The First English Public School Teacher Was A Filipina, Not A Thomasite!


To govern the Filipinos better, at the turn of the century, the white conquistadores must teach their language to the natives.  English was taught in the public school the first time not by the fabled Thomasites, but by a young Filipina, Maria.  Here is Nick Joaquin:

“Let us begin this paean to the public school system, not with the Thomasites, but with a Manila girl named Maria Salome Marquez. 

When the Philippine-American War broke out, Maria was 16 and had finished a normal teacher’s course. She lived in a southern district of Manila, in a house on the riverbank.   Beside the house was a pottery factory where her father worked as maquinista.  Though the Americans had been in Manila some six months, no one in Maria’s barrio had yet seen an Americano. 

In January 1899, the folk in outlying barrios of the city were bidden to move out by the Revolucionarios.  Relations with the American had become strained: fighting might start any moment.  In those days, passenger boats were being operated on the Pasig by Don Faustino Lichauco, who was a friend of Maria’s family.  He offered them transportation to Calamba; the Lichauco steamers plied Manila-Laguna route. 

To Calamba, therefore, Maria’s family evacuated. They found the town crowded with refugees but as gay as in fiesta time.  They were lodged in a house not far from the Mercado residence, then occupied by Rizal’s sisters. War with the Americans had begun but for about a year Calamba was untouched.  

One day a ship appeared on the lake flying a white flag.  The townspeople ran out to greet, thinking it was the shipment of rice they had long been expecting.    As the ship approached, the white flag was hauled down and the people saw that the ship was filled with strange-looking men – huge white men with great beards and crimson faces. 

“The Americanos!  The Americanos!”

Screaming, the people rushed to their homes assembled their families, snatched up few belongings, and fled.  In less than an hour, before the Americans could land, Calamba was totally emptied. 

Carried along in the wild exodus were Maria and her family. Day and night they trudged across mountains without stopping until they reached Santo Tomas in Batangas, where they found shelter in the convento. 

Meanwhile, Maria’s father returned to Manila and got a permit from the Americans to bring his family back.    To return to Manila, they had to go make another epic journey by  foot: first a day’s walk to Cabuyao; then a longer tramp to Binan, through mountains, swamps, rivers and desolate ghost villages.  Maria was wearing boots; by the time they reached BiÑan the soles of her boots were gone and her feet were bruised and swollen. 

In BiÑan they boarded a sailboat for Manila.  The Revolucionarios had established checkpoints along the Pasig. Maria’s mother would cover her five girls with black shawls while her father told the sentries that he had no one with him but sickly old women. 

As they approached Manila, Maria saw her first Americano.  On the azotea of a house by the river, a huge bearded white soldier was strolling about, wearing a saya de cola and nonchalantly puffing at a cigar.  Evidently, in the commandeered house, he had rummaged in some chest and there discovered this gorgeous saya de cola.  And for his private fun he had put on that saya de cola though it was much too small and short for him. 

When they reached their barrio, Maria’s family found not a post standing and couldn’t even tell where their house had stood. The next day they went to live in relative’s house in Binondo. 

The Americano seemed to be everywhere in Binondo.  They had turned the Hotel Del Oriente into barracks and Binondo waterfront into army docks. All night you heard them roaring and fighting inside the saloon at the foot of the Binondo Bridge.  Maria’s relatives had an American Negro friend who often came to the house loaded with presents: apples and candies and hams.  He gave Maria harmonica and taught her to sing Sweet Maria and Swanee River. 

In 1900, Maria’s family returned to their native barrio, where her father had built a new house.  The Americans opened a public school in the barrio and Maria was appointed grade-school teacher, at P30 a month.   She taught the children, in Spanish, until ten o’clock in the morning. Afterwards it was her turn to be taught:  an American named Rigger gave her a crash course in English. 

In six months she had mastered enough English to be able to converse with Mr. Rigger and to teach the rudiments of the new tongue to her grade-school pupils.  Mr. Rigger was delighted and had her assigned to the public school in Santa Ana.  She taught in the mornings; studied under American teachers in the afternoons.  She was now being paid in dollars – $35 a month – and got a five dollar increase every year. 

Young Maria was now the sole breadwinner in the family; her father was too old to work; her mother had died of cholera after adding two more babies to the brood.  Maria showed herself fully capable of supporting a large family, although barely 18. The Maria Clara generation was not as limp and frail as we like to believe nowadays. 

When the first intermediate school was opened in Paco, Maria was given a class there.   She had a moment of panic on the first day of her new assignment.  She was used to teaching children but this new class of hers was composed of grown men and women than herself .  But she didn’t lose her head.   She bade her students to open their books and read the first lesson.  With their eyes turned away from her, she had time to overcome her dismay.  These adults, many of them businessmen, had enrolled in intermediate school to learn English. 

Maria was presently handling night classes too, for other busy adults who wanted to learn the idiom of the Gringo.” (A Pioneer Manila Maestra, Manila, My Manila by Nick Joaquin).

10 thoughts on “The First English Public School Teacher Was A Filipina, Not A Thomasite!

  1. Nice story. But did you quote this whole thing VERBATIM from Joaquin’s book? Because I notice a couple of typos, which is very un-Joaquin like… he being so scrupulous about the written English during his stint with the Philippines FREE PRESS. Do you want me to point out the typo errors here?

  2. I enjoy reading old story, especially the Spanish time, verbatim or not, no need to be precise, like being told by my su anoy lola. Thank you very much Mr. Jcc for this fascinating story! awesome!

  3. Can anyone recommend me a good English School? I have heard that there is much more English schools abroad than in England it self? I gues that English language is truly an international language.

    • any reputable college in the country teaches english language and grammar well. you can start with UP, Ateneo, San Beda, St. Paul, etc. but you have to enrol in regular courses and take up only english subjects. or you can take up liberal arts, major in english.

  4. It is tragic that colonial historiography has hailed the plundering Americans as the ‘educators’ of the Filipinos, rather than treat Filipino as pioneers in their own land.

    Moreover, I find it horrifying that historians have long undermined the greatness of women. Always, men are the teachers, women merely their pupils. But history has proven again and again that women — such as Miss Maria Marquez — stand on equal footing with men in times of war and in times of peace. This post was a very good read, and I’m very happy to have stumbled across your blog, sir.

    On a side note: Nick Joaquin is my favorite writer, and I’m glad to learn that someone else appreciates the master’s works as much as I do.

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