Outstanding Lipeñas from the Past

The contributions of women in society are often overlooked or forgotten. It is essential to acknowledge the achievements of women and to celebrate their contributions to history. The Lipeñas mentioned in this article are just a few of the many women who have made a difference in their communities and the world. Their stories are inspiring and showcase the strength, perseverance, and intelligence of Filipinas.

Soledad Aguilera y Solis
(From the book, Story of the Lopez Family)

Soledad Aguilera y Solis was the sister of Gregorio Aguilera, a friend and companion of Dr. José Rizal in Madrid. Rizal and Aguilera were members of the Asociación Hispano-Filipina, the propaganda movement that advocated for reforms in the Philippines during the late 19th century. During the Philippine revolution, Doña Soledad headed the Cruz Roja de Damas (Red Cross Women’s Society) chapter of Lipa, which was established by General Miguel Malvar in 1899.  This association was tasked to provide assistance to wounded Filipino soldiers, sick or injured civilians, orphans, and widows during the war. She led several philanthropic activities and even used her inherited wealth to contribute to the funds of the organization.

Leonor Teresa Africa Solis
(Philippine Passport Collection, US National Archives, and Records Administration)

Leonor Teresa Solis y Africa was the daughter of Don Bernardo Solis, a former gobernadorcillo, reformist leader, and comandante de milicia during the Philippine revolution. As a daughter of a revolucionario, she also joined the Cruz Roja de Damas headed by her cousin Soledad.

She was a product of modern education during the American occupation. She studied at the Philippine Normal School (Escuela Normal) and graduated in 1904. She then landed a teaching career as a Preparatory class teacher in her alma mater and afterwards in her hometown’s Intermediate School (Escuela Intermedia de Lipa) and in Batangas High School. She took further studies and obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of the Philippines in 1919. In 1920, she participated in the US Pensionado program and took a vocational training course at the New York School of Social Work.

Solis was one of the first social workers in the country. Upon her return to the Philippines, she worked as a child placing agent and commissioner for the Office of Public Welfare, the precursor of what is now the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). As a women’s rights advocate, she was a founding member of the first women’s club in the Philippines, the Asociación Feminista Filipina, which was a trailblazer in the promotion of social welfare, encouragement of women’s participation in public affairs, and women’s suffrage.

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Rosario Mayo Dimayuga
(Casa de Segunda collection)

Rosario Dimayuga y Mayo,  although a late bloomer in the arts at the age of 70,  found a great interest in interior design. Despite not having formal training in this discipline, she paved her way to becoming one of the top interior designers in the country and was even posthumously conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award for Interior Design.  She married Valeriano Katigbak Luz. Their sons, Alfredo and Arturo ,both became famous in their chosen careers. Alfredo was an architect who designed the World Health Organization (WHO) building in Manila, the Magsaysay Center, and the Los Baños International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) complex while Arturo, the youngest in the family, was declared National Artist for Visual Arts in 1997.

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Emilia Librea Malabanan 
(Malabanan-Librea Family collection)

Emilia Malabanan y Librea was the first Lipeña to learn and speak the King’s English and even taught her relative, Claro Mayo Recto, who, as a young man then, only spoke and wrote in Spanish.

She was one of the two Lipeñas who participated in the Pensionado program during the American period. In 1920, she entered the Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in English.  She then traveled to New York and received her Master’s Degree in Arts at the Columbia University in 1921.

While in New York, Emilia became an associate editor of the Philippine Herald, the Organ of Filipino Students’ Federation of America. Here, she worked with Carlos P. Romulo, who was the newspaper’s Editor in Chief.

Upon her return to the country, she became an English Professor at the University of the Philippines. She was known to be very strict and was even labeled as “the Terror of English 101” by her students.

In 1938, Alfred Upham, President of Miami University from 1928-1945, designated Emilia as the school’s delegate at the conference on higher education and at the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the University of the Philippines.

During the Miami University’s Commencement Exercises in June 1939, Emilia received the Bishop Medal in honor of her distinguished services in the field of Education.

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Tarcela Librea Malabanan
(Malabanan-Librea Damily collection)

Tarcila Malabanan y Librea, like her sister, Emilia, was also a Lipeña pioneer in the mastery of the English language and an alumna of the University of the Philippines.

She wrote short stories that created images in simple English such as the Estudiante and Macario’s Noche Buena.  “The Estudiante” teaches a strong moral lesson. The estudiante is pompous and boastful when he should be simple and modest.  While in “Macario’s Noche-Buena” Macario, a robber, goes through pangs of guilt. Both stories revealed the didactic tendency often found in the early 1900’s literature.

Emilia and Tarcila were supporters of co-education. Their advocacy became a realization when they founded the Mabini Academy, together with Dr. José Maria Braceros Katigbak (Tarcila’s husband), in 1922. 

Victoria Kalaw close-up
Victoria Katigbak Kalaw
(Liñan-Kalaw Family Collection)

Victoria Kalaw y Katigbak was the first Lipeña physician, who graduated from the University of the Philippines, College of Medicine and passed the board exams in 1926. Her father, Don Cipriano Kalaw was the Vice President and Treasurer of the Filipino Junta in Hong Kong during the Revolution against Spain.

Defying the norms of marriage in Lipa, Victoria was married to Dr. José Zenarosa Liñan from Daet, Camarines Norte. Both are UP College of Medicine graduates.

Victoria went to Australia on a UNESCO Fellowship Program to higher education. When she returned to the Philippines, she started and ran the Philippine Welfare Home for Abused Women & Child under President Ramon Magsaysay. She was also the Director of the Children’s Hospital and became Chief of the Division of Public Institution up to her retirement in 1965.

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Maria Villanueva Kalaw
(Alex Castro Collection)

Maria Emilia Kalaw  y Villanueva was a Filipina politician, journalist and beauty queen. Her father was Teodoro M. Kalaw, the Lipeño patriot, a writer, statesman, former secretary of the Interior, and director of the National Library. Her mother was Purificación “Pura” Villanueva y Garcia, the 1st Manila Carnival Queen, a journalist, the pioneer of women’s suffrage and property rights, and the first president and organizer of the League of Women Voters.

In 1931, she was crowned as Manila Carnival Queen, 23 years after her mother’s reign. Maria married Dr. José Roxas Katigbak in 1934. From then on, she was known to be as Maria Kalaw-Katigbak.

In 1961, she was elected as the only woman member of the Philippine Senate- the second woman senator in the country, who served from 1961 to 1963 during the Fifth Congress. As a senator, Maria authored laws such as the Consumer Protection Act, which enabled consumers to buy goods in installments and made similar forms of transaction by credit. She also wrote regulations for financing companies, created the National Commission on Culture, and established the Philippine Executive Academy.

She was also active in many socio-civic groups such as the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, the Municipal Symphony Orchestra, and the Philippine Women Writers’ Association, which she organized in 1938. She was also a member of the National Board of the Catholic Women’s League, the UP Board of Regents, the Board of National Education, the Board of State Colleges, the University of the Philippines Board of Regents, and the Movies and Television Review and Classification Board. Maria also organized and was the first executive director of the Catholic Charities of Manila.

teodula kalaw africa
Teodula Kalaw Africa
(Africa-Maralit Family Collection)

The halo-halo summer delight would not be complete without Nata de Coco. Thanks to Teodula Africa y Kalaw, a Lipeña scientist graduate of the University of Santo Tomas. Teodula was a chemist who worked for the Philippine National Coconut Corporation (now Philippine Coconut Authority). In 1949, she conceived the idea of using coconut water as an alternative to the seasonal pineapple which was the main ingredient originally used by Filipinos since the 18th century to produce the “nata de piña” dessert. Her study became a great turn-out, and people started using coconut water to produce the nata from then on. Today, this Filipino delicacy is enjoyed all over the world as a dessert. When dried, the nata forms a strong, pure, cellulosic material with great potential for development in material science.

Nieves Sales Katigbak
(Sales-Katigbak Family collection)

Maria Nieves Katigbak y Sales made front-page news in Philippine National Newspapers as a second placer in the Medical Board Examination of her time. She headed the Lipa Puericulture Center and Maternity House for several decades. Through her self-devised method, she saved many mothers from Caesarean Section. For her many charitable acts, she was then given the Pope Pius X Award for Catholic Action in the Diocese of Lipa and was also a Papal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Awardee.