THE THOMASITES: EARLY AMERICAN TEACHERS IN THE PHILIPPINES

Ninfa Saturnino Springer and Robert Earl Springer


Education under 300 years of Spanish rule suffered severely from lack of adequate buildings, supplies, books and trained teachers. Early Filipinos were adept at boat building, agriculture and mining but finances were unavailable to support public education. The curriculum consisted mainly of the Christian doctrine, prayers, catechism and the three R's; memorization was the usual form of instruction. According to Maniago(3), "the 'gente Baja' ruled by the 'gente illustrada' perpetuated a stratified society where accident of birth and sex determined all oportunities for achievement".


On the other hand, United States President McKinley 's non-traditional policy of "Benevolent Assimilation" set the tone for the development in the Philippines of an educational infrastructure that included educational programs which "shall be free to all and which shall tend to fit the people for the duties of citizenship and for the ordinary avocation of a civilized community". This summary of the early beginnings of the American educational policies and programs in the Philippines soon after the Spanish American war will focus on educational contributions in the Visayan islands. Educational reforms were initially implemented by members of the American military who started their educational practice in Luzon, and soon after, expanded to the rest of the islands.

It was General Superintendent of Instruction, Fred W. Atkinson who authorized Act 74 to obtain one thousand trained US teachers at monthly salaries of $75-125. To recruit applicants he advertised in American newspapers and educational journals and sent letters to colleges, universities and normal schools in the United States. Special examinations were given to select from the thousands of applicants received. All had good educations. While the motives of the

U. S. Army Transport "Thomas"

applicants varied, most were eager to educate the Filipinos and were attracted to being part of the development of a new educational system. Other incentives recorded were the desire for travel, challenge and adventure, reunion with a fiancee or husband, needing a job or change,and to satisfy a missionary or pioneer spirit. Experience, positive health and vigor were part of the formal requirements. All had to submit letters of recommendation.

The first 509 American teachers arrived on August 23, 1901 on the United States Army Transport Thomas (Converted cattle cruiser Minnewaska). Derived from this group, the term Thomasites was used for early American teacher volunteers. Almost 25% of the teachers had high school degrees or were undergraduates. The majority had Bachelor's or normal school degrees from as many as 200 universities. Many had graduate degrees. The University of California ranked first in the number of Thomasites; the University of Michigan was second, Harvard and Yale Universities were third and fourth. Mary H. Fee arrived on the Buford one week before the Thomas docked in Manila Bay and took charge of welcoming and preparing housing for the large group of arriving Thomasites. Within twenty days of their arrival, and after an orientation period, the group were on the road to the provinces.


CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS - 1898 TO 1901

August 13, 1898
Americans took over Manila
September 1, 1898
Father William D. McKinan, Chaplain, USA, opened seven public schools in Manila. Army personnel served in these schools. Books and supplies were selected and ordered from the United States.
December 10, 1898
The Treaty of Paris was signed and the Philippines was ceded to the United States.
January 20, 1899
President McKinley named the first Philippine Commission headed by President of Cornell University, Jacob Gould Schurman, to study Philippine conditions.
June 1, 1899
Lt. George B. Anderson, a volunteer officer and a Yale graduate, assumed duties as provisional superintendent of Manila schools.
April 7, 1900
President McKinley announced the appointment of a Philippine Commission headed by William H. Taft with Professsor Dean C. Worcester of the University of Michigan and Professor Bermard Moses of the University of California as members.
July 4, 1901
Commissioner Taft was formally inaugurated as the first Civil Governor in Manila. General Arthur MacArthur took the US bound transport thereby ending military rule in the Philippines.
August 23, 1901
The USS Transport Thomas unloaded "a most remarkable cargo" of over 500 American teachers in Manila.


The early Directors of Education were Atkinson, Moses and Barrows. The first two were reported to have little faith in Filipinos and did not put great effort into their work. Barrows, whose one love was soldiering, found himself building schools. The latter argued for the use of English in the schools; that it would become a common language that would lead to learning about Americans and their institutions. This was a significant decision and a factor of unification during the American regime. It was also under Barrows' administration that the school system was extended into the barrios.

