Remembering Dr. José Padín Rodriguez

Later this year, Haverford and the Multicultural Alumni Action Group will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the José Padin Puerto Rican Scholarship.

Later this year, Haverford and the Multicultural Alumni Action Group will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the José Padín Puerto Rican Scholarship. Named for Dr. José Padín, a member of the Class of 1907, the scholarship supports students from Puerto Rico with demonstrated financial need whose background and character show that they have a high level of commitment to building successful multicultural communities. The scholarship’s creation was an important early initiative in support of diversity at Haverford and has been a keystone of the College’s strong relationship with Puerto Rico.

In honor of the anniversary, Carlos A. Rodríguez-Vidal ’79 has written a biography of Padín which we share here and invite you, in turn, to share your thoughts, comments, and memories related to the Padin Scholarship.

In addition, two events will be held in commemoration of the 50th anniversary. Please save the dates:

August 18 • San Juan, PR
October 29 • Haverford College

Event details will be added to this post and at as they become available.

Nearly 50 years ago, on October 11, 1967, Wm. Morris Maier, Treasurer of The Corporation of Haverford College, informed the Haverford community in his Annual Report that a substantial gift from Paulina C. Padín, the widow of a loyal alumnus, José Padín, was received during the year for scholarships for students from Puerto Rico. To honor him, the José Padín Scholarship Fund was created so that Puerto Rico would benefit by the education of its students at Haverford.

In April of 1975, I received the one and only telegram that I ever received, and it was from Haverford’s Admissions Office, informing me that I had been selected as the José Padín Scholar of the Class of 1979. The only reason I had learned about Haverford is because I heard about the José Padín Scholarship. One of five children born to the Executive Director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and a high school English teacher, I did not think that we could afford my going to college in the United States without it. The upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the scholarship, and Haverford’s commitment to celebrate it, prompted me to look into José Padín’s life. The research took me in unsuspected directions. I learned more about the historical context of the Puerto Rico where Padín was born and grew up, his family life, and accomplishments that I had never realized were his. This account attempts to show my gratitude to José and Paulina Padín by telling part of his story.

José Padín Rodríguez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 30, 1886. His parents were José Padín and Francisca Rodríguez. He attended elementary, middle school, and began high school studies in Old San Juan. In an unpublished short story, Una Escuelita de Antaño (A Little School of Times Past), Padín described a school very much like the one he may have attended in 1892, near the end of the nineteenth century. The small school was, in fact, a room in a house in the Ballajá ward of Old San Juan, steps from the grounds of San Felipe del Morro Castle and Fort, shaded on both sides by the Cuartel de Infantería de Ballajá (Ballajá Infantry Barracks). The house was owned by Mrs. Toribia Pérez, the widow of a former artillery captain by the name of Zapata from Valladolid, Spain. Tuition was initially four reales per month, and his family had to provide his school supplies, which consisted of an illustrated alphabet pasted on a piece of wood and a little chair.

On November 25, 1897, Spain granted Puerto Rico an Autonomic Charter which allowed Puerto Rico to constitute its own (colonial) government, including a House of Representatives directly elected by voters. In July, 1898, the United States began its invasion of Puerto Rico as part of the Spanish-American War. On December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Peace in Paris, in which Spain waived all of its rights to sovereignty and property over Cuba, and ceded to the United States the Island of Puerto Rico and the other islands that were then under its sovereignty in the West Indies, as well as the Island of Guam, and the archipelago of the Philippines. The Paris Treaty was ratified by the Senate and the President of the United States and the Queen of Spain, becoming enforceable on April 11, 1899. Neither the Puerto Rican government nor its people were consulted.

In 1901, when he was fifteen, Padín earned a scholarship to continue high school studies at the Moorestown Friends Academy (now Moorestown Friends School), in Moorestown, New Jersey. He graduated in 1903. While there, he participated on both of the athletic teams offered at the time, gymnastics and football. During José Padín’s years at Moorestown Friends, the Headmaster was William F. Overman, a Haverford alumnus.

