An American Woman’s View of Pinoys in the Early 1900’s

In Mary H. Fee’s book A Woman’s Impressions of the Philippines published in 1910, there’s a chapter titled “An Analysis of Filipino Character.” When I read it, it felt like she was describing Filipinos in the 2010’s – a full century ahead of her experiences. Ms. Fee was not at all anti-Filipino, but her depiction of Pinoy pride and the Filipinos’ stubborn simple-mindedness was right on the money.

This is one of the reasons I do not view the current situation in the Philippines as a political issue but rather a Filipino issue. If more than 40 years of good governance led by Americans had done nothing to change the nature of the Filipino (and consequently, his predicament), what will?

Note: Ms. Fee was an American who spent years teaching in the Philippines beginning in the early 1900’s. Her book is now in the public domain.

Here’s a sample from the aforementioned chapter:

Some four years ago, I was teaching a class in the Manila School of Arts and Trades, and was giving some directions about the word form of English sentences. I advised the class to stick to simple direct sentences, since they would never have any use for a literary style in English. Some six or eight young men instantly dissented from this proposition, and insisted that they were capable of acquiring the best literary style. Not one of them could have written a page of clear, grammatical, idiomatic English. I tried to make it clear to them that literary English and colloquial English are two different things, and that what they needed was plain, precise English as a medium of exchange in business, and I said, incidentally, that such was the English possessed by the major portion of the English-speaking race. I said that although the American nation numbered eighty millions, most of whom were educated and able to make an intelligent use of their language in conversation or in writing, the percentage of great writers and speakers always had been small and always would be so.
When I had finished, the son of a local editor, arose and replied as follows: “Yes, madame, what you say of Americans is true. But we are different. We are a literary people. We are only eight millions, but we have hundreds and thousands of orators. We have the literary sense for all languages.””

Sounds familiar?

Link to the chapter:

PDF version from

Other quotes from the chapter:

“…Filipino children reverse this attitude. They are quite docile, seldom think of disputing authority as applied to discipline, but they will naively cling to a position and dispute both fact and philosophy in the face of quoted authority, or explanation, or even of sarcasm.”

“They will faithfully memorize pages and pages of matter which they do not understand, a task at which our nervous American children would completely fail. They are exceedingly sensitive to criticism, and respond quickly to praise.”

“Middle-class Filipinos have a very inadequate conception of the tremendous wealth of artistic, literary, and musical talent interwoven with the world’s development, and are especially inclined to pride themselves upon their racial excellence in these lines, where, in truth, they have achieved almost no development whatever in spite of the possession of undoubted talent.”

“If you talk to a Filipino carpenter about the carefully constructed houses of America, he does not sigh. He merely says, “That is very good for America, but here different custom.”

“It would be far easier to distract the attention of the children of the State of Ohio from their distinguished fellow-citizens, William H. Taft and John D. Rockefeller, to fix it upon the late Lord Cromer or that Earl of Halifax known as the “Trimmer,” than it is to tell a Filipino child that the way to distinction lies through toil and sweat.”

“The weakest point in a Filipino child’s character is his quick jealousy and his pride. His jealousy is of the sort constitutionally inimical to solidarity.”


Published in Education


  1. Profile gravatar of leavinglaspinas

    Thanks for posting this — I will be intrigued to read the whole thing!

    On the topic, it didn’t take long for me to realise that in this country, where English is supposedly widely spoken, it is rarely properly understood. My first month here, we drove into the parking lot of the Fort Strip, which at the time only housed about 8 establishments. I asked the parking attendant if he knew where (name of restaurant) was and with a big smile he said “Yes ma’am sir” and waved us through.

    1. Profile gravatar of Mike

      Well, you did ask him if he knew where it was and he said yes. You did not ask him how to get to it though. LOL. Notice how they take almost everything literal? Now walk over to the fridge, get a cold one and enjoy while you wonder about the stupidity here. That’s what I’m doing now. As matter of fact just got back from store front sari sari getting bee and what happens? I walk up and the woman that owns the store motions for the other pinays to come out and look. This time that did happen with a twist, they started asking son in the dialect what our address was.

  2. Profile gravatar of BarcelonaYuanKi

    Wow..I read a portion of it from the link..I wanted to read the whole thing but i find it very verbose which i understand because it’s a book in high literary form.and we know books are written in a way ideas are expressed using far more words than ought needed.haha..That aside, her depictions of pinoy character is really very accurate and uptodate (guess a century isn’t enough for pinoys to change for the better is it)..As a Filipino myself whose pinoy character is no different from madame Mary H. Fee depiction of such , i just wanna ask..Are there any positive attitude that Filipinos have in you Westerners’ point of view?

