Federico de Onís

Federico de Onís

Professor, Spanish studies scholar, and writer. He was the founder of the Spanish Studies Department at the University of Puerto Rico and director of the Spanish Studies Seminary, today called the Federico de Onís Seminary.

He was born in Salamanca, Spain, on December 20, 1885. He studied at the Salamanca Institute, in the San Bartolomé Hall of the University of Salamanca, where he earned a degree in the Arts in 1905. He worked as a librarian for the Archivists Corps at the Oviedo Library and three years later completed his Ph.D. at the University of Madrid.

In 1909, he worked as an assistant intern at the University of Oviedo. That same year he published his first work, El dialecto leonés (1909), which won a prize in the Royal Spanish Academy’s open competition. He became an assistant professor at the same university, where he also presented a lecture titled “El problema histórico de la universidad española.” Shortly thereafter, his second work appeared, Vida de Torres Villarroel (1912). He joined the Center for Historic Studies for two years (1914-1916), during which he published De los nombres de Cristo by Fray Luis de León (1914) and Disciplina y Rebeldía (1915).

Federico de Onís was at the forefront of humanities scholarship in the Americas, beginning with the founding in 1916 of the Spanish Letters Studies at Columbia University in New York. He remained affiliated with Columbia until he retired in 1954. Also in 1916, he published Fueros Leoneses. In 1920, he accepted the job of director at the Spanish Institute in the United States and published El español en los Estados Unidos (1920). That work was also the inaugural speech for the new academic year at the University of Salamanca (1920-1921).

He arrived in Puerto Rico in 1926 to join the Spanish Department at the University of Puerto Rico at the invitation of the university chancellor, Thomas E. Benner, an administrator from the United States who had been given the task of modernizing the university’s administrative structure and its curriculum, as well as improving Spanish studies. Beginning in 1925, prestigious visiting professors of Spanish were invited to the university’s summer school to join the faculty. Among the academics who participated in the visits were Tomás Navarro Tomás, Angel de Río, José Robles Pazos (professor at Johns Hopkins University), as well as Federico de Onís. As a result of their work, particularly that of Navarro Tomás and De Onís, a curriculum was developed for what would become the Department of Spanish Studies.

Benner approved the creation of the Department of Spanish Studies in 1927 and Federico de Onís was its first director. The department remained attached to the School of Arts and Sciences until 1942, when the university reform made it part of the School of Humanities.

During his time as director, De Onís founded and directed the magazine Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (1928), with the support of the University of Puerto Rico, the Spanish Cultural Society, Columbia University in New York, and the Center for Historic Studies in Madrid. In 1931, he returned to his teaching position in New York.

In the early 1930s, he presented a series of publications: Canciones españolas (1931), Ensayo sobre el sentido de la cultura española (1932) and Antología de la poesía española e hispanoamericana (1932). In 1934, he assumed the post of director of the journal Revista Hispánica Moderna in New York. In 1937, De Onís became a United States citizen.

From 1942 to 1947, he worked as a visiting professor at the University of Texas and in 1949 he moved to Denver. That same year, he visited Venezuela, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina and presented speeches on Hispanic studies. In 1953, he retired from Columbia University and received the Eloy Alfaro International Foundation Cross.

The president of the University of Puerto Rico, Jaime Benítez, invited him to once again lead the department he had founded years before. De Onís accepted and settled in Puerto Rico for three years (1954-1957). He published España en América (1955), a collection of essays produced from his research into the Spanish-speaking Americas.

In 1957, he accepted another offer, this time to direct the Institute of Spanish Studies at Las Villas Central University in Cuba (1957-1958). He returned to Puerto Rico as a professor in the Spanish Studies Department, and during that period he founded and led the Spanish Studies Seminary. De Onís donated his personal library to the seminary, which currently is named for him.

Among his publications are: Disciplina y Rebeldía (1915); El español en los Estados Unidos (1920); Jacinto Benavente, a theatrical work (1923); Martín Fierro y la poesía tradicional (1924); Ensayos sobre el sentido de la cultura española (1932); España en América (1955) and Antologie de la poésie ibéroaméricane (1956).

He died in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, on October 14, 1966.


Revista La Torre. 33.127-130. (1985). Impreso.

Hernández Aquino, Luís. ¨Federico de Onís se fue de la vida¨. Boletín de la Academia de Artes y Ciencias de Puerto Rico. 3.2 (1967): 355-361. Impreso.

Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Diccionario de literatura puertorriqueña. 2a ed. Vol 2. San Juan, P. R.: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1974. Impreso.

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 26, 2010.

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