Google honors Filipina doctor, first woman admitted to Harvard Medical School. Tuesday’s Google Doodle celebrates the 107th birthday of renowned pediatrician Fe del Mundo.
In Manila at the turn of the last century, women had relatively few opportunities, but lawyer Bernardo del Mundo was supportive. When one of his young daughters declared, at an early age, that she wanted to become a doctor someday and care for the poorer population of Manila. When the ambitious young girl died of appendicitis at age 11, her younger sister Fe took up the torch.
Del Mundo received a scholarship offer from Philippines President Manuel Quezon, granting her admission to any school in the United States. When she accepted the offer, del Mundo applied to Harvard Medical School, years before the institution began admitting female students. She became the first woman accepted to the prestigious school in 1936.
Fe del Mundo graduated from the University of the Philippines Manila at the head of her class in 1933 and scored so highly on her medical board exam. Filipino President Manuel Quezon offered a full scholarshipto any medical school. In the United States to study any specialty she wanted. She chose Harvard and pediatrics, and having completed her enrollment, she arrived in 1936 to settle into her dorm room and begin studying.
But she found herself walking into a men’s dorm. Del Mundo hadn’t realized that in 1936, Harvard Medical School didn’t admit women. Harvard hadn’t realized that del Mundo was, in fact, a woman. In light of del Mundo’s impressive record — and, no doubt, her determined presence — the head of the pediatrics department made an exception and allowed her enrollment to stand. Harvard wouldn’t officially open up its medical program to female students until 1945.
Del Mundo would go on to become a renowned humanitarian following her studies in the U.S. Upon returning home during World War II, she set up a hospice, where she treated more than 400 children.
According to the Google blog, the pediatrician eventually became director of a government hospital. Later sold her own house and belongings to finance her country’s first pediatric hospital after being fed up with the bureaucracy.
By then, del Mundo was back in the Phillipines, having arrived in 1941 just ahead of the invading Japanese Army. Over 100,000 civilians died in the battle, and del Mundo’s pediatric hospital found itself pressed into more general service. After the war, much of Manila lay in ruins, but the North General Hospital (eventually renamed the Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center) endured, and del Mundo served as its director until 1948.
del Mundo opted to simply live at the hospital, where she stayed until 2007). Del Mundo continued to practice until well into her 90s; patients describe the 99-year-old doctor making her daily hospital rounds in a wheelchair. The hospital was the first true pediatric hospital in the Philippines, and today it bears its founder’s name. Del Mundo died in 2011.