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06/11/2019 - 07:52

Queen Nam Phuong - the founder of a special award for women

It was Queen Nam Phuong and Princess Phuong Dung Award, especially the “for the advancement of women,” founded by Queen Nam Phuong.

Queen Nam Phuong and her children

In a patriarchal Confucian society, there was a clear-cut division to extremes in all aspects of life. Women were mostly confined within the family with domestic science and the four virtues: diligent work, good appearance, proper speech and good morality, and responsible for ancestry worship.

Therefore, in the France-meets-Vietnam context in the early 20 century, women’s dignity and talent needed to be honored and promoted by the society; especially their ingenuity and responsibility must be taken advantage so that they would become a high-quality labor force in education, medicine and human resources.

In Hue, a school for girls was established as early as 1908 to carry out that mission. But soon the small school in the Citadel could not meet the great demand of the society. In 1917, Dong Khanh all-girls school was built, following the model of Quoc Hoc High School.

Among the circle of landowners in the South, and even in the imperial city, Nguyen Huu Thi Lan, i.e. Queen Nam Phuong, was considered a typical example of females who went to study in the West as a change of the traditional society.

It was this special woman of the Nguyen Dynasty that created for Vietnamese women in particular and the Vietnamese society in general the Queen Nam Phuong and Princess Phuong Dung Award “for the advancement of women.”

Nguyen Huu Thi Lan - Jeanne Mariette Nguyen Huu Hao - Queen Nam Phuong was the daughter of pious Nguyen Huu Hao and Le Thi Binh, who had passed the baccalaureate in France. She was a beautiful and kind-hearted girl. Her family land scattered in many provinces in the South.

Nguyen Huu Thi Lan was born on December 14, 1914 in Go Cong, Tien Giang Province. She was clever, pious and good at learning from an early age. Growing up, she left her hometown for Saigon, staying in a family house to attend school.

At the age of 12, she was sent to France to study at Couvent des Oiseaux, a prestigious all-girls school in Paris, run strictly by Notre Dame nuns. At 18, she passed the baccalaureate and returned home.

After some meetings, Emperor Bao Dai fell in love with this girl from the South and decided to marry her in 1934. Four days after the wedding, she was proclaimed to be Queen Nam Phuong. She was highly appreciated for her intelligence, virtue and beauty, both traditional and modern.

Every year at the time, at the celebration of Hai Ba Trung (the Trưng’s Sisters), Queen Nam Phuong delivered a speech to women. On the occasion of the Hai Ba Trung Celebration in 1954, she expressed her special emotion for women and little girls by creating two awards: Princess Phuong Dung Award for the best (newly published) book for little girls and Queen Nam Phuong Award for creative women who had worked to help war victims throughout the country regardless of wealth and social classes.

With Circular No. 547-ĐQT/VVP/ 3A, dated February 18, 1954, the Central Government ordered the provinces and cities to nominate two women each for the award.

Except Quang Tri, Quang Nam and Soc Trang Provinces, which nominated two women each, other areas responded that they could not find people who deserved the award. After reviewing each case, the National Committee decided to reward the prizes.

Queen Nam Phuong Award went to Ms. Ho Ngan, assistant teacher at Hoi An all-girls school (Quang Nam). She came from a good family. During 1947-1954, no charity work had been without her participation.

The other two recipients were Ms. Nguyen Thi Nga from Lich Lai Thuong (Soc Trang) and Ms. Le Thi Ngo, aged 42, from Quang Tri Town, who devoted themselves to the common cause. Ms. Ngo was known for her avid participation in raising money for war victims. She supported not only with her working but also her wealth. The total prize money was VND30,000, a huge sum at the time.

As for the Princess Phuong Dung Award, with a total amount of VND30,000, divided equally between 2 people, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hai in Saigon and Mr. Nguyen Duy, a professor at Phan Thanh Gian School in Ben Tre. All the money for these awards was from the national budget.

Although the award existed only for a short time, more importantly, they showed the special care and affection of Queen Nam Phuong for women in the country at the time.

It was a valuable source of encouragement for those who had made practical contribution to charity activities and creative research. It promoted the role and mission of women and of serving children. Raising fund or rewarding for the advancement of women and children now are effective ways to continue and promote that tradition.

Story and photo: Duong Long

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