The Pearl Key — A Digital Treasure

Cover of book with titel and cuban flag

One of the bright treasures of the Latin American and Caribbean Collection is The Pearl Key, or Midnight and Dawn in Cuba. Ahead of its publication in 1896, this little notice appeared in the Savannah Morning News:

“Miss Aurora de Mena, professor of Spanish in the state agricultural college at Lake City […] is about to issue a book of great interest at the present time, owing to the attention that is being directed to Cuba. […] It will contain a thrilling story of Miss de Mena’s own experiences in Cuba up to the time of her escape from the island about a year ago.”

De Mena was a mambisa, a woman in the Cuban independence movement, and she hoped that The Pearl Key would unlock for Americans the dark situation in the “Pearl of the Antilles.” In it she explained she was “Inspired by the desire of giving to this country, whose whole people show so much sympathy for my suffering land, a more intimate knowledge of the truth concerning the misfortunes of the noble Cuban people, and the cruelty and injustice of a despotic and tyrannical government, I write this simple story of my life, as it touched these questions” (p. 34).

The Pearl Key, or Midnight and Dawn in Cuba

The book was extremely harsh in its depiction of the Spanish authorities, and resulted in the author’s expulsion from the Centro Español in Ybor City. The Tampa Tribune had some fun with the ensuing legal battle: “In the Miss DeMena case, the lawyers were not able to prove a misdemeanor.”

The Woes of an Authoress-Edited
Tampa Weekly Tribune, August 31, 1899

The book has a special connection to UF. In 1894, “Señorita De Mena” became the first Spanish teacher at Florida Agricultural College (one of UF’s predecessor institutions). Student Pearl Mann of Ocala translated the story into English, and the college helped sponsor the publication as one of the advertisers. About 120 years later, UF librarians acquired a copy in an online auction for a relatively modest amount. Today UF is the only library that reports holding the book and it has brought de Mena’s story into the Digital Age, making it available in the University of Florida Digital Collections.

College (or Chapel) Hall on the campus of the Florida Agricultural College in Lake City, Florida. By Edward O. Powers (1895)
Advertisement for the Florida Agricultural College in The Pearl Key
A talented Authoress
From The Ocala evening star, March 28, 1898
Submitted by Paul Losch, Latin American and Caribbean Collection Librarian

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  1. […] Interested in other posts about the Latin American and Caribbean Collection? Read The Pearl Key-A Digital Treasure […]


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