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Federico Degetau was a lawyer and writer who were mainly known for his short stories and his educational and moralistic essays. He was also an outstanding political leader who was active first in the Autonomist Party and later in the Republican Party. During the autonomous government, he was a deputy to the Spanish Cortes and, after the change in sovereignty; he was the first Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C.

He was born December 5, 1862, in Ponce. After attending elementary school in his hometown, he moved to Barcelona, Spain. He studied law at the Universities of Granada, Salamanca and Valladolid and earned a doctoral degree in Civil and Canonic Law at the Central University of Madrid (1887).

During his years as a student, he participated in Spanish intellectual life. He met and talked with Francisco Giner de los Ríos, a Spanish philosopher and educator, who began the Krausism movement in Spain. He participated in the literary discussions at the Free Teaching Institute, which was also founded as part of the Krausism movement. He also met Victor Hugo in France.

During this time, he joined the Madrid Anthropological Sciences Academy and presided over the moral and political sciences section. He was also a member of the Spanish Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation. After completing his university studies, he worked as a lawyer in Madrid.

Beginning with his years in Spain, his interest in politics was obvious. In 1887, he founded the newspaper La Isla de Puerto Rico, in which he wrote about the political situation in Puerto Rico, particularly under the oppressive regime of Governor Romualdo Palacios. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, he joined the ranks of the Autonomous Party.

In 1896, the party leadership selected Degetau, José Gómez Brioso, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón and Luis Muñoz Rivera to form a committee to go to Madrid to form an alliance with the Liberal Fusionist Party, a Spanish political party led by Práxedes Mateo Sagasta. The committee forged an agreement with the party, which was inclined toward the monarchy. Degetau, with his republican ideals, objected to the union.

When the committee members returned to Puerto Rico, an assembly was held and the pact was ratified. As a result, Degetau and the other republican autonomists left the party and founded the Orthodox or Pure Autonomist Party under the leadership of José Celso Barbosa.

In 1897, the autonomous government was created in Puerto Rico after Sagasta rose to power in Spain. The following year, Degetau was elected as a representative to the Spanish Cortes and he moved to Spain. When the Spanish-American War broke out, he returned to the island.

In 1899, along with Barbosa, he was one of the founders of the Puerto Rican Republican Party. He served as Secretary of the Interior under the new government formed by the United States. From 1900 to 1901, he was chairman of the San Juan Board of Education. In 1900, he was elected the first Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C. In that post, he represented Puerto Rico in the United States House of Representatives. He was elected again in 1902.

When he returned to Puerto Rico, he settled in Aibonito, where he managed a coffee farm. During that era, he was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Puerto Rico. He later donated his art collection to the university.

As a writer, Degetau tried his hand at various literary genres, but he is particularly known for his short stories and novellas. His literary legacy generally had political or pedagogical purposes and includes some 100 works, among them the short story “¡Qué Quijote!” (1883); the novellas El fondo del aljibe (1886), El secreto de la domadora (1886) and Juventud (1895); and the essays “Al escritor puertorriqueño” (1895) and “El A. B. C. del sistema Froebel” (1896), in which he promoted the kindergarten ideas of the educator Froebel, among others.

He died on January 20, 1914, in San Juan. His work titled Cuentos pedagógicos y literarios (1925) was published posthumously.

References:

“Don Federico Degetau y González (1862-1914)”. Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña 5.17 (1962): 57. Impreso.

“Federico Degetau: Insular Republican of Puerto Rico”. Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995. Library of Congress, 9 junio 1997. Web. 24 agosto 2009.

Pagán de Soto, Gladys. “Federico Degetau y González (1862-1914)”. El Sol 29.4 (1985): 23 . Impreso.

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

Rosa Nieves, Cesáreo. Plumas estelares en las letras de Puerto Rico. San Juan, P. R.: Ediciones de la Torre, Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1967. Impreso.

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 11, 2014.

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