Short story writer, poet and a scholar of folklore who was part of the 1930s literary generation, which was known for its focus on defining and affirming Puerto Rican identity. She primarily dedicated herself to rescuing and studying aspects of Puerto Rican folklore.
María Cadilla de Martínez was born on December 21, 1886, in Arecibo, the daughter of Armindo Cadilla Fernández, a retired officer of the Spanish Navy, and a local woman, Catalina Colón y Nieves. She graduated in 1898 from the Sagrado Corazón de María School located in her hometown. In 1902, she earned her teaching degree at the Washington Institute.
She worked as a teacher at various rural schools in Arecibo, as well as José de Diego Institute in San Juan (1915) and the Arecibeño School for Girls (1916-17). While she was working, she earned a certification as an English teacher by taking exams at the Department of Education in 1910, and she also took a course at the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Mayagüez (1913-14). She enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in 1917, where she earned a diploma as a principal and high school teacher.
In 1922, she was named an instructor of education at the University of Puerto Rico (1922). She earned a bachelor’s degree in education (1928) and a master’s degree in Hispanic Studies (1931) at the university and presented her thesis, La Elegía VI de Juan de Castellanos.
She moved to Spain to earn her doctoral degree at the Central University of Madrid. In 1933, she presented her thesis, La poesía popular en Puerto Rico. Upon her return to the island, she worked as a professor of Spanish and Hispano-American Literature at the University of Puerto Rico’s College of Liberal Arts until 1936, the year she retired from teaching to dedicate herself to her research.
Cadilla began to write at a young age. It was not until 1925, however, that her first book, titled Cuentos a Lillian, was published. The work consisted of various children’s stories the presented characteristics of late Romanticism, with certain modernist influences. Among the stories were “El tesoro de don Alonso,” “Del sendero florido” and “El pródigo.” In 1933, she published the book of poetry Cazadora en el alba y otros poemas, which presented intimist poetry in the modernist tradition.
Cadilla de Martínez was best known for her essay writing, however. She was part of the 1930s Generation of writers whose literary work focused on defining the Puerto Rican and Hispanic cultural identity in reaction to the process of Americanization. María Cadilla specialized in compiling, studying and rescuing diverse elements of Puerto Rican folklore. Many of these examples of traditional and popular culture were being forgotten. As a result of her research, she produced the works Costumbres y tradicionalismos de mi tierra (1938), Cantos y juegos infantiles (1940), as well as two collections of popular and traditional stories, Raíces de la tierra (1941) and Hitos de la raza (1945). The latter won a prize from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature that year.
In 1953, she published a new edition in San Juan of her Masters thesis, La poesía popular en Puerto Rico. In the work, Cadilla de Martínez compiled and analyzed a large number of traditional Puerto Rican verses, generally anonymous, that were passed down orally from generation to generation. It included ballads, folk songs, children’s rhymes and religious verses, many of them accompanied by music. In 1999, the Puerto Rico Historical Society published a new edition of this work.
In keeping with the spirit of her generation, she became interested in distinguished figures of island culture, which led her to write Semblanza de un carácter (Apuntes biográficos de Lola Rodríguez de Tió) (1936) and Alturas paralelas (Ensayos crítico-biográficos sobre la personalidad y obras de D. Rafael del Valle Rodríguez y D. Manuel M. Corchado Juarbe (1941).
In 1946, she published the book Rememorando el pasado heroico, a historical commentary on Puerto Rico. She also wrote essays on diverse social issues on the island, such as “El hogar puertorriqueño y el deber de nuestras escuelas para él” (1929), “La campesina en Puerto Rico” (1937) and “Un factor desconocido en nuestra economía agrícola” (1938). As an academic Hispanicist, she wrote La mística de Unamuno y otros ensayos (1934). In 1971, the Editorial Coquí press posthumously published her master’s thesis, La Elegía VI de Juan de Castellanos.
Cadilla was a member of various organizations and institutions, including the Puerto Rico Chapter of the Union of American Women, of which she was a founder and the first president; the Puerto Rico Association of Suffragist Women; the Puerto Rican Association of Women Voters; the Association of Women Graduates of the University of Puerto Rico; the Puerto Rican Academy of History; the Institute of University Cooperation of Buenos Aires; the National Geographic Society; the Adolfo Vienrich Institute of Folklore in Perú; and the Folklore Societies of Uruguay, Mexico, California and the United States.
María Cadilla de Martínez died in 1951, leaving behind several unpublished works. Her hometown of Arecibo named a school in her honor.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña: su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Partenón, . Impreso.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Diccionario de literatura puertorriqueña. 2a ed. Vol 2. San Juan, P. R.: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1974. Impreso.
Centenario María Cadilla de Martínez, 1886-1986. Fiestas patronales de Arecibo, 1986. [Arecibo, P. R.]: 1986. Impreso
“María Cadilla de Martínez: 1886-1951”. El Sol 20.19 (1975): 20-21. Impreso.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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