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Why You Should Know Who Fe del Mundo Is

If you used Google on November 27 (chances are you did), then you saw the Google Doodle on the homepage that honored Fe del Mundo on the day that would have been her 107th birthday. Fe del Mundo was the first woman to ever be admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1936, which was more than ten years before the school officially granted admittance to women, but her story goes further than this.

Fe del Mundo was born in the Philippines in 1911. Mundo had wanted to be a doctor ever since her older sister died from appendicitis at the age of 11. After enrolling in 1926, Mundo graduated as valedictorian of her class at the University of the Philippines in 1933. For this reason, the president of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon, offered her a full scholarship to study at any American school of her choosing, and she chose Harvard Medical School.

At this time, Harvard had never accepted a woman applicant before. In fact, when Harvard accepted Fe del Mundo, they did not realize that they had admitted a woman. The Harvard Officials did not realize that Fe was a woman, so they accepted their first female student accidentally! This tremendous miscommunication wasn’t realized until Mundo had already traveled to Boston in 1936, where she was assigned to an all-male dorm. However, due to Mundo’s record, the head of pediatrics at Harvard had to admit that there was no basis to reject her since they had already accepted her. Therefore, Mundo was officially the first female student at the Harvard Medical School!

After an incredible mix-up, Mundo’s story continues. After earning her Master’s degree in bacteriology at the Boston University School of Medicine, Fe del Mundo went back to the Philippines in 1941. Here, Mundo was known as “The Angel of Santo Tomas," since she helped children detained at the University of Santo Tomas. After this, Mundo was asked by the mayor of Manila to start a government hospital. In order to do so, Mundo sold her house and almost all of her belongings. In 1957, her hospital opened in Quezon City and was named The Children’s Medical Center. Mundo had founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines! Since she had sold her home, Mundo lived on the second floor of the hospital for the rest of her life. It was incredible that she still made rounds to check on patients when she was wheelchair-bound at the age of 99.

Unfortunately, Mundo passed away from a heart attack before her 100th birthday in 2011, but not without leaving an incredible and inspiring legacy. As Kevin Nadal, a psychology professor at the City University of New York and trustee of the Filipino American National History Society said, “Dr. Fe Del Mundo was a pioneer for Filipino Americans, women of color, and everyone in general. She teaches us to recognize that despite the systems that try to push us down, we can dream big and accomplish our goals.”

Mia is a sophomore at UIC pursuing a double major in history and Spanish. She is also pursuing a double minor in museum studies and social justice.
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