Women of Malolos

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"The Women of Malolos" by Dr. Nicanor Tiongson, Ateneo de Manila University Press, January 2004.

The Women of Malolos were 20 women from prominent Chinese-Filipino families in Malolos, Bulacan who signed and presented a letter to Governor-General Valeriano Weyler on December 12, 1888 requesting permission to open a night school where they could be taught Spanish. The women’s daring action, which defied the authority of the town’s Augustinian friar curate, was lauded by reformists such as Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Marcelo H. del Pilar.

Contents

Historical background

During the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, education was for the most part in a deplorable state, especially for women. The friars, who exerted power over both Filipinos and the Spanish government in the Philippines, considered the education of the natives a threat to the Church, as scientific knowledge and thinking could cause them to abandon the blind faith and obedience that the Church preached. Schools for girls particularly focused on turning out graduates who were pious, chaste, modest, and industrious. The principal aim of these schools was to form their students into meek wives and mothers.

The teaching of the Spanish language was especially lacking, not just for women but Filipinos in general. Friars feared that proficiency in the Spanish language would give the natives the ability to communicate directly with Spanish government officials and would expose them to liberal and progressive ideas then emerging in Europe. As the friar curates spent many years with the natives, they were able to learn their language while government officials were assigned to the Philippines for a mere 4 years and did not have enough time to learn the language. The friars then served as the bridge between the natives and the Spanish officials, and were thus able to exert a strong influence on both. The friars contended that teaching the Filipinos Spanish would encourage subversion among them, as it would enable them to understand political matters. The friars were accorded the responsibility to supervise education in the Philippines by an 1863 decree which ironically also ordered that the Spanish language be taught in the islands. Thus education was never properly administered. Often the recommended number of schools was not built.

This was the case in the prosperous town of Malolos, Bulacan. Thus a number of the foremost residents of the town took their own initiative to build private schools. In 1886, Teodoro Sandico, a graduate of the University of Sto. Tomas, opened a private school in Malolos with the help of members of the town’s prominent clans, such as Rufina Tanjosoy-Santos. Consisting of primary and secondary levels, the school took after the Ateneo Municipal de Manila in their curriculum.

Sandico also clandestinely gave private Spanish lessons to adults, including the Women of Malolos. While Sandico sought to legitimize this arrangement in 1888, the provincial government turned down his proposal to open private night schools for men and for women on the grounds that it might be a threat to Spanish rule.

The presentation of the letter

Governor-General Weyler, who began his term in the Philippines on June 5, 1888, was known to have liberal leanings. He took an interest in education in the Philippines, uplifting the state of teachers and opening 106 schools before his term ended in 1891. He personally inspected schools as well as government buildings in most parts of the country. Sandico and the Women of Malolos decided to appeal to him when he visited Malolos on December 12, 1888.

During his visit to Malolos, Weyler set aside time to hold an audience with the townsfolk. Upon getting word of this, Sandico wrote a letter in Spanish and asked the women he had been teaching to sign the letter. The letter was signed by 20 women, who went to the convent to present the letter to Weyler in the afternoon. One of their leaders, Alberta Uitangcoy, handed him the letter. The women then waited around for a response, compelling the governor-general to read it on the spot. The friars in the convent relentlessly questioned the women as to what was in the letter, but the women refused to reveal its contents and spoke and behaved to the friars in such a way that showed Weyler that the friars were no longer revered by the people of Malolos. Weyler promised that he would soon reply to the letter, then left.

The outcome of the letter

The governor-general initially denied the women’s request but the women continued to appeal for the school, with the help of reformist Doreteo Cortes and schoolteacher Guadalupe Reyes. Rufina Tanjosoy-Santos and others helped pay for the women’s expenses when they traveled to Manila to follow up on their request. In sympathy with the women, the Spanish Minister of Colonies Manuel Becerra, a friend of Del Pilar’s, sent Weyler a letter of instruction on January 29, 1889 which reminded Weyler that he must strictly enforce the teaching of Spanish in all Philippine schools.

