tag: pio andrade jr., thomasites, spanish philippines


The Thomasites were the American teachers who staffed Philippine public schools during the early American period. They were so-called because most of them came to the country in the U.S.S. Thomas, a transport ship. The Thomasites taught English to Filipino students in the public schools. What is not mentioned in history books is that the Thomasites had to learn Spanish for them to be effective teachers and for them to socialize with the local elite who were mainly Spanish-speaking. In fact, in the annual Teacher’s Assembly in Baguio City every summer, advanced and beginning Spanish lessons were given to American teachers.’

Here are four Thomasites and their brushes with the language of Cervantes:

Mrs. Eloise Gibbs, a Thomasite schoolmarm, taught young Pampaguenos in San Fernando , Pampanga in 1901-03. She wrote an article “Filipinos I Have Known” in THE FILIPINO STUDENTS MAGAZINE which mentioned her Spanish conversations with her cochero and ward.

One day, Mrs. Gibbs’ cochero, Flaviano, came to her crying. He told Mrs. Gibbs: “Senora, Senora, Senor A  habla me ladron.” (Madam, Mr. A  called me a thief.)

Mrs. Gibbs and her American co-teachers adopted a waif named Valentin. After an earthquake, Valentin said, “El diabio mucho trabajo,” (The devil works overtime.) by way of explaining to Mrs. Gibbs why the earth quaked.

William Freer taught in several provinces and he became superintendent of public schools in Nueva Ecija and Ambos Camarines. Before returning home. He wrote a book THE EXPERIENCES OF AN AMERICAN SCHOOL TEACHER on his teaching days in the Philippines. The book has a glossary of Spanish words for the readers to better understand his work in English.

Mary Fee wrote many articles and a book of her teaching experiences in the Philippines. Fee’s book IMPRESSIONS OF THE PHILIPPINES, like Freer’s, contains many Spanish words and expressions. Here is a paragraph from the book about her learning of transportation terms in the country at that time.

“We had picked up the vernacular of the street carromata in Manila. This is very simple. It consists of sigue, para, dereeho, mano and silla. For the benefit of such readers do not understand pidgin Spanish, it may be explained that these words signify, respectively, “go on,” “stop,” “straight ahead,” “to the right,” and “to the left.” The words wino and silla mean really “hand” and “saddle”; I have been told that they are linguistic survivals of the days when women rode on pillions and the fair incubus indicated that she wished to turn either to the side of her fight hand or to the skirt side.”

Charles Derbyshire is familiar to most Filipinos because of his English translations of Rizal’s NOLI and Fili, which are the official versions used in Philippine public schools. Unknown to most Filipinos, Derbyshire was a Thomasite and he taught in Negros Oriental, Zambales; and Manila. He studied Spanish in UST to be able to translate Rizal’s book into English. He left the Philippines in 1918.

Back in the United States, he taught in the University of West Virginia where he opened a Department of Spanish. In 1928, he met two Filipino college students travelling through West Virginia. Immediately, he talked to them in Spanish, thinking they were conversant in Spanish as many of the Filipinos he left behind. The two students, however, knew less Spanish than Derbyshire for they had been educated only in English in Philippine public schools.

From Pio Andrade Jr.’s unpublished book “Que Barbaridad”.



  • Maricris Dizon

    Hello, do you still have any reports regarding with the Thomasites in San Fernando, Pampanga? We are currently writing thesis about them but we don’t have enough sources.. Thank you in advance ^^

    • Arnaldo Arnáiz

      Hi, I believe there’s enough literature about the Thomasites in the National Library. There were quite a few books there, nothing that I remember focusing on the San Fernando party but you should find references there.


      • Maricris

        thank you for the response. By the way, do you still have a copy of an article “Filipinos I Have Known” in THE FILIPINO STUDENTS MAGAZINE by Eloise Gibbs?

  • Veritas et Mencii

    You should be attacking the Spanish publications done during the time when the education of the natives was supposed to be a shining example.The American publications have nicer adjectives towards the Spanish administration of the natives’ education. There are many other reasons for criticizing the American colonization of the Philippines; never mind that the education system was worse or better. These publications written by the Spaniards who were in the Philippines painted an otherwise picture. These are just some of them.

    El gran problema de las reformas en Filipinas: planteado por el Español ..By Camilo Millan y Vellanueva,Consejero Ponente de Administración y ex gobernador civil de varias provincias del archipielago -J. Lafont, 1897 – Philippines – Page 36

    Exposición de filipinas: colección de artículos publicados en El Globo, diario ilustrado político, cientifico y literario Madrid 1887 – Page 212 ,

    Filipinas: notas de viaje y de estancia By José Fernández Giner, Louis de Rute MADRID Imprenta Popular Plaza del Dos de Mayo, 1889 – author was the EL MALOGRADO RECIENTE INTERINO DE LA AUDIENCIA DE MANILA – page 102 and page 164

    Viajes por Filipinas: de F. Jagor Imprenta, esterotipia y galvanoplastia de Aribau y c.a (sucesores de Rivadeneyra), 1875 – page 140

    Also, Henry Jones Ford wrote and published this book:

    Woodrow Wilson: The Man and His Work By Henry Jones Ford – Princeton March 1916
    213 – The Filipino gentry speak Spanish and the masses speak native dialects which are not low languages but are refined and capable instruments of thought producing poetry drama and romantic literature although deficient in science
    215 – As an incident of the educational scheme literacy qualifications for the suffrage were confined to those who could read and write either Spanish or English. This provision while designed to stimulate acquisition of English speech had incidentally the effect of propagating grave misrepresentations of the situation. Attention has often been called to the fact that the qualified electorate is an extraordinarily small percentage of the adult male population thus indicating that illiteracy generally prevails. But this is not really the case and it appears to be so merely because natives who cannot read and write a foreign language are officially classed as illiterate. Probably it is the only instance in history in which people who can read and write their own language are classed as illiterate.

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