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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Leading Filipino Women: Sofia de Veyra

Sofia de Veyra
Great Civic Leader
(1876 - 1958)

          Sofia de Veyra succeeded in several fields of activity which greatly benefited her country. She gained fame for her work in education, social and civic improvement, and religion. Throughout her busy life for more than half a century, her family remained as her most precious responsibility. In the words of President Elpidio Quirino, Mrs. De Veyra was “the ideal Maria Clara of present-day Philippines.”

Early Life and Education
           On September 30, 1876 in the little town of Arevalo, Iloilo, a baby girl was born to a couple – Santiago Reyes and Eulalia Tiaozon. The child was named Sofia. Little Sofia was a bright child. At the age of eight her brilliant intellect was noticed by all those around her.
           Sofia received her early schooling in a private Spanish school in Sta. Ana, Iloilo, conducted by the sisters of former Chief Justice Ramon Avancena. She worked in the school for her tuition, board, and lodging.
          She attended no other school after studying in Sta. Ana. Her “higher education” was obtained through self-study.

The Educator
          Changes in Philippine history were to affect young Sofia’s life. After the United States won the Philippines from Spain, American teachers were sent to our country. One of these teachers happened to board in Sofia’s home. Sofia quickly took advantage of the presence of this American teacher. She asked the American lady to teach her arithmetic and English. The teacher taught Sofia addition and subtraction, which were the first lessons she mastered, and gave her daily drills in phonetics and grammar.
          Sofia was soon appointed a teacher in Saravia, Negros Occidental. After a year she was appointed matron of the girl’s dormitory connected with the Bacolod High School. From Bacolod, Sofia was transferred to the Philippine Normal School dormitory in 1905 as assistant matron. Two years later, she founded with Miss Mary E. Colemar, one of the most useful institutions in the country – a training school for nurses. She also became the secretary of the Association Feminist, one of the earliest women’s societies.

Sofia’s Marriage
           In 1907, Sofia married Jaime C. de Veyra, then governor of Leyte. He was the first Filipino in the country to get that position. Mr. de Veyra later became the resident commissioner for the Philippines in the United States. He served in this position from 1917 to 1923. While in America, Mrs. De Veyra told the American people about the Philippines. She delivered lectures to convince Americans that their good system of government in the Philippines would be a fine example to other people in the Far East. In this way she helped her husband maintain good relations between the Philippines and the United States.

Mrs. De Veyra’s Social Work
           Sofia de Veyra was one of our first women to engage in work to improve the condition of the people. During her time it was not yet the practice for women to have activities outside the home. Mrs. De Veyra proved that a woman could work to improve her community without neglecting her home. Hers was an ideal home life, as will be described further on.
          Wherever there was social work to be done, Mrs. de Veyra was there. In 1917, she became president of the “Proteccion de la Infancia,” an organization formed to provide charity services to undernourished babies. She helped organize the National Federation of Women’s clubs, of which she was the president from 1913 to 1936. In 1928, she was a delegate to the Pan-Pacific Women’s Conference in Honolulu.

Service to Her Country
          Mrs. de Veyra’s accomplishments were rewarded with greater recognition by her country of her ability. She was appointed to post after post in the service of her country. These positions took much of her time and often there was no pay for her services.
         From 1923 to 1949, she served as a member of the governing body of the Philippine Red Cross. She became the vice-president of Catholic Women’s League. She was also appointed to serve on the board of review for moving pictures from 1923 to 1949 and on the parole and pardon boards.
        Mrs. Aurora Quezon and, later, Mrs. Trinidad Roxas, as First Lady of the country, appointed Mrs. de Veyra as social secretary at Malacanan.
        In 1929, Mrs. de Veyra became the vice-president of the Centro Escolar University, a position she occupied until her death. After the first world war, she received a medal from President Wilson for her gallant Red Cross war work. In July, 1951, she was decorated by President Quirino for her outstanding contribution to social welfare. She was cited as “Homemaker and Civic Leader of the Year.”

The Ideal Mother
         In serving her country well, Sofia de Veyra never neglected her family. She brought up her children as god-fearing, responsible persons who later on took their places as good and useful citizens in the community. She was not only a good mother. She was also a good mother-in-law.
        “In the midst of her busy life,” a daughter-in-law said, “she had time for the family of her married son. She would take time to clip articles and hints on how to improve home life and child care. These clippings she gave to me. There was no place in her disposition for anger, criticism or gossip. She gave all her time to religion, education, civic work and affection for her family and friends.”

Her Last Years
        Sofia de Veyra lived a long and useful life. Old age did not slow down her civic activities. During her last years, she took part in the activities of different civic organizations.
        So when Sofia de Veyra died on January 1, 1958, the whole country mourned the loss of a great woman.
        These were the words of tribute that the President of the Philippines released to the press upon her death: “Mrs. Sofia de Veyra was the embodiment of all the desirable qualities that a true Filipinas should possess. The performance of her duties as an exemplary mother who reared God and country-loving children did not hamper her from doing her other duties to her countrymen, by serving them devotedly in the field of education, religious work and social service. She lived a noble and honorable life and thus she died. Her death is just like the passing away of some sweet music which we will long remember, because in her life she had done much to spread sweetness and light.”

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