After graduating from Moorestown, José Padín matriculated at Haverford. While at Haverford, “Paddy,” as he was called by his classmates, was active in student plays, playing “Macaroni de la Spaghetti,” a member of the jury at a mock trial held as the Sophomore Play and “Buttons, valet to Mike and George,” in the student production of Woman and Super-Woman in the Junior Play. He was also known among his classmates for his stories which, according to his classmates, at first “dealt only with men and (Puerto) Ricans,” but later incorporated a heroine in his junior year. During his third year at Haverford, he received the First John B. Garrett Prize (in books) for Systematic Reading for Juniors.[1] Padín also held a Teaching Fellowship during his senior year. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1907. His 70-page thesis was on Gustavo Adolfo Claudio Domínguez Bastida, better known as Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, a Post-Romanticism poet from Andalucía, Spain, who was also a playwright and literary columnist. In 1908, he also received a Master of Arts in Romance Languages at Haverford. His Master’s Thesis was on “La Critique Litteraire de F. Brunetiere.” Ferdinand Brunetiere was a French writer and critic who, according to the Textbook on the History of French Literature, explained “the literary process by the influence of one work on another, and finding the main reason for the change of literary directions and aesthetic tastes in the artistic aspirations of the creative personality.”

Padín returned to Puerto Rico after graduation from Haverford. He worked in various capacities in the Puerto Rico Department of Public Instruction. First, he worked as an English teacher and as assistant inspector of schools in the public school system in Corozal and Salinas until 1909, and later as schools superintendent in Guayama until 1912, and in Arecibo in 1912-13. He also worked as a general schools superintendent until 1916, and as assistant commissioner of public education until 1917.

One of his published works during those years was, together with Paul G. Miller, Commissioner of Public Instruction, Cervantes-Shakespeare Tercentenary 1616-1916, Biographical Notes, Selections, and Appreciations, which included literary works in prose and verse in Spanish and English. More importantly, Padín authored The Problem of Teaching English to the People of Porto Rico in 1916, a report to Commissioner Miller on the failure of English instruction in public schools.

On June 2, 1917, he married Paulina Cuebas Montval, who had been born on October 13, 1887 in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and moved with her to the United States. There, he began to work as a technical director of the Spanish-American Section of D.C. Heath & Co., a publishing house with offices at the McGraw Building, at 239 West Thirty-Ninth Street, New York City, and at the publisher’s offices at Columbus Avenue in Boston, where he worked until 1930. During that period, among other works, he authored annotated editions of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1919), and Misericordia, a novel by Spanish writer Benito Pérez Galdós (1928). Padín also served on the board of advisors and contributed reviews in the Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, edited by Prof. Federico de Onís of Columbia University, a journal that had been created as a collaborative effort between the Instituto de las Españas, later renamed the Hispanic Institute, founded by de Onís, and the Hispanic Studies Department of University of Puerto Rico. At the same time, Padín enrolled in the Columbia University Graduate Faculties (now known as the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences) from January 1927 to May 1928. Although he did not earn a degree, he took seven Spanish classes and three French classes during in the time he studied at Columbia while working at D.C. Heath.

After the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico and cession of Puerto Rico to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. Congress approved two Organic Acts for Puerto Rico that, among other things, delegated the authority to formulate the policies and curricula of Puerto Rican schools to a Commissioner of Education appointed by the President of the United States. 31 Stat. 81 (Foraker Act of 1900); 39 Stat. 956 (Jones Act of 1917). During Padín’s middle and high school years, educational policy strongly favored the predominant or exclusive use of English in schools in the belief that such a course of action would facilitate the development of a dual United States–Spanish culture on the island. This policy came to be rejected with Congressional approval because of the imposing difficulties in teaching young children in a language unknown to them outside of their classroom experience and because instruction in Spanish was virtually the universal desire of the Puerto Rican people.

