Precongressional and Washington Experiences

Family/Ethnic Roots

Luis Muñoz Marín/tiles/non-collection/p/part2_03_marin_luis_munoz_lc2.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress The son of Resident Commissioner Luis Muñoz Rivera, Luis Muñoz Marín (right) dominated Puerto Rican politics as a party leader, president of the Puerto Rican senate, and governor of the Puerto Rican commonwealth for more than two decades.
The Hispanic Members of Congress of this era were products of an increasingly interconnected geopolitical landscape. Nearly half (seven of 15) were born outside the United States. Five were born in Puerto Rico under Spanish rule; one was born in Mexico (Larrazolo), one was born in Spain (Iglesias), and another spent much of his youth in Spain (Degetau). Those who were American citizens from birth lived in Louisiana or the New Mexico Territory nearly their entire lives. Like 19th-century nuevomexicano politicians, who hailed from politically connected families, Delegate Pedro Perea followed his cousin Francisco Perea and brother-in-law Mariano Otero into politics. Puerto Rican politicians, too, had familial connections. Resident Commissioner Luis Muñoz Rivera’s son, Luis Muñoz Marín, was a major figure in Puerto Rican politics throughout the middle of the 20th century, serving as Puerto Rico’s first elected governor from 1948 to 1964. Félix Córdova Dávila’s son, Jorge Luis Córdova-Díaz, served as Resident Commissioner from 1969 to 1973. Santiago Iglesias took on Bolívar Pagán as his protégé, and according to one account raised him after his parents died.6 Pagán eventually married Iglesias’s daughter and served out his late father-in-law’s term.

Age Relative to the Rest of the Congressional Population

The cohort of Hispanic Americans who entered Congress between 1898 and 1945 was slightly older (47 years old) than the average group of Members when they were first elected (45 years old) and far older than the first generation of Hispanic Americans in Congress, who were on average a decade younger (36.5 years). While this difference in age can be explained by the trend toward older Members entering Congress, it is also attributable to the fact that these Hispanic lawmakers spent the first part of their careers deeply involved in state or territorial politics. Because of their advanced age, six of the 15 died in office.

During this era, the oldest Hispanic Member in Congress at the time of his first election was Octaviano Larrazolo of New Mexico, who was elected at age 69 to a brief and symbolic term as the first Hispanic Senator. The youngest Hispanic Member during this era was 34-year-old Representative Joachim O. Fernández of Louisiana, a former state legislator who hitched his political wagon to Huey P. Long’s insurgent political machine in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Education, Professions, and Prior Political Experience

In most other respects, the members of this group mirrored their contemporary House colleagues. Eighty percent had some college education, with roughly half studying law.7 Five (Degetau, Larrazolo, Pagán, Félix Córdova Dávila, and José Pesquera) were practicing lawyers. Five (Degetau, Muñoz Rivera, Iglesias, Pagán, and Néstor Montoya) were journalists or writers, which was a direct route to political office for many Puerto Ricans in this era.

With regard to political experience, the members of this group stood out from their House contemporaries. All but two of the 15 Hispanic Members of Congress in this era (87 percent) served in statewide or territory-wide office; 12 of them served in their state legislatures before their election to Congress.8 By comparison, less than half the House membership had experience in statewide office during this same period. Some of the Hispanic Members also had held key leadership posts at the state or territorial level. In 1903 Néstor Montoya was the speaker of the New Mexico territorial assembly; Pagán was both president pro tempore and majority floor leader in the Puerto Rican senate in the 1930s. In 1932, longtime judge Félix Córdova Dávila resigned his post as Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner to serve on the insular supreme court.

D.C. Residences and Careerism in Congress

Octaviano Larrazolo of New Mexico/tiles/non-collection/p/part2_04_larrazolo_octavio_lc.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress In this 1928 photo, newly elected New Mexican Senator Octaviano Larrazolo and his daughter Marie pose on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Larrazolo’s election as the first Hispano governor of New Mexico inspired other Hispano candidates to run for elected office.
During this era, as more politicians began to view Congress as a career rather than as a stepping stone to another position, Members began relocating their families to Washington, D.C. From their arrival, Representative Ladislas Lazaro of Louisiana and his family were fixtures of Washington society. When Lazaro’s daughter Eloise debuted in 1913, the Washington Post ran a large photograph of her, pronouncing her “one of the most beautiful of the younger members of the congressional set.”9 Another Lazaro daughter, Elaine, married South Trimble, Jr., son of the longtime and popular Clerk of the House.

Like most Resident Commissioners, Luis Muñoz Rivera spent much of his time in the capital as a bachelor. He resided in the upscale neighborhoods of northwest Washington, D.C., along with many other Members of Congress. For a time he rented an apartment in The Highlands, just off Connecticut Avenue near the Kalorama neighborhood; he later moved to The Benedick, a bachelor apartment just west of the White House on I Street. His teenage son, Luis, lived with him while attending Georgetown Preparatory High School and Georgetown Law School. Like many congressional family members of the time, Luis took a position as his father’s personal secretary, working in his office on the second floor of the House Office Building (now the Cannon House Office Building).10

Santiago Iglesias employed members of his large family in his congressional office. He brought several of his daughters to the city after his election, taking up residence in an apartment in the Wisteria Mansions on Massachusetts Avenue near the American Federation of Labor (AFL) building, where he had spent time in labor organization efforts. He later purchased a four-bedroom duplex on Porter Street in northwest Washington, into which he moved his family, after renting out his home in San Juan. Iglesias’s daughters, Libertad and Igualdad, were two of the three staff members in his congressional office. His daughter Laura took over Igualdad’s position when she married Resident Commissioner Bolívar Pagán in 1933.11

Cannon House Office Building/tiles/non-collection/p/part2_05_chob_lc.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Opened in 1908, the House Office Building (now named for Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois), pictured above, enabled Members to conduct business in comfortable offices and convene hearings in larger committee rooms.
Unlike Representatives, who moved into the House Office Building right away, Resident Commissioners received their office assignments in 1910, two years after the building opened.12 New Mexico Representative Néstor Montoya described the building’s amenities: “This building, which is located two blocks from the capitol, has couriers for the members, telephone and telegraph offices, special restaurants and everything needed for comfort.”13 At the time, most Members kept only a skeleton staff in Washington and maintained no official district staff or offices. Ladislas Lazaro, for instance, had one full-time staffer: a personal secretary, Isom Guillory, from his home town of Ville Platte. His closest political confidant was J. P. Trosclair, the postmaster in Opelousas, one of the largest towns in his sprawling southwestern Louisiana district. Because Lazaro often spent long stretches of time in Washington with his family, he did not have the benefit of a politically astute wife or child in the district. During Lazaro’s first several terms, Trosclair was his eyes and ears in his home district, and he became adept at sniffing out Lazaro’s potential primary challengers. Lazaro relied on Trosclair to analyze local politics, to pass messages to political allies, and to promote stories about his legislative successes.

Next Section


6“Appoints Bolivar Pagan,” 27 December 1939, New York Times: 9; “Memorial Services Held in the House of Representatives of the United States, Together with Remarks Presented in Eulogy of Santiago Iglesias, Late a Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico,” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1941): 33.

7On average, 78 percent of House Members from 1900 to 1950 had some postsecondary education. Roughly half (56 percent) practiced law. See Allan G. Bogue et al., “Members of the House of Representatives and the Processes of Modernization, 1789–1960,” Journal of American History 63, no. 2 (September 1976): 275–302.

8Senator Octaviano Larrazolo was one of these individuals, having served as a state representative and as governor of New Mexico before his Senate service.

9“Louisiana Beauty Who Is to Enter Washington Society This Winter,” 19 November 1913, Washington Post: 4.

10For information on living arrangements and on Muñoz Rivera’s son’s office position, see A. W. Maldonado, Luis Muñoz Marín: Puerto Rico’s Democratic Revolution (San Juan, PR: La Editorial Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2006): 31–33.

11Gonzalo F. Córdova, Resident Commissioner Santiago Iglesias and His Times (Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993): 271.

12CLXXVI Cannon’s Precedents § 245 (p. 417); Congressional Record, House, 61st Cong., 2nd sess. (7 January 1910): 406; House Journal, 61st Cong., 2nd sess. (7 January 1910): 131.

13“Yo fuí asignado las oficinas No. 145, en el edificio de Miembros de la Cámara … Este edificio que esta dos cuadras del capitolio, contiene oficina del teléfono y telégrafo, restaurantes especiales y todo lo necesario para la comodidad.” Néstor Montoya, “Notas de Washington,” La bandera americana (Albuquerque, NM), 18 March 1921: 2. Translated as “Notes from Washington” by Translations International, Inc. (July 2009).