Acts of the Philippine Commission

Act No. 74 establishing a Department of Public Instruction in the
Philippine Islands and appropriating $40,000 for the organization and
maintenance of a normal, and a trade school in Manila, and $15,000
for the organization and maintenance of an agricultural school in the
island of Negros for the year 1901.*
Act 235 creating the Philippine Commission, June 21, 1901, with four
departments: Interior, Commerce and Police, Finance and
Justice, and Public Instruction.
Ratified by 57th Congress, 1901-1903, Vol 32, Part 1.
Act 372 amending Act No. 83, entitled, "A General Act for the
Organization of Provincial Governments in the Philippine Islands"
...for the payment of all expenses of maintaining such public school
or schools of secondary instruction as may be established in the
province, and the schools in their establishment and conduct shall be
subject to the general suppervision of the Division Superintendents
and the General Superintendent of Public Instruction in accordance
with the provisions of Act No. 74. concerning schools of secondary
instruction and traveling expenses for teachers.**
Act 373 amending Act No. 74, establishing a Department of Public
Instruction in the Philippine Islands, by making certain provisions
concerning schools of secondary instruction and traveling expenses of
teachers.**

References:
References available at the University of Michigan Law School Library related to the beginnings of the Philippine Educational System:

  *Philippine Commission
Acts 1-263, 1900-1901
and Resolutions, 1900-1901

FL8
P55.2
A2e
V.2
 

**Report of the War Department, 1902
Vol 1
Acts of the Philippine Commission

FL8
P55.2
A2e
V.1


The military opened about 1000 schools throughout the Philippines before it turned the educational project to the Philippine-American Commission with instructions to "fit the people for the duties of citizenship for the ordinary avocations of a civilized community". Three educational goals were delineated: 1) to teach democratic citizenship, 2) to use the schools as a social leveler since all classes of society would attend them; and 3) for the public schools to create an English speaking people who could read and write and keep accounts so 'they would not be a victimized mass of people'.

The conditions with which the teachers worked varied: they could be working in a rich sugar plantation where manual labor was looked down upon and book learning was desired or they could be assigned to a rural ethnic area with little contact with civilization. They could be assigned teaching Christian lowlanders or Muslims of Mindanao or Sulu.
The duties of the teachers were to teach five hours a day, to instruct the Filipino teachers -in-training, to organize and implement an evening class (3x/week) for adults, to supervise the barrio teachers and to act as liaison with the town's priest and mayor or administrator.

TALES OF THE EARLY THOMASITES

The early teachers had little or no equipment to begin with, using their ponchos for blackboards, lumps of starch for chalk and labels from canned goods for reading material. Many Thomasites enjoyed their new assignment. The soldiers detailed to teaching and those civilians that sought the assignment were usually young men.

English class for Ifugao children

Some Thomasites were assigned in remote places. Floods, poor roads,and typhoons presented traveling hazards and inadequate transportation facilities kept teacher contact to a minimum. Marius John was a soldier-turned-teacher assigned to Baao, Camarines. The town was nestled in the mountains by two streams and was flooded often. He was brought to the school in a banca. He expressed a hope that he had sown the seeds of democracy in the Philippines. William B.Freer was assigned to Cagayan Valley in Solano, Nueva Viscaya, one of four towns in the area. The one hundred and fifty miles trip took five

weeks overland, traveling by horse and pack animals through valleys and over mountains. The first lesson he gave was an intensive week-long course in English to two Filipino teachers. He also discovered that schools have resumed operation, but the class met in the home of the teniente (teacher). Here the students were taught while life of the household continued in its daily routine. Children simply sat on the floor or use a bench as their desk. With some 'Yankee Ingenuity' and a sense of humor, the teacher s survived teaching the 'Malay-Filipinos'.

Alice Kelly was sent to Baguio to begin a school for igorots. She recalled traveling to Baguio, "After accomplishing uninjured the somewhat difficult feat of plunging over the head of my very small pony, I decided to walk, or rather slide, the rest of the way, and in the end we all arrived safely at our destination…2,000 feet below Baguio.". She lived in an 'old condemned Sipley tent' which she reached by climbing a rope. She discovered another problem concerned with student recruitment: Igorot girls were not allowed to attend school - not until 1906.

Dinwiddle reported that the children learned English very quickly. The 'savages' surprised their American benefactors. Josephine Craig joined her brother, Austin, in 1906 primarily to keep house for him. Both were assigned to Calapan, Mindoro. Josephine was a trained teacher of chemistry; soon after, she was teaching English using selections from the writings of Jose Rizal.