On February 20, 1889, the women finally received permission to open their school on certain conditions. First, the women were required to fund the school themselves since the government refused to. Second, their teacher would be Guadalupe Reyes rather than Sandico, who had been blacklisted by the friar-curate of Malolos. Third, the classes would have to be held in the day and not at night, probably due to the association of nighttime gatherings with subversive meetings.

The school was immediately opened in the home of one of the women, Rufina T. Reyes. Tanjosoy-Santos took care of most of the expenses.

Some of the women had already learned to read, write and speak Spanish in a colegio in Manila: Alberta Uitangcoy, Eugenia and Aurea Tanchangco, and Basilia Tantoco. Nevertheless, they took interest in the classes because discussions included political issues that concerned them. While in the school, the women read the 1st issue of La Solidaridad, where they were significantly featured, and the letter of Rizal which was sent to them in March 1889.

But in April 1889, Sandico was accused by the Church officials of immoral teaching and of eating meat on days of abstinence. Sandico went into hiding then left the country under an assumed name on May 17, 1889, a week after authorities ordered his school to be closed down. The school for the Women of Malolos was closed down with it.

The Women

The Women of Malolos consisted of 20 women from the principal mestizo-sangley clans of the town: The Tanchanco, Reyes, Santos, Tantoco, and Tiongson families of combined native, Chinese, and Spanish ancestry. A few of them had received education at a college like Colegio de la Concordia. They all lived in the Chinese neighborhood of Malolos, Pariancillo. They were all were related by either blood or affinity and were friends as well.

During the Philippine Revolution against Spain, many of them aided the revolutionaries. Later, many of them were involved in women’s socio-civic organizations. For most, their main commitment was to family. All of them were accomplished at keeping house; in fact they specifically requested for a night school as they were all busy with household tasks during the day, although none of them were married at the time. Whether married or not, throughout their lives most of the women ran organized households, whether for their own family or for parents or siblings. A number of them were involved in business as well. The individual women are described briefly below by family.

