Trinidad Legarda: Civil Leader of the Year
April 11, 1953
by Quijano de Manila
THE Filipina as clubwoman is only about thirty years old but has a record that should impress even the male most stubbornly convinced that a woman’s place is in the home and only in the home.
A brilliant example of the Filipina as clubwoman is Trinidad Fernandez Legarda, who, since her teens, has been working to make her country cleaner, healthier, more united, more beautiful, and more cultured. On Thursday, April 16, her labors will be given due recognition when the 18 affiliate Red Feather organizations award her a gold plaque as the “Civil Leader of the Year.”
The first local woman’s club was established in Manila in 1912. This club sparked the fight for woman suffrage, set up the old flower market at Plaza Lawton, and worked to improve the conditions of women prisoners. In 1916, during the first world war, the government placed the club in charge of the campaign to increase food production and offered to pay the slary of an executive secretary who would work with the campaign committee. The club’s president at the time, an American lady, created a sensation when she hired as executive secretary a teenage girl who was still in high school. The girl was Trinidad Fernandez and she can claim the distinction of being one of the first career girls of the Philippines.
It was not her first job, either; for three years, she had been teaching at the public elementary school in her hometown, Cuyo, Palawan. She is the eighth in a family of fourteen and her father had very advanced ideas regarding the education of girls. When she was barely twelve, she had been taken to Manila to study at the Philippine Normal School. Before she had finished high school, she began teaching. She had returned to Manila to resume her studies when the job of executive secretary for the Woman’s Club was offered her. She took the job, worked at it for the next ten years, and managed to finish high school (at the U.P.) too.
During those ten years, she travel through the provinces, organizing the women, helping them to set up local clubs. All these clubs were merged in 1921, into the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, the great symbol of the feminist movement in the Philippines. Mrs. Legarda says that she was “on the podium” when the NFWC was first organized and that she was “on the podium” again (this time as president) when it was re-organized after the second world war.
It was, however, not all social work for the young Trining in those days. She was taking up college courses and was emerging as one of the town’s most popular belles in the 1920’s. She was among the girls invited to Malacañan to meet the visiting Prince of Wales and, in 1924, the Bachelor’s Club of Manila sponsored her candidacy for carnival queen. She was at home, fast asleep, on the night of the final balloting and had to be roused from bed to be told that she had won. Incidentally, the feminist movement in the Philippines seems to have been powered by beauty as well as by brains; it was spearheaded by Pura Villanueva Kalaw, a famous beauty and the first of the carnival queens, and it has been carried forward by women who are a far cry from the grim and angular blue-noses and battle-axes traditionally associated, in caricatures, with the fight for women’s rights.
In 1925, Trining Fernandez became Mrs. Benito Legarda. “He had been wooing e for five years,” she says. “Imagine our young people today waiting that long!” The Legardas are an old Manila family with a famous mansion on R. Hidalgo Street. The young couple, however, wanted to be independent and went to live in the family summer house, a small chalet near Balic-Balic, then still practically a wilderness. “Mr. Legarda was earning only about two hundred pesos a month. So I continued to work, too.” A year later, she finally resigned from her job: her first baby was coming. A career girl, a clubwoman, a militant feminist, she was still a traditional Filipina, for whom the home and her children came first.
While her children—she has two—were growing up, she devoted her free time to charity and cultural work. She was among the organizers and has ever been the pillar of strength of the Manila Symphony Society, and an indefatigable fund-raiser for the anti-tuberculosis and anti-leprosy campaigns. During the war, she set up the first convalescent home in Manila for war veterans, which became a refuge for war widows and orphans and for sick guerrillas, too. The latter could always depend on Mrs. Legarda to change their dangerous guerrilla notes with real currency. She has made no effort to have those notes redeemed; she keeps them “as souvenirs.”
The war completely shattered the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. In 1946, Mrs. Legarda was elected its president, receiving from the outgoing president only “a think sheaf of papers, a depleted treasury—and her personal blessing.” The NFWC had lost its clubhouse and all its records. “Somewhere, somehow,” thought Mrs. Legarda, “a beginning or a rebirth has to be made.” She went to the United States three times to raise funds and came back with monetary contributions, relief goods, supplies for reading rooms and nursery classes, and medical equipment for puericulture centers.
The Federation set up community kitchens in slum areas and sold cooked food to the people at cost. It re-opened its sewing classes for girls and its nurseries for the children of women laborers. Remembering how unprepared the war had caught us, Mrs. Legarda organized training classes in first aid for girls. By 1948, “a beginning, a rebirth” had indeed been made and her labors were crowned with the inauguration of the Escoda Memorial, the new NFWC headquarters in Manila.
Mrs. Legarda’s plunge into politics-as Nacionalista senatorial candidate in 1949—carried her right inside the most jealousy guarded of male preserves. She proved herself as game a trouper as any male by going on a stumping tour through the country, braving bad weather, bad tempers, and—sometimes—even bullets. When she lost (her friends claim that she won at the polls but lost in the counting), she shrugged her shoulders and said: “After all, I’m doing right now, without pay, what I would have been doing in the government if I had won.”
What she is doing for her country, without pay, keeps her on the go from morning till night; she runs up a terrific gasoline bill each month. But she is happy to have seen—and helped in—the great progress her fellow women have made in 30 years. And she believes our women unexcelled anywhere in the world. “Filipino women are serious when they lose, serious when they marry, and serious as mothers.” And they are serious, too, when, like Trinidad Legarda, they go forth from their homes to clean up the world outside. She rejoices that more and more of our women are feeling that urge to go forth and clean up.
“Perhaps,” she says, “it was a most natural transition after all—from private housekeeping to public housekeeping.”