The Legacy of Queen Pura Villanueva, The First Miss Philippines

The Legacy of Queen Pura Villanueva, The First Miss Philippines
by Emmanuel Castillo
As we are all still in the throes of Catriona’s amazing win not only as our 4th Miss Universe but for changing the game in beauty pageants not only in the Philippines but also the universe, perhaps it’s time to look back to the woman who really started it all.

That woman was Purificacion Garcia Villanueva. Pura was born in Iloilo City, the daughter of Emilio Villanueva and Emilia Garcia. Her mother was born in Palencia, Spain. At 22 Pura Villanueva became the first Miss Philippines and voted unanimously as the “Queen of the Manila Carnival” of 1908. Like Catriona, Pura was also half-Filipina. But that’s not where their similarity ends.
Before she came to Manila to represent Region VI, Pura was already a burgeoning writer/columnist for a weekly magazine called El Tiempo in Iloilo and the leading feminist of her day. In fact she established the Association of Feminista Ilongga in 1906 and championed clean milk for children through the establishment of puericulture centers all over Panay Island. Puericulture is the rearing or hygienic care of children specifically: the prenatal care of unborn children through attention to the health of pregnant women. Her efforts also led to the first suffrage bill reaching the Philippine Assembly in 1907.

Pura could have remained as a journalist in her hometown but, like Catriona, she needed a bigger stage on which to pursue her causes. Since there was still no global beauty pageant like Miss Universe during those times, the next best thing was the Manila Carnival where countries all over Asia-Pacific participate as trade exhibitors. Countries like the US, Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand come to Manila every year to do trade marketing and tourism and to Pura, that must have been a most attractive platform. She was already Miss Iloilo and she must have thought she had nothing to lose if she went all the way to Manila to bat for the Miss Philippines crown.
The Philippines was then a colony of the United States and the Americans used the Manila Carnival as a venue to unite all the regions of the Philippines through economic trade and cooperation. The highlight of this month-long celebration and trade fair was the election of the Miss Manila Carnival. The Americans fielded their own Miss USA to compete head on with Miss Philippines. Miss USA, Marjorie Radcliffe Colton from Illinois, was known as Miss Occidental whilst Miss Philippines, Pura, was Miss Oriental. It was a heavily attended coronation night and in the end Pura won because she was more prepared. She had a battalion of supporters many of whom came all the way from Iloilo to support her in all aspects. Very much like Catriona’s dream team. Miss USA on the other hand, looked like she just got off the boat from San Francisco.

After the Miss Manila Carnival pageant, Pura remained in Manila to continue work as a journalist for Woman’s Outlook, a suffragist publication. She was also president of the Women’s Club of Manila. Wikipedia sums off her achievements in a career highlight that was truly ahead of her time:
“Books penned by Pura Villanueva Kalaw included Osmeña From Newspaperman to President (1946),[5] 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. Her 1918 booklet Condimentos Indigenas was “one of the earliest cookbooks” published in the Philippines.
In 1951 Pura Villanueva Kalaw was honored with a Presidential Medal, presented by Elpidio Quirino, for her work on behalf of women’s rights in the Philippines.”
In 1910, Pura married lawyer and editor Teodoro Maniguiat Kalaw in 1910. They had 2 daughters: Maria Kalaw Katigbak, who was also crowned Miss Philippines in 1931 and Purita Kalaw Ledesma. Maria became a senator, an art critic. Their daughter-in-law Eva Estrada Kalaw was also a senator. Pura Villanueva Kalaw became a widow in 1940. She died on March 21, 1954 at the age of 67.
Miss Philippines, Pura Villanueva-Kalaw’s legacy was not only her beauty but also her passion to help advance women’s and children’s causes. This legacy, rooted on women’s principles and values has been handed down to her peers, her daughter most definitely, and by osmosis, to Catriona.


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