Meet the civil rights leader who became the first female Filipino American legislator in the US

Thelma Buchholdt legislator

Thelma Buchholdt was the first Philippine-born female legislator in the U.S. and was elected to serve in the Alaska House of Representatives for four terms from 1975 to 1982. 

Who was Buchholdt: Born in August 1934, in Claveria, Cagayan, she came to America in 1951 and graduated from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles and the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

  • Buchholdt and her husband, Jon, graduated from the University of District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law in 1991, and both became part of the Alaska Bar Association.
  • Buchholdt was an elementary school teacher until she and her family moved to Anchorage in 1965. 
  • She was an active member of the community in Anchorage, working together with the March of Dimes and the League of Women Voters. She also helped establish the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska.
  • Her political career took off in the late 1960s when she became a part of the Ad Hoc Committee of Young Democrats.

Many firsts: Buchholdt was the vice-chair for the House Finance Committee, eventually becoming chair.

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  • She allocated funds for the Spenard Community Recreation Center, created the Asian Alaskan Cultural Center, helped found the Alaskan Women’s Commission, and advocated for Native subsistence rights in Alaska.
  • Buchholdt was appointed to the Alaska State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. 
  • In 1973, she became the first woman president of the Filipino Community of Anchorage and served two terms.
  • Buchholdt became the first Asian American president of the National Order of Women Legislators in 1980. She was also appointed director of Alaska’s Office of Equal Opportunity in 1994.
  • As an expert on Filipinos living in Alaska, Buchholdt produced and wrote a 30-minute documentary film called “Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958.” She was also vice president of the Filipino American National Historical Society.
  • Buchholdt passed away in November 2007 at the age of 73.

Featured Image via Robert M. Burnett (Public Domain)

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