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Joseph Monserrat Papers

 Collection — Box: 30
Identifier: MSS 42

Scope and Contents

The Joseph Monserrat Papers document his role and that of the Migration Division in the formation and implementation of the policies of the government of Puerto Rico regarding the migration of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. They also shed light on Monserrat’s contributions as a member and President of the Board of Education of the City of New York and on the issues confronting public education at the time. The materials are valuable for research in the areas of community development, bilingual education, school decentralization, civil rights, electoral politics, police brutality and corruption, community organizations, farm labor, inter-group relations and the internal workings of the Migration Division and the Board of Education of the City of New York. Among the personalities represented in the collection are Luis Muñoz Marín, Herman Badillo, Rafael Hernández Colón, Robert García, Leonard Covello and Nydia Velázquez.

The documents described here represent only a portion of Joseph Monserrat’s papers and consequently of his life activities. The bulk of the materials pertain to the 1970s and particularly the years from 1969 to 1973. The records consist primarily of personal documents, correspondence, writings, appointment books, directories, reports, news clippings, programs and photographs. The folders are arranged alphabetically and chronologically, with some exceptions.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1960s-1980s
  • Creation: 1953-2005


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Monserrat has had a long and distinguished career in public service. He was mostly recognized for his leadership as director of the Migration Division (1951-1969), an agency of the Government of Puerto Rico, which played a significant role in the migration and settlement of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. From 1969- 1970 he served as member and president of the Board of Education of the City of New York. Monserrat’s papers are important for understanding the relationship of the Puerto Rican community to these two agencies from the 1950s through the 1970s and the impact of the Puerto Rican migration on New York City.

José Francisco Monserrat Figueroa was born on September 17, 1921 in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. In 1924, when he was three years old, his parents, Rafael Monserrat, a tobacco worker, and his wife Cruz Figueroa migrated to New York City. Following the death of his mother the young Monserrat and his sister spent seven years in foster care in Long Island. In 1931, his father remarried and the family was reunited and went to live on 108th St. in East Harlem, also known as “El Barrio.”

Between the ages of ten and twelve, Monserrat attended school at La Liga Puertorriqueña in East Harlem where he relearned Spanish and completed grade school. He went on to Benjamin Franklin High School where he was mentored and greatly influenced by its principal, Leonard Covello, who encouraged him to continue his studies and work on behalf of the Puerto Rican community. They forged an important friendship and later Covello was to work and collaborate with him at the Migration Division. During his high school years, Monserrat nurtured his artistic talents and organized a musical group called the Rumba Band aspiring to become a singer and dancer. However, by 1938 he had chosen a different path and began his career in the social services working for the Goddard Neighborhood Center.

During World War II, Monserrat joined the Air Force and served four years as an aviation engineer. Once the war ended, he returned to New York and used his savings to open a factory, which manufactured wooden household implements. Some time later, he gave up his business and decided to return to school, choosing to pursue studies at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research (now known as The New School University).

Monserrat gained experience in community work primarily through his jobs in settlement houses. His first job as a community organizer was with Madison House on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Subsequently he served as Director of the Melrose House Community Center in the Bronx and the Good Neighbor Federation Settlement. He also served as the first coordinator of the Street Gang Project of the Board of Education of the City of New York.

In 1951, Monserrat was named Director of the New York office of the Migration Division of the Department of Labor of Puerto Rico. In 1960, he was appointed by Governor Luís Muñoz Marín as National Director of the Division. He became its third director succeeding Clarence Senior and served in that position for almost a decade. As National Director he was responsible for administering sixteen offices throughout the Northeastern and the Midwestern United States. These offices were charged with helping migrants adjust to their new surroundings and, to this end, operated programs in numerous social service areas such as employment, identification, education and community organization. Through the Migration Division, the government of Puerto Rico operated a major program to contract migrant farm laborers. The regional offices also became involved in community activities, formed coalitions with other ethnic groups, and advocated on behalf of civil rights. Although Monserrat left his post at the Division in 1969, he returned in 1989 as a consultant and participated in transforming it into the Department of Community Affairs in the United States. On May 20, 1969, Herman Badillo, then Bronx Borough President, appointed him to the Board of Education. Shortly thereafter he became the first Puerto Rican to be elected president of the Board, serving in that position from June 11, 1969 until July 1, 1970. In that time period, he helped to successfully negotiate a contract with the United Federation of Teachers, which averted a strike and made New York City teachers among the highest paid in the nation. Also during his tenure, he was confronted with issues surrounding school decentralization, segregation and desegregation measures and budgetary crises.

From 1976 until 1980 Monserrat was active on many fronts and worked for various organizations. He was executive director of the National Puerto Rican Business and Marketing Association Inc., an economic development organization. He also founded and was president of his own company, Monserrat Associates, a consulting and public relations firm. He participated in numerous activities and organizations. Among them were: The Puerto Rican and Hispanic Council of Organizations, the Leonard Covello Senior Center for East Harlem Inc., the New York Advisory Committee on Civil Rights to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. In 1970, Mayor John Lindsay appointed him to the Knapp Commission, which was investigating police corruption in the New York Police Department. In that same year, he was Grand Marshall of the Columbus Day Parade in New York. These and other services won him awards such as the Pan American Award and the Martin Buber Award.

Monserrat wrote numerous pamphlets published through the Migration Division, contributed to journals and collaborated in book projects on subjects such as the education of children and the history of the migration. During the 1970s, for example, he produced a column in English for the newspaper el diario/La Prensa devoted to issues concerning the living conditions of Latinos as well as providing information about reforms and programs benefiting the community. Among his publications are The Puerto Rican Market: Its Growth and Value and The Education of Puerto Rican Children in New York City (1954). He participated in the production of Puerto Ricans: Immigrants and Migrants, a Historical Perspective (1990), which was part of a curriculum series titled Americans All. Monserrat also taught courses at Hunter College, New York University, the New School for Social Research and the University of Puerto Rico.

Monserrat died in 2005 in New York City at the age of 84.


12.56 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


A government official and community leader. Collection contains correspondence, speeches, manuscripts, subject files, information about community organizations, and materials related to his positions on the Board of Education of the City of New York, the Migration Division of the Government of Puerto Rico and the Department of Community Affairs in the United States.


The collection is divided into the following ten series:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence

III. Writings

IV. Board of Education of the City of New York

V. Organizations

VI. Subject Files

VII. Photographs

VIII. Appointment Books

IX. Directories

X. Plaques

Other Finding Aids

English / Spanish bilingual language finding aid is available. See External Documents.

Other version of this finding aid was created as part of Ventana Al Pasado: Building a Latino/Hispanic Online Research Collection. The New York State Archives and Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños received funding for this project from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Existence and Location of Originals

Some documents pertaining to Series I: Biographical and Personal Information (1955-2005) and Series IV: Board of Education of the City of New York (1963-1991) are only available on microfilm format. Original documents remain with the Monserrat family.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection has been microfilmed and is available on 17 reels. Researchers interested in purchasing microfilm copies should contact Centro.

Separated Materials

Pamphlets and newspapers were transferred to the Centro Library.

Joseph Monserrat Papers
Ismael García with the assistance of Izzy de Moya, Damary González, Myrna Tinoco and Noelia Urbano.
March 2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processed with a grant from The National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Funding was also provided by a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. A recent addition of records and others still held by donor will be processed at a later date.

Revision Statements

  • 2005: Guide reviewed and actualized by Pedro Juan Hernández and Nélida Pérez.
  • 2015: Guide reviewed and actualized by Juber Ayala and P. J. Hernández.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.