The name Rosa Sevilla de Alvero may not ring a bell, but thanks to her, Filipinas have been able to exercise their right to vote.
As part of Women’s Month and in honor of Rosa’s 141st birthday this March 4, we enumerate the notable achievements of this little-known yet inspiring female in education, journalism, and suffrage.
She is the first Filipino to start a school in the country.
Born in Tondo, Manila, on March 4, 1879, Rosa Sevilla de Alvero studied to be a teacher. She graduated “maestra superior” at Assumption College.
An accomplished educator, she was the first Dean of Women of the University of Santo Tomas, and founded Instituto de Mujeres (now Rosa Sevilla Memorial School) on July 15, 1900. It is the first school initiated by a Filipino, and also the first school for Philippine laywomen.
She is also an accomplished journalist.
In the field of journalism, she was one of two female staffers of the General Antonio Luna-edited revolutionary government paper La Independencia. Editor of the woman’s section of the Spanish daily La Vanguardia, she also founded the national women’s magazine, Woman’s Outlook.
She was instrumental in allowing Filipinas to exercise their right to vote.
Her greatest contribution to women empowerment, however, was fighting for Filipinas’ right to vote. As per the 1935 Constitution, only male citizens of the Philippines 21 years of age or older had the right to vote because it was believed that if women voted, they “would ruin family unity, giving less power to the husband or man of the house in the family.”
Together with the equally formidable Pura Villanueva-Kalaw and Pilar Hidalgo-Lim, Rosa helped pave the way for Filipinas to exercise their right to vote, mounting information campaigns and house-to-house visits to advice women of their rights.
On April 30, 1937, Filipinas trooped to the polling precinct for the first time for a plebiscite that would decide on their right to suffrage. Of the 500,000 who participated, 447,725 voted in favor of women being allowed to vote; 52,275 were against it.
Her works are recognized not just locally, but also internationally.
Married to the artist Emilio Alvero, Rosa received the Presidential Medal of Merit award and the Queen Isabella II of Spain award in 1948 for her numerous achievements for Filipinas and her country.
She was 75 when she passed away on May 11, 1954.