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Several Thomasites are interred at the American Teachers Memorial, a special plot inside the Manila North Cemetery. The current memorial was erected in 1917. WTMP Foodtrippings D19.JPG
Several Thomasites are interred at the American Teachers Memorial, a special plot inside the Manila North Cemetery. The current memorial was erected in 1917.

The Thomasites were a group of 600 American teachers who travelled from the United States to the newly occupied territory of the Philippines on the transport ship USS Thomas. [1] The group included 346 men and 180 women, hailing from 43 different states and 193 colleges, universities, and normal schools [1] . The term 'Thomasites' has since expanded to include any teacher who arrived in the first few years of the American colonial period of the Philippines.

USAT <i>Thomas</i>

USAT Thomas was a United States Army transport ship, launched as the SS Persia in 1894, having been built for the Hamburg America Line's service to New York. She was bought by the Atlantic Transport Line in 1897 because she was "practically a sister" to other Massachusetts class of ships already in service there. She was renamed SS Minnewaska by her new owners.

History of the Philippines (1898–1946)

The history of the Philippines from 1898 to 1946 describes the period of American colonization of the Philippines. It began with the outbreak of the Spanish–American War in April 1898, when the Philippines was still a colony of the Spanish East Indies, and concluded when the United States formally recognised the independence of the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946.


Foundation, purpose and etymology

The Thomasites arrived in the Philippines on August 21, [2] 1901, to establish a new public school system, to teach basic education, and to train Filipino teachers, with English as the medium of instruction. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), basic education comprises the two stages primary education and lower secondary education.

Philippines Republic in Southeast Asia

The Philippines, officially the Republic of the Philippines, is an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia. Situated in the western Pacific Ocean, it consists of about 7,641 islands that are broadly categorized under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The capital city of the Philippines is Manila and the most populous city is Quezon City, both part of Metro Manila. Bounded by the South China Sea on the west, the Philippine Sea on the east and the Celebes Sea on the southwest, the Philippines shares maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Japan to the northeast, Vietnam to the west, Palau to the east, and Malaysia and Indonesia to the south.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

"Our nation has found herself confronted by a great problem dealing with a people who neither know nor understand the underlying principles of our civilization, yet who, for our mutual happiness and liberty, must be brought into accord with us ... the American genius, reasoning from its own experience in the past, seeks a solution of the problem, a bridging of the chasm, through the common schools." Adeline Knapp, Thomasite and author of The Story of the Philippines [10]

Adeline Knapp American journalist and social activist

Adeline E. Knapp was an American journalist, author, social activist, environmentalist and educator, who is today remembered largely for her tempestuous lesbian relationship with Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In her lifetime, Knapp was known as a fixture of the turn-of-the-century San Francisco Bay Area literary scene. An outspoken writer who often addressed controversial topics in her columns for the San Francisco Call, Knapp wrote on a wide range of subjects from livestock to the Annexation of Hawaii. Though often drawn to progressive causes like child labor and conservation, Knapp also tended to espouse reactionary views, as evidenced by her anti-Chinese sentiments and criticisms of the women's suffrage movement. At a time when many American women were joining the movement to extend political and voting rights to women, Knapp spoke in state senate hearings in New York expressing doubts about the benefits of suffrage to women, and she allowed her speeches and letters on the topic to be used as propaganda by the anti-suffragism movement. Knapp was also the author of numerous short stories, as well as a novel set in the Arizona desert—works reflecting her outdoor enthusiast sensibilities, keen intellect, and interest in Western regionalism. These works, though praised in her lifetime, today have few readers among enthusiasts of Western fiction.

The Philippines had enjoyed a public school system since 1863, when a Spanish decree first introduced public elementary education in the Philippines. The Thomasites, however, expanded and improved the public school system and switched to English as the medium of instruction.

The name Thomasite was derived from the transport vessel USAT Thomas (earlier known as SS Minnewaska in private service), which brought the educators to the shores of Manila Bay. [8] Although two groups of new American graduates arrived in the Philippines before USS Thomas, the name Thomasite became the designation of all pioneer American teachers simply because USS Thomas had the largest contingent. Later batches of American teachers were also dubbed Thomasites. [3]

Steamship Type of steam powered vessel

A steamship, often referred to as a steamer, is a type of steam-powered vessel, typically ocean-faring and seaworthy, that is propelled by one or more steam engines that typically move (turn) propellers or paddlewheels. The first steamships came into practical usage during the early 1800s; however, there were exceptions that came before. Steamships usually use the prefix designations of "PS" for paddle steamer or "SS" for screw steamer. As paddle steamers became less common, "SS" is assumed by many to stand for "steam ship". Ships powered by internal combustion engines use a prefix such as "MV" for motor vessel, so it is not correct to use "SS" for most modern vessels.

The Thomasites—365 males and 165 females—left Pier 12 of San Francisco on July 23, 1901, to sail via the Pacific Ocean to South East Asia. The U.S. government spent about $105,000 for the expedition (equivalent to $3,162,180in 2018). More American teachers followed the Thomasites in 1902, making a total of about 1,074 stationed in the Philippines. [4] [5] [8]

San Francisco Consolidated city-county in California, US

San Francisco, officially City and County of San Francisco and colloquially known as SF, San Fran, or "The City", is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. San Francisco is the 13th most populous city in the United States, and the fourth most populous in California, with 883,305 residents as of 2018. It covers an area of about 46.89 square miles (121.4 km2), mostly at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it the second most densely populated large U.S. city, and the fifth most densely populated U.S. county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs. San Francisco is the 12th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States, with 4,729,484 people in 2018. With San Jose, it forms the fifth most populous combined statistical area in the United States, the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area.

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by the continents of Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

At the time, the Thomasites were offered $125 a month (equivalent to $3,765in 2018), but once in the Philippines salaries were often delayed and were usually paid in devalued Mexican pesos. [3] [5] [6]

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.

Mexican peso currency of Mexico

The Mexican peso is the currency of Mexico. Modern peso and dollar currencies have a common origin in the 15th–19th century Spanish dollar, most continuing to use its sign, "$". The Mexican peso is the 10th most traded currency in the world, the third most traded currency from the Americas, and the most traded currency from Latin America.

Although the Thomasites were the largest group of pioneers with the purpose of educating the Filipinos, they were not the first to be deployed by Washington, D.C. A few weeks before the arrival of USS Thomas, U.S. Army soldiers had already begun teaching Filipinos the English language, thus in effect laying the foundation of the Philippine public school system. The U.S. Army opened the Philippines' first public school in Corregidor Island, after Admiral George Dewey vanquished the Spanish Pacific fleet in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. [4] Also, a few weeks before the arrival of USS Thomas, another group composed of 48 American teachers also arrived in the Philippines, aboard the USAT Sheridan . [4]

After President William McKinley's appointment of William Howard Taft as the head of a commission that would be responsible for continuing the educational work started by the U.S. Army, the Taft Commission passed Education Act No. 34 on January 21, 1901, which established the Department of Public Instruction. The latter was then given the task of establishing a public school system throughout the Philippines. The Taft Commission also authorized the further deployment of 1,000 more educators from the U.S. to the Philippines. [4]


After being quarantined for two days after their arrival on August 21, 1901, the Thomasites were finally able to disembark from the USS Thomas. They travelled from the customs house near the Anda Circle then stayed at the walled city Intramuros, Manila before being given initial provincial assignments which included Albay, Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Masbate, Samar, Zambales, Aparri, Jolo, Negros, Cebu, Dumaguete, Bulacan, Bataan, Batangas, Pangasinan and Tarlac. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Curriculum 1902–1935

The Thomasites taught the following subjects: English, agriculture, reading, grammar, geography, mathematics, general courses, trade courses, housekeeping and household arts (sewing, crocheting and cooking), manual trading, mechanical drawing, freehand drawing and athletics (baseball, track and field, tennis, indoor baseball and basketball). [7]


The Thomasites built upon the Spanish school system created in 1863 and the contributions laid down by the U.S. Army. They built elementary schools and learning institutions such as the Philippine Normal School, formerly the Escuela Normal de Maestros during the Spanish period (now Philippine Normal University) and the Philippine School of Arts and Trades, formerly the Escuela Central de Artes y Oficios de Manila (now Technological University of the Philippines) in 1901, the Tarlac High School on September 21, 1902 and the Quezon National High School, also in 1902. [4] [5] [6] [7]

The Thomasites also reopened the Philippine Nautical School, which was originally established by the Board of Commerce of Manila in 1839 under Spain. [4] About a hundred of the Thomasites stayed on to live in the Philippines after finishing their teaching assignments. They transformed the Philippines into the third largest English-speaking nation in the world and they became the precursors of the present-day U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

For their contribution to Philippine education, the Thomasites Centennial Project was established in cooperation with American Studies associations in the Philippines, the Philippine-American Educational Foundation, the Embassy of the United States of America in Manila, and other leading cultural and educational institutions in the Philippines. [8] [11]

List of some Thomasite teachers

See also

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  1. 1 2 Zimmerman, Jonathan (2006). Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century. USA: Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-02361-1.
  2. karnow, In Our Image, Page 85
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines , Ballantine Books, Random House, Inc., March 3, 1990, 536 pages, ISBN   0-345-32816-7
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "The Thomasites:An Army Like No Other", October 12, 2003 Archived May 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Thomas Sites In the Philippines Remarks by US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Michael E Malinowski In Honor of the Thomasites Centennial Memorial Program at the American Teacher's Plot North Cemetery Manila on August 26 2001 (from the U.S. Peace Corps Online Website) February 17 2003
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Tan, Michael L. "The Thomasite Experiment",, September 03, 2001
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "Quezon National High School: A Century Hence" from Quezon National High School Website (archived from the original on 2007-02-12).
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 International Book Project: Thomasites and Thomasites Centennial Project from U.S., June 28, 2001
  9. 1 2 Rivera, Guillermo Gómez. "The Thomasites Before and After" (eManila:05 August 2001), date retrieved: 27 May 2007
  10. Knapp, Adeline (1902). The Story of the Philippines. New York: Silver, Burdett and Company. ISBN   978-1-4374-3559-7.
  11. The Thomasites' Centennial Project: Launching of a Book on Thomasites and Photographs (Book Title:"Back to the Future: Perspectives on the Thomasites Legacy to the Philippines";Author Name: Corazon D. Villareal, Professor, University of the Philippines, U.S. Embassy (Manila) Website, August 15 2003