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Who was Fe del Mundo? Google honors Filipina doctor, first woman admitted to Harvard Medical School

In honor of what would have been pioneering Filipina pediatrician Fe del Mundo’s 107th birthday Tuesday, Google’s Doodle team designed a vibrant illustration for its homepage

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Born in Manilla, Philippines in 1911, del Mundo was inspired to enter the field of medicine after the death of her 11-year-old sister. In 1926, she enrolled in the University of the Philippines and graduated as valedictorian of her class.

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.

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According to her official Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation biography,  “[Del Mundo] humorously relates that when she arrived in Boston and went to the dormitory assigned her in a letter from the Harvard University 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 Harvard Medical School.”

The Ramon Magsaysay Award is considered “Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. 

But her time at Harvard was only the beginning. 

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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 and later sold her own house and belongings to finance her country’s first pediatric hospital after being fed up with the bureaucracy. 

Del Mundo lived on the second floor of the Children’s Medical Center in Quezon City and continued early morning rounds until she was 99 years old and bound to a wheelchair.

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“She was the first Filipino Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics, the first lady president of the Philippine Pediatric Society, the founder and first president of the Philippine Woman’s Medical Association, the first woman to be elected president of the Philippine Medical Association in it’s 65-year history, and the first Asian to be voted president of the Medical Woman’s International Association,” Philip S. Chua, a former student of de Mundo’s, wrote in a tribute to the late pioneer. 

Del Mundo died in 2011 after suffering cardiac arrest. She was months away from celebrating her 100th birthday. Today, she is considered a trailblazer in the field of child healthcare — and a revolutionary for women in medicine.

“I'm glad that I have been very much involved in the care of children, and that I have been relevant to them,” del Mundo once said. “They are the most outstanding feature in my life," she said of the many children she helped.”

Learn more about del Mundo at google.com/doodles.

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