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Euphemia Sinclair Paxton, A Thomasite

By Edited Sep 23, 2016 0 0

"Good Morning, Miss Paxton"

Adventure is genetic. There is also a “wondering” gene. I don’t know if scientists have located the exact genes that give these traits but my ancestral tree is proof positive of their existence. Case in point: My paternal great-grandaunt, Euphemia (Effie) Sinclair Paxton. Number 10 of 12 children born to William Archibald Paxton and Jessie Kirkland Campbell, Effie, born September 24, 1878, inherited both of the aforementioned genes. Before Effie’s birth, her father migrated from Port Perry, Ontario down to Earlville, Iowa to run a creamery. After her birth, the family packed up and moved to Orange, California to start an orange orchard.

 While her brother, William Arthur, was off searching for gold in Alaska, Effie attended the University of California in Orange (eventually to become known as UC-Berkeley) and graduated in 1900. Along about this time, there was a bit of a skirmish we know as the Spanish-American War. At the end of this particular war, America found itself the overseer of a conglomerate of islands known as The Philippines. The United States, whether for good or ill, had begun a process to transition those islands from Spanish colonialism to independence (or was that dependence on America…opinions differ on that point). Anyway, as part of that policy, they were sending soldiers and teachers to educate the Filipinos. For most or all of the 1000+ teachers, the politics was of little consequence—they were there to teach…and have a bit of adventure.

 For Effie, signing up for a 3 year teaching tour of The Philippines was as much about going to see for herself the “interesting flora”, orchids, and well-behaved children as about teaching Filipinos about democracy. Besides, a number of her college friends were also going. Whether she describes herself honestly or not, she says of herself before the trip “I chose the soft to the hard, the sweet to the sour.” Not this time, she wasn’t. Clearly, her adventure gene had kicked into high gear.

 These teachers, coming from all around the United States, were dubbed “The Thomasites” because most arrived in The Philippines on the ship US Transport Thomas. Of the 598 teachers who arrived on the Thomas, some were married but most were single. 165 of the 598 teachers on The Thomas were women. They left San Francisco, California in July 1901 and arrived in The Philippines in August having made a stop along the way in the Hawaiian Islands. Effie called the Hawaiian Islands “Fairy Land” and described having quite an enjoyable stay there. Later, she would use the same description for Japan. That must be another gene because I recall using a similar descriptive for the higher elevations of Mt. Rogers. Anyway, that’s another tale.

On their arrival in Manila Bay, Effie got her first look at the typical attire of the Filipino children—nakedness not quite covered with camisas. This was a shock to her at first but she would soon come to see it as a sensible way to dress children in the tropics. During her tenure on the islands, she would have many such changes in perspective.

Effie would be reassigned posts several times over the next three years. Whether that was indicative of her abilities as a teacher or of her lack of political savvy, she would never know for sure herself. She would express uncertainties about both and the consequences of her “shortcomings.” Her first assignment, to Talisay, would be very short-lived but this was more likely because the area was deemed unsafe as a result of large numbers of insurrectos. In fact, a “warlord” was living in Talisay. Effie was there long enough to learn one Visayan word she would heard often, Dacu (the large one) as compared to her friend and co-teacher, Stella who was “diota’y” (small one).  Another Paxton genetic curse—statuesque physique.  At the end of their first week they were recalled to Bacolod.

Effie’s lack of political savvy (or lack of “exciting personality” as she mused) would lead to her being separated from her friend Stella. In Bacolod, Stella was assigned to teach the many boys who reported to the boy’s school. Effie was to teach the girls in the girl’s school but only six reported. The “presidente” was supposed to assure that all the town’s girls reported to school but lacking the ability to persuade him to do so, Effie’s class did not grow. For the time she was there, she taught the girls singing, vocabulary, simple sentences, simple math, and handiwork. After Christmas of 1901, she was reassigned to a boy’s school in Valladolid.

Along with teaching, Effie and other lady teachers were entertained by the army officers and young men in civil service. During one picnic, the men started target practicing. When they grew weary of that, they suggested the ladies try their hand. Effie volunteered. Mr. Johnson, thinking this quite funny, tossed his hat in the air for Effie to shoot – and she promptly put a hole in his new Stetson! And, there you have another Paxton genetic trait: strong women who aren’t afraid to embarrass the menfolk.

One of her most cherished treasures from The Philippines was an embroidered “camisa” gifted to her by a Filipina “maestra” who had created it and trusted that Effie would appreciate its deep meaning. The camisa was embroidered with the flag of the Insurrection (“Katipunan”). Effie’s memoir reveals a young woman who finds arrogant American Colonials (and their wives) unpleasant while connecting to the heart of the Filipino people. After transferring to La Carlota, Effie matured into a woman with more self-assurance and independence. She came to enjoy riding alone and interacting with the Filipino people “without fear of being insulted”. She had learned to live by the Filipino philosophy that “worry, like everything else, was best relegated to manana.”

When cholera worked its way south to La Carlota, the American teachers were evacuated to Iloilo, on the island of Panay. After the cholera epidemic passed, both Effie and her friend Stella were assigned to Iloilo where they remained until their three years were over. Here, Effie was to teach at the “Normal School” which is where the Filipinos were taught to speak English so they could teach when the American teachers left. Why it was felt to be necessary for the Filipinos to learn English was probably as much politics and American arrogance as anything. But, since the Filipinos did not have a common language of their own (there were several) and Spanish was the “collective language” from their time under Spanish rule, giving them a different “collective language” could be seen as helpful. I’ll leave that argument to those who feel the need.

Effie notes that other Americans assumed the Filipinos were thieves. What Effie saw were a people who hated to see things go unused and if the Americans had things they obviously weren’t using, they could always find a way to use it. She told the tale of a tuxedo left unused by its adult owner being secretly repurposed by two Filipino boys and the tuxedo owner’s son—a very creative way of the Filipino boys getting their pictures taken! Americans, she noted, also believed Filipinos were unclean. Effie disagreed strongly! She noted that she never saw a dirty Filipino. No matter how poor they were, their clothes were always immaculate. She also noted that there was never an odor and never any flies in the stables which were located under the Filipino houses.

Effie enjoyed a vacation to Japan that she took with three other ladies. While there, they visited a number of cities. In Yokohama, they stayed with a missionary family, the Dearings, whose cousins Effie knew from California. These same missionaries would host Effie’s wedding a few years later when she wed James R. Hewitt in 1907. In Niko, they stayed in a Japanese inn rather than an expensive European-style hotel. Here they lived as the Japanese live—no chairs, no beds. They ate on the floor and slept on the floor with a log for a pillow.

Effie’s contract to teach in the Philippines was for 3 years—August 1901 to August 1904. She received her clearance and departed to return to California. What lead to her return to The Philippines and how she came to meet her future husband there, wed, and have her first born are as yet mysteries to me. Records do show that Effie married James in 1907 at the home of the Dearings in Japan. Their first born, William P. Hewitt, was born between 1909 and 1910 in Manila. The second child, Marie Hewett, was born in California in 1917. I have not yet found the missing links to explain when and why Effie returned to Manila and how her time was spent during that time before returning to the States. According to the records, James, Effie, and William were in California in 1916 but by 1920, they had moved to Yonkers, New York. Sometime around 1947, they relocated back to California, this time in Fresno.  I have found no records of when she passed away.

Euphemia S. Paxton

UC Berkeley Yearbook

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