18 Filipino Women Who Were First in Philippine History

Filipino women, or Pinays as Filipinos call them are known to be sweet, respectful, caring, religious, family-oriented, and great in cooking. And even before the Spanish era, they somehow have already enjoyed equal rights with men. However, they were treated as the weaker sex, and being paid less when it comes to employment.

But as time goes by, Pinays have proven that they can also conquer the careers that only men used to conquer. This includes arts, sports, medicine, business, and even politics. And because March is National Women’s Month and March 8 is National Women’s Day, below is the list of Filipino women who became first in their respective fields.

#1 Hidilyn Diaz, first Filipina to win an Olympic medal

Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, a native of Zamboanga City, made history the 2016 Summer Olympics by becoming the first Filipino woman to win a medal in the Olympics. She won the silver medal in the women’s 53-kg weight division, and was awarded on February 13, 2017 as the Athlete of the Year of the Philippine Sportswriters Association.

In the 2007 SEA Games held in Thailand, Diaz won a bronze medal in the same category. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, she was the youngest competitor in the women’s 58-kg category at the age of 17. Diaz was recruited into the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in 2013, and was later promoted to the rank of Airwoman First Class.

#2 Aimee Carandang, first Filipina commercial pilot

Captain Ma. Aurora Carandang-Gloria, or Aimee Carandang is the first Filipina commercial pilot. On July 6, 1993, she became the first Filipina to fly as full-fledged captain for the Philippine Airlines (PAL) Fokker 50 flight from Manila to Baguio. Needless to say, Carandang is also considered as Asia’s first female pilot.

“I have always believed that there are no boundaries in what women can accomplish in life.” Carandang said in an earlier interview. And although there is not much information about her succeeding flights, she inspired other Filipino women to also become a pilot. As of 2016, PAL has 39 female pilots while PAL Express has 15, that’s a total of 54.

#3 Catherine Marie “Brooke” Castillo, first Filipina jet pilot

Captain Brooke Castillo became the first Filipina commercial jet pilot in 1996 via Philippine Airlines. Later, she transferred to Cebu Pacific’s Airbus A319 and A320 carriers. Standing at 5’7”, Castillo graduated Cum Laude in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Nevertheless, she is also active in sports.

Captain Brooke Castillo former member of the Philippine Junior Bowlers and Philippine Youth Basketball Team. She also became a member of the Taekwondo Philippine National Team, and won a silver medal at the Southeast Asian taekwondo championships. She is now an instructor at Cebu Pacific, teaching younger female pilots.

#4 Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, first Filipina prima ballerina

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde became the first Filipina prima ballerina in 1984, and the first foreign soloist to ever join the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly known as Kirov Ballet) in Russia, one of the leading ballet companies in the world. She started her first ballet class when she was 8, and she danced onstage for the first time when she was 11.

Aside from the numerous awards she has received, Macuha-Elizalde is the Artistic Director of Ballet Manila and Vice-Chairman of the Philippine UNESCO National Commission. In 2012, then-Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed a resolution, urging President Benigno Aquino III to confer the title of National Artist for Dance to Macuja-Elizalde.


#5 Lea Salonga, first Asian to win Tony Awards

Lea Salonga is the first Filipina and Asian to win the prestigious Tony Award in New York City, which recognizes excellence in live Broadway Theater. She won the said award (along with the Olivier and Theatre World Awards) when she portrayed the lead role of Kim in the musical Miss Saigon at the age of 18. She was the first actress to do so.

Salonga is also the first Filipino artist to sign with an international record label (under Atlantic Records in 1993), and is the first Filipino singer to have received a major album release and distribution deal in the United States. She was also included in the cast of musical Les Miserables on Broadway, and was the singing voice for two Walt Disney movies, “Alladin (1992)” and “Mulan” (1998).

#6 Gloria Diaz, first Filipina to win Miss Universe

At the age of 18, Gloria Diaz won the Miss Universe crown on July 19, 1969 in Miami Beach, Florida, making her the first Filipina to win Miss Universe. That same year, eauty contest in the world. Shortly after she won, then-President Richard Nixon said: “The United States conquered the moon but the Philippines has conquered the Universe.”

During the Q&A portion, Diaz was asked, “In the next day or so, a man will land on the moon. If a man from the moon landed in your hometown, what would you do to entertain him?” Her answer was, ““Oh, just the same things I do. I think if he has been on the moon for so long, I think when he comes over he wants to change, I guess.”

#7 Nora Aunor, first Filipino to win international acting award

Dubbed as Superstar in the Philippine entertainment industry, Nora Aunor is the first Filipina actress (or actor) to win an international acting award. That was in the 1995 Cairo International Film Festival, where she won the Best Actress award for her role in the movie, “The Flor Contemplacion Story.” She also won other international awards.

As of posting, Aunor has received 17 FAMAS Best Actress nominations and won five of them, which elevated her to the “Hall of Fame.” In fact, she holds the most number of Best Actress nomination in both FAMAS and Gawad Urian. Nevertheless, she also has a long list of various awards and citations from different universities across the country.

#8 Fe Del Mundo, first female Harvard graduate

Fe Del Mundo (Nov 27, 1911 – Aug 6, 2011) is a pediatrician and a Filipina of many firsts in Philippine history. After graduating valedictorian at the UP College of Medicine in 1933, she became the first woman to be admitted as a student of the Harvard Medical School. Apparently, Harvard at that time does not yet accept female students.

That time, President Manuel Quezon offered her a full scholarship to any school in the United States for further training in the field of medicine. After five years of training, Del Mundo returned to the Philippines, and the first Filipino to be called the “Angel of Santo Tomas” for her work with women and children during the WWII, in the field of pediatrics.

At that time, Del Mundo set up a make-shift hospital within the internment camp in Manila. In the 1950s, she obtained a loan from GSIS and built a 100-bed Children’s Medical Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. It was later renamed Dr. Fe Del Mundo Medical Center Foundation.

#9 Honoria Acosta-Sison, First Filipina doctor

Honoria Acosta-Sison (Dec 30, 1880 – Jan 10, 1970) was the first Filipino woman to become a doctor, after graduating from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1909. She first worked as assistant in obstetrics at Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila, and eventually married its director, Dr. Agerico Sison in 1910.

Dr. Acosta-Sison served as obstetrics’ assistant in Saint Paul’s Hospital, and taught at the UP College of Medicine in 1912. She has a total of 103 scientific publications, established the normal pelvimetry of Filipino women and cephalometry of Filipino newborns, and introduced low caesarean section to the Philippines, and received numerous awards.

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See Also:

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