Who was Eugenio María de Hostos?

On January 11th, Hostos President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez shared a history of Eugenio María de Hostos (JANUARY 11, 1839 – AUGUST 11, 1903) with the college in honor of his birthday. Here’s a history of a pretty extraordinary individual and our college’s namesake.

One hundred and seventy-three years ago today, Eugenio María de Hostos was born in the island village of Río Cañas in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.  Sixty-four years and seven months later, he died in Santo Domingo.

What Hostos accomplished as an educator, philosopher, lawyer, sociologist, and advocate of independence during four decades of his adulthood (1863-1903) established his enduring reputation as “El Ciudadano de América (The Citizen of the Americas).

After Hostos received his elementary schooling at el Liceo de San Juan, his family sent him to Bilbao, Spain, in 1852, where he graduated from the Institute of Secondary Education (high school).  Then he studied law, philosophy, and letters at the Central University of Madrid.  In 1863, Hostos wrote “La Peregrinación de Bayoan,” which is considered one of his most important works.

While a student, Hostos developed his lifelong commitment to political justice, so when Spain adopted a new constitution in 1869 and refused to grant Puerto Rico its independence, he left for the United States.

In New York, Hostos joined the Cuban Revolutionary Committee and became the editor of a journal called La Revolución.He believed in the concept of “La Confederación Antillana” (The Antillean Confederation), which he promoted throughout the Americas.  However, Hostos was disappointed to discover that while most Puerto Ricans and Cubans wanted to be free from Spanish rule, many would prefer annexation by the United States over independence.

Throughout the early 1870s, Hostos exerted strong influence throughout South America.  While helping to develop the educational system of Peru, he protested against the harsh treatment of Chinese immigrants.  A speech he delivered on “The Scientific Education of Women” at the University of Chile contributed to the nation’s adoption a coeducational system.  His proposal to develop a railroad between Argentina and Chile was accepted, and the first locomotive was named after him.

In 1875, Hostos went to the Dominican Republic to found the first Normal School (Teachers College) in Santo Domingo.  When it was inaugurated in 1879, he was named as its director; then he went on to establish a second school in Santiago de los Caballeros.

In 1898, Hostos returned to the United States and participated in the Puerto Rican and Cuban independence movements.  His hopes for an independent Puerto Rico were dashed when the U.S. government made the island a territory after the Spanish-American-Cuban War.

Hostos returned to the Dominican Republic in 1900 and lived there for the rest of his life.  During these years, he played a major role in reorganizing the nation’s educational and railroad systems and wrote many essays on social and scientific topics.  He was also a strong supporter of women’s rights.

When Hostos died, he was buried in the National Pantheon in Santo Domingo’s colonial district.  In keeping with Hostos’ last wishes, his remains will stay there until Puerto Rico gains its complete independence, whereupon he will be interred in his native soil.  This is the epitaph he wrote for himself: “I wish that they will say: In that island [Puerto Rico] a man was born who loved truth, desired justice, and worked for the good of humanity.”

In Puerto Rico, Hostos’ birthday is an official holiday, and there are monuments honoring him in Mayagüez and on the Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico, as well as one in Spain.  Mayagüez has also named its airport, a high school, and a highway for Hostos and established a cultural center and museum near his birthplace in the Rio Cañas Arriba ward.

Eugenio María de Hostos Community College and the high school in Mayagüez are only two of several educational institutions that bear his name.  There are also the Eugenio María de Hostos School of Law in Mayagüez, a high school in Jersey City, an intermediate school in Brooklyn, and an elementary school in Yonkers.

A column I have written about one of Hostos’ publications, “The Scientific Education of Women,” and how it relates to some of the things we are doing at Hostos Community College appears in today’s edition of El Diario/La Prensa An English translation of the column can be accessed here.

1 Comment
  1. ssandman 11 years ago

    Amazing to read this history. Thanks for sharing.

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