Maria Ylagan Orosa

Black and white photo. A Filipino woman and man seated next to each other, looking into the camera. She is on the left, wearing a hat, dark top with a wide white collar. He is wearing a grey suit, collared shirt, tie, jacket, and a pocket square.
Maria Orosa and her brother Jose at the University of Washington Seattle Campus, 1919.

Photo courtesy of the Orosa family (

For many, Maria Ylagan Orosa’s contributions both before and during World War II are unknown. Those that have heard of her most often know Maria as the inventor of banana ketchup. But her impact on Philippine life and her heroism on the home front in World War II are so much larger.

María Ylagan Orosa was born on November 29, 1893 in Taal, Province of Batangas, on the Philippine island of Luzon. She was one of seven children of her parents, Simplicio Orosa and Juliana Ylagan. At the time, the Philippines was a Spanish colony.[1] As a child, Maria lived through the Philippine Revolution. She was just six years old when the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Spanish American War.

As part of the treaty, the Philippines was transferred to the jurisdiction of the United States. President McKinley issued a “proclamation of benevolent assimilation” and established a military governorship – despite the fact that the Philippines had issued a declaration of independence and established their own First Philippine Republic. Filipinos had initially seen their relationship with the United States as fighting a common foe (Spain). But with the handover of the Philippines to the United States, the Philippine President condemned the “violent and aggressive seizure” and threatened war.[2]

The Philippine-American War broke out in early 1899 when American soldiers killed three Filipino soldiers. During the war, which lasted until the Philippine Organic Act was signed in June 1902, Maria’s father Simplicio was part of the resistance against the Americans. He used his ship to transport soldiers and materials among the Philippine islands.[3] The experience of growing up during these battles for Filipino identity and watching her father fight for the Philippines shaped Maria’s life.[4]

Black and white photo of a large campus building with columns and three floors of windows. The entrance is flanked by trees and approached by a large set of steps.
Architecture Hall at the University of Washington, Seattle. Built as the Fine Arts Pavilion for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, it was later known as the “Chem Shack.” It housed the chemistry and pharmacy classrooms and labs that Maria would have been familiar with.

Photo from Corley 1969.

After briefly studying at the University of the Philippines, Maria made her way to the US mainland in 1916. At 23, she enrolled at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemistry and pharmaceutical science. In school, Maria worked in the School of Pharmacy’s food lab where she tested products to make sure they met government safety standards. In the summers, she traveled to Alaska to work in the fish canneries, learning on the job about industrial-scale canning and preserving.[5]

Maria graduated in 1921, and after declining a job offer from Washington State, returned to the Philippines in 1922. When she returned, she got jobs with the Food Preservation Division of the Philippine Bureau of Science and at the Centro Escolar University. For three years beginning in 1926, she traveled through China, Japan, and Hawai’i visiting over 50 canneries. When she returned, she was made chief of the Food Preservation Division and then of the Home Economics Division. By 1934, Maria was head of the Plant Utilization Division of the Philippine Government’s Bureau of Plant Industry.[6]

Maria used her position and what she learned at the University of Washington and through experience to create ways of using and preserving local foods, instead of having to rely on imports. She was inspired to meet or exceed the amount and quality of imported products as a way of freeing Filipinos from foreign control.[7] Home canning was mostly unheard of in 1920s Philippines. That began to change at the 1925 Carnival in Manila. There, Maria displayed a range of canned and preserved local foods, including a whole canned mango.[8] Among her almost 700 innovations and recipes are Soyalac (a drink made from soya beans); flour made from cassava, green bananas, and coconuts; darak (a rice flour high in Vitamin B-1); a recipe for fish balls that tasted like corned beef; and banana ketchup.[9]

Tomato ketchup was introduced to the Philippines after the Spanish American War, and it became popular. But like other imported goods, it was expensive. And it couldn’t be produced on site, because the climate was no good for growing tomatoes. In the 1930s, Maria created a ketchup made with bananas instead of tomatoes. Banana ketchup, now made and bottled by large corporations, has become a staple at Filipino meals.[10]

Black and white photo of two rows of Filipino women. The front row is seated; the back row is standing. They are all looking towards the camera. All women are wearing long patterned shirts and tops.
Maria Orosa (front, center) with a group of her trainees.

Photo courtesy the Orosa family (

As well as her work in her laboratory to improve the lives of Filipinos, Maria helped people in their home communities.[11] Early in her career, she formed the Health-Heart-Head-Hand (4-H) club for rural improvement. Patterned after the mainland American 4H club, by 1924, it had 22,000 members. Maria also founded the Home Extension Service.

Through this organization, she and hundreds of demonstrators went into communities across the Philippines, teaching women new ways of food preparation and preservation, and how to grow their own gardens and raise their own chickens. When World War II began, extension workers shifted to teaching about food substitutes and cooking in emergency situations.[12]

Maria also invented the Palayok Oven. This adaptation of the Palayok, already in use, made it possible to bake foods like cakes made from nutritious local flours over a fire (when electricity was not available) or if imported ingredients were not available. It also freed people from paying expensive import prices for low-quality baked goods.[13]

A small, rectangular white paper package printed with the American and Philippine flags. Printed in red: “I shall return.” Below, in blue: the signature of General MacArthur, and “General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Theater.”
“I shall return” cigarettes. Starting in 1943, items like these cigarettes were distributed by submarine and air to Filipino resistance forces to raise morale. The cigarettes were made by the Larus & Brothers Tobacco Company in Richmond, Virginia (Cigarette Pack Collectors’ Association 2008).

Photo courtesy of the Cigarette Pack Collectors’ Association.

When the Japanese attack began on the Philippines just a few short hours after Pearl Harbor, Maria’s family evacuated to their homes in Batangas Province. Despite their pleas, Maria stayed in Manila to feed those who could not leave. “My place is here,” she said, “I cannot in conscience abandon my work and my girls.”[14] The last time Maria’s niece Helen saw her, Maria gave her a pack of cigarettes and told her to be hopeful.[15] On the package were the words “I shall return,” the promise of General Douglas MacArthur to the Philippine people when American forces withdrew under the Japanese onslaught.[16]

Under Japanese occupation, Maria followed in her father’s footsteps, and became part of the resistance. In her lab, she and 400 of her students prepared nutrient-dense rations. This kept these women working and fed while they were trapped in Manila by the war.[17] Maria and her team also provided others with food – including smuggling it to prisoners in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp. Located on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, the camp held over 4,000 prisoners, most of whom were American.[18] Her decades of work to create local foods instead of reliance on imports went a long way to helping Filipinos survive the war.[19]

Maria and her staff worked throughout the occupation. On February 3 of 1945, the Battle of Manila began, with MacArthur and the American forces fighting to retake the city from the Japanese. Maria Orosa was working in her lab (as usual) when a round of artillery shelling began. On the way to a bomb shelter with her staff, Maria was hit by shrapnel. Despite the danger from the ongoing attack, one of Maria’s colleagues found a pushcart and took Maria to Remedios Hospital. The hospital was originally organized by the Philippine Red Cross in the Malate Catholic School, but it quickly ran out of funds and was being run by volunteers.[20] Shortly after her arrival, on February 13, 1945, she and over 400 others were killed when an American bomb landed on the hospital. Burial for Maria and the others had to wait, as the Japanese were shooting anyone in the streets. She and the others were buried in a mass grave several days later.[21]

Square metal medal (possibly brass) engraved in a script font.
Service medal awarded by the American National Red Cross to Maria Orosa after her death. The text reads: “To Maria Y. Orosa / For Service. / The American National Red Cross.”

Courtesy of the Orosa family (

Maria has received several honors for her work, including having a street in Manila named for her. Statues of her grace the Office of the Municipal Mayor in her home town of Taal and at the Bureau of Plant Industry in Manila. After her death, she was also awarded a medal for her service by the American National Red Cross.

