Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Federico Degetau, Puerto Rico's first Resident Commissioner, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on December 5, 1862. He received his early education in Ponce, and continued his education in Barcelona, Spain. After graduating from the law school of the Central University of Madrid in 1887, he was admitted to the Spanish bar and practiced law. He also was active in the Liberal Reformist Party and in 1887 he established a newspaper, La Isla de Puerto Rico, which sought to make Spaniards aware of Puerto Rico's plight. While in Spain, he had the opportunity to explore various interests including literature and pedagogic theories.
After returning to Puerto Rico, Degetau became active in the Autonomist Party, under the leadership of Luis Muñoz Rivera. Degetau was among the party's four commissioners who journeyed to Spain in 1895 to petition for political autonomy for their Island. The Spanish Government denied the petition, but three years later Puerto Rico was granted an autonomic charter.
Degetau was in Spain in 1898 when the Spanish-American War broke out and U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico. He quickly returned to Puerto Rico and was appointed Secretary of the Interior of the first governing cabinet formed under American rule. The next year he was appointed member of the Insular Board of Charities. Both appointments were made by the commanding general of American forces on the Island. Degetau became a member of the Puerto Rican Insular Republican Party, which was established in 1899. From 1900 to 1901 he was the president of the Board of Education of San Juan.
Degetau was elected Resident Commissioner to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1900 and reelected in 1902. As a member of the Committee on Insular Affairs, he submitted a bill to grant U.S. citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico, but it was denied. He also worked towards providing Puerto Rico with sufficient revenues for a civil government and the construction of public buildings. He did not run for reelection in 1904.
In 1905 Degetau travelled to Europe and acquired a large collection of paintings. He returned to Puerto Rico and to Aibonito, a small town in the mountains, where he administered a coffee plantation.
After his appointment to the University of Puerto Rico Syndical Board, he worked for the establishment of the Pan American University in Puerto Rico, to which he donated his art collection. He died in Santurce, Puerto Rico on January 20, 1914.
Published works by Federico Degetau:
El A.B.C. del sistema froebel (1896); El fondo de Alijibe (1885); El secreto de la domadora (1886); ¡Qué Quijote!, Cuentos para el camino (1894); Juventud (1895); La Injuria (1893).
For further reading:
Rosa-Nieves, Cesáreo and Esther M. Melón. Biografías puertorriqueñas: perfil histórico de un pueblo. Sharon, Connecticut: Troutman Press, 1970.
Figueroa, Javier. Diccionario histórico biográfico. Madrid: Ediciones R Madrid, 1976.
Ribes Tovar, Federico. 100 biografías de puertorriqueños ilustres. New York: Plus Ultra, 1973.