U.S. First Lady Florence Harding received a group of women from the Philippines led by Sofia de Veyra, wife of the Philippine Resident Commissioner, at the South Lawn of the White House on June 19, 1922. These women are the wives and daughters of the delegation which came to Washington to lay before President Warren G. Harding the plea for Philippine Independence.

WASHINGTON — “It is worth noting that Philippine society has always been blessed with strong and powerful women who shape the course of our history. Filipinas are active in diverse fields, pouring their talents, skill and passion into many areas of human endeavor. It is therefore no wonder that the Philippine Suffrage Movement in the early 1900s was composed mainly of Filipinas who were able to carve an identity, and a mission, that were separate from those of the influential men in their lives.”

Thus remarked Minister Patrick Chuasoto, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Philippine Embassy, as he formally opened the exhibit “The Washington Home of the Philippine Suffrage Movement” at the Embassy’s Romulo Hall on June 16.

“The Washington Home of the Philippine Suffrage Movement” stems from the research of husband-and-wife team Erwin Tiongson and Titchie Carandang-Tiongson, who also spearheaded the ongoing project Philippines on the Potomac or POPDC.

It was an initiative of Maria Victoria Cuisia, wife of Philippine ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr.

Another remarkable Filipina, Monique Bascon, lent her artistic talent as exhibit designer.

The exhibit focuses on the lives of Mercedes Tiongson Sandiko, Clemencia Lopez, Sofia de Veyra, Pura Villanueva Kalaw, Aurora Quezon, Ines Villa Gonzalez and Pilar Hidalgo Lim, who pursued their advocacy for the extension of suffrage to Filipino women during their stay in the United States in the early part of the 20th century.

“The exhibit celebrates a group of extraordinary women and their ties to Washington. And coming so soon after the last Philippine elections, this exhibit, we hope, serves to remind us that suffrage rights have been hard won through the struggles of many people who came before us. And by coincidence, that photo of the women from the Philippines at the White House, around which the exhibit is organized, was taken almost exactly 94 years ago today,” explained Erwin and Titchie Tiongson.

“The exhibit draws materials from our Philippines on the Potomac Project. Discovering all these fascinating women and their ties to our adopted D.C. home has been a deeply rewarding experience. And the process of discovery has been made so much easier thanks to the generosity of so many people who shared memorabilia, photos and family stories,” the Tiongson couple added.

Diplomatic relations

The Embassy is hosting the week-long exhibit in line with its Gender and Development (GAD) program and the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Philippines-U.S. diplomatic relations.

“We must remember that while diplomatic relations between our two countries turn only 70 years old this year, the ties that bind our nations have existed for over a century. Moving forward entails being open to outside partnerships and at the same time harnessing the cooperation of your own people to be united in pursuit of common goals. The Philippine Suffrage Movement had its own allies and supporters here at the U.S. capital and we similarly honor their role in the Movement’s eventual success,” the Deputy Chief of Mission emphasized.

The Movement triumphed as the right of suffrage was extended to Filipino women on April 30, 1937.

Almost eight months later, on Dec. 14, 1937, the Philippines held the first general election in which Filipino women were allowed to vote and run for public office.

“It truly takes a village to put together an exhibit. We are grateful to the Philippine Embassy, the Public Diplomacy Office, the Gender and Development Program and of course, Mrs. Cuisia, for the wonderful opportunity to share our discoveries with the Filipino- American community,” the Tiongsons concluded.

Mitzi Pickard, President of the Philippine Arts, Letters and Media Council (PALM), served as master of ceremonies at the exhibit launch.

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