    Just to add as a sidenote before i forget..If i were one of the student of madame Mary H. Fee on her classroom whilst she teaches English i’d also be as candid as the son of that local editor and would remark with passion that i too’d want be taught a literary style of English, not only the colloquial one..hehe..I’ve always been rather fond of eloquent speaking where complicated ideas are presented in long strings of words that are clear and not vocabularically showy (haha!)..

      1. Profile gravatar of BarcelonaYuanKi

        Nice movie..But my genre is Fantasy Scifi..Like this one.. Their dialogues, tone of their voice, their accent..All seem music to my ear.I also go around Youtube to look for the most intelligent/creative and nicely stringed comments that are cohesively very clear and understandable yet conveying complicated ideas..then i print them out and enjoy reading them evry night!hehe.My drawers are full of them now..Just random papers containing youtube comments,blogs,etc..from random people and topics..

    1. Profile gravatar of DingDong

      English also entails an aspect called ‘Comprehension!’ Like most things, Flips just ‘Go through the Motions!’ – Subtlety, Irony, and Sarcasm are totally wasted!

      1. Profile gravatar of 30-30

        To Ding Dong.
        You mentioned rust colored roofs. Yes, but they decorate the roof with old tires. This enables dengue to spread faster. Also when the roof catches fire, the tires burn black smoke and the fire is bigger. Of course with this paper thin steel sheeting here, corrosion sets in faster.
        Container Al

        1. Profile gravatar of DingDong

          There is more Steel than Rubber in a regular car tyre! By putting them on the roof, an Electrolytic Reaction begins between the Steel in the Tyre, and the Steel in the Roof. Before long you will get a 155:13 Hole in the Roof!

      1. Profile gravatar of Phil Doh
        Phil Doh

        I saw this debunked on reddit a few weeks ago. Most of these “achievements” were either already in the pipeline or are just in the planning stage. You have to laugh, filipinos more than anybody should know how long it takes to get anything done in their country, that you can’t trust a thing anybody says, but some macho hero just talks about doing something and they call it an achievement.

        “The salary increase of the servicemen bound to happen anytime soon” Of course, they don’t ask where the money is coming from to fund this.

        The next budget broken down:

        “No salary hike for cops, soldiers
        But the additional money for the police and the military do not include funding requirements for Duterte’s promise to double the salaries of soldiers and policemen.

        He told soldiers in Cebu City three weeks ago that they would have doubled their paycheck by December this year.

        But Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the Duterte administration would not be able to increase the salaries of soldiers and policemen this year.

        Diokno said what soldiers and policemen would get is an additional monthly allowance of P5,000 starting next month, he said.”

        And one of the biggest fails in the country, the health service, is getting the biggets cuts:

        “Budget documents the President has submitted to Congress show that he reduced the Department of Health’s (DOH) budget from P125 billion this year to P94 billion next year, or by a whopping P31 billion. Money for maintenance and other operating expenses of the DOH will go down from P75.1 billion to P38.9 billion, while funding for capital expenditures like clinics and hospitals will be reduced from P27.6 billion to P25.2 billion.”

        Meanwhile our child in chief gets more money for entertainment expenses:

        “Duterte is substantially increasing the budget for his own office, from P2.9 billion to P20.030 billion. The increase includes P2.5 billion in intelligence funds and more than P7 billion for representation and entertainment expenses.”

      2. Profile gravatar of Hey Joe
        Hey Joe

        I can only give my personal experience to two things. #1 for the first time (here) I called 911 on some nut-jobs in our back yard at 2AM. 911 was closed. Crooks must break the law burring normal business hrs. FAIL.

        #2 Gov offices better. Well… no change that I can see down at BI. I will admit there is a new visa extension document that just came into effect a month or so ago, that is FAR better, no more photo and less than half the filling out. But still takes just as long and same BS as always. Still a fail.

  3. Profile gravatar of djbuett

    nice post..thanks for contributing….I have had the opportunity to visit the Philippines twice…once in the late 70s and then again last year. I was shocked at the change. I still remember those old timers with tears in their eye grabbing me and saying “I fought along side the Americans…I was in the death march”. It was very impressive. Then I found out later that my sister in laws father gave aid and comfort to the japanese enemy…haha…I think now this anti-American sentiment comes on the wings of that generation (old WWII veterans) dying off in both countries. My dad was in Leyte and he loved the Filipinos….This Duarte clown will feed the fires of discontent and the propensity to blame others for their problems, something I thing Filipinos are unfortunately famous for….and China will keep grinning as they continue to encroach upon the waters surrounding the PI without worry of