Maniago
(3) cannot talk about housing and housekeeping in the Philippines without mentioning the ever-present ant, mosquito, and fly which "infest the land. Nature has provided one source of succor, however, in the form of a little green lizard which hides and sleeps during the day, but comes out at night to gorge himself on his favorite dish--insects". They became household pets to such extent that they moved with the family whenever they moved.

The Thomasites had a difficult time adjusting to a diet made up of rice, fish, fruits and gulay (vegetables). "One of the big hurdles was the lack of refrigeration. The Philippine stove was a clay affair sitting on a table. There were no facilities for baking. The diet was monotonous and un-American, but no one died of malnutrition or starvation".



PERSONNEL AND ENROLLMENT IN PHILIPPINE EDUCATION 1901-1902*

School Divisions
18
Estimated total area
114,792 sq. miles
Elementary American Teachers
790
American Teachers enroute
39
Secondary American Teachers
40
American teachers and Div Supts.
847
Filipino teachers
3,400
Children enrolled
200,000
High School enrollment
25,000

*Source: US Congress, House Document 2, 57th Cong, 1st Session

 

HISTORICAL VIGNETTES OF THOMASITES IN THE VISAYAS

While many Thomasites preferred to teach in Manila, Mary H. Fee was willing to go anywhere. When the time came for appointments to be made, she was eager to go to her assigned station. On September 7, she departed by a Compana Maritima boat bound for Iloilo where she was picked up by a 'tao'. She stayed in Iloilo for a few days to shop. She was beginning to learn the language and words such as 'manana', and the traveling vernacular such as 'sigue' (go on), para (stop), derecho (straight ahead), mano and silia. She waited in Iloilo for two days, making friends with army ladies; she was invited to an afternoon tea with the army nurses. She enjoyed their delicious toast and thought it tasted good after the 'garbanzos, bescochos and guava jelly'. According to her, the hardest thing to overcome was the desire of her students to aid her in matters that she could manage better alone.

Fee taught school for 8 years, first in Capiz, which she described as as a rich and aristocratic town, and then in Iloilo. She reported that the latter school was

An elementary school classroom

popular not only with boys, but with goats. Flocks of them wandered in, coming through the doors or jumping through the windows. She agreed that English be used as a medium of instruction, giving emphasis on agricultural and industrial training. She brought Romoldo from Iloilo to help her with housekeeping. When Romoldo was promoted to chief cook, he brought a friend of his, a female attendant to take his place. Mary Fee asked for fried chicken with mashed potato for dinner. While the fried chicken was edible, the potato was "swimming in water." Mary Fee was also engaged in the development of practical experiences in self-governing for her students. She organized a society and acting as chairman, called for an election by informal ballot. Their first ballot polled seventy-three votes, although there were only fifty-five persons in the room. She threw the results out and called for a roll call vote. In due time, a regular election took place. The children of one prominent family, together with some of their friends, held every office. Their society was pronounced a success.

A US military report dated April 20, 1900 cited that in the island of Negros, there were fifty-nine towns that had schools. Life with the Thomasites was not without danger. D. C. Montgomery, from Wayne, Nebraska, was Division Superintendent of Schools for Negros Occidental. He was murdered by ladrones (outlaws) while traveling between the towns of Talisay and Bacolod. He and his wife lived in Bacolod. Incidents such as these were not unusual. Bodies of four Thomasites on a day's outing outside of Cebu were found after a long search.They have been warned of the danger from bands of outlaws. Ira Collins was thrown from a native boat on crossing the strait from Bais, Negros Occidental to Samboan, Cebu,where he was transferred. He was buried in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. Lack of adequate medical care was reported during the cholera, diptheria, dysentery,and smallpox epidemics. Joseph E. Allen was stationed in Naga, Cebu when he contracted smallpox; after an illness of three weeks, he succumbed to the disease. His wife and two children were with him when he died .His body was interred in Naga. (An American Teachers plot is located in Cementerio del Norte in Manila).


Bess Taylor Thompson, in Cebu, organized a course in industrial arts, including cooking, sewing, etc., for girls, making useful things not only for learning, but also for earning. The disdain for working with the hands was slowly eradicated. Dr.Walter W. Marquardt was assigned in Tanauan, Leyte, where he taught the three R's. There were no courses of study, so he relied on those developed in the US. He taught pupils in the morning and teachers in the afternoon. Often, he had to prepare the teachers for what they were to teach the next day.

