Eugenio María de Hostos (1839-1903) was a major Puerto Rican social philosopher, educator, and writer. His lifelong mission was to create a Spanish West Indies Confederation.
Eugenio María de Hostos was born in Mayagüez on Jan. 11, 1839. He attended school in San Juan. At the age of 13 he went to Spain to study at the Institute of Bilbao and the University of Madrid. While studying law, he wrote newspaper and magazine articles on the need for autonomy for the Spanish West Indies. He joined the Spanish republicans because their leaders promised autonomy for Cuba and Puerto Rico; but when the republicans triumphed over the monarchy, he refused the post of deputy for Puerto Rico, feeling betrayed. In 1869 he left for New York, where he became managing editor of a Cuban revolutionary newspaper. He was already well known because of his sociopolitical novel, La peregrinacion de Bayoán (1863), as well as his articles.
From 1870 to 1874 Hostos sought aid for Puerto Rico and Cuba. He lived in Argentina and then, returning to New York, became involved in a mission to carry reinforcements to the Cubans, who were fighting for their independence. However, the expedition of which he was part sailed from Boston but never arrived in Cuba. Hostos next went to the Dominican Republic, where he edited Las tres Antillas. In 1877 he left for Venezuela, where he married Belinda Otilia de Ayala.
Returning to the Dominican Republic in 1879, Hostos became a teacher at Santo Domingo National University. During his 10 years there, he started the country's first normal school. He also wrote the Dominican laws for public education. His reputation as an educator was such that the government of Chile invited him to help reform its public educational system. He had just published his Moral social (1888), today considered one of his finest writings. While in Chile, Hostos gained that country's women the right to study at the university and to receive training in law and medicine.
When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Hostos returned to Puerto Rico to work for both Puerto Rican and Cuban independence. He formed the League of Puerto Rican Patriots and led the commission that presented U.S. president William McKinley with a plan that would allow a Puerto Rican plebiscite to decide whether Puerto Rico should be annexed to the United States or become independent. The commission failed and no plebiscite was held.
Hostos left Puerto Rico in 1900, again disillusioned. He could not understand the United States desire for a Caribbean protective base for its future trade plans and its plans for Panama. He returned to Santo Domingo, at that government's invitation. He died there on Aug. 11, 1903.
Hostos's influence as an educator and social critic continues; his moral strength, passionate idealism, and personal magnetism are remembered to this day. His writings—over 50 titles—are still read throughout the Spanish-speaking world. His Hamlet (1873) ranks high among criticisms of the play. Commemorating the centennial of his birth, the government of Puerto Rico published the Obras completas of Hostos in 20 volumes.
The best essay in English on Hostos is "Eugenio María de Hostos, A Public Servant of the Americas" in Jose A. Balseiro, The Americas Look at Each Other (trans. 1969). Another essay on Hostos is in Jay N. Tuck and Norma Vergara, Heroes of Puerto Rico (1969).