The first Filipina beauty queen, Pura Villanueva (who would later become Mrs. Teodoro Kalaw Sr.), was “Queen of the Orient” during the first Manila Carnival held in 1908. Two reigning beauties were chosen then, the other as the Queen of the Occident, an American. They were chosen Queens of the Carnival based on three criteria, namely, beauty, talent and family background.
Pura was a product of a mixed marriage, that of Ilongo ilustrado Emilio Villanueva to the Spanish maiden, the former Emilia Garcia, whom he brought home to the Philippines from his studies in Madrid.
At a young age, before she became Queen of the Carnival, Pura organized the Associacion Feminista Ilongga, the Philippines’ first suffragette movement. Pura thus led other Filipinas in the campaign to allow women to vote. As early as 1907, though, she went to Manila to encourage Assemblyman Filemon Sotto of Cebu to present the first bill on woman suffrage to the Philippine Assembly. It would take decades, though, before Pura, heading a drive of the Women’s Club, would bring women voters to the polling place where they voted for women’s suffrage by an overwhelming majority. This was in 1936.
Even before she became a candidate for Carnival Queen, she had been contributing weekly articles, essays and a column in El Tiempo, a weekly magazine in Iloilo, where she mostly wrote about feminine rights. She also edited the paper’s “Woman’s Page.” Not surprisingly, she won first prize in an Iloilo essay contest in 1907, which was followed by more first and second prizes.
Among the causes she fought for as a columnist and essayist was the establishment of puericulture centers all over the Panay Islands so that babies could be fed clean milk and taken care of based on correct hygienic practices.
Pura’s concern included giving prenatal care to unborn babies.
In 1918, Pura Villanueva Kalaw wrote a pioneering cookbook, Condimentos Indigenas. She eventually wrote other books, namely, Osmeña From Newspaperman to President (1946), How the Filipina Got the Vote, Outstanding Filipino Women, Anthology of Filipino Women Writers, The Consumer Cooperatives in the Philippines, The Filipino Cookbook and A Brief History of the Filipino Flag.
Being married to an intellectual, Teodoro Kalaw, a nationalist who pursued public service as Secretary of Interior and Director of National Library, Pura, who had an entrepreneurial leaning, engaged in real estate development, to provide for the needs of her family.
This woman of varied persuasions was way ahead of her time in engaging in various pursuits, promoting causes and leading women in breaking the glass ceiling, earning for them recognition and respect of the nation.
In 1951 Pura Villanueva Kalaw received the Presidential Award of Merit from President Elpidio Quirino who recognized her noteworthy undertakings towards championing women’s rights in the Philippines.
(This is a series on civic-minded Filipinas, wealthy and socially prominent, who contributed to the betterment of society, assisted significantly in alleviating the needs of the underprivileged and, using their brains, charm, popularity and ample financial resources, influenced the course of the nation’s economic, political and social history).