• U.S.

Education: Thomasite Troubles

2 minute read

In July 1901, three years after the Battle of Manila Bay and only four months after the capture of rebellious Leader Emilio Aguinaldo, the Army transport Thomas sailed from San Francisco to the Philippines with an expeditionary force of some 600 U. S. schoolteachers. The “Thomasites,” 170 of them women, had been sent by an idealistic nation to civilize the new little brown brothers not with Krag-Jorgensens but with schoolbooks. Their crowning accomplishment was the training of the nucleus of 25,000 English-speaking Filipino teachers who now staff the island schools. Those Thomasites who stayed, weathered cholera and plague, married, raised families and survived into the Philippine Commonwealth, are today a dwindling group of oldsters, heroes as near forgotten as any in U. S. history. So lightly held are they in the land to which they have given their lives and whose civil servants they have been for a generation, that recently the First Commonwealth Assembly, pressed for funds, voted to liquidate the Philippine Bureau of Education’s teachers pension fund. This meant that the Thomasites would not get the retirement pensions toward which they had been contributing 3% of their meagre salaries (ranging from $900 to $1,500) for 35 years.

Last week word of the Thomasites’ plight reached the U. S. through a letter written to School & Society by one of their number, Gilbert Perez of the Bureau of Education at Manila. After denouncing both the Philippine and the U. S. Governments for “an amazing piece of neglect and ingratitude,” Oldster Perez concluded with a poem on The Thomasites. Excerpts:

They used to be what they are not

‘Tis said. . . .

But I know the lives they gave

The lives they give. . . .

Those years which dance

Like leaves that float away

And fall

Beneath the Southern Cross

And slowly shrivel np

In seaweed grays and

Purgatorial browns. . . .

They heard the soft call of the East

The hectic call

Of tropic gardens drenched

With scent that kissed away

The breath. . . .

[Their reward] shall come some day

With that posthumous fame

Which always crowns good deeds

In all ungrateful worlds.

More practical Thomasites were last week counting less on posthumous rewards than on intervention by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who as U. S. President may veto any act of the Commonwealth Government which in his judgment indicates failure to fulfill Government contracts.

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