Francisca Tirona-Benitez (4 Jun 1886 - 7 Nov 1974) was a distinguished educator, humanitarian and civic leader. She was one of the founders of Philippine Women's University (PWU), the first university for women in Asia founded by Asian women.
Francisca Tirona-Benitez was born in Imus, Cavite to Guillermo Tirona and Jacoba Paredes, who were both school teachers. At age twelve, Francisca helped her mother in aiding the wounded Katipuneros during the Philippine Revolution. She became known as the "Little Girl of the Revolution".
A bright and active girl, Francisca attended high school at the Philippine Normal College (now Philippine Normal University) where she graduated salutatorian. Conrado Benitez, a classmate and suitor, graduated Valedictorian. He was her future husband.
Francisca followed the career path of her parents. She taught at the Manila High School and Sampaloc Elementary School, and became the first teacher of domestic science at the Philippine Normal College. She also served as the assistant dean of a girls' dormitory, where she realized the need to have safe boarding houses for female students who came from different provinces. Francisca dreamt of putting up a school exclusive school for girls.
In 1919, Francisca, with six other women educators, established the Philippine Women’s College. The College began by admitting enrollees from kindergarten up to third year high school. The medium of education was English, and most teachers were women. Francisca Benitez was elected president in 1920. She immediately evolved a philosophy of education for women that combined the art of homemaking, the pursuit of a career, and the discharge of social and civic responsibilities. She emphasized that women are the natural custodian of moral values and the custodian and keeper of the home. Through her efforts, a three-story building was constructed on Taft Avenue.
The school made history in 1928 when it established the country’s first college of home economics, which is now considered one of the best. In 1932, the college became the Philippine Women’s University, the first institution of higher learning for women in Asia, established by Asians. Thousands of women flocked to the PWU for professional degrees and graduate education.
Benitez served as PWU president for another 45 years after the war. She extended community services to the resettled families adjacent to the PWU Dasmariñas, Cavite campus and organized the Francisca Tirona Benitez Rurban Development Center as the university's community extension services, particularly in the provinces of Cavite and Laguna.
Humanitarian and Women's Leader
Francisca Benitez was also a humanitarian and civic leader. In 1913, she organized the Associacion de Damas Filipinas, the group behind the orphanage and settlement house for homeless women and children.
During the Japanese Occupation, Francisca, with daughter Helena, put up the Volunteer Social Aid Committee to give services to the prisoners of war in various camps. She was appointed by President Jose P. Laurel as director of the Women's Bureau which rallied the women's organizations to prepare and survive the disasters brought by the Second World War. After the war, both Francisca and Helena were both active in laying the groundwork for an organized women's sector.
In 1946, Francisca established the Civic Assembly of Women in the Philippines, now known as the National Council of Women in the Philippines (NCWP). The NCWP was instrumental in the establishment of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), the government agency under the Office of the President that serves as the machinery for the advancement of Filipino women.
Francisca Benitez was the recipient of many honors and awards, including the President’s Rizal Pro-Patria award for her patriotism, contribution to education, and outstanding achievement to civic work for a half century. PWU conferred on her the title of President Emeritus along with its highest award, the Ang Hiyas ng Pamantasan (The Jewel of the University).
- Sulong Pilipina! Sulong Pilipinas! A Compilation of Filipino Women Centennial Awardees. National Centennial Commission-Women Sector. Philippines. April 1999
- "Francisca Tirona-Benitez - Founder of the Philippine Women's University." Filipino Heritage. http://www.filipinoheritage.com/sikatpinoy/francisca_tirona_benitez.htm (accessed on 1 February 2008)
- "FTB Rurban Development Center." PWU. http://www.pwu.edu.ph/ftb/historical.html (accessed on 1 February 2008)