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Mr. Frank Russell White and the first high school in the Philippines

In the 1903 provincial report of Tarlac Governor Alfonso Ramos to the Philippine Commission, there was sheer pride in stating that "at the initiative of this provincial board there has been established in this capital a secondary or high school, the pupils of which, after terminating the course of study prescribed, will be prepared to enter any college or higher institution of academic or professional study." For S. A. Campbell, who was to assume the superintendent’s position later that year, there was concurrence:

"Probably the most important event of the year was the establishment of the provincial high school, which opened the beginning of the school year (September 1, 1902). The enthusiasm, interest, and application of the students while in attendance at the normal, together with the marked progress of the majority, seemed to warrant the success of such an institution. That this new feature was received with favor is evidenced in the fact that the provincial board immediately took steps toward the construction of a high school building."

Mr. Frank Russell White (June 8, 1875-August 17, 1913): The First Principal of the Tarlac High School who would later become the Fourth Director of Education.

"An important step in the development of public instruction in the Philippines," wrote the Secretary of Public Instruction in 1902, "was the establishment and organization of the provincial schools of secondary instruction. The law authorizing such schools was enacted March 7, 1902. Prior to this date the Bureau of Education had been chiefly concerned with the organization of primary schools. As a consequence, many of the more advanced pupils in the schools, who had been taught English, began to entertain serious doubts respecting the possibility of continuing their studies in English in schools of a higher grade, and some of them thought it advisable to resume their studies of Spanish in order that they might be prepared to enter the Spanish schools of secondary instruction."

What was not stated by Supt. Campbell in his said report, probably out of modesty, was the fact that "the Province of Tarlac was the first to erect of its own effort a building for a provincial high school," as General Superintendent David Barrows was to recapitulate a milestone of 1902 in 1904. "The present structure faces the plaza, and, while the area of land at present owned is small, a larger amount can be obtained adjoining the present site," as the recapitulation added, " (t)he building is of wood and of American type." One author, Rev. Vincent R. Catapang, was to write in 1925 "the first secondary school was that of Pangasinan."  Certainly, what he failed to realize was that by September 1 of 1902, Tarlac was then part of the Division of Pangasinan. Thus, in earmarking this distinct honor for the province of Tarlac, the contribution of Supt. Sidney C. Newsom should not be undermined. As the superintendent of the Division of Lingayen, Pangasinan (to which Tarlac then was a part), the Bureau of Education was by then acknowledging his primordial role in the beginnings of secondary education. At the ending month of the school year, on March 23-27, 1903, Mr. Newsom was to deliver a paper to the collegial body of superintendents on the prospects of "The Provincial Secondary School – Organization, Aims, Course of Study, etc." With the Tarlac High School certainly in mind, since it was then under his domain, he was to point out that "the provincial high school has been, I think, largely an experiment during the session just closed." From that seven months initial session, he was to elaborate on the expectances of this new phase of public education.

Such references on the beginnings of public secondary education in the province compel the veracity of the THS marker concerning the Tarlac High School. As local historiography had it, there was indeed a provincial plaza, the Plaza del Toro, which used to be situated in the main campus of the present Tarlac State University. The site of the first high school as referred to by Dr. Barrows was on the eastern portion of the plaza, now the Smith Hall or the College of Arts and Sciences building of TSU. But the marker had its flaw. The first high school principal of Tarlac, and the whole Philippines for that matter, was also actually Mr. Frank R. White. Mr. Edmund J. Gibbons, the acknowledged first principal by the marker, was by that time (September 1, 1902) assigned in San Fernando, La Union. He came to Tarlac much later. 100 

Drawing from a historical sketch provided in the first souvenir program of a graduating class of the high school (Souvenir of Class 1918, Tarlac High School), a local researcher, Nemesio C. Cardinoza wrote for a Tarlac newspaper that "(i)n October 1900 (it should be 1901), Mr. Frank R. White was named deputy division for Tarlac Province and during his incumbency, the Tarlac Provincial High School was opened on September 1, 1902, with Mr. White as the first principal." It had an original enrolment of "35 students which was increased to 93 before the end of that year." Cardinoza was to add that "(Mr. White) served only for two months after which he was appointed division superintendent for Tarlac Province."