Dorothy Conant arrived in Manila to marry C.E. Conant. She accompanied him to his station in Bais, Negros Occidental, where she died. Her husband returned to the US with her remains.

The spirit of adventure and a desire to help people in need of education was William R. Hamme's original reason for going to the Philippines. He was in Leyte for 7 years (1911-14, 1916-1920), after brief sojourns in the US. In 1920, he left for the United States to marry his college sweetheart, returning immediately to Negros Occidental for five years (1926-1931). After a 6-month leave of absence they were back in the Philippines, assigned in Negros Oriental. In 1946, they joined the missionares under the Presbyterian Board, assigned to Silliman University. All in all, Mr. Hamme devoted 22 years, and Mrs. Hamme 14 years, to the service of the Philippine public education.


EVALUATION OF THE THOMASITE EDUCATIONAL EXPERIMENT

U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim at the dedication of the memorial to the Thomasites at Manila North Cemetery.

In 1956, Lardizabal(2) conducted an evaluation of the early American educational program for her doctoral dissertation in Stanford University. She

interviewed both the Thomasites and the students. Hamme was asked this question:" What was the attitude of the people toward the American teachers?" His answer was, "As far as I have observed the attitude toward the American teachers was excellent. Every place we went we were treated with high regard. We were given preference at banquets, fiestas and dances. The graciousness of the Filipino people was par excellence. Many times we were embarassed at the attention paid us". His observations parallel those of the other Thomasites.

The general evaluation results agree that the Thomasites succeded in attracting to the classroom people of varied intelligence and educational backgrounds,

young and old, of both sexes, single and married, from all levels of socio-economic status . The students learned English and the language arts; the development of attitudes such as respect for manual labor, zeal for work, fair play, loyalty to duty, and the meaning of democracy.

One of the main features of the American educational policy in the Philippines was the training of Filipino teachers in Normal Schools. In Negros Occidental, these schools were found successful ; the Filipino teachers showed real desire to help the pupils and most advocated the educational program upon returning to their barrios.



REFERENCES (All available at the University of Michigan Library)

1. The American Contribution to Philippine Education, 1898-1998. Reprinted from the Philippine Free Press, Manila, August 23, 1920.

2. Lardizabal, Amparo Santamaria. Pioneer American Teachers and Philippine Education. Phoenix Press Inc, 927 Quezon Avenue, Quezon City.

3. Maniago, Jo Anne Barker. The First Peace Corps: the Work of the American Teachers in the Philippines,1900-1910. A Doctoral Dissertation, Boston University, 1971

4. Martin, Dalmacio and Philippine Historical Association Editorial Board(eds.) A Century of Education in the Philippines 1861-1961. Philippine Historical Association 1980.

5. Pecson, Geronima T. and Racelis, Maria (Eds). Tales of the American Teachers in the Philippines, 1959

6. UNESCO-Philippine Educational Foundation. Fifty Years of Education for Freedom 1901-1951. National Printing Company, Inc.

 


REFERENCES (not available at UM)

Atkinson, F.W. The Philippine Islands, Boston, Ginn and Co., 1905

Barrows, David P. A Decade of American Government. Yonkers, NY, World Book Co., 1914

Craig, Austin and Josephine Craig. Furthest Westing: A Philippine Footnote. Philadelphia: Dorronce and Co. 1940.

Dinwiddle,William. Teaching the Filipinos, Munsey's Magazine, 30:814, March, 1904

Fee, Mary H. A Woman's Impressions of the Philippines. Chicago: A.C. McLurg. 1910.

Freer, Walden B. the Philippine Experience of An American Teacher. A Narrative of Work and Travel in the Philippines. New York: Charles Scribners. 1906

John, Marius. Philippine Saga. New York: House of Fields, 1940.

Kelly, Alice M. The Bua School--a few personal Notes," The Teacher's Assembly Herald, Manila, Bureau of Printing, 1912, Vol. V, No.23, May 10, 1912, pp. 125-27.

Moses, Bernard. Education of the Stranger, International Quarterly, 9:1-14, March-June, 1904.

Report of the United States Philippine Commission to the President, 1899-1900, 1901-02. Vol.I,15.

Suzuki, Mary Bonzo. American Education in the Philippines, the early Years: American Pioneer teachers and the Filipino response, 1900-1935. A Doctoral Dissertation, University of California , Berkeley,1986.