The Thomasites were a group of 600 American teachers who travelled from the United States to the newly annexed territory of the Philippines on the transport ship USS Thomas. The group included 346 men and 180 women, hailing from 43 different states and 193 colleges, universities, and normal schools. 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.
Foundation, purpose and etymology
The Thomasites arrived in the Philippines on August 21, 1901, to establish a new public school system, to teach basic education, and to train Filipino teachers, with English as the medium of instruction.
"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
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. 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.
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. More American teachers followed the Thomasites in 1902, making a total of about 1,074 stationed in the Philippines.
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. 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.
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.
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, Bataan, Batangas, Pangasinan and Tarlac.
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). 
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.
The Thomasites also reopened the Philippine Nautical School, which was originally established by the Board of Commerce of Manila in 1839 under Spain. 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.
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.
List of some Thomasite teachers
- Edwin Copeland, first dean of UP College of Agriculture and founder of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.
- Austin Craig, an American expert on José Rizal
- A.V.H. Hartendorp, the founder and publisher of the Philippine Magazine
- Adeline Knapp
- Henry Nash, former member of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders
- Philinda Rand
- Zimmerman, Jonathan (2006). Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century. USA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02361-1.
- karnow, In Our Image, Page 85
- 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
- "The Thomasites:An Army Like No Other", News.Ops.gov.ph October 12, 2003 Archived May 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- 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
- Tan, Michael L. "The Thomasite Experiment", Homestead.com, September 03, 2001
- "Quezon National High School: A Century Hence" from Quezon National High School Website (archived from the original on 2007-02-12).
- International Book Project: Thomasites and Thomasites Centennial Project from U.S. PeaceCorpsOnline.org, June 28, 2001
- Rivera, Guillermo Gómez. "The Thomasites Before and After" (eManila:05 August 2001), date retrieved: 27 May 2007
- Knapp, Adeline (1902). The Story of the Philippines. New York: Silver, Burdett and Company. ISBN 978-1-4374-3559-7.
- 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