Fe Villanueva del Mundo, First Female Student at Harvard Medical School

Fe Villanueva del Mundo was the first Asian and first female student to attend Harvard Medical School. Born in Manila in 1909, Fe decided she wanted to become a doctor when her older sister died from appendicitis at the age of 11. After earning her medical degree from the University of the Philippines as valedictorian of her class in 1933, President Manuel Quezon offered her a full scholarship to study any medical field of her choice at any school in the US. Fe became the first woman to be admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1936 where she studied pediatrics, 9 years before Harvard began accepting female students. Due to an oversight, officials didn’t realize Fe’s gender, and unwittingly enrolled their first female student. Although she was admitted by mistake, Harvard decided not to turn her away due to her strong records. She completed her Master’s in bacteriology at the Boston University School of Medicine before returning to the Philippines. Fe had many more achievements after Harvard, which included being the first woman named National Scientist of the Philippines in 1980 and founding the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. Throughout her career she was active in promoting public health, with an emphasis on rural mothers and their children. Since she sold her home to fund the opening of The Children’s Medical Center in 1957, Fe took up residence on the second floor of the hospital. She lived in the hospital for the rest of her life, and was still making rounds to check on patients when she was wheelchair-bound at the age of 99. She passed away from a heart attack just a few months before her 100th birthday in 2011.

Photo courtesy of Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

Photo courtesy of Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation