The Society Families on Manila's First 400 List

These 60 families were the definition of Old Money.

In 1892, society dame Caroline Astor, otherwise known simply as “Mrs. Astor,” hosted a ball at her mansion at 350 Fifth Avenue—where the Empire State Building now stands—inviting only guests that made up Old New York Money. The term “the 400” was coined after her guest list, a reference to the number of people Astor’s ballroom reportedly held, which became synonymous with society.

Later, the 400 List became a society staple and many publications followed suit, creating lists of their own. One of the highly anticipated releases nowadays is the Forbes 400 List, an annual compilation of the richest men and women in the world.

In the late 1950s, Manila had its own list of 400 elite families in society, columnist George Sison tells us in an interview. The first-ever list was created by Tarrosa Subido.

To come up with the list, which was made up of about 60 family names, “she gathered all society editors during that time,” says Sison, and had the list published in a now-defunct women’s publication. Sison is unsure of what the purpose of the list was, but he knew it comprised of not only the fabulously wealthy families, but those that made contributions to society. He confirms the list was a one-time thing and only chronicled those residing in Manila at the time. Manila’s 400 is now often cited or referenced by publications as an accolade among members of old society.

The list included names that still ring a bell today, such as Aguinaldo, Araneta, Cojuangco, Katigbak, Laurel, Lopez, Osmeña, Guerrero, Prieto, Roxas, and Recto. The first “It” girls of society, such as Chona Recto Kasten and Elvira Ledesma-Manahan hailed from these clans. The families with Spanish and Chinese ties were excluded from the list because they were considered a separate part of society at the time, the author explains. Likewise, there were many other clans who didn’t make the cut because while they were revered society figures, they were not a part of the old families. Many of the family names were lost through intermarriage or a slow disintegration from society.

Sison shares Subido’s list, first released in the Inquirer, with us below:

While these families were wealthy, they also were wary of how they flaunted their wealth, Sison explains. The list is now outdated as the country’s population grew from the estimated 26 million in the late ‘50s. But these old families left a legacy of grace and refinement.

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Hannah Lazatin
Features Editor
Hannah is originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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