The policy of the first Commissioner of Education, Dr. Martin G. Brumbaugh, was “the conservation of the Spanish language and culture and the acquisition of the English language with all the cultural characteristics which such acquisition implies.” Initially, English was merely a subject of instruction in the elementary grades but was not used as the language of instruction in teaching other subjects. In high schools, however, it was used as the language of instruction. By 1903, the difficulties inherent in this half–way policy were manifest and it was decided to make English the language of instruction in all grades. The school system struggled through a conversion period for a decade. Many U.S. teachers were imported and an extensive English training program for native teachers was undertaken. The program had been launched with an emotional fervor unaccompanied by much pedagogical analysis. Under a new Commissioner in 1915, Dr. Miller, the policy was re–examined. His Department issued the 1916 report authored by Padín which identified and summarized the failure of the English language policy as follows:

The evidence examined shows that the probable cause of this failure lies in a misconception of the method and material best suited to teach English to non–English speaking children who are studying at the same time their mother–tongue. This misconception is revealed in the attempt to teach English to the Puerto Rican children as if it were their mother–tongue, without regard to the fact that they live in a non–English environment, and without utilizing the advantages which accrue to the children from linguistic training in their native language.

The report recommended a modification of the all–English policy and the modification was put into operation by the Commissioner. Spanish became the language of instruction in the first four grades with English retained for the remaining grades.

In 1922, one of Padín’s sisters, Concepción, also known as Conchita, was left a widow when her husband, David Francis Lynch was murdered in Manatí, Puerto Rico. José and Paulina, who had no children of their own, took in their daughters, Ruth Beatrice, Eleanor Judith, and Edith Grace, and finished their upbringing.

Back in New York, Padín was active in alumni affairs, joining the Haverford Society of New York. Nonetheless, Padín also remained vigilant on matters regarding Puerto Rico. In 1922, he published Notions of Tropical Agriculture for Rural Schools, with Samuel Mills and Antonio Domínguez Nieves. A few years later, reacting to a New York Times editorial, Padín wrote a letter to the editor titled “Porto Rican Plight,” in which he stated:

The Times’ editorial “A Porto Rican Gesture” convinces me that even you do not quite realize Puerto Rico’s plight.

Little Porto Rico was forcibly adopted thirty years ago by a powerful neighbor who claimed the child was not being properly brought up by its own mother. The old woman’s record was bad: eighteen of her children had run away from home. It was true that the neighbor was not related in any way to the child in any degree of consanguinity or affinity, but he felt that he owed it to his humanitarian principles to take the child away from its mother and give it a proper training. The Good Samaritan had no children of its own, but he knew what was good for the young of his neighborhood. He took the child’s property, invested it wisely, and with some of the proceeds equipped a nursery for his ward. It was a modern nursery, scientifically planned to stimulate the child’s growth. The little ward was pleased with the new playroom.

Many years have passed. The child, who was neither physically nor mentally deficient, has grown in body and mind. The nursery has been slightly altered and redecorated twice, but it has not expanded with its inmate; worse than that, it has lost its novelty and, consequently, its appeal. The child hates it. He wants to go out and play with other children. He sees New Mexico and Montana playing in the open air without a nurse. Why can’t he go out and join them? He sees little Oklahoma playing with matches, and nobody spanks her. Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, three mischievous picaninnies [2] , go bathing in the ole swimming hole. Why is he kept locked up when the other children are allowed such liberties? And now, to add insult to injury, his guardian is holding a grand Boy Scouts’ camp in Havana.

The child’s Spanish American cousins have all been invited, but he is being kept out. And because he sends word that he wants to be a regular fellow he is scolded. Aren’t you a trifle too stern with the unhappy child?

