They say that behind every great man, there stands a great woman.
And no one can epitomize this quote better than our Philippine First Ladies–women who stuck with the nation’s most powerful men through thick and thin.
They may be not as popular as America’s Jacqueline Kennedy. Heck, the majority of Filipinos even consider some of them distasteful (looking at you, Imelda Marcos). Nonetheless, these women left their own mark in Philippine history and no matter how small their contributions were, they still once served as the country’s symbolic mother.
Also Read: The Assassination of Imelda Marcos
But why do we call a President’s wife as the “first lady” in the first place?
Actually, there are two versions of the story.
Some people believe that the term was first used by the late U.S. President Zachary Taylor when he spoke at the funeral of Dolley Madison (wife of another American president, James Madison).
On the other hand, several historians suggest that the title “first lady” was officially born when a journalist named Mary C. Ames used it in 1877 to refer to Lucy Hayes, wife of the newly inaugurated President Rutherford B. Hayes.
Regardless of its origin, we all agree that the term “first lady” always conjures up images of powerful, elegant, beautiful, and sophisticated women who captured the hearts of our beloved leaders.
Here are 12 of these women and some of the most fascinating facts you didn’t know about them:
1. Hilaria del Rosario-Aguinaldo
First lady to President Emilio Aguinaldo (1869 – 1964).
- Hilaria del Rosario-Aguinaldo (1877 – 1921) became the wife of Philippines’ first President at a time when the title “first lady” was still not widely recognized in the country.
- Hilaria lost her second baby while escaping capture by American soldiers. On March 6, 1921, she died of leprosy at the young age of 44.
- With the assistance of Apolinario Mabini, Hilaria founded the Hijas de la Revolution (Daughters of the Revolution), an organization which helped distribute food and medicines to wounded Filipino soldiers.
- Within 5 months, the group branched out into 13 additional chapters and was later renamed Association Nacional de la Cruz Roja (National Association of the Red Cross). As a result, Hilaria is considered today as the founder of the Philippine National Red Cross. [Image source: www.xiaochua.net]
2. Aurora Aragon-Quezon
First lady to President Manuel L. Quezon (1878–1944).
- Atang de la Rama, also known in history as the first Filipina actress to appear in the movies, became Manuel Quezon’s “singing telegram.” She was hired and brought to Baler, Quezon to sing for Aurora as part of Quezon’s courtship.
- Aurora Quezon was the first Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross. She held the position until her untimely death in 1949.
- While on their way to Baler for the inauguration of the Quezon Memorial Hospital, Mrs. Quezon (along with her daughter, son-in-law and 9 other people) was ambushed by a group of men believed to be members of the rebel group, Hukbalahap. Aurora Quezon was killed instantly. [Image source: Presidential Museum And Library’s Official Tumblr Page]
3. Paciencia Hidalgo Laurel
First lady to President José P. Laurel (1891–1959).
- Paciencia Laurel (1889-1960) was the first First Lady to serve in Malacañang under the Japanese occupation during World War II.
- In April 1911, Paciencia married Jose P. Laurel who was three years her junior and a fresh high school graduate at that time.
- During her husband’s term, Paciencia refused to stay in Malacañang and preferred to stay at their family home in Paco, Manila. [Image source: www.freewebs.com]
Also Read: 6 Shocking Facts About Philippine Presidents
4. Esperanza Limjap Osmeña
First lady to President Sergio Osmeña (1878–1961).
- Esperanza Escolar Limjap (1896-1978) was the daughter of Mariano Limjap, a Filipino-Chinese who selflessly gave his financial support to the Philippine Revolution.
- Esperanza was a “runner-up” during the 1915 Manila Carnival Queen. The said beauty contest was the highlight of a 2-week fair organized to celebrate the U.S.-Philippine relations. Esperanza’s older sister, Leonarda, won the very first Manila Carnival Queen in 1908. However, she had to let go of the crown to join a family trip to Japan. [Image source: flickr.com – Pacocruise]
5. Trinidad de Leon-Roxas
First lady to President Manuel Roxas (1892–1948).
- Also known by her nickname “Trining,” then 19-year-old Trinidad Roura De Leon was crowned Queen of the Orient at the 1920 Manila Carnival. She shared the crowned with the American beauty named Virginia Harrison. It was the first time since 1908 that the event held a dual coronation.
- Trinidad has the unique distinction of having been a daughter of a senator (Ceferino de Leon), wife to a senator (then Senator Manuel A. Roxas), mother to a senator (Gerardo Roxas) and finally, grandmother to a senator (Mar Roxas). [Image source: pinoykollektor.blogspot.com]
6. Victoria Syquia Quirino
First lady to President Elpidio Quirino (1890–1956)
- Victoria “Vicky” Quirino (1931-2006) was only 16 when her father, then Vice President Elpidio Quirino, assumed the presidency after the death of President Manuel Roxas. And since President Quirino lost his wife, Alice Syquia, and three of his children during the Battle of Manila in 1945, Vicky served as his first lady.
