There was a mythic quality to Corazon Aquino’s ascent. Well-born and a devout Catholic, she was a supportive wife to the Philippines’ most prominent critic of kleptocratic dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and seemingly harbored no political ambitions until her husband’s murder in 1983. She took over as leader of the opposition and won the presidency in 1986 after ordinary people gathered to protect soldiers who refused to stuff ballot boxes. TIME named her Woman of the Year. Filipinos went with “Mother of Democracy.”
That democracy has endured on the archipelago. So have its power structures: a tradition of elite rule helped her son Benigno Aquino III to a widely admired term as President. And his coarse, swaggering successor, Rodrigo Duterte, daily demonstrates both the machismo Corazon Aquino overcame, and the value of the principled civility she modeled. —Karl Vick
This article is part of 100 Women of the Year, TIME’s list of the most influential women of the past century. Read more about the project, explore the 100 covers and sign up for our Inside TIME newsletter for more.