Thomasites is the term used to describe the hundreds of American teachers who were sent by the U.S. government to establish a public school system in the Philippines, starting in 1901. The name was derived from the U.S.S. Thomas, the ship which brought the largest detachment of teachers to the Philippines in August 1901. The Thomasites are sometimes considered the forerunners of the present day U.S. Peace Corps.
Answering to the call of U.S. President William McKinley to “promote and improve the educational system in the Philippines,” the appointed head of commission William Howard Taft passed Act. No. 34 on 21 January 1901 forming the Department of Public Instruction. This body was responsible for establishing the public school system in the country.
The act also authorized the deployment of 1,000 educators from the U.S. to teach Filipinos.
Despite alarming newspaper reports and stories from returning soldiers about ethnic headhunters and tropical diseases, teachers were motivated to come by a number of factors: 1) salary of $125 per month (more than what they could earn in the U.S.); 2) employment; 3) altruism; 4) opportunity to join a boyfriend or fiancé stationed in the Philippines; 5) and desire for adventure.
Fresh graduates from 169 institutions all over America as well as several veteran teachers applied for a three-year teaching commitment in the islands, amounting to a total of 8,000 applicants. The largest number of applicants came from states like California, Massachusetts and Michigan.
The successful applicants were transported by the cattle cargo turned transport ship USS Thomas , which left Pier 12 of San Francisco on 23 July 1901 and arrived in the Philippines 21 August. Since the largest outflow of teachers arrived in the Philippines via the Thomas, the natives dubbed them "Thomasites". From then on, American educators were called by this name.
Out of the 540 teachers, 365 were men while 165 were women (asurprisingly high number in an era when women were still not widely considered equal to men in capability). Some of them brought their family; the ship's log also revealed the presence of three dogs and two cats on board the ship during the voyage.
The group were only allowed to travel along Anda Circle to their dormitories in Intramuros after being quarantined for two days on board the Thomas. Soon after, they were dispersed to their designated teaching assignments.
Prior their arrival, it was the McKinley soldiers (with no formal training) who first taught English to the natives living in the Corregidor Islands. However, the 48 American passengers of Sheridan were considered to be the first batch of Thomasites.
In 1902, the number of American teachers swelled to 1,074.
The Thomasites were divided into two main groups upon their arrival.The first group were distributed to different parts of the Philippines. The other half remained in Manila to focus on the training of Filipino teachers and also to teach in the public schools in the capital.
Conforming to the customs, habits and prejudices of their students, the Thomasites taught the following subjects: basic education in English, grammar, reading, mathematics, geography, practical arts and athletics, manual trading, housekeeping and household arts (sewing, crocheting and cooking), and mechanical drawing.
Some of the problems encountered by Thomasites included a lack of proper facilities like classrooms, blackboards, and teaching materials like books. They also faced a language barrier with their students, opposition from Catholic clerics, and delayed dispersal of their salaries. Many suffered from health problems due to difficulty adjusting to the tropical climate. For the first 20 months, 27 of the original Thomasites either died by tropical diseases or were murdered by outlaws.
The homegrown Spanish methods of teaching proved to be another problem for the teachers. The Thomasites found it hard to impart to the students the importance of critical thinking rather than rote memorization of lessons. Moreover, tardiness in class attendance was rampant, with students coming in hours late or being absent to attend town fiestas.
The promotion of equality among students were also hindered by wealthy families who wanted their children to have special treatment. They believed that general education would create an imbalance in the country's workforce: more demand for white collar jobs and shortage of people engaging in manual labor. To address this concern, trade and agricultural schools were propagated. Graduates of these schools were considered on equal footing with those who graduated from normal schools and universities.
There are some critics who say that the presence of the Thomasites in the country did more damage to the growth of national consciousness than good.
The introduction of English as a new language of instruction has been described as a program of cultural intervention, which doomed the efforts to adopt "Pilipino" as a single national language. This, according to critics, deprived Filipinos of the unifying force of a common native language.
Part of the legacy left by the Thomasites include the establishment of the following schools and universities:
- Philippine Normal University (1901)
- Philippine School of Arts and Trades (1901)
- Philippine Nautical School (Though it was built in 1839 by the Board of Commerce of Manila under Spain, it was the Thomasites who reopened it soon after their arrival.)
- Tarlac High School (21 September 1902)
- Tayabas High School, now Quezon National High School (1902)
The Thomasites transformed the Philippines into the third largest English-speaking nation in the world. These teachers also introduced the country to the notion that education is not only for the elite but for ordinary people as well.
To recognize their contribution to Philippine education, the Thomasite Centennial Project was created to observed the 100th anniversary of their arrival. Cooperating agencies and organizations included: the Public Affair Section of the U.S. Embassy (formerly the United States Information Service or USIS), the American Studies Association of the Philippines (ASAP), the Philippine-American Educational Foundation (PAEF), and the Philippine National History Society (PNHS).
Partial List of Thomasite Teachers
- C.J. Anderson, became the supervising teacher in Indang, Cavite
- Olive Anderson
- James Barry, recorded the almost complete menu of the food brought on board the Thomas
- Josiah H. Byerly, probably the only person on board the Thomas who had already taught in the Philippines while serving as a soldier in the Twenty-sixth New York. He was assigned to teach English to 500 students in Iloilo.
- Aubrey Boyles, pioneered Tayabas High School by organizing a school in a convent of Lucena in 1902
- William Cantrel
- Eugene Carlson
- Mabel Carlson
- Charles Gustaf Carlson, taught English to Spanish-speaking Filipino teachers in Mindanao from 1901-1911. He married his student Eugenia Enriquez and established the Davao Trade School. Calrson died at age of 47 due to illness
- Austin Craig, bibliographer of Jose Rizal
- Edwin B. Copeland, a botanist and agriculturist who founded the Philippine College of Agriculture at Los Bañoas Laguna (now known as UP Loas Baños School of Agriculture)
- Wilma Davies
- Mary H. Fee, author of A Woman’s Impressions of the Philippines (a book that described events that happened in September 1901)
- Alice Franklin
- Blanche Hall
- Albert Haynes
- Grace Hawley
- J.R. Hewitt, husband of Euphemia S. Paxton
- Reulah Kane
- J.M. Krause, a graduate of Clarion State Normal in Pennsylvania, assigned to teach at Indang
- Richard Leopold, assistant principal of Cavite High School
- Herbert Allen McKean, trade school
- S.K. Mitchell, principal of Cavite High School
- Vinda Orata
- Margaret Parcell, housemate of Philinda Rand, stationed in Panay
- Euphemia S. Paxton, wife of J.R. Hewitt
- Philinda Rand, assigned in Panay, wrote several letters containing many references to the people she came to cherish
- Albert Refo
- Wesley Refo
- Delight Rice, founded the School for the Deaf and the Blind (SDB) in 1907
- Nina Sargeant, was 28 years old when she first came, married to Perry Lincoln Sargeant
- Perry Lincoln Sargent, assigned to teach in Paniqui Tarlac, married his co-teacher, Nina
- Albert Searle
- Nell Searle
- Alice Shipley
- Lula Shipley
- Leonard Stever
- Margaret Taylor
- Russel Taylor
- Agnes Van Winkle
- Harold Van Winkle
- Hazel Wood
- Jennie Wright
- Mabel Zuigg
- Robert Zuigg
- "Log of Thomas". . Accessed on 15 March 2009.
- "Pinoy Kasi!".  Accessed on 15 March 2009.
- "Quezon National High School: A Century Hence".  Accessed on 16 March 2009.
- Guillermo Gómez Rivera, The Thomasites, Before and After.  Accessed on 15 March 2009.
- Ambeth Ocampo, "What the Thomasite Ate".  Accessed on 16 March 2009.
- Gov.ph News, "Thomasites: An army like no other"  Accessed on 16 March 2009.
- "Peace Corps Volunteers are well known for their ability to assimilate themselves into foreign cultures"  Accessed on 16 March 2009.
- USS Thomas Log 
- "UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES: History and the THOMASITES",  Accessed on 16 March 2009.
- Inquirer.net, Vincent Cabreza, "Descendants seek stories of Thomasites".  Accessed on 16 March 2009.
- Tarlac News, Lino Dizon, The Panagdalao of a Thomasite Couple: The Sargents in Paniqui, Tarlac, 1901-1902  Accessed on 16 March 2009.
- http://tripatlas.com/Thomasites. Accessed on 27 March 2009.
- "Notes on the Voyage".  Accessed on 30 March 2009.