During the 1930s, Puerto Rico faced profound economic challenges, exacerbated by the Great Depression that affected the entire United States. In response, the federal government implemented The New Deal, a series of economic reforms and social initiatives aimed at addressing the economic hardships and improving the well-being of American citizens, including those in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico. This article explores the impact of The New Deal on Puerto Rico’s economic recovery and the social programs that left a lasting imprint on the island, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt’s influential role during this transformative era.

Puerto Rico’s Economic Challenges

In the wake of the Great Depression, Puerto Rico’s economy was in dire straits. The collapse of the island’s sugar industry, combined with widespread poverty and unemployment, demanded urgent action. The New Deal provided a lifeline, offering comprehensive strategies to tackle the economic downturn and rebuild the island’s economy.

The New Deal: Economic Reforms in Puerto Rico

One of the key aspects of The New Deal’s impact on Puerto Rico was the establishment of the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA) in 1935. The PRRA was tasked with promoting economic recovery and development on the island. It invested in public infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and schools, creating much-needed employment opportunities and laying the foundation for long-term economic growth.

Social Initiatives for Puerto Rico’s Welfare

In addition to economic reforms, The New Deal included a range of social initiatives aimed at improving the well-being of Puerto Ricans. Social Security, a cornerstone of The New Deal, extended its benefits to Puerto Rico, providing a safety ne

t for the island’s elderly and vulnerable populations. Other initiatives focused on public health, education, and housing, seeking to enhance living standards and social equity.

Works Progress Administration (WPA) Projects in Puerto Rico

The Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal agency established as part of The New Deal, played a crucial role in PuertoRico’s economic recovery. The WPA funded various public works projects, including the construction of schools, hospitals, and public buildings. These projects not only provided jobs but also improved essential infrastructure across the island.

Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA) and Development Efforts

The PRRA’s efforts extended beyond infrastructure projects. It also aimed to revitalize the island’s agricultural sector, implementing programs to modernize farming practices and improve productivity. The PRRA’s focus on sustainable development sought to create a more resilient economy for Puerto Rico.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Impact

During The New Deal era, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, played a significant role in advocating for social and economic reforms that directly impacted Puerto Rico. As the First Lady of the United States, she used her platform to champion social justice and equality, making her voice heard on issues affecting marginalized communities, including Puerto Ricans.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a fierce advocate for social equity and believed in the importance of extending the benefits of The New Deal to all American citizens, regardless of their geographic location. She recognized the unique challenges faced by Puerto Rico and actively supported efforts to ensure that the island received its fair share of federal assistance. Her influence helped in directing resources towards Puerto Rico’s economic recovery and social welfare initiatives.

Additionally, Eleanor Roosevelt was passionate about advancing women’s rights and empowering women in Puerto Rico. During her visits to the island, she met with local women and listened to their concerns, gaining firsthand insights into their struggles and aspirations. Through her efforts, she encouraged the inclusion of Puerto Rican women in education and employment opportunities, advocating for their economic and social progress.

Beyond advocacy for economic reforms, Eleanor Roosevelt was fascinated by the rich cultural heritage of Puerto Rico. During her visits to the island, she immersed herself in the local culture, engaging with artists, writers, and musicians. Her appreciation for Puerto Rican traditions and customs further strengthened the ties between Puerto Rico and the United States, fostering mutual understanding and respect.

Moreover, Eleanor Roosevelt was a vocal opponent of racial discrimination, and she recognized the disparities faced by Afro-Puerto Ricans during The New Deal era. She worked to highlight and challenge racial injustices, advocating for greater opportunities and equal treatment for all Puerto Ricans regardless of their race or ethnicity.


The New Deal left a lasting impact on Puerto Rico’s economic and social development. The comprehensive reforms and initiatives introduced during this period revitalized the island’s economy, provided employment opportunities, and laid the groundwork for long-term progress. The New Deal’s legacy continues to be felt in Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, social programs, and approaches to economic development, underscoring the enduring impact of this transformative era.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s actions during The New Deal era further enriched Puerto Rico’s journey towards progress and social equity. Her advocacy for economic reforms, social justice, and women’s empowerment resonated with the Puerto Rican people, leaving a lasting imprint on the island’s development. Her legacy as a compassionate and influential First Lady continues to be celebrated by Puerto Ricans, serving as a reminder of the power of advocacy and the pursuit of a more just and equitable society.