Dean Conant Worcester

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Dean Conant Worcester 1866-1924.jpg

Dean Conant Worcester, D.Sc.(hon.), FRGS (October 1, 1866 – May 2, 1924) was an American naturalist, the first American scholar to specialize in Philippine studies, and the first Secretary of the Interior of the Philippines.

Early Life

Dean Conant Worcester was born in October 1, 1866 at Thetford, Vermont. He was one of the first Americans who came from the University of Michigan who specialized on Philippine studies.

Academic Life

In 1874, nearly twenty-five years before the United States acquired the Philippine Islands, Joseph B. Steere, a zoology professor at The University of Michigan, stopped at the Islands while touring remote corners of the globe for the University Museum. The Islands fascinated Steere and he returned for further explorations in 1887 accompanied by several zoology students from the University.

Among the members of this party was Dean Conant Worcester. Three years later, Worcester headed his own party to the Philippines under the auspices of the Minnesota Academy of Natural Science. From 1890 to 1893, he studied and traveled throughout the Islands and acquired a thorough knowledge of Philippine affairs. These three scientific voyages to the Philippines mark the beginning of an extraordinary relationship between the Philippines and the young American zoologist.

In 1898, Dean Worcester and diplomat-journalist John Barrett were engaged in an indirect competition to become the primary and authoritative scholar on Philippine colonial affairs. Due to his previous trips to the Philippines, Dean Worcester published a hastily assembled book on the Philippines portraying scantily clad “real” Filipinos gaining prestige and praises from the academic community of America, thus beating John Barrett.

Philippine Career

Dean C. Worcester stood high on the President's list of Philippine experts. Recognizing Worcester's special knowledge of Philippine affairs, McKinley selected the Michigan zoologist to be a member of the First Philippine Commission in 1899. From 1899 to 1901 he was a member of the United States Philippine Commission; thenceforth until 1913 he served as secretary of the interior for the Philippine Insular Government. Worcester remained in the Philippines for more than fourteen years, being reappointed to the Second Philippine Commission and serving as Secretary of the Interior of the Philippine Insular Government and as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Other items of interest include Worcester's notes of a trip to Mindoro and Palawan in July of 1910, and a letter from Secretary of War William Howard Taft, 1907, stating that "the partial control of the government which is now in the hands of the Filipinos has itself developed both conservatism and an interest in the existing government which will have a healthful tendency to delay the pressure for immediate independence on the part of those who are actually exercising influence in the Assembly."

Dean Worcester was also a figure whose opinions and ideas are sought after by prominent American politicians and statesmen in the Philippines. In a letter to Leonard Wood and William C. Forbes, he criticized Gov. Gen Francis Burton Harrison and his method of administering the Philippines. He further wrote that Harrison’s term was riddled with rampant graft and corruption.


Worcester was also famous in his preserved photos of people, places, and activities in the Philippines, including native groups of the southern islands and events in the Philippine American War. In his collection of photographs, we can see naked Igorots and other indigenous groups of the Philippines in different levels of nakedness. Present day scholars attempts to question the hidden motive of Dean Worcester in photographing naked indigenous people.

One of his favorite methods of photographic exposition was to put before and after pictures side by side to depict the so-called progress and civilization that American contact had foisted on the Philippine race. For example he would put an old picture of rundown Bilibid prison under the Spanish regime and juxtapose a newly commissioned photo of the same prison but this time done up a la Americana with model prisoners in uniforms standing in a drill. A Bontok boy in his native costume would be shown a year after in an American schoolboy outfit supposedly proving the beneficent advantage of American colonization.

One group of scholars interpreted the “Worcester photographs” as a powerful political and psychological tool to manipulate the American public in justifying the colonization and subjugation of the Philippine Islands since nakedness and the idea of clothing can be used as a system of classifying a group of people as civilized or uncivilized. Other scholars, including Philippine scholar Alfred McCoy bluntly interpreted the “Worcester photographs” as a simple voyeuristic and pornographic subconscious desire of Dean Worcester.


Aside from these photographs, his other publications include, besides various papers:

  • The Philippine Islands and Their People (1898)
  • The Non-Christian Tribes of Northern Luzon (1906)
  • The Philippines Past and Present (two volumes, 1913; new edition, 1914)
  • One Year of the New Era (1914)
  • Field sports among the wild men of Northern Luzon (1911)
  • Slavery and peonage in the Philippine Islands (1913)
  • A history of Asiatic cholera in the Philippine Islands (1908)

External links



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