Philippines Suffragist Movement


Feminism and nationalism have often been closely allied in the Philippines as elsewhere. The first official recognition of women’s suffrage rights came from the nationalist Katipunan movement, most notably Apolinario Mabini, who noted it in the draft of the 1989 Malolos Constitution but his proposal did not interest the all-male Aguinaldo government and Malolos Congress,which adopted a more conservative draft.

Under the first American-sponsored Philippine Assembly, the first bill on women’s suffrage was filed in 1907 by Congressman Filemon Sotto of Cebu with the encouragement of Pura Villanueva Kalaw, a women’s rights pioneer and founder of the Asociacion Feminista Ilonga (Association of Ilonga Feminists) created in 1906. It was among the first organizations that formed the backbone of the suffrage movement, along with the Asociacion Feminista Filipina (Feminist Association of the Philippines). The latter was founded in 1905 by Concepcion Felix Rodriguez andby other elite women such as Maria de Villamor, Paz NavidadZulueta, Bonifacia Barretto, Clemencia Lopez, Sofia Reyes de Veyra, Trinidad Rizal, Agueda and Jacoba Paterno, Librada Avelino, Carmen de Luna, Maria Arevalo and Maria Francisco. The two organizations’ primary goals addressed socio-civic concerns and social service provision, such as prison, education and labor reforms, drives against prostitution, gambling, drinking and other vices, establishment of recreational facilities, sanitation, health, infant and maternal care, and the campaign for the appointment of women to municipal and provincial boards of education and electoral precincts. Similar social feminist concerns spurred the formation in 1907 of La Proteccion de la Infancia.¹ This initiated was the La Gota (drop of milk) project whose officers and members also formed part of the Asociacion Feminista Filipina, and later, the Philippine Island AntiTuberculosis Society.

Social feminists efforts were commonly closely allied to campaigns for Philippine independence from the United States. In 1922, the Liga Nacional de Damas Filipinas or National League of Filipino Women, headed by Dr. Ma. Paz Guanzon, was formed to work for Philippine independence from American rule and for better work conditions in the factories. The League later shifted its attention to the campaign for women’s suffrage. Dr. Guanzon also attempted to organize in 1928 a Women’s Citizens League, envisioned to be an umbrella for all women’s suffrage groups. But the League was short-lived and was replaced by the Philippine Association of University Women (PAUW) with Dr. Guanzon as its first president. The new association was an active lobby group in the legislature for women’s suffrage. (See Mendoza-Guanzon 1951; Subido 1955).

Opposition to women’s suffrage came from both Filipino women and men and this echoed discursive elements similar to those in the United States and other countries (Cott, 1986). Paradoxical discourses were used by suffragists in the Philippines, as well as male legislators sympathetic to women’s rights (see Palma, 1919; Villanueva-Kalaw 1952, p.22-36). Ironically, given the frequently close ties between nationalists and feminists, the American governor-generals in the Philippines, notably Francis Harrison, Leonard Wood and Frank Murphy, seriously pushed legislators to support the vote. A feminist historian suggests that the American officials had tactically diverted the attention of legislators and the general public, men and women alike, from the most pressing issueof national independence by emphasizing instead women’s suffrage (Santos 1984, p. 46). Despite this plausible explanation, Filipina suffragists still alive for early 1990s interviews reported that the vote was the most symbolic, realistic, and pragmatic struggle women would launch during their own time (Laudico and Ancheta, 1989). Today the Philipppines reaps, in part at least, that legacy with a strong tradition of women’s leadership in legislation and social reform.



¹In 1912, after a core group of Filipina feminists (e.g. Concepcion FelixRodriguez, Maria Villamor, Pura Villanueva Kalaw, Sofia de Veyra, Gorgonia Mapa, and Amparo Lichauco)met with American suffrage activist Mrs. Carrie Chapman from the United States and Dr. Aleta Jacobs from Hollanda the formed who formed the Society for the Advancement of Women (SAW)to take up the cause of women’s suffrageRodriguez, Maria Villamor, Pura Villanueva Kalaw, Sofia de Veyra, Gorgonia Mapa, and Amparo Lichauco) who formed the Society for the Advancement of Women (SAW).met with American suffrage activist Mrs. Carrie Chapman from the United States and Dr. Aleta Jacobs from Holland. Later, the Society renamed itself as Club Damas de Manila or Women’s Club of Manila (CDM), precursor of elite women’s clubs in the capital and elsewhere?. In the February 1920 a convention of women’s groups organized by the CDM passed a resolution in support of women’s. The cause was taken up a year later by the National Federation of Women’s Clubs in the Philippines, which became the new vanguard of a more successful suffrage movement from 1921 to 1937. Its official publication, Women’s Outlook, became the outlet of feminist and pro-suffrage views. (See Benavides, n.d.; Subido, 1955; Tirona 1996; Villanueva-Kalaw 1952).


Resources and Further Reading: 

Benavides, E. (n.d.). The Filipino Women’s Social, Economic, and Political Status. Manila: Cultural Foundation of the Philippines, n.d.),

Cott, N. (1986). “Feminist Theory and Feminist Movements: The Past Before Us.” In J Mitchell & A Oakley (Eds.) What is Feminism: A Re-Sxamination (46-60). New York: Pantheon Books.

Laudico, M and H Ancheta (1989). Testimonies from women suffragists, Mrs. Minerca Laudico and Ms. Herminia Ancheta, during the Conference on “Women’s Role in Philippine History,” Faculty Conference Hall, U.P. Diliman, 910 March 1989. (Am not sure how to cite this properly using APA, Nikki).

Mendoza-Guanzon, P. (1951). The Development and Progress of the Filipino Woman. Manila: Kiko Printing Press, 2nd ed.

Palma, R. (1991). The Woman and the Right to Vote, Address delivered in Support of Bill No. 23 of the Senate in the Sessions held by the said body on the 22nd and 25th of November 1919. Manila: Bureau of Printing.

Policarpio, P. (1996). “The Filipino Women During the Revolution,” Review of Women’s Studies, Vols 5-6, Nos. 1-2 (1996), pp. 28-29.

Subido, T. (1955). The Feminist Movement in the Philippines 1905-1955 (Manila: National Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1955).

Santos Maranan, A. (1984). “Do Women Hold Up Half the Sky?” Diliman Review 32, 34, 35-45. Reprinted in Sr. M J Mananzan (Ed.) (1987). Essays on Women, Women’s Studies Series I, Manila: St. Scholastica’s College.

Tirona, M.G.A. (1996). “Panuelo Activism,” Women’s Role in Philippine History: Selected Essays, 2nd ed. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press and Center for Women’s Studies.

Villanueva Kalaw, P. (1952). How the Filipina Got the Vote. Manila: Crown Printing Press.


Angeles, Leonora C.

Angeles, Leonora C.

Angeles, Leonora C.

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