Porto Rico is not satisfied with its present political status. It wants to manage its own affairs. It “prefers to make its own mistakes,” and to profit thereby. No country can be happy unless it can have its own self-respect. You are wrong in implying that hope of a free State is the dream of a minority of Spanish descent who have misgivings about the survival in Porto Rico of Peninsular culture. The great majority of Porto Ricans are of Spanish descent. Porto Rico is practically unanimous in its aspiration for home rule, and the status of a free state seems to be the solution which would reconcile best the political interests of the United States and the human rights of Porto Rico. The Spanish culture of Porto Rico is more vigorous today than at any time in the last four hundred years. There is not the remotest possibility of its extinction. Its vitality is the wonder and admiration of those competent to judge.

The greatest menace today is the dollar invested by absentee capitalists whose only interest in the island is the large dividends that they draw from it. The absentee investor is largely responsible for keeping Porto Rico locked up in the nursery. Unfortunately for us, he has a powerful voice in the Congress, where we may be seen but not heard.

A thought embitters the restless little prisoner. Five years after his adoption, one of his smallest cousins broke away from his mother and shied a brickbat at her. When the mother tried to spank the rebellious child and bring him home, Porto Rico’s guardian stepped in between mother and son, ordered the mother to keep hands off, patted the little fellow on his head, and declared him of age. The little rebel had a valuable piece of property which his protector wanted to acquire and the mother would not sell. Must Porto Rico break out of the nursery and smash a window or two before he is declared of age?

JOSÉ PADIN, Former Assistant Commissioner of Education of Porto Rico, New York Times, January 28, 1928.

The “Boy Scouts’ camp” to which Padín was alluding was most probably the Sixth International Conference of American States held in Havana in January and February of 1928, the last time a U.S. President had visited Cuba until President Obama did so in 2016. It marked a turning point in Inter-American relations, the high point of the United States dominance of the Pan-American Union, an international organization for cooperation on trade, and of the intransigence of U.S. interventionist policy in Latin America. The control of the conference agenda by the United States did not still expressions of frustration and resentment of U.S. policy by the other delegations. While an attempt to wrest control of the Pan-American Union from the United States proved unsuccessful, the conference was singularly productive. Several accords and conventions were approved at this conference. Among them were the Convention on Private International Law, Convention regarding the Status of Aliens in the respective Territories of the Contracting Parties, Convention concerning the Duties and Rights of States in the Event of Civil Strife, Convention on Maritime Neutrality, Convention regarding Diplomatic Officers, and the establishment of the Inter-American Commission on Women.

The Havana Conference also established the Inter-American Institute of Intellectual Cooperation. In 1930, Padín accepted membership in the U.S. National Council for Intellectual Cooperation. The Council constituted the representation of the United States in the Inter-American Institute. The purpose of the Institute was to mobilize the intelligence and the culture of the Americas by organizing in each of the then-twenty-one republics a national council made from organizations dealing with the intellectual progress and educational life of each country.

A 1926 survey of the public educational system of Puerto Rico sponsored by Columbia University’s International Institute of Teachers’ College had concluded that using English as the language of instruction prior to the seventh grade was futile because of cultural and environmental barriers. The Institute advised that the time and effort be dedicated to subjects relevant to the present and future lives of the students. The proposals in the Columbia survey were rejected and English remained the language of instruction for the fifth grade and above.

On December 5, 1929, Padín accepted a four-year appointment by U.S. President Herbert Hoover as Commissioner of Education of Puerto Rico at the insistence of Governor Theodore Roosevelt III, eldest son of the former President, who had been appointed to serve in Puerto Rico in September, 1929. During his tenure, Padín would serve as Acting Governor when any of the Governors were absent from the island. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Puerto Rico, the Board of Pensions for Schoolteachers, and the board of directors of the Carnegie Library in San Juan.

On June 6, 1931, Haverford conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws on Padín. In delivering a commencement address accepting the degree, he told the graduates that prosperity was “not a permanent fixture in the national progress,” and that “the national soul has been getting a share of roughing it.”