One of the first students of Tarlac High School was Hon. Jorge C. Bocobo, whose initial experience was the attendance of a normal institute held in the summer of 1902. His daughter-biographer was to cite that "the second phase of Father’s studies in the provincial capital was attending the provincial high school. His teachers were Americans and one in particular, Dr. Frank R. White, took special interest in my father because he was always at the top or very near the top of his class and because of this, Dr. White saw great promise in him. He predicted that my father would someday be an "eminent man of his country" so he should be sent to school in Manila." 
Mr. S.C.A. Campbell was to replace Mr. White as the principal of the high school. Under him were "three assistants, Miss Ansbro , Mrs. Martin, and Mr. Tejada. The 2 American teachers of the municipal school each took two classes every afternoon."

In 1903, Supt. Campbell was to report also that "(a)lmost coincident with the establishment of the provincial high school the provincial board took steps toward erecting a building for this institution." A THS Historical Sketch was to add that " after organizing an embryonic High School, Mr. White’s and Mr. Campbell’s initiative and resourcefulness were ill-content until a permanent building was secured and to them is due the credit of having Tarlac erect the first high School building in the Philippine Islands after the American Occupation."  
In consonance with that of Governor Ramos, Campbell mentioned that an "appropriation of $5,000 gold has been made for this purpose, but it is expected that the building for this institution will exceed that amount, as it is purposed to fit out a woodworking department."

The Souvenir of Class 1918, Tarlac High School provided a vivid description of the first permanent building of the Tarlac High School:

The building was principally of Oregon pine, and was 76 feet long and 42 feet wide. The upper storey contained two classrooms and an assembly; the lower, four classrooms and the Principal’s Office. Exclusive of the equipment, all of which was imported from the United States, the total cost of the Tarlac Provincial High School was P 48,000. Mr. White commenced the building, Governor Ramos directed its construction, Superintendent O.S. Reimold saw it completed, and Honorable James Francis Smith, Secretary of Public Instruction, opened it in January, 1904. Mr. George M. Egan was principal. A large flag of the United States, the gift of the Martha Washington Society of New York, was unfurled at the time in honor of the first Public High School in the Philippine Islands. 

In 1905, a monument in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal was erected, and this was made possible through the initiative of Don Marciano Barrera of Concepcion, then the provincial secretary. There were those who were to cite that this was the first statue ever built for the national hero in the whole of the Philippines. 

In 1906, a school of carpentry (Boys’ Trade) was added to the provincial school.  Its first supervisor was Mr. Byron F. Barton, who used to be the supervising teacher for the town of Concepcion. "Woodworking and Drawing were early introduced into the course and were done in the basement of the old Government building which faced the Provincial High School", cites the THS Historical Sketch of 1918

Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the Government building in 1906 and that "all the equipment used in the Course was lost. Woodworking and Drawing were not properly treated again until three years later when a School was again erected on the site of the Provincial building." 

In 1909, Governor Jose Espinosa started the erection of a 3-room temporary building to house a provincial trade school that catered to the needs for vocational training. The school started with the admission of Grades V and VI under the supervision of Mr. Laurentz Swartz (actually Lawrence H. Schwartz ). In 1918, the said edifice was mentioned that "it was built of reinforced concrete, (illegible) by 32 feet with two wings 30 by 26 feet. It is well preserved and today housing 91 boys of the Trade Course." This was to become the Engineering campus of the Tarlac State University decades later

Among the Americans who served as principals of Tarlac High School (now the Tarlac National High School) from 1902 to 1918 were:

• Frank R. White
• S.A. Campbell
• O.S.Reimold
• George M. Egan
• Frank T. Reising
• Edmund J. Gibbons
• Charles E. Lucas
• Carroll A. Peabody
• George W. Betz
• August L. Prodoehl
• Matthew D. Ashe

There were also some who served in acting capacity; these include George L. Parks, David C. Loveland, Ernest A. Briles, Reece A. Oliver, and Mrs. Agnes M. Derkum. 

It was only in 1918, as the first Souvenir attests, that the first high school in the Philippines was to have its initial batch of full-fledged graduates. — For comments, e-mail me at

(Excerpts from the author’s a forthcoming book MR.WHITE: A Thomasite History of Tarlac Province, 1901-1913)