The Woman

A young Ferdinand carries his new bride, Imelda, dressed in a white wedding gown.
Ferdinand and Imelda on their
wedding day, 1954
Photo courtesy of Imelda Marcos

Imelda, dressed in a high-necked jacket, stands next to Muammar Gaddafi, dressed in a loose white shirt.
Imelda in Libya with Muammar

Imelda bends over a sleeping bedridden Ferdinand, stroking the top of his head.
Imelda sings to her ailing
husband in Hawaii

Three pairs of Imelda’s gowns hang side-by-side, sparkling and ornate.
Gowns from Imelda’s wardrobe

A sign with Imelda’s photo on it reads: Imelda for President.
A failed run for president, 1991

“My mother’s the life of the party. She can’t help that… and why should she?”
—Bong Bong Marcos, Imelda’s son

“Thank God, when they opened my closet, they found shoes, not skeletons.” 
									—Imelda Marcos

Imelda Romualdez was born in 1929 in Manila, the Philippines. She grew up in the southern province of Leyte before returning to Manila when she was in her 20s, where she met rising political star, Ferdinand Marcos in the Congressional cafeteria and married him 11 days later. As she recalls, the common opinion was that “Whoever will not marry this guy is stupid.”

When her husband was elected president of the Philippines in 1965, Imelda Marcos became an unusually politically active first lady, not only helping to campaign but also establishing public institutions and cultural projects and serving as the governor of Metro Manila and the minister of human settlements and ecology. After the Marcoses declared martial law in 1972, they continued to rule the Philippines as a dictatorship, using their power to amass great amounts of private wealth and siphoning billions of dollars in foreign aid and domestic profits into private international bank accounts, while most Filipinos remained in extreme poverty. Opposition to the Marcos administration was quickly squelched, with thousands of journalists, students and other dissenters taken into custody as political prisoners. Meanwhile, Imelda Marcos remained a beloved and powerful figure worldwide, courted by leaders of countries such as the U.S., Libya and Cuba, traveling around the globe and increasingly taking the place of her husband as his health began to deteriorate.

When the Marcoses were ousted from power by a popular uprising in 1986, they fled to Hawaii, where Ferdinand died in 1989. Imelda stood trial in New York on charges of fraud, but was acquitted of all charges. Philippines President Corazon Aquino ordered Marcos’s enormous collection of shoes, clothes and art to be put on display at Malacanang Palace as a demonstration of the regime’s corruption and extravagance.

Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines in 1991 and campaigned unsuccessfully for president, but soon after won election to the House of Representatives. Two of her three children, Imee and Bongbong, are also active in politics, while her daughter Irene remains out of the public eye.

Numerous court trials followed, in which Marcos was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 18 years in prison. She successfully appealed and was never imprisoned. In 2001, Marcos was arrested and charged with amassing wealth illegally and sentenced to nine years in prison, a conviction that was also overturned. She continues to face more than 150 additional corruption-related charges, and has become a reviled yet notorious cult figure. Today, she receives a monthly pension of $90 from the Filipino government as a widow of a war veteran.

Read some of Imelda's own words >>


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