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Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995


Image of Antonio Fernós-Isern
[Library of Congress]

Resident Commissioner
Popular Democrat of Puerto Rico

Eightieth- Eighty-eighth Congresses
September 11, 1946 - January 3, 1965

Antonio Fernós-Isern, physician and politician, served as Resident Commissioner for nineteen years, becoming the longest serving Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico. He was born in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico on May 10, 1895. He attended primary and secondary schools in Puerto Rico and continued his education at the Pennsylvania State Normal School in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. In May 1915 he graduated from the University of Maryland, College of Physicians and Surgeons and School of Medicine.

Fernós-Isern returned to Caguas, Puerto Rico, where he practiced medicine for two years. From 1919 to 1933 he held various administrative positions in the health services: health officer of the city of San Juan (1919); assistant commissioner of health of Puerto Rico (1920-1931); and commissioner of health of Puerto Rico (1931-1933 and 1942-1946). In 1933 due to ideological differences with the Coalitionist government, he resigned from his position as commissioner. He went to New York where he completed a residency in cardiology at Columbia University, becoming the first Puerto Rican cardiologist. Upon his return to Puerto Rico, he became a professor at the Public Health School of Tropical Medicine of Puerto Rico, and continued his private practice of medicine in San Juan from 1933 to 1942.

In 1937 Fernós-Isern participated along with Luis Muñoz Marín in organizing the Liberal Party of Puerto Rico, which later became the Popular Democratic Party. In 1940 he was an unsuccessful candidate for Resident Commissioner. In 1942 he served as director of civilian defense for the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico. During the Governorship of Rexford G. Tugwell, Fernós-Isern was Acting Governor of Puerto Rico various times.

In 1945 the newly appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero, selected Fernós-Isern as his replacement for Resident Commissioner to the U.S. Congress. Subsequently Fernós-Isern was reelected four times.

During his nineteen-year tenure as Resident Commissioner, Fernós-Isern played an important part in giving Puerto Ricans a greater role in governing the Island. On August 5, 1947 the Crawford project, allowing Puerto Ricans to elect their governor, was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Truman.

On June 8, 1950 the Senate approved the Public Law 600, allowing Puerto Rico to establish its own constitutional government. Fernós-Isern served as president of the Constitutional Convention, which formulated the status of Commonwealth or Estado Libre Asociado. In 1952 after the Constitution was approved by a vote in Puerto Rico, it was presented to Congress. When some opposition was expressed in the U.S. Senate, Fernós-Isern offered amendments to counteract the opposition. The Constitution was approved and ratified by the Constitutional Convention of Puerto Rico, and on July 25, 1952 the Commonwealth relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico was established.

In 1959 Fernós-Isern and Senator Murray (D-MT) introduced a bill in which they sought to transfer some powers held by the Federal Government to Puerto Rico, such as the right to fix its own duty on coffee. Although the bill had some support in Congress, discussions continued until 1960 without success.

Fernós-Isern did not seek reelection in 1964; he returned to Puerto Rico the following year, where he was elected to the Senate, serving from 1965 to 1969. He died in San Juan, Puerto Rico on January 19, 1974.

Publications by Antonio Fernós-Isern:
Estado libre asociado de Puerto Rico. Rio Piedras, Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1974.

For further reading:
Figueroa, Javier. Diccionario histórico biográfico. Madrid: Ediciones R Madrid, 1976.

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