Fe del Mundo

Fe Del Mundo (1911-2011) was a filipina pediatrician, and the first woman to be admitted into Harvard Medical School.
Del Mundo humorously relates that when she arrived in Boston and went to the dormitory assigned her in a letter from the director of the hospital housing, much to her surprise she found herself in a men’s dorm. Unknowingly the Harvard officials had admitted a female to their all-male student body. But because her record was so strong the head of the pediatrics department saw no reason not to accept her. Thus, upsetting Harvard tradition, she became the first Philippine woman and the only female at the time to be enrolled at the Harvard Medical School.

As a child, she’d already decided she wanted to be a doctor for the poor – three of her eight siblings died when they were kids. After her medical studies, she returned home to the Philippines, only to be plunged into the devastation of the Japanese military occupation of WWII.

She volunteered to care for kids in the internment camp and set up a hospital there, earning her the nickname “The Angel of San Tomás”. She ended up heading a new children’s hospital during the war, that later evolved into a full-scale medical center.

After the war, she opened the country’s first pediatric hospital, did pioneering research into infectious diseases like dengue fever, advocated family planning (controversial due to her Catholicism) and invented a bamboo incubator to be used in rural villages. And she went on working as a pediatrician well into her nineties.