•Born on March 23, 1895, Dr. Encarnacion Alzona was a pioneering educator and suffragist.
•Dr. Alzona was also the first Filipina historian, as well as the first Filipina to earn a Ph.D.
•She took the lead in fighting for the Filipina’s right to vote–a battle that she and her colleagues won in 1935.
It may be hard to imagine a time when Filipinas did not enjoy the same rights and privileges that today’s women do. And while it cannot be denied that we have come a long way since then, there is still much to be done. Thus, celebrating how far women have come plays a crucial role in fueling the ongoing quest to reject and resist gender inequality in all forms.
One of the pioneers who envisioned a future of freedom for Filipina women was a National Scientist named Dr. Encarnacion Alzona.
Not many women were able to go to school in the early 1900s. However, Dr. Alzona was able to earn a spot in the University of the Philippines, which was newly established at the time. She graduated with a degree in history in 1917. Her thesis, titled The Development of School Education of Women in the Philippines (1521-1917), set her on a lifelong path in education and campaigning for women’s rights.
Dr. Alzona went on to study abroad, obtaining a Master’s Degree in History from Radcliffe College and a Doctorate in History from Columbia University. She went from writing history to being part of it, as she was the first Filipino woman to get a Ph.D.
She returned to the Philippines to teach education at the University of the Philippines, a position she held for over two decades.
Dr. Alzona has numerous awards and recognition under her belt. She received the Apolinario Mabini Centennial Award in 1961, the Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Historical Writing in 1966, and the Rizal Pro Patria Medal of the Republic of the Philippines in 1971.
In 1985, she was honored with the title of National Scientist.
Dr. Alzona was one of the foremost suffragists of the country. In a 1919 opinion piece in The Philippine Review, she argued that if women were to be respected, they should be given the right to vote, since “a person enjoying full political rights deserves greater respect and esteem than a disenfranchised one.”
Dr. Alzona was a member of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, an umbrella organization of women’s clubs in the country. As part of this organization, she lobbied for women’s rights, specifically the right to vote and participate in national affairs. Fortunately, her efforts bore fruit; in September 15, 1935, President Manuel L. Quezon signed those rights into law.
In fighting for the Filipina’s right to vote, she leveled the playing field for future generations of women in the country.
But before all these, Dr. Alzona was first and foremost a Filipina.
Dr. Alzona was born on March 23, 1895 in Biñan, Laguna, to a family who fostered her appetite for education. Her father, a distant relative of Jose Rizal, was a trial court judge.
She spent her childhood in Tayabas, Quezon City. She grew up in a time of political unrest, when the Philippine Revolution came and gave way to a war against the Americans. By the time she was old enough to go to college, the country was firmly an American colony. Despite her circumstances being less than ideal, she worked hard to become a decorated and admired scholar.
Sadly, she passed away in 2001, at age 105.
Dr. Encarnacion Alzona’s strength, perseverance, and hard work are an inspiration, particularly to today’s Filipinas. Though we have come a long way in the fight for true gender equality, the freedoms women enjoy today must never be taken for granted.
Commemorating the courage and work of Filipinas like Dr. Alzona matters, if we want to see a future with more women like her.
And Filipinas owe it to Dr. Alzona–and to her legacy–to use their right to vote and make their voices heard.–MF
Cover photo: Presidential Museum and Library PH (2010-2016)
- Tecson-Mendoza, E. (2017) Biosketches: Filipino Trailblazers in Science and Technology. Taguig, Philippines. National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines.
Author: Jess Vilvestre
Jess is on her way to getting her license in engineering. On the side of studying, she spends her time writing, cooking, and watching movies and plays. Jess has also been working with an education project that capacitates STEM learners with portable science activity kits.