  • Elisea Tantoco Reyes – Known by the nickname “Seang,” she was 15 at the time the women approached Weyler. Though she did not go on to higher education, she spoke Spanish well. Her father was a reformist who was persecuted by the Spanish government during his term as gobernadorcillo. Along with her family, she aided the revolutionary army by providing supplies. She joined the National Red Cross formed in 1899 by Emilio Aguinaldo’s wife during the Philippine-American War. In 1906, she became a member of the Pariancillo chapter of the Asociacion Femenista de Filipinas (AFF) which was formed by the sisters of Rizal, which later became the Club de Mujeres. She married Gregorio Galang at the age of 31 and had 1 child. She remained in her family’s home in Malolos for most of her life. She died in 1969 at the age of 96.
  • Juana Tantoco Reyes – The younger sister of Elisea, she was called “Anang” and was 14 at the time. Along with her family, she aided the revolutionary army by providing supplies. She did not have higher education and she later married her 4th cousin, Mariano Tiongson Buendia. Sadly, she died 2 months after giving birth to their daughter in 1900.
  • Leoncia Santos Reyes – The 1st cousin of Elisea and Juana’s father, she was 24 at the time. She was a fluent speaker of Spanish and at merely 17 was noted as a property owner. She married her firsst cousin Graciano T. Reyes, a reformist and a friend of Sandico’s, in 1889. They had 13 children and she ran a store while her husband attended to a business of his own. She was widowed around 1930. She died in 1948 at the age of 84.
  • Olympia San Agustin Reyes – The half-sister of Leoncia, she was 12 years younger. She was the youngest of the women to sign the letter, being only 12 at the time. She eventually married Vicente T. Reyes, the brother of Elisea and Juana. The couple had 9 children but Olympia died after giving birth to twins at the age of 34.
  • Rufina T. Reyes – Though she did not sign her family name, it is certain that Rufina was one of the women as the classes were eventually held in her house. At that time, she was 19. She was a first cousin of Elisea and Juana and, like them, a niece of Graciano T. Reyes. Along with her family, she aided the Katipunan. She joined the Red Cross and was a founding member of the Pariancillo, Malolos committee of the AFF. She died at the age of 40.
  • Eugenia Mendoza Tanchangco - Nicknamed “Genia,” she was then 17. Her father was the great Capitan Tomas Tanchanco gobernadorcillo 1879 and the justice of peace of Malolos from 1887-1889. She studied at Colegio de la Concordia in Manila. It is recorded that she met Rizal at a baptismal party in Malolos in 1888, prior to the encounter with Weyler. When she was 19 she married Ramon Vicente Reyes, who became a municipal official, and they had 11 children. She was widowed in 1935 and died in 1969 at the age of 98.
  • Aurea Mendoza Tanchangco – Eugenia’s younger sister, she was 16 during the encounter with Weyler. Like her sister, she was sent to La Concordia, living with relatives in Binondo while finishing her education. She was known to be excellent in reading, writing, and speaking Spanish and was considered the brightest student in the women’s school. With her family, she gave aid to the revolutionary army. In 1898, she married a former Spanish Army doctor, who began courting her in her textile shop. Her husband, Eugenio Hernando, later became an officer in the Philippine Army under Aguinaldo and Director of the Bureau of Public Health under Manuel L. Quezon. They had 14 children and Aurea became a member of the Club de Mujeres. She died of stomach cancer within 4 months of her husband’s death in 1958. She was 86 years old.
  • Basilia Villariño Tantoco – Called “Ilyang,” she was 23 at the time. She was Eugenia and Aurea’s second cousin. She studied with private tutors and in a college in a Manila and was known to be a devout Catholic. In the early 1880s, she resisted the sexual advances of the friar curate of Malolos. She was one of those chosen to lead the group in presenting the letter to Weyler. During the Philippine Revolution, her uncle, father and 5 brothers were active in the Katipunan. She acted as a courier for the Katipunan, hiding messages in her clothing. During the establishment of the republic in Malolos, she and her brother Juan donated their houses to the government. Connected by a bridge, they were used to house the office of the Secretaria de Hacienda. A founding member of the Red Cross, she was on its board of directors and headed the 3rd commission. She was a member of the AFF in Malolos as well. In 1917, she set up the Escuela Catolica de Malolos, a pre-school and grade school which closed in 1922. As the firstborn as well as the only daughter in her family, she managed her family’s extensive properties after the death of her parents until she died in 1925 at the age of 60.
  • Teresa Tiongson Tantoco – A 1st cousin of Basilia’s and, like her, second cousin to Eugenia and Aurea, “Esang” was 21 at the time of the encounter with Weyler. She was the eldest in her family. She also joined the Red Cross and the AFF. In the AFF, she was treasurer of the 1st Pariancillo committee. She had a daughter out of wedlock in 1897 and she married Julian Reyes in 1912, when she was 45. She was over 74 when she died in 1942.
  • Maria Tiongson Tantoco – Teresa’s younger sister, she was then 19. She married Lino Santos Reyes, who was the cabeza de barangay. The Secretaria de Exterior of the Republic of Malolos was housed in their home. She became a member of the AFF. She had a dozen children and died at the age of 44 after an operation.
  • Anastacia Maclang Tiongson – She was 1st cousin to Teresa and Maria Tantoco and second cousin to Eugenia and Aurea Tanchangco and to Basilia Tantoco. Nicknamed “Taci,” she was 14 at the time. She and her family aided the revolutionaries by providing supplies. She later joined the Red Cross. In 1899, she fled the American invasion of Malolos with her family. They resettled in Dagupan, where she opened the firsst movie house in the province. A shrewd businesswoman, she was also the firsst and sole distributor of San Miguel Beer in Dagupan, and the first to distribute it in Pangasinan. She also sold ice as a companion business and became a large landowner. At the age of 36, she married Vicente Torres and had 1 surviving daughter. She died of appendicitis in 1940, when she was 66.