In February 2020, archaeologists from the University of the Philippines were excavating a tomb behind what had been Remedios Hospital. Built in the 1950s, it contained the remains of 12 volunteers who kept Remedios Hospital running and who were killed when the hospital was bombed. During the excavations, archaeologists were surprised to find a stone engraved, “MARIA Y. OROSA / NOV. 29 1892 – FEB. 13 1945 / DIED IN LINE OF DUTY.”[22] Excavation showed that the stone is a memorial and does not mark Maria’s final resting place. Archaeologists think they know which mass grave her remains may be in, but the mystery remains unsolved.[23]

This article was written by Megan E. Springate, Assistant Research Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, for the NPS Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education. It was funded by the National Council on Public History's cooperative agreement with the National Park Service.

[1] Gingerich 2020; Lariosa 2022; Mydans 2022; Torres 2021. 

[2] The Spanish first claimed the Philippine islands in 1565, and held it (except for a brief British occupation in the 1760s) until the Spanish American War in 1898. Even before the Spanish American War, Filipinos were fighting for their independence from colonial powers. The Philippine Revolution took place between August 1896 and June 1898. The Filipino Declaration of Independence was modeled directly on the American Declaration of Independence. Dolan 1993: 24-26; McKinley 1898. 

[3] Gingerich 2020; Mydan 2022; Torres 2021. Following the United States Military Government of the Philippine Islands, the US government established the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands – a civil government, led by William Howard Taft (who became US President in 1909). The Philippine Organic Act of 1902, passed by the US Congress, set the basic laws and government structure for the Philippines, including the removal of the Catholic Church as the state religion and extending the US Bill of Rights to Filipinos. This ended the Philippine-American War. President Roosevelt (who took office after McKinley’s assassination) gave full pardon and amnesty to all Filipinos who had taken part. In 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was established, designed as a transitional step to full independence. During World War II, the Philippines was a commonwealth of the United States. The Philippines became an independent country on July 4, 1946 via the Treaty of Manila, when the US recognized the independent Republic of the Philippines. Dolan 1993: 27-29; 38-39; 41-43; Roosevelt 1935; Truman 1946. 

[4] Limos 2019. 

[5] Mydans 2022. The building Maria studied in was originally constructed as the Fine Arts Pavilion for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Afterwards, it was repurposed as the “Chem Shack.” Officially called Bagley Hall at the time, it housed the chemistry and pharmacy labs and classrooms that Maria would have been familiar with. The building is now known as Architecture Hall. Heritage professionals have evaluated the building as eligible for the National Register of historic places (Grey et al. 2017). 

[6] Gingerich 2020; Mydans 2022; Orosa 1998: vi; Torres 2021. 

[7] Orosa 1998: vii. 

[8] Maria was the first person to freeze and can mangoes, making them available to worldwide markets. Gingerich 2020. 

[9] Gingerich 2020; Mydans 2022; Orosa 1998: viii. 

[10] Mydans 2022. 

[11] Orosa del Rosario 1998: 193. 

[12] Orosa del Rosario 1998: 186. 

[13] Orosa del Rosario 1998: 186-190. 

[14] Mydans 2022; Orosa 1998: x; Sabillo 2020. The date that the Japanese attack began in the Philippines was December 8, 1941, even though the attack was just a few hours after Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The International Date Line is the reason events in the Philippines seem to take place a day later than in the continental United States. 

[15] Orosa del Rosario 1998: ii. 

[16] Cigarette Pack Collectors’ Association 2008. 

[17] Orosa 1998: ix. 

[18] Mydans 2022; Orosa 1998: ix; Sabillo 2020. 

[19] Orosa 1998: ix. 

[20] Del Rosario Garcia and Orosa 2019; Sabillo 2020. 

[21] Mydans 2022; Sabillo 2020. 

[22] Cayabyab 2020; Lariosa 2022; Sabillo 2020. Note the discrepancy between Maria Orosa’s official year of birth (1893) and the one engraved on the stone (1892). 

[23] Sabillo 2020. 

Cayabyab, Marc Jayson (2020) “Is This the Grave of Forgotten War Heroine Maria Orosa?” One News, February 13, 2020.  

Cigarette Pack Collectors’ Association (2008) “The Story of “I Shall Return” Cigarettes.” Cigarette Pack Collectors’ Association, 2008.  

Corley, Margaret A. (1969) “National Register of Historic Places Nomination: Architecture Hall.” June, 1969. Available via DAHP (n.d.) “Property ID: 42553 Architecture Hall AYPE Fine Arts Building – University of Washington.” Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, State of Washington.  

