LIBRADA M. AVELINO
A pioneer educator of the modern Filipina and the first directress of Centro Escolar University, Librada Avelino was born in Quiapo, Manila on January 17, 1873. She was the only child of Pedro Avelino, a pharmacist, and Francisca Mangali. Not long after her birth, her family moved to Pandacan.
Her first teacher was her mother who taught her the alphabet and her prayers. At six her formal education began in the public schools where she came under the supervision of Maestra Luisa Bacho. She was, according to Bacho, the brightest Pupil in her class. Orphaned of her mother, she was fortunate to find her father's second wife, Paula Arcilla, to be loving and understanding, and a basically supportive woman. Ada studied Spanish grammar under Fermin Raymundo and took up music lessons under Ladislao Bonus. She grew to love Jose Rizal's novels and in fact considered him her favorite author.
At La Concordia College, she became proficient in both embroidery and dressmaking. Afterwards, she transferred to the school of Margarita Lopez in Tondo to prepare herself for a teacher's examination. She also attended the Escuela Superior de Maestras.
She was only 16 years old when she passed the government
examination for elementary school teachers. In the second government examinations, she obtained the highest rating among 16 other candidates who qualified.
How really young she was maybe illustrated by this anecdote: One day a gentleman went to the school where she taught. He inquired from the first girl he met at the gate as to where he could find Miss Avelino. "At your service Sir," the lady answered "I am Miss Avelino." "You!," the man was dumbfounded. He looked at the young woman closely. Then he introduced himself as Mr. Fernandez from Laguna who wanted his daughter to have better review classes because he had heard so much about the school of Maestra Ada. This
anecdote shows us how effective she was as a teacher.
Not satisifed with her status as an elementary school teacher, she enrolled at the Normal School for Women where she finished the teaching course in one year (1893). She was given a diploma which qualified her to teach in the secondary schools. She continued to operate her school in Pandacan until 1898 when the Revolution swept the country.
At the start of the American regime, she moved to Manila and established a private school which did not prosper for lack of courses offered in English. Owing to this sad experience, she became determined to master the strange language. She read all the available English grammars and took private lessons from a noted Filipino tutor, Mr. Mauricio Somosa. She enrolled at the Summer School in Manila, which had been established for Spanish-trained teachers to improve their English.
In due time, she learned to master English. But while learning it, she remained keenly patriotic and loyal to the ideals of the revolution. An anecdote well illustrates this point: one day Mr. Prescott F. Jernegan, American author of the first English textbooks in Philippine history, while lecturing at the summer school, happened to speak of General Aguinaldo as "the chief of the Cavite bandits." Ada, who was present in class, rose up and protested thus: "Mr. Jernegan, Aguinaldo was not a bandit. Our revolutionists were not bandits. They were patriots just like the soldiers of the American Revolution of 1776." The class exploded in uproar. The Filipino students applauded Ada for her courage and patriotism and Mr. Jernegan, red in the face and visibly embarrassed, abruptly ended his lecture.
Early in 1901, Ada was appointed principal of a girls' public
school in Pandacan by Dr. David Barrows, superintendent of public schools in Manila. She was the first Filipina to become a public school principal during the American regime.
In October 1901, she obtained a leave of absence and with the family of Don Vicente Gonzales (a good friend of her father) went to Hongkong where she stayed for six months to further improve her English.
Upon her return to the Philippines, she resumed her job as principal of Pandacan's public school for girls. Not long after, she had serious differences with an American school official who liked to meddle with the affairs of her school. Asserting her rights, the diminutive principal angrily told the bulky six-footer "to mind his own business." When he continued to interfere, she left the school followed by all her students and filed her resignation. This was the first recorded walkout of Filipino students against the American authorities.
Superintendent O'Reilly, who admired her excellent record as a teacher and her courage in standing up for her rights, requested her not to resign. "Don't go away, Miss Avelino," he said, "I'll make you the highest paid Filipina teacher in the whole country." But she could not barter her rights and dignity for a salary increase. She graciously turned down the request.
In April 1907, she, together with Carmen de Luna and Don Eernando Salas, founded the first non-sectarian nationalistic school for girls in Manila. It was called the Centro Escolar de Seņoritas. The new college started with only 118 girls, but by 1934 the population had increased to more than 2,000. It later grew into a university (now Centro Escolar University) and became the first non-sectarian insti-
tution to offer graduate courses leading to the degree of philosophy and doctor of education.
In recognition of her contribution to Philippine education and progress, she was conferred a Master of Pedagogy, honoris causa by the University of the Philippines in 1929. She was the first woman to receive the honor. Dr. Rafael Palma, President of the University of the Philippines, read the citation during the investiture.
In the midst of her success, she became seriously ill. Dr. Luis Guerrero, her personal physician, diagnosed her ailment and found it to be a deadly and incurable stomach cancer.
Shortly before her death, she confided to one of her former students. Alicia Jose, the daughter of her bosom friend Dona Teodorica. "My dear, work and study hard and be ready to offer all you have in the service of humanity and of our poor country."
She died quietly on November 9, 1934. After her death the Centro Escolar University established the Librada Avelino Memorial Awards for outstanding women leaders in Asia.