Dr. Padín had been appointed Commissioner while still living in New York, and it was deemed to be a non-political appointment. In 1933, University of Puerto Rico conferred the degree of Doctor of Literature on Dr. Padín. Nonetheless, he was targeted for replacement by newly appointed Governor Robert H. Gore, who arrived in Puerto Rico in September of 1932, and managed to unite significant opposition from all political sectors in the island, to the point that there was an attempt on the life of the Governor organized by a group of 14 individuals of different political persuasions. While Dr. Padín tendered his resignation to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in October of 1933 and it was initially accepted, the President instead accepted Governor Gore’s resignation in January of 1934, and reappointed Dr. Padín two weeks later. Dr. Padín’s work had been upheld in a report made by President Ernest M. Hopkins of Dartmouth College who had been sent to Puerto Rico by Secretary of War George Dern to investigate. The announcement was made after a new Governor, Major Gen. Blanton Winship, left Washington for Puerto Rico. Subsequently, on June 18, 1934, Dartmouth conferred the degree of Doctor of Pedagogy on Dr. Padín.

In August of 1934, in a letter addressed to all supervisors of public schools in Puerto Rico, Dr. Padín informed them that, commencing with the new school year, all instruction in the elementary schools would be in the Spanish language. He said that his order did no more than give official recognition to a practical condition long existing, except that from then on the time devoted to the study of English in the upper grades would be doubled so that all pupils entering high schools might be prepared in English exclusively. The change did not connote abandonment of prior policies designed to achieve English literacy, but instead Dr. Padín described it as a realistic adjustment intended to improve English facility without an inordinate sacrifice of other educational objectives. He then recommended to the Legislative Assembly’s Economy Commission that 200 United States teachers be employed to teach English exclusively, which Governor Winship approved, urging an appropriation for the additional teachers for the next school year.

Dr. Padín’s language policy was well-received by Puerto Rican teachers and was defended by educators and linguistic experts as a pedagogically sound measure for the teaching of English to a people whose vernacular was not English. The new policy, however, was short–lived. In the Río Piedras sector of San Juan, police killed several students and pro-independence activists in 1935 in what was called the Río Piedras Massacre. Over the issue of language of instruction, a journalistic polemic flared and lives were lost, including that of Police Superintendent Francis T. Riggs, whose assassination by Nationalists triggered a period of unparalleled, open repression at every level of Puerto Rican society. The time was one of intense political turmoil in Puerto Rico, and Congressional disenchantment with a variety of local programs and political ideas coalesced on the English language issue. Commissioner Padín was forced to resign and his successor, Dr. José Gallardo, was directed by President Roosevelt to intensify the teaching of English to achieve a bilingual population.

The period was one of great confusion in language policy. Its chief characteristic was the splitting of instruction time from the third grade forward in varying ratios between Spanish and English with Spanish predominating. In 1942, Commissioner Gallardo finally joined his predecessors in forsaking English as the language of instruction in the first six grades.

A permanent turn toward the use of Spanish as the exclusive language of instruction in the schools of Puerto Rico came in December 1946 with the interim appointment of Mariano Villaronga as Commissioner of Education. Villaronga recognized that “English should be considered one of the most important studies in our education program” but should be treated “as a school subject and not as the medium for teaching all other subjects.” Although the Senate never confirmed Dr. Villaronga’s appointment, his program ultimately received Congressional approval. The following year, after graduating from University of Puerto Rico’s Faculty of Education, my mother, Viola Vidal, left Puerto Rico for the first time to attend Columbia’s Teachers’ College to pursue a Master of Arts degree with a concentration in Teaching English as a Second Language. She returned a year later to begin her career as an English teacher in Puerto Rico.

After Dr. Padín left the Department of Public Instruction in Puerto Rico, he returned to the United States and rejoined D.C. Heath as Modern Languages Editor at the Boston office, eventually retiring as Corporate Secretary and Editor in Chief in 1953. That same year, Dr. Padín received an award as “Outstanding Puerto Rican citizen of the Year” from the Puerto Rican Institute of New York. During portions of the period between 1942 and 1954, Dr. Padín served as a member of the Puerto Rico Council of Higher Education and continued to serve on the boards of the Boy Scouts’ Council. He remained in touch with the College, as evidenced by the correspondence between him and President Gilbert F. White during 1951, and with Acting President Archibald MacIntosh in 1956. In it, they discuss an initial donation of books in Romance languages to the Haverford library, the possibility of having Dr. Padín visit Haverford to give a lecture and to meet with students interested in Spanish language and culture, and of representing the College at the inauguration of Dr. Ronald C. Bauer as President of the Polytechnic Institute (now Inter American University) in San Germán, Puerto Rico.

In March, 1954, Dr. Padín also donated 1,800 books from his private collection to the General Library at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus. It is housed in the Puerto Rican Collection wing of the main library.

Dr. Padín died suddenly of a heart attack on January 22, 1963. His book, Estampas Puertorriqueñas (Puerto Rican Scenes), a collection of short stories, was published posthumously in 1967, edited by Dr. Padín’s niece, Edith Grace Lynch Parthenais, and her husband, Theodore Parthenais, both of whom had taught at University of Puerto Rico. Four separate public schools still carry Dr. Padín’s name, in Corozal, Salinas, the Sabana Llana sector of San Juan, and Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

Paulina, his widow, also kept in touch with Haverford, particularly after Dr. Padín’s passing. In one such letter, dated November 1, 1966 to President Hugh Borton, she thanked him for sending her copies of five stories authored by Dr. Padín that had been published in the 1906-1907 issue of the literary magazine, The Haverfordian, when he was a student at Haverford. She saw it fit to clarify that “those of us who were born under the Spanish regime were not made American Citizens until March 1, 1917, so that my husband was a Spaniard when he studied at Haverford.” After the José Padín Scholarship was created, she lived her private life until she passed away in San Juan in June, 1975.

The nieces Dr. and Mrs. Padín took in, Ruth Beatrice (Camuy, P.R., 1915 – New London, CT, 2001), Judith Eleanor (Camuy, P.R., 1917 – Washington, D.C., 2011), and Edith Grace (Camuy, P.R., 1918 – Boston, MA, 1993), have all passed on, too. Ruth Beatrice married Rafael J. Ramírez de Arellano, and had a son, Rafael W. Ramírez, and two daughters, Kathleen and Lucille. Judith’s marriage to Warren Bolton ended in divorce, and they had no children. Edith Grace married José E. González, had a son, Duncan (1944-1991), and widowed in 1954. She later married Theodore J. Parthenais, who died in 1992. They had no children together.

As I reflect on Puerto Rico’s current plight, and the deterioration in its relationship with the United States, I sympathize greatly with Dr. Padín and his generation. The seemingly beneficial aspects of maintaining that relationship indefinitely are dissipating daily, and vestiges of colonialist tendencies have raised their ugly head again in Congress. Dr. Padín’s consistent affirmation of our identity as a nation is inspiring to those of us who, whether in Puerto Rico itself, or from a distance, were granted by Dr. and Mrs. Padín the opportunity to obtain a Haverford education, and to try to use it for the betterment of Puerto Rico.

Carlos A. Rodríguez-Vidal ’79
San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 15, 2016


[1]  John Biddle Garrett, an alumnus of the Class of 1854, was also a member of Haverford’s Board of Managers during Padín’s student years at Haverford and a Third Vice President of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

[2] Picaninny, in Padín’s era, was a word applied originally by the African descendants of the West Indies to their babies. It was adapted either from Spanish, pequeño, small, or Portuguese, pequenino, very small. The word spread with the slave trade to the United States. At one time the word may have been used as a term of endearment, but it is now considered derogatory or racist.