Del Rosario Garcia, Evelyn and Mario E. Orosa (2019) “The Last Days of Maria Y. Orosa.” Manuscript, November 24, 2019. 

Dolan, Ronald E. (ed.) (1993) Philippines: A Country Study. Fourth edition. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.  

Gingrich, Jessica (2020) “Maria Ylagan Orosa and the Chemistry of Resistance.” Lady Science, July 23, 2020.  

Gray, Connie Walker, Susan Boyle, Sonja Molchany, Mimi Sheridan, and Rachel Gleeson (2017) “Historic Resources Survey and Inventory of the University of Washington Seattle Campus: Historic Resources Report Prepared for: City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods.” Confluence Environmental Company, August 2017.  

Lariosa, Saab (2022) “Who Was Maria Orosa, the Filipina War Hero Who Invented Banana Ketchup? A New York Times Series Unravels Her Historic Significance.” The Philippine Star Life, September 30, 2022.  

Limos, Mario A. (2019) “Maria Orosa: The War Hero Who Invented Banana Ketchup.” Esquire, November 9, 2019.  

McKinley, William (1898) “Executive Order, December 21, 1898.” The American Presidency Project.  

Mydans, Seth (2022) “Overlooked No More: Maria Orosa, Inventor of Banana Ketchup.” The New York Times, September 29, 2022 (updated January 23, 2023).   

Orosa, Rosalinda L. (1998) “The Woman Who Was Maria Y. Orosa.” In Helen Orosa del Rosario, The Recipes of Maria Y. Orosa, With Essays of Her Life and Work (reprint of the 1970 edition, University of the Philippines College of Home Economics Foundation and University of the Philippines Home Economics Alumni Association, Quezon City, pp. vi-x.

Orosa del Rosario, Helen (1998) The Recipes of Maria Y. Orosa, With Essays of Her Life and Work (reprint of the 1970 edition), University of the Philippines College of Home Economics Foundation and University of the Philippines Home Economics Alumni Association, Quezon City.  

Roosevelt, Franklin D. (1935) “Proclamation 2148 – Establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, November 14, 1935.” The American Presidency Project.  

Sabillo, Kristine (2020) “The Search for Maria Orosa and Other Victims of the 1945 Bombing of Remedios Hospital.” ABS-CBN News, February 14, 2020.  

Torres, P. (2021) “Maria Ylagan Orosa: The Scientist-Hero Who Fed the Philippines.” ModernFilipina, February 11, 2021.  

Truman, Harry S. (1946) “Proclamation 2695 – Independence of the Philippines, July 4, 1946.” The American Presidency Project.  

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The American Home Front Before World War II

3. The American Home Front and the Buildup to World War II

3B The Selective Service Act and the Arsenal of Democracy

4. The American Home Front During World War II

4A A Date That Will Live in Infamy

4A(i) Maria Ylagan Orosa

4B Enemies on the Home Front

4C Incarceration and Martial Law

4D Rationing, Recycling, and Victory Gardens

4D(i) Restrictions and Rationing on the World War II Home Front

4D(ii) Food Rationing on the World War II Home Front

4D(ii)(a) Nutrition on the Home Front in World War II
4D(ii)(b) Coffee Rationing on the World War II Home Front
4D(ii)(c) Meat Rationing on the World War II Home Front
4D(ii)(d) Sugar: The First and Last Food Rationed on the World War II Home Front

4D(iii) Rationing of Non-Food Items on the World War II Home Front

4D(iv) Home Front Illicit Trade and Black Markets in World War II
4D(v) Material Drives on the World War II Home Front

4D(v)(a) Uncle Sam Needs to Borrow Your… Dog?

4D(vi) Victory Gardens on the World War II Home Front

4D(vi)(a) Canning and Food Preservation on the World War II Home Front

4E The Economy

4E(i) Currency on the World War II Home Front

4E(ii) The Servel Company in World War II & the History of Refrigeration

5. The American Home Front After World War II

5A The End of the War and Its Legacies

5A(i) Post World War II Food

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Last updated: November 16, 2023