José Celso Barbosa

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Dr. José Celso Barbosa (July 27, 1857 – September 21, 1921) was a medical Physician, sociologist, and political leader of Puerto Rico. Known as "The father of the Statehood for Puerto Rico movement", Barbosa was also the first Puerto Rican with an American (United States) medical degree.


Early years

He was born in the city of Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Barbosa received both his primary and secondary education in Puerto Rico. He was the first person who had both black ancestry and white ancestry to attend Puerto Rico's prestigious Jesuit Seminary. After graduating from the Seminary, Barbosa tutored private students to save money to attend college. In 1875, he moved to New York to attend prep school where he learned English in a year.[1]

His goal in life was to become a lawyer, but after a bout with pneumonia in New York City, his doctor recommended he study medicine rather than law. In 1877, he was admitted to the medical school of the University of Michigan. Barbosa graduated valedictorian of the class of 1880. He returned to the island where he set up his practice in his native hometown.[2]

First Puerto Rican with an American medical degree

The Spanish government did not recognize Barbosa's medical degree as it was not from one of the European universities. It took the intervention of the American consul to the island for Barbosa's degree to be recognized. Barbosa was the first person in the entire island with an American medical degree. Barbosa practiced medicine all over the island, and introduced the novel idea of employers paying a fee for the future health care needs of their employees (a very early health insurance system). In 1893, Barbosa founded the first Puerto Rican cooperative and named it "El Ahorro Colectivo".[1]

Political career

Barbosa was a member of the Autonomous Party led by Román Baldorioty de Castro but left the party because of ideological differences.

In 1898, when the United States bombarded and blockaded San Juan during the Spanish–American War Barbosa together with other doctors who lived in Bayamon, traveled to the town of Cataño and boarded a ferry headed towards San Juan. Barbosa, as member of the Red Cross, went to the aid of the wounded Puerto Rican and Spanish soldiers. The ferry trip which crossed San Juan Bay was dangerous since they came close to being hit by cannon fire. Barbosa and those with him were recommended by the Spanish government to be decorated with the Cruz de la Orden del Mérito Naval (The Naval Cross of the Order of Merit) for their bravery.[3]

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