  • Basilia Reyes Tiongson – She is known to be a personal acquaintance of Marcelo del Pilar, based on his letters. A firsst cousin of Anastacia Tiongson and Maria Tantoco, she was called “Ylia” and was then 28.
  • Paz Reyes Tiongson – One of those who signed the letter with only her first name, she was the younger sister of Basilia and like her known to have been acquainted with Del Pilar. She was 24 at the time of the encounter with Weyler. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the official classes, due to illness. She died early in 1889, probably of a heart ailment.
  • Aleja Reyes Tiongson – The younger sister of Basilia and Paz, “Ejang” was 23 at the time. She also signed only her first name on the letter.
  • Mercedes Reyes Tiongson – Known as “Merced” for short, she was the younger sister of Basilia, Paz, and Aleja. She was then 18 and was the one who organized the group to open a school for learning Spanish. During the Philippine Revolution, she aided the Katipunan by sending supplies. She took over the management of the family property after the deaths of her father and older siblings, overseeing the lands on horseback. In 1903, she married Sandico, who became governor and senator for 2 terms each. The couple’s 2 sons died when they were barely out of infancy, so they adopted her goddaughter. Mercedes was one of the founding members of the Red Cross. On the national board of directors of the Red Cross, she headed its 2nd commission. She was a founding member of the AFF. She died in 1928 of a heart attack following an asthmatic attack, at the age of 58
  • Agapita Reyes Tiongson – The youngest sister of Basilia, Paz, Aleja, and Mercedes Tiongson, she was 16 at the time. “Pitang,” as she was known, was especially close to Mercedes, and like her aided the revolutionary army. She studied at Colegio de Santa Isabel. She married Francisco Batungbakal when she was 42. The couple had no children, so she raised her goddaughter. In 1937, when she was 65, she died from a diabetic coma. Much of her property was willed for the construction of a hospital, which was never built.
  • Filomena Oliveros Tiongson – Known as “Mena,” she was 3rd cousin to the Reyes- Tiongson sisters, Anastacia Tiongson, Leoncia Reyes, and the Tantoco sisters. She was around 23 when the letter to Weyler was presented. It is recorded that while the new friar-curate was calling on her sisters in 1889, she heard about it while in her uncle’s house across the street from her home. She immediately took a knife and went home to participate in the conversation with the friar, all the while pretending to clean her nails with the knife. With her sister Cecilia, she wittily parried the friar’s accusations regarding such matters as their rare visits to the church, infrequency of confession, and gossip that they had eaten meat on Holy Thursday. She married Eladio Adriano in 1892. The couple had 3 surviving children. Filomena aided the Katipunan and the Malolos Republic, and joined her husband and sisters in petitioning Governor-General Polavieja for clemency for Rizal in 1896. She maintained a close friendship with the Rizal sisters and became a founding member of the AFF of Malolos. She helped with family business undertakings and the management of their landholdings. Blinded late in life, she died suddenly in 1930, when she was about 65.
  • Cecilia Oliveros Tiongson – One of the women who did not sign her last name, she was around 21 during the encounter with Weyler. Called “Ylia,” she was the younger sister of Filomena. She was known for her audacious responses in dealing with the friar-curate who was appointed to Malolos in 1889. When the friar-curate sent the gobernadorcillo to invite Cecilia and her sisters to the convent, Cecilia told him off by saying she could not believe the gobernadorcillo would solicit women for the priest. When the friar-curate visited her and her sisters, she was joined by her sister Filomena in parrying the friar’s accusations, boldly pointing out among other things that they would have less time to do good deeds and to earn money if they went to church too frequently, that the church only required confession once a year, and that women who visited the friar at the convent in Malolos were considered to have lost their virtue. She joined Filomena and other relatives in pleading for clemency for Rizal and remained a friend of the Rizal sisters. With the rest of her family, she helped the Katipunan by sending them supplies. She later became a member of the Red Cross. At age 63, following the death of Filomena, Cecilia married her brother-in-law, Eladio Adriano. She died 4 years later at the age of 67.
  • Feliciana Oliveros Tiongson – Known as “Cianang,” she was the younger sister of Filomena and Cecilia. She was 19 at the time the letter was presented. She witnessed the exchange between her older sisters and the friar. She was also with her sisters when they went on their knees to plead for clemency for Rizal and like them maintained a friendship with the Rizal sisters. Along with her family, she aided the Katipunan by sending them supplies. She became a member of the AFF. She helped her sister Filomena raise her children and grandchildren. Highly religious, she taught the children prayers in Spanish and gave them lessons in catechism as well as the rudiments of reading and arithmetic. She died in 1938 at the age of 70.
  • Alberta Santos Uitangcoy – Called “Iding,” she was the firsst cousin of Leoncia Reyes. She received higher education at La Concordia. With her strong will, she was chosen along with Basilia Tantoco as the leader of the group in presenting the letter to Weyler. At that time she was 23. It was she who personally handed the letter to Weyler. She married Paulino Santos, then cabeza de barangay, the following year. The couple had 9 children. Still, Uitangcoy found time for social involvement, becoming a founding member of the Red Cross and the AFF. After she was widowed in 1927, she took over the administration of the family properties. She died in 1953 at the age of 88, after a long period of debilitation.

