Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Bolívar Pagán, a distinguished historian, journalist, and politician, was born in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico on May 16, 1897. He received his primary education in the public schools of Adjuntas, and went to secondary school in the city of Ponce. While still in school in Ponce, he was a contributor to the newspapers El Día de Ponce, Nosotros, Renacimiento, and Puerto Rico Ilustrado and editor of La Idea and La Aurora. In 1919 Pagán became the vice president of the Socialist Party of Puerto Rico. In 1921 he graduated with a law degree from the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras; the same year he was admitted to the bar and began to practice law in San Juan. The following year he served as judge of Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
In 1924, Pagán ran unsuccessfully as a Socialist Party candidate for election to the Puerto Rican Senate. The following year, he began a four-year tenure as city treasurer of San Juan. In 1928, he ran again for the Puerto Rican Senate, but was not elected. He succeeded on his third try, and served as a member of the Puerto Rican Senate from 1933 until 1939, rising to leadership positions such as president pro-tempore and majority floor leader. While in the Puerto Rican Senate, he worked on legislation of social and cultural importance, such as universal suffrage, workers' compensation, and the creation of the Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña. He also served as city manager of San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1936 and 1937.
In 1939 Pagán was appointed Resident Commissioner to the U.S. House of Representatives by the Governor of Puerto Rico, William B. Leahy, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Pagán's father-in-law, Santiago Iglesias. In 1940, he was elected Resident Commissioner under the auspices of a coalition between the Socialist Party and the Republican Union Party.
In the 78th Congress Pagán was appointed to serve on the Committees on Agriculture, Labor, and the Territories. The following Congress, in addition to the previous committee assignments, he was appointed to the Committees on Insular Affairs, Military Affairs, and Naval Affairs. In Congress he continued the work of his father-in-law and successfully advocated the extension of social security benefits to Puerto Rico, and the application of workers' compensation laws to the Island.
Pagán pushed for Puerto Ricans to elect their own governors. He introduced a number of bills to achieve this, but they were not passed during his tenure. In addition, he brought to the attention of Congress the dissatisfaction of Puerto Ricans with Governor Rexford G. Tugwell. Pagán returned to Puerto Rico, and was again elected to the Senate of Puerto Rico, was reelected in 1948, and served until 1953. He resumed his law practice in San Juan until his death on February 9, 1961.
Publications by Bolívar Pagán:
América y otras paginas (1922); El sufragio femenino (1924); Ideales en marcha (1939); Handbook on Puerto Rico (1940); La personalidad de Barbosa (1941); El Apostolado de Iglesias (1942); Puerto Rico: The Next State (1942); El gobierno fascista que oprime a Puerto Rico (1943); Todo el poder para los trabajadores (1945); Historia de los Partidos Políticos Puertorriqueños de 1891 a 1956 (1959).
For further reading:
Ribes Tovar, Federico. 100 Biografías de puertorriqueños ilustres. New York: Plus Ultra Educational Publishers Inc., 1973.
Rosa-Nieves, Cesáreo and Melón, Esther M., Biografías Puertorriqueñas: Perfil histórico de un pueblo. Sharon, Connecticut: Troutman Press, 1970.