10 Filipinas who made history that you should know about (Part 1)

In this two part series, we celebrate the extraordinary lives of ten Filipinas whose legacies have left lasting social and political impacts on the nation.

10 Iconic Filipinas in history to inspire you

In honour of International Women’s Day this month, we celebrate the extraordinary lives and diversity of accomplishments of 10 Filipinas who made history. Their legacies have left lasting social and political impacts on the nation.

The Philippines’ history is rich with tales of heroes and revolutionaries fighting for liberation throughout centuries of colonization, imperialism, and oppression by Spanish, American, and Japanese forces. However, history often disregards the Filipino women that helped shape the nation during their mission to resist gender inequality: war heroes, political advocates, educators, scientists, inventors, civic leaders, suffragists, feminist icons, and mothers. 

These iconic Filipinas are warriors that continue to inspire women like myself, to this very day. 

Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang (March 19, 1731 – September 20, 1763) 

10 Filipinas who made history or are making history
Photo credit: Alchetron

Kicking off our two-part list of 10 Filipinas who made history is the first Filipina revolutionary leader to lead a revolt against Spanish colonization in 1763. 

Born in Caniogan, Santa, Ilocos Sur, Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang lived during the period of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines. During this time, Spain subjugated the country for centuries through forced labour, excessive tax collection and payment of tributes.

After her husband was assassinated in 1763, Silang took over her husband’s insurgency. She led the resistance for four months, earning her the nickname, “Henerala” (meaning woman general), before her capture and execution. 

Known for her valiant efforts and fearless leadership, Silang symbolizes how Filipino women have played a significant role throughout history in the struggles against colonialism and imperialism.

See also: Indigenous Filipino healing practices

Melchora Aquino (January 6, 1812 – March 2, 1919) 

Melchora Aquino - 10 Filipinas who made history or are making history
Photo credit: Lakbay ng Lakan

In the patriarchal society, women are often told they belong only in the domestic and private sphere. Yet, the touch of a mother was evidently essential in the Philippine revolution (1896–1898). 

Melchora “Tandang Sora” Aquino was born in present-day Barangay Tandang Sora, Quezon City. She is known as “the Mother of the Philippine Revolution” and also the first Filipina to appear on a Philippine peso banknote, featured on the 100-peso bill. 

Aquino helped the Katipunan, an anti-Spanish colonialism group, by using her store as a refuge for sick and wounded revolutionaries. She nursed them back to health while providing motherly guidance. The Katipunan held secretive meetings in her home until Aquino was caught and arrested in 1896, and had her home burned down

Living to the remarkable age of 107, Aquino spent her life caring for others in her community. On top of these incredible accomplishments, she also raised six children after the death of her husband. 

Pura Villanueva Kalaw (August 27, 1886 – March 21, 1953) 

Pura Villanueva Kalaw - 10 Filipinas who made history
Photo credit: Kristoffer Pasion on Twitter

Today, Filipinos are globally known for their strength in international beauty pageants. But have you ever wondered who the first “Miss Philippines” was? 

Pura Villanueva Kalaw was not only the country’s first beauty queen, but an established journalist, writer, suffragist, and feminist that had actively advocated for women’s rights since her youth. From Arevalo, Iloilo, Kalaw was crowned the first “Queen of the Manila Carnival” in 1908, a position that would later become “Miss Philippines” in 1926. 

In 1906, she founded the Philippines’ first suffrage movement led solely by women, “Asociacion Feminista Ilongga.” Her campaign brought the first suffrage bill to reach the Philippine Assembly. Under her leadership and advocacy, Kalaw was crucial in facilitating Filipino women’s right to vote, which passed in 1937. 

Moreover, Kalaw was an editor for the Women’s Section of El Tiempo, a publication popular in Western Visayas. 

Kalaw’s legacy signifies the importance of Filipinas through not just their beauty, but their power in the development of Philippine society.

See also: A Thousand Cuts: A documentary on the jeopardization of free press in the Philippines

Francisca Tirona Benitez (June 4, 1886 – November 7, 1974)

Francisca Benitez - 10 Filipinas who made history
Photo credit: Philippine Women’s University

They say one teacher can change a student’s life. Francisca Tirona Benitez was an educator that help change an entire nation. 

As the daughter of schoolteachers from Imus, Cavite, Benitez also became an educator. She was also a humanitarian and civic leader who dreamed of establishing a school exclusively for girls. Benitez recognized the need to provide safer boarding houses for female students. 

In 1919, Benitez co-founded the Philippine Women’s college, which would later become the Philippine Women’s University (PWU). The first university for women in Asia, established by Asian women, Benitez becomes its president in 1920.

Yet, Benitez’s contributions to Filipino women doesn’t stop there. 

In 1913, Benitez helped organize the Asociacion de Damas Filipinas, an orphanage and sanctuary for children and homeless women that promoted the importance of women in the country’s development. She supported war prisoners during the Japanese Occupation by establishing the Volunteer Social Aid Committee. Benitez became director of the Women’s Bureau, and further united Filipino women’s organizations in preparation for the disasters of war. 

Teresita Reyes (May 11, 1917 – 1998)

Mama Sita - 10 Filipinas who made history
Photo credit: Mama Sita Foundation

Most, if not all, Filipinos know of the popular condiment company called “Mama Sita” that produces key ingredients found in Filipino dishes, such as sinigang and caldereta.

The face behind the Philippine brand is Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes – also known as the “Mother of Filipino Cooking”. 

Born in Manila, Reyes is known for her phenomenal cooking and family restaurant, Aristocrat. 

Having traveled around the country to learn from various vendors, farmers, and cooks, as well as distant places such as Chicago and Havana – she introduced flavours from the Philippine islands to the rest of the globe.

Reyes also spent loads of time in the kitchen to enhance her skills. Her passion for authentic Filipino food spawned the Mama Sita’s Holding Company. Selling recipes, vinegars and sauce mixes around the world, Mama Sita’s reaches people of the Filipino diaspora everywhere. 

Helping popularize and preserve heirloom recipes of traditional Filipino food, it’s no doubt that Mama Sita is an influential figure in the Philippine Culinary Heritage movement.

See also: How Disney kind of saved my Filipino pasko

This is a two-part series highlighting 10 Filipinas who made history that you should know about. Part 2 will be available on March 17, 2022.

Featured photo: Philippines Lifestyle News

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