Rediscover STEAM
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Rediscover STEAM

Ana Roqué de Duprey, Botanist, Educator & Suffragist

Ana Roqué de Duprey was a Puerto Rican feminist icon, active at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th. She was a remarkably well-learned individual with interests spanning across numerous fields, including botany, astronomy, zoology, meteorology and geology. Her passion for teaching, however, was one of her defining qualities. Over the course of her life, she opened numerous institutes for girls, championing the progression of women’s rights in Puerto Rico. She had a profound influence on both the suffrage movement and women’s education. Roqué de Duprey led the campaign for voting rights in Puerto Rico but sadly passed away two years before women universally gained the right to vote, in 1935. Despite her unprecedented list of accomplishments, her life was marred by tragedy, including the death of two of her children and partner. However, these odds did not diminish her intellectual prowess or her drive and served to reinforce her determination and work ethic. Her work is still referenced today, with the recent discovery of her unpublished Botánica Antillana, being pushed for digitalization.

By the age of three, Ana Roqué de Duprey was able to write. This developmental milestone was achieved through patient education by her mother, who was a teacher. Tragically, by the time she was four, her mother had passed away, and the mantle of her education was then passed onto her father, aunt, and grandmother, who were all educators themselves. They continued to encourage her love of learning, which carried on throughout her life. When she was seven years old, she enrolled in a private school, studied at a remarkable rate, and graduated when she was nine, which was two years ahead of her peers. Following this impressive precedent, she then became the youngest ever teaching assistant in Puerto Rico at the age of eleven. Inspired by her family, she set about teaching others with the same rigorous and passionate touch that had sculpted her own education. By age thirteen, she opened a school of her own, in her own home, with a textbook for geography which she had written herself. This very same textbook was later officially adopted by the Puerto Rican Department of Education; an incredible achievement for such a young age. She later received a bachelor’s degree in science and philosophy from the Provisional Institute in Arecibo.

Throughout her long career, Ana Roqué de Duprey pioneered many ‘firsts’ in terms of progressing women’s rights. When she moved to San Juan, she became the first woman to be permitted inside the Puerto Rican Athenaeum, one of Puerto Rico’s chief cultural institutions and home to their performing arts. Furthermore, she was the first woman to enroll in the San Juan public library. While these are notable milestones, her true impact lay within the sphere of education and suffrage. As well as being educated in science and philosophy, she was also well-versed in writing and was published in numerous well-renowned newspapers, including El Mundo. Furthemore, she founded several women’s magazines, the first of which was titled La mujer. This was an impressive accomplishment as there had never been a woman as an editor of a magazine, let alone a magazine published solely for women. When the push for women’s rights started gaining more traction, Duprey was one of the key Puerto Rican figureheads, and she formed the first organization dedicated to women’s rights in her country. The Puerto Rican Feminist League, as it was called, campaigned for women’s rights and in 1921, it changed its name to the Suffragist Social League when they switched their attention solely to woman’s suffrage. However, in 1924, internal politics caused a schism in the group, and Duprey broke off to form the splinter organization: the Association of Women Suffragists, whose aim centered around gaining suffrage for women regardless of literacy requirements. Ana Roqué de Duprey died in 1933, two years before universal suffrage was granted in Puerto Rico, however, her contributions to this feat remain uncontested and indispensable.

Ana Roqué de Duprey also has many academic accomplishments to her name. Her most notable contribution to science was her thirty years of research and documentation of the native flora in Puerto Rico. However, beyond this, she has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction. One of her most acclaimed publications Puerto Rican Flora earned her an award from the Fourth Century Christian Civilization Organization, however, arguably the most notable of her works was never published in her lifetime. She was discouraged from publishing her Botánica Antillana after a series of disagreements with the Director of the Experimental Agricultural Station, a scientist named Carlos E. Chadón. Her story illustrates the oppression of women in the scientific community at the time, even despite their levels of education and acclaim. However, the recent discovery of her work has proved indispensable to improving sustainable agriculture in Puerto Rico today, highlighting the extent and importance of her life-long work. Other notable achievements of hers include: being made an honorary member of the Paris Society of Astronomers and receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Puerto Rico. On top of her academic pursuits, her love for teaching prompted her to open many educational establishments, such as a teachers teacher’s academy, a girl’s high school, and the College of Mayagüez. This college later became a part of the University of Puerto Rico, which taught thousands of students for years to come.

by Laura Jewsbury

References

Brandman, Mariana Brandman. “Ana Roqué de Duprey.” National Women’s History Museum, 2020, womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ana-roque-de-duprey

Fonseca, Carlos. “Virtual Exhibition: Front Cover, Ana Roqué de Duprey’s Botánica Antillana.” Centre of Latin American Studies, www.latin-american.cam.ac.uk/science-text-culture/roque-de-duprey

Halliday, Kelsey. “Ana Roqué de Duprey.” Women, Art & Technology, 11 Apr. 2017, womenartandtechnology.net/blog/2017/4/11/ana-roqu-de-duprey

Hamilton, Megan. “This Puerto Rican Educator and Suffragist Founded a School at Age 13.” History Hustle, 1 June 2020, historyhustle.com/ana-roque-de-duprey-educator-suffragist-leader

Gilbert, Shawn. “Suffragists You Need to Meet: Anna Roqué Duprey (1853–1933).” League of Women Voters Diablo Valley, 30 May 2020, my.lwv.org/california/diablo-valley/article/suffragists-you-need-meet-anna-roqu%C3%A9-duprey-1853-%E2%80%93–1933

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