Whatever happened to Josephine Bracken?
CEBU CITY—Most Filipinos are familiar with Jose Rizal’s life because the national hero wrote voluminously about himself and his activities.
And not only did Rizal himself assiduously keep his writings but his family and associates also kept his works, probably already aware that he would someday be revered as a great figure in Philippine history.
It is unfortunate, though, that not much is known about his “dulce extranjera (sweet stranger),” Josephine Bracken. Besides, their brief love affair in Dapitan and the Rizal family’s dislike for Josephine was a mere footnote after his death.
Since she was not accepted by the Rizals, she hurriedly left Manila three days after Rizal’s execution and went to Cavite, where she nursed wounded Katipuneros.
Life of poverty
After her stint in Cavite, probably out of pity, Rizal’s elder brother, Paciano, gave her some money for a return ticket to Hong Kong, her land of birth. Due to poverty, she later petitioned for her share of her husband’s library, which was under the care of Jose Maria Basa.
Although Basa was sympathetic to Josephine, he could not grant what she desired due to the opposition of the Rizals and the absence of proof that she was legally married to the national hero.
Macario Ofilada, in his work on Josephine Bracken, said the woman dropped her claim, realizing its impossibility.
Resigned to fate, Josephine would have been completely forgotten had she not married a Philippine-born Spanish citizen in Hong Kong—Vicente Abad from Cebu.
It was said that Julio Llorente, a Cebuano and friend of Rizal during their student days in Spain, introduced Abad to Josephine.
Llorente wrote the letter of introduction to Rizal when Josephine arrived in Dapitan to accompany her adoptive father, George Taufer, for treatment.
Being “kababayan” from Cebu, Abad must have been referred, too, by Llorente to Josephine to be her student in English. Abad, according to Ofilada, was in Hong Kong for business and needed to learn English. Having some facility in Spanish, Josephine thus became Abad’s English tutor.
Young and pretty, Abad easily fell for Josephine. After a brief courtship, the two got married in Hong Kong on Dec. 15, 1898. The new couple lived in Hong Kong for some months and came back to Manila in May 1899.
By the end of August or September 1899, the couple left Manila and settled in Cebu City. By then, the Americans had already placed the Cebu port area and its immediate environs under control while the rest of the city was still under the command of Cebuano insurgents.
Julio Llorente himself became Cebu governor under the Americans.
Due to the American presence, Cebu was exposed to the modern inventions of the time.
The late Cebuano writer DM Estabaya claimed that Vicente’s return to Cebu was fueled by his new venture—he was the first to open a store which sold or rented out bicycles. The Cebuanos caught the craze, which made the bicycle a hot item so that the business blossomed.
The Abad bicycle store was located on Magallanes and Burgos Streets, just a stone’s throw away from present-day Cebu City Hall and Basilica del Santo Niño.
While Abad was minding his bicycle store, Josephine also earned some money on the side. Their residence was not only a store but also doubled as a study center, where Josephine tutored some students.
To effect this, an advertisement was even placed in the newspaper El Pueblo in April 1900, which announced: “Josephine Bracken (sic) de Abad, Profesora de Lenguas living near Plaza Rizal, is giving lessons in English and German in her residence.”
It is said that the young Sergio Osmeña first learned to paddle a bike from Abad’s store and learned English at the same time from his wife, the former Josephine Bracken de Rizal.
At her second marriage, Josephine was said to have moved on and, according to Ofilada, “considered her life with the Rizals a thing of the past.”
Not much is known about her life while in Cebu but it must have been a happy one, being almost anonymous.
The Abads didn’t stay long in Cebu. They later returned to Hong Kong where Josephine died “poor and penniless” on March 15, 1902.