- Vicky was the youngest first lady and also the only one who was not a spouse in the history of Philippine presidency. Due to her youth, Spanish journalist-turned-Instituto Cervantes director Jose Rodriguez dubbed her as the “Teenage First Lady.”
- When she was only 19, Vicky tied the knot with Luis Gonzalez, a haciendero from Pangasinan. They were married during the Independence Day on July 4, 1951. This event made Vicky the only first lady in history to ever get married during the president’s term.
- Vicky and Luis had four children together. One of them was Louie, their only son who later married Kuh Ledesma, a famous Filipina singer. [Image source: Presidential Museum And Library’s Official Tumblr Page]
7. Luz Banzon-Magsaysay
First lady to President Ramon Magsaysay (1907–1957).
- Luz Banzon (1915-2004) was the daughter of a wealthy family from Bataan who were already good friends with the Magsaysays even before the couple first met.
- In a 1965 interview with Nicanor Patricio for the Daily Magazine, Luz Banzon-Magsaysay revealed that she and Monching (President Magsaysay’s nickname) met when she was only 16 and he was already 24. She was worried about the age gap at first, but eventually married Monching due to the latter’s “distinct qualities.”[Image source: http://mlq3.tumblr.com/]
Also Read: Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries in the Philippines
8. Leonila Dimataga-Garcia
First lady to President Carlos P. Garcia (1896–1971)
- Known as “Inday” to her friends, Leonila Dimataga-Garcia (1906-1994) was a licensed pharmacist. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy from the University of Santo Tomas.
- Leonila met the young lawyer Carlos P. Garcia while working as a pharmacist in Bohol. The two married on May 24, 1933. According to the book Carlos P. Garcia: Radiant Symbol of Filipinism: His Life and Labors by Gregorio C. Eronico, Leonila became the late president’s “lucky star” because their marriage signaled the start of his long, fruitful political career.
- Leonila and Carlos had only one daughter named Linda Garcia who later married Fernando Campos and gave birth to the president’s first grandchild, Maria Carla G. Campos. [Image source: Presidential Museum And Library’s Official Tumblr Page]
9. Evangelina Macaraeg-Macapagal
First lady to President Diosdado Macapagal (1910–1997).
- Lifestyle columnist Jaime Picornell first met the First Lady Eva Macapagal in 1964. He was working for the Morning Times at that time and Mrs. Eva was visiting Cebu together with her husband. Picornell described the first lady as frank, refined, well-educated, and with a strong personality.
- Eva Macapagal was a licensed physician and was once crowned Carnival Queen in the 1930s.
- She believed in the idea of “simple living” although she defined it as “not frugality or dowdiness for simplicity can be elegant and correct.”
- During his husband’s term, Eva Macapagal once led an extensive housecleaning of the Malacanang Palace which, according to some, symbolized the administration’s effort to eliminate graft and corruption. [Image source: Presidential Museum And Library’s Official Tumblr Page]
10. Imelda Romualdez-Marcos
First lady to President Ferdinand Marcos (1917–1989).
- Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino once dated Imelda Romualdez. During some of his interviews, Ninoy described “Meldy” as “the most beautiful woman” who “looked like the Virgin Mary.” Imelda, on the other hand, once stated that he hated Aquino because he dropped her “like a hot potato when that collegiala came.”
- In the book “The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos,” author and journalist Carmen Navarro Pedrosa revealed that the young Imelda Romualdez once worked at a music store in Escolta when she was still struggling financially. [Image source: www.film-forward.com]
11. Amelita Martinez-Ramos
First lady to President Fidel V. Ramos (1928– ).
- As president of the Philippine Badminton Association, former First Lady Ming Ramos (1927– ) served a key role in popularizing the sport of badminton in the country during her term.
- A certified sports enthusiast, Mrs. Ramos admitted that she participated in a total of 20 different sports in her prime, and was really competitive in a few. [Image source: Presidential Museum And Library’s Official Tumblr Page]
12. Luisa Pimentel-Ejercito Estrada
First lady to President Joseph Estrada (1937– ).
- Fondly known as “Loi,” former First Lady Luisa P. Ejercito-Estrada (1930– ) obtained two degrees from the University of Santo Tomas within 5 years of study. These are Associate in Arts, College of Liberal Arts (1949), and Doctor of Medicine (1954). She later specialized in Psychiatry.
- For fifteen years, Dra. Loi served as a volunteer doctor at St. Martin de Porres Charity Hospital in San Juan, Manila.
- In 1989, she helped establish the “ERAP Para Sa Mahirap” Foundation that gave scholarships to more than 10, 000 graduates by the year 1999. [Image source: www.senate.gov.ph]
Featured image courtesy of guddipoland.deviantart.com