Remember the contributions of women in history at this house-turned-museum
They petitioned for education for women in 1888, and established the first feminist association in the country
Mar 30, 2017
On December 1888, toward the latter portion of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, a group of 21 young and affluent Mestiza-Sangley women, led by my great great grandmother Alberta Uitangcoy, made their way to the Malolos convent to present Governor General Valeriano Weyler a petition to provide Spanish education to women. Despite heavy opposition from the friar curate and an arduous socio-political battle for the approval of the establishment, the women succeeded in their lobbying and were allowed to open a school.
Their movement was recognized and lauded by a number of key reformists, including Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, and Fernando Canon. Today, The Women of Malolos are regarded by several noteworthy Philippine historians as heroes.
However, the narrative of The Women of Malolos is not as simplistic as a temporary victory for educational reform in a regressive time. Some of the women had also played crucial roles in establishing the first Philippine Red Cross, in response to the outbreak of the Philippine-American revolution, and the Asociacion Feminista de Filipinas, which aimed to tackle several women’s rights issues of their time. My great great grandmother in particular participated in both.
Today, in the heart of Barangay Santo Niño, within the historic Malolos City Center, remnants of their often overlooked contribution to Philippine history are preserved in the newly furnished exhibits of the Museo ng mga Kababaihan ng Malolos, currently housed in the Uitangcoy-Santos ancestral residence.
The bahay na bato structure, which was finished in 1914, was where Paulino Santos and Alberta Uitangcoy had raised their children and grandchildren. Their estate remains popular among town locals not only for its historical significance but also for the family’s contributions to the local culinary and medical industries. Uitangcoy is credited for coming up with several native Malolos delicacies such as empanada de kaliskis, suspiros de pili, mazapan de pili, gurgurya, and elevated renditions of the ensaymada and pastillas de leche.
Her sons Gonzalo and Luis, meanwhile, went on to have successful medical careers that drew in patients from every rung of society, from politicians to plantation workers, and even national artists such as Fernando Amorsolo, Fabian de la Rosa, and Guillermo Tolentino. The Santos Medical clinic and pharmacy still operate to this day, attending to patients every day throughout the year.
Being the birthplace of Asia’s first republic, Malolos is one of the country’s richest towns in terms of heritage sites, with almost every street and building having its own story to tell. Given the Manila-centric progression of the country within the last century, cities such as Malolos weren’t given the same opportunities to capitalize on growth. Most ancestral homes in the Philippines are usually sold to other parties for development and/or relocation, given the high cost of upkeep and virtually zero return on investment.
Despite these hurdles, the Uitangcoy-Santos descendants, together with the help of The Women of Malolos Foundation, have never sold any part of the estate to an outside entity. The foundation and its sponsors have succeeded in reconstructing vital parts of the home, such as the exterior and the ceiling, handmade from the house’s original mold.
Sustainability, however, remains difficult. With the foundation fighting an uphill battle to keep things afloat and the family generally seeing the property as an afterthought, I decided to specialize in heritage curation and preservation. After it was unanimously approved by a panel of museological experts, I received curatorial control from my family and the foundation, and soon found myself facing the interesting challenge of finding a natural balance between the preservation and restoration of a heritage home and the curation of a museum with a legitimate historical claim. It was important for me to reinstate the original intent of the space while allowing it to serve the functions of a modern-day museum. Outside of the painstaking process of treating and preserving a plethora of decaying articles that somehow survived the past century, perhaps the most difficult part of the whole process has been reimagining a functioning household even as I installed the new exhibits. The most powerful guide question was simply, “What would my lola have wanted?”
The restoration and re-curation of the museum culminate in a tour program specially crafted for a contemporary audience. As the museum reopens this month, I hope that it would be received as a space that not only houses the widest collection of primary resources surrounding The Women of Malolos, but also as a place that celebrates the authenticity of what life in the home once was. With all the work put into it, from making the living room completely functional again and restoring the original bedroom to creating a new dining room where my great great grandmother’s recipes will once again be served to new visitors, I look forward to turning hazy memories of my childhood into an unforgettably vivid experience that celebrates not only history but also a heritage that has lived through five generations.
This story was originally published in Northern Living, March 2017.
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