Educator who was known, like many of the other members of the 1930s Generation, for defending the use of the Spanish language, the vernacular among Puerto Ricans, in education at a time in the history of the island when English was the medium of instruction. She dedicated much of her life to developing a methodology of instruction in Spanish.
Antonia Sáez Torres was born in the municipality of Humacao on May 10, 1889, the daughter of Abelardo Sáez and Teresa Torres. She began her primary studies in her hometown. In 1903, she moved to Río Piedras to continue her studies at the University of Puerto Rico Normal School, where she obtained a teaching certificate in 1908. She returned to Humacao, where she worked as a third-grade and fourth-grade teacher in Tow Grade School. Because the schools in her town only offered the first six grades, she collaborated with the Department of Education to extend them to eighth grade.
Because of her efforts, a “continuing school” was established and she was appointed its assistant principal (1910-1911). When it became a high school, she served as its Spanish teacher.
In the summer of 1923, she was an instructor at the University of Puerto Rico Summer School, which had been created the year before to offer a series of preparatory courses for public school teachers to improve the professionalism of the teaching corps. In 1925, she began teaching night classes at Central High School in Santurce while she continued her graduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), where she completed her bachelor’s degree (1928) and a masters degree (1930) in Arts, with a specialization in Spanish language and literature. After winning a scholarship (1930), she moved to Madrid, where she earned her doctoral degree and presented her thesis, El teatro en Puerto Rico: notas para su estudio.
Upon returning to the island (1931), she became an instructor at the College of Education at the UPR. As part of her work, she contributed to the process of establishing in the Department of Education a method of classification of teachers. Antonia Sáez contributed to this process because of her interest in the methodology of teaching in Spanish at the elementary and secondary school levels, a field in which she specialized.
She fiercely defended the Spanish language and its use as the means of instruction, instead of English. She believed students should know their own language well before learning a foreign language, and therefore it was important for teachers to be well versed in the subject. These and other ideas about education were the topics of articles she published in various magazines in Puerto Rico. Among them were “El maestro de escuela elemental” (1959) and “Significación del vernáculo: apuntes lingüísticos” (1962), published in the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture’s magazine. Other magazines she contributed to included Índice, Brújula, Revista de la Asociación de Mujeres Graduadas and Asomante. As an essayist, she was part of the 1930s Generation, which was known for its concern about the development of Puerto Rican culture and identity.
Her doctoral thesis, El teatro en Puerto Rico, was published in 1950. According to Dr. Josefina Rivera de Alvarez, Sáez was the first to present a work on the history of Puerto Rican theater. Her work is considered one of the first to study the island’s literature.
Her main writings, however, focused on the methodology of teaching in Spanish: Las artes del lenguaje en la escuela elemental (1944), La lectura, arte del lenguaje (1948), Las artes del lenguaje en la escuela secundaria (1952) and Fundamentos esenciales de la enseñanza del español (1959). The latter included a prologue by Spanish linguist Samuel Gili Gaya. The first two publications mentioned above won prizes from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature. In these books, Sáez presents an appropriate methodology for teaching in Spanish.
Upon retiring from teaching in 1959, the University named her a professor emeritus. Later, in 1961, she received a Gold Medal from the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture for her contributions to Puerto Rican culture through her work to preserve the Spanish language as a means of instruction in the Puerto Rican public schools. In the final years of her life, she worked for the Institute as an advisor and researcher. She died on July 20, 1964, in Tokyo, Japan, while on a trip to Asia.
She left behind an unpublished work, Caminos del recuerdo, in which she collected her memoirs. It was published in 1967, with a prologue by her friend, Concha Meléndez. Currently, an elementary school in Humacao and another in Toa Baja are named for her, as is a cultural center in her hometown.
By the PROE Editorial Group
Arriví, Francisco. “Doña Antonia Sáez, Ceiba (1889-1964). Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña 7.25 (1964): 11-19. Impreso.
Córdova de Braschi, Julita. “Antonia Sáez: Razón y sentido de una vocación”. Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña 3.6 (1960): 15-16. Impreso
Meléndez, Concha. “Memorias de Antonia Sáez”. Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña 7.25 (1964): 1-3. Impreso.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Diccionario de literatura puertorriqueña. 2a ed. Vol 2. San Juan, P. R.: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1974. Impreso.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña: su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Partenón, 1983.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: April 06, 2010.
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