Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Brown, Ras Michael


This dissertation examines the long term effects of population control initiatives brought to the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico to reveal the connections between insular reform programs and the constraints placed on reproductive autonomy for Puerto Rican women in a colonial setting. The history of these interventions exposes how various interest groups including mainland reformers, the Catholic Church, Puerto Rican nationalists and socialists, and colonial intermediaries obscured the damage done to Puerto Rico through poor colonial management during the first thirty years of U.S. occupation by shifting the blame for Puerto Rico’s problems to the supposedly dangerous reproductive habits of poor and working class Puerto Rican women. In all cases, overpopulation discourse and the production of knowledge claims regarding Puerto Rican sexuality, reproduction, population control as a tool of modernization contributed heavily to these pressure groups’ appeals to legitimacy of rule over the island throughout the century. In less than fifty years the conflation of birth control practices, eugenic ideology, and population control legislation would transform Puerto Rico into a social science/contraceptive laboratory, having such a profound impact on the trajectory of birth control culture that a 1981 fertility survey showed that over one third (39%) of the island’s women were sterile. By analyzing the production of this distorted representation of insular conditions and reproduction trends in Puerto Rico during this early phase of U.S. control over the island, this dissertation explores how the convergence of modernizing reform initiatives, population control policy, social science, and overpopulation discourse contributed to the colonial domination of Puerto Rican women’s reproductive autonomy and transformed their into sites of colonial encounters despite living in a nation which denies its own colonial status and history.




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