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Filipino Heritage Month: Social Worker Josefa Llanes Escoda
October 27, 2020

By Christine Morales

The Philippines, previously occupied and colonized by various military forces, possess a rich history of resilience. Filipinas participated in the shaping of the nation when the country won and reclaimed its independence. Josefa Llanes Escoda's contributions are symbolic of the capabilities and commitment of Filipina social workers. She dedicated her career and life to advancing social justice.

Escoda, who was a suffragist, amplified the political voices of all Filipinas. In 1923, she served as the executive secretary of the National Federation of Women's Clubs (NFWC). In this position, Escoda fought for women's involvement in the Philippine government soon after suffrage. Her forward-thinking, feminist ideals understood the power women possessed with their new civic identity.

Escoda's educational background in teaching from the University of the Philippines fueled her commitment to child and maternal health. After training with the Boy Scouts in the US, Escoda returned home to develop Girl Scout leaders. She founded the Girls Scouts of the Philippines and was the first group’s executive director. Additionally, she studied social work in New York and returned home to serve her county again. Eventually, Escoda became the president of the NFWC from 1941-1944.

Moved by her country's conditions during World War II and called to action by the Bataan Death March, Escoda served the Prisoners of War and civilian internees. She covertly provided personal and medical supplies to hostages in various camps, even after her husband's capture. After years of dangerous work, the Japanese military ultimately arrested Escoda. Imprisoned in Fort Santiago, Escoda died by execution.

Escoda's activism never relented. The Philippines honors Escoda with her image on the 1000 Philippine peso. She is one of two women featured on the currency. More valuable than money, Escoda’s legacy is emblazoned on the advancement of Filipinas, the field of social work, and the Philippines.



Special Correspondence, THE NEW YORK TIMES. (1937, Dec 12). Women Candidates Are Militant in Philippines Elections Tuesday: First Balloting Since Suffrage Victory Finds Them Waging Spirited Campaigns for Welfare Reforms and Clean Government AguLnaldo Kin in Race Club Leader a Candidate FEMINIST LEADERS IN THE PHILIPPINES Mrs. Josefa Llanes Escoda. New York Times (1923-Current File) ?url=

Roces M. Filipino Elite Women and Public Health in the American Colonial Era, 1906-1940. Women’s history review. 2017;26(3):477-502. doi:10.1080/09612025.2016.1194076 Show Me the Money: Women on Global Currency. The Wall Street journal. Eastern edition. June 18, 2015.


This story was created in partnership with Rutgers School of Social Work's Inclusion, Intersectionality, Diversity, Equity, and Advancement (IIDEA) Committee in support of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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