Reactions

The friars were naturally threatened by the school. But the progressives and reformists were delighted by it. The newspaper La Opinion and other newspapers as well as individuals from Madrid, France, England, Austria, and elsewhere, sent La Solidaridad messages congratulating the women. Jaena, La Solidaridad’s founding editor, was especially effusive in his praise of the women, lauding them for their “noble courage” and “beautiful tenacity and fairness.”

In a letter to Rizal, Del Pilar observed that the women’s triumph had fanned the flames of the anti-friar movement: “Because of the propaganda of these ladies who preach by word and by actions, the idea is now spreading in the provinces that it is dishonorable for a man and for a woman to associate with the friar, and this is producing great results.”

Rizal then wrote his famous letter to the Women of Malolos, in which he said that the women’s action made him see Filipino women in a new light. He confessed that he used to think most Filipino women were servile to the friars and was pleased to find that there were women who understood that true religiousness was more about actions, intentions and judgments guided by reason, which is a gift from God. He encouraged them in their desire to be educated, that they may raise their children to act honorably and fight for their rights. In addition to this letter, Rizal probably alluded to the women’s action in writing about students agitating for a school in his novel El Filibusterismo.

Another of Del Pilar’s good friends, reformist Fernando Canon, wrote a sonnet in praise of the women. Del Pilar’s own reactions to the incident were recorded in a personal letter that he sent to his niece Josefa Gatmaytan on March 13, 1889. In this letter, he addressed not only his niece but all the women of Bulacan. First, he extolled the women’s proposal as an example for the women of his native Bulacan. Then, like Rizal, he noted the influence of women over their children, and often on the rest of their family as well. Thus it was important to educate women, for cultivating intelligence was necessary to achieve true virtue. He underscored the importance of learning Spanish as well.

Socio-historic implications

The actions of the Women of Malolos played an important role in the struggle to uplift the state of women, particularly when it came to education. The women won respect by demonstrating initiative, firmness of purpose, and a desire for education that was unexpected for Filipino women of their time. Though the success of their petition was short-lived, it was proof of the capacity of women to actively participate in social change, which no doubt encouraged them and others as well in working towards reform in the Philippines under Spain and thereafter.

External link

The Letter of the Women of Malolos [1]

References

  • Alzona, Encarnacion. The Filipino woman: Her Social, Economic, and Political Status, 1565-1937. Manila: Benipayo Press, 1934.
  • Tiongson, Nicanor. The Women of Malolos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2004.
  • Women of Malolos Foundation. [2] (Accessed March 13, 2008).