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Women of the Philippines

May 29, 1902 — Annual meeting of the New England Woman Suffrage Association, Park Street Church, Boston MA



It gives me very great pleasure to greet the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association on behalf of the women of my own country. I have yielded to your kid invitation to tell you something about the condition of women in the Philippine Islands, in spite of my inexperience and lack of literary skills, for which I pray your indulgence, and have had the courage to speak to you [so you] because I am glad of this opportunity to address you, so that you may have a better idea and may form a different and more favorable opinion of the Filipinos than the conception which the generality of the the American people have formed, believing us to be savages without education or morals.

I believe that we are both striving for much the same object — you for the right to take part in national life; we for the right to have a national life to take part in. And I am sure that, if we understood each other better, the differences which now exist between your country and mine would soon disappear.

You will no doubt be surprised and pleased to learn that the condition of women in the Philippines is very different from that of the women of any country in the East, and that it differs very little form the general condition of the women of this country. Mentally, socially, and in almost all the relations of life, our women are regarded as the equals of our men. You will also be surprised to know that this equality of women in the Philippines is not a new thing. It was not introduced from Europe, but was innate, and the natural expression of the love and respect which a man ought to feel toward his mother, his wife, and his daughters. And I believe there is no country in the world where family life is held in higher esteem or where there is more respect for family relations that in the Philippine Islands. 

Long prior to the Spanish occupation the people were already civilized, and this respect for and equality of women existed. Dr. Antonio de Morga, the first Spanish governor-general, in his history published in 1609, gives an interesting account of Philippine life before the Spanish invasion.

“The grand ladies,” he says, “wear crimson, and some have silk and other stuff woven with god, and edged with fringes and other ornaments . . . Many wear chains of gold around the necks. Bracelets on the wrists, earrings, and rings on the fingers, of gold and precious stones. . . They are also daintily shod, with shoes of velvet and embroidered with gold, and wear white robes like petticoats. They also use oil parasols, which they carry as a protection against sun and rain . . . They take great care of their hair — rejoicing in its being very black — which they tie gracefully in a knot at the back of the head. They take much care, also, of their teeth.”

Dr. De Morga also gives a brief description of their occupations, and of the respect in which women were then held, which corresponds with the conditions found in this country.

“The women,” he says, “have for their employment and occupation needlework (i.e. fancy work), in which they excel very much ,as in all kinds of sewing . . . In their visits, and in going about the streets and to the temples, both men and women are careful in their deportment. The ladies go in front, and behind them come their husbands, fathers, and brothers.”

All this, although relating to a period between three and four hundred years ago, is in striking contrast with the condition of women in India and China, and the East in general.

But perhaps it will be more interesting to you if I tell you something about the Philippine women at the present time. I know that the Philippine women are not as highly educated as the majority of American women — they have never had the same opportunities — but they are in general very devoted to their families. A mother, there as here, is willing to make every sacrifice for her children; she will deprive herself of luxury, of pleasures, even of necessities in order to give them a good education and assure their well-being. The wife is very faithful to her husband, and assists him in every way. If he is rich she assists in the management of the business, acting as cashier and bookkeeper; so that in case her husband dies she is able to carry on the business successfully. Among the poorer rural classes the wife helps in the lighter agricultural work, assisting to harvest the rice, corn and other grains.

But whatever her station, she always unites her fate to that of her husband, even in danger and misfortune; and even though her marriage be not a happy one, she never abandons him. So true is this that both in the war with Spain and in the war with America many soldiers’ wives followed their husbands to the field, traversing mountains and forests and facing every danger that they might not be separated from their husbands, but might prepare their food and care for them if ill or wounded. An examples of this is the fact that the wives of General Aguinaldo, of Luchan, and of Malvar were in the field, as were the wives of many other officers. A great many Philippines patriots have given up the struggle earlier than they would otherwise have done because of the dangers to which their wives were exposed by their devotion, who suffered from hunger and the attacks of the enemy. It is also interesting to see how faithful the Philippine women are when some member of the family is imprisoned, whether it be a husband, a father, or a brother.

