from Adam’s exposé
Another key player in exposing medical fraud was the American Medical Association (AMA). Even in the nineteenth century, medical practice was unorganized and loosely regulated; there were few restrictions on who could practice medicine and what formal education was required. In the absence of federal oversight, the privately run AMA established itself as a leading voice in the professionalization and regulation of healthcare. Disdainful of the popularity and fraudulent claims of patent medicines, the AMA launched a Propaganda for Reform department. In 1905, it also established a Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry, an in-house lab that analyzed the contents of patent medicines. The department head, Arthur J. Cramp, regularly contributed articles to the Journal of the American Medical Association warning of the dangers of patent medicines. His weekly column investigated miraculous medical claims and exposed the ingredients and lies of popular nostrums. Cramp was largely concerned with the social effects of marketing medicine directly to consumers. Led on by false advertising, customers might incorrectly self-diagnose an illness, causing more harm to themselves through quack remedies. Contrarily, they might be convinced the nostrum had “cured” an ailment that would have remedied itself in due time, regardless of treatment. Deeply devoted to public health, Cramp toured the country giving free educational lectures to schools, professional groups, and civic organizations about the dangers of quack medicine (Boyle, 2013). He was a pioneer in drug regulation and contributed greatly to the professionalization of American medicine. The work done by Adams, Cramp, and other discerning citizens paved the way for healthier practices in medicine.
What sort of views on feminism were expressed by the Puerto Rican press in the early 20th century? This is an important question to ask considering that the first wave of feminism took place from the late 19th century to the early 1900s, as women advocated for more opportunities and their right to vote. Scholar Isabel Picó de Hernández mentions in her chapter “The History of Women’s Struggle for Equality in Puerto Rico”, found in the book The Puerto Rican Woman, that there was a lack of a feminist movement and consciousness during most of the nineteenth century on the island (Acosta 25). She attributes this to the fact that many women in Puerto Rico during that time did not have access to a proper education and spent most of their time at home performing domestic duties. These circumstances made it difficult for women on the island to establish a solid feminist movement, similar to the ones found in the United States and Europe during the nineteenth century (Acosta 2). Discussions around women’s emancipation by Puerto Rican intellectual elites did not begin until the late 19th century. However, as the island’s economic situation changed due to the United States occupation of Puerto Rico in 1898, more women began participating in the labor force which allowed for the establishment of a feminist movement in the first decades of the 20th century (Acosta 3). This is reflected in the Puerto Rican newspaper La Democracia(1890-1948).
La Democracia was founded by Luis Muñoz Rivera in Ponce, a town that at the time was a major center for nationalist and intellectual discourse. In the front page of a July 14, 1891 issue of La Democracia, Luis Muñoz Rivera states some of the goals of the newspaper, which include giving the newspaper a “modern character, one that is compatible with the intellectual progress of the country” and providing its audiences coverage on a variety of topics.
The topic of feminism and women’s rights was explicitly discussed throughout the newspaper, but mostly by male intellectuals and writers. Some of these male writers supported feminism, while many wrote against it believing it would promote indecency and take away from women’s maternal roles (Findlay 82).
In a May 6, 1907 issue of La Democracia one can find a section titled “Sobre el Feminismo.” It was written by Mariano Abril y Ostalo, a writer and politician who would eventually become the director of La Democracia. In the article, Abril opens up by stating “It is truly alarming how the feminist movement is operating in many nations. Because it is not a movement that tends to elevate and dignify the women, rather the contrary.”
He continues later on asserting “Men have opened up for women all avenues of knowledge, all the doors of universities and academies. And nevertheless, women have not distinguished themselves in anything, they have not invented anything. We have female engineers, doctors, lawyers and they have not opened a tunnel… Progress is man’s work.” Clearly, the article shows disdain for feminism and demeans women in an ignorant manner.
The article however did not go unnoticed and was criticized by Nemesio R. Cannales in La Democracia twelve days later. Nemesio R. Cannales was a lawyer and a major literary figure in Puerto Rico that advocated for women’s rights in the early part of the 20th century. The piece he wrote for La Democracia was also titled “Sobre el Feminismo.” In it, Cannales references Abril and his article declaring “Our friend Abril softens himself and cries before the boldness of the modern woman, the female doctor, the female police officer, the female lawyer, the female voter and he dies of rage and pain thinking that the adorable type of woman that is the married woman, the doll, the object, the seamstress and mender is quickly disappearing.”
He goes to attack Abril’s statement of that women “have not invented anything” and declares that this does not show “a lack of intelligence”, but a lack of an “environment for the expansion and development of their abilities. And, even with that, the cleverest man is a complete a solemn dunce next to the most awkward among them.” Hence, with this article one sees a different point of view towards the feminist movement.
Eight days after the publication of Cannales’ article, La Democracia ran a piece that commented on both men’s point of view. While the author disagrees with both men saying that La Democracia does “not accept the reactionary form of the first (Abril), nor the liberal form of the second (Cannales)”, he tends to be more critical of Cannales. Moreover, he explains that Cannales’ school of thought is both radical and dangerous, and comes to agree with a few of Abril’s ideas.
These articles demonstrate how La Democracia tried to bring forth different perspectives, both conservative and liberal, on important topics, such as feminism. However, one needs to keep in mind that these works are written by men with no input by women. Were there Puerto Rican female writers contributing to La Democracia and writing about their own feminist ideas? According to her biography by Norma Valle-Ferrer, Luisa Capetillo, a major figure and leading force in the Puerto Rican feminist movement, did work as a correspondent for La Democracia. However, it is difficult to find her name mentioned in the newspaper in Chronicling America. Many of the sections of La Democracia are published without indicating who the author is and therefore, it is possible that her contributions to the newspaper do not include her name. This deserves a more thorough investigation.
There are more writings on feminism and women’s rights throughout the Puerto Rican press during the beginnings of the 20th century. This post provides a glimpse with a few examples from La Democracia. Additionally, it is important to note the female writers and activists that lead the feminist discourse on the island during this time, including not only Luisa Capetillo, but also María Luisa de Angelis and Ana Roqué de Duprey. Their works and essays can be found in other published works. María Luisa de Angelis for example wrote Mujeres puertorriqueñas: que se han distinguido en el cultivo de las ciencias, las letras y las artes desde el siglo XVII hasta nuestros días in 1908, a book in which she challenges underrepresentation and focuses of the achievements of Puerto Rican women in academic circles. Ana Roqué de Duprey founded several innovative and revolutionary publications, including La Evolución, Álbum Puertorriqueño, Heraldo de la Mujer and La Mujer del Siglo XX. It is interesting to look at their works and see their contributions to the Puerto Rican feminist movement.
Acosta Belén, Edna, and Elia Hidalgo Christensen. 1979. The puerto rican woman. New York: Praeger.
Angelis, María Luisa de. Mujeres puertorriqueñas : Que se han distinguido en el cultivo de las ciencias, las letras y las artes desde el siglo XVII hasta nuestros días. 2. ed. ed. Puerto Rico: Tip. de Real Hermanos, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112070227613.
Findlay, Eileen. 1999. Imposing decency: The politics of sexuality and race in puerto rico, 1870-1920. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.