The Philippine women are also devoted to their parents, and ready to sacrifice themselves. It is very unusual for a woman to marry contrary to the pleasure or consent of her parents, and while unmarried they never life away from home. They usually marry at weedy or twenty-five years of age, but the women of the poorer classes marry younger, often at fifteen. I have several friends who have had opportunities to make excellent marriages; but, because their father or mother opposed, they have sacrificed their love for their parents’ sake. 

We have been interested to observe that the American women have greater liberty than we, and different customs. They, for instance, can go alone on the streets, they can make visits, they can travel alone to other places, as I have done; but I am the first Philippine woman to leave my home and travel so far alone. 

You may also like to know what are the occupations of the women of my country. Almost all busy themselves with domestic cares; those of good position do much fancy work, such as embroidery in silk, and in linen; those of the middle classes weave both of silk, piña, and line. In some towns many of the well-to-do families weave the cloth for the household in their one homes, as, for example, in my own home, where we have especial servants for this purpose.

The Philippine women are also very fond of music, bu the majority prefer sad and melancholy airs. Many play the piano and the harp, and some the violin and the guitar. But very few devote themselves much to reading, and we cn not compare in education and general progress with the women of America, for we have not yet had any woman with the title of doctor or lawyer, or who has entered any profession, except, indeed, that of teaching, to which many devote themselves. It is, however, true that there is no university in Manila open to women, but there are six good schools for women, some of which have as many as 300 pupils, and the instruction given compares favorably with that of the best schools in Spain. 

Before closing, I should like to say a word about the patriotism of the women. This is a delicate subject, for to be patriotic I our county means that we must oppose the policy of yours. But patriotism is a quality which we all ought to be able to admire, even in an opponent. I should indeed have reason to be ashamed if I had to come before this association with the admission that our women were indifferent to the cause of their country’s independence. You would have a right to despise me and my countrywomen if we had so little love for our native land as to consent that our country should be governed by foreign hands. So true is this that the present Spanish archibishop, who is not accustomed in his own country to the sea of equality between the sexes, apparently came to the conclusion that the Philippine women are the superiors of the men, and understand political questions better. I should be sorry to have you believe this, however, for it is not true. But then, a delicate archbishop knows so little about the opposite six that he can not be expected to be a judge of such matters. it is possible that he can not be expected to be a judge of such matters. It is possible that some Americans may have said the same thing; but the reason is that the men in the Philippine Islands never had freedom to declare their opinions and feelings, because of the sedition laws there; but we women, taking advantage of the gallantry of the Americans, and because the law was not passed for our sex, are more free to speak our minds frankly and take part in discussion.

For this reason it would seem to be an excellent idea that American women should take part in any investigation that may be made in the Philippine Islands, and I believe they would attain better results than the men. Would it not also seem to you and excellent idea, since representation by our leaden men has been refused us, that a number of representative Philippine women should come to this country, so that you might become better acquainted with us. 

In conclusion, in the name of the Philippine women, I pray the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association to do what it can to remedy all this misery and misfortune in my unhappy country. You can do much to bring about the cessation of these horrors and cruelties which are to-day taking place in the Philippines, and to insist upon a more human course. I do not believe that you can understand or imagine the miserable condition of the women of my country, or how real is their suffering. Thousands have been widowed, orphaned, left alone and homeless, exposed and in the greatest misery. It is, then, not a surprising fact that the diseases born of hunger are increasing, and that to-day immorality prevails in the Philippines to an extent never before known. After all, you ought to understand that we are only contending for the liberty of our country, just as you once fought for the same liberty for yours.



Source: “Women of the Philippines: Address to Annual Meeting of the New England Woman’s Suffrage Association, May 29, 1902,” The Woman’s Journal,  (Boston) 7 June 1902, p. 184.


Also: “The Women of the Philippines,” Address of Señorita Clemencia Lopez at the Annual Meeting of the New England Woman Suffrage Association, May 29, 1902. Congressional Record, Hearings and Debates of the Fifty-Seventh Congress, First Session, Volume XXXV (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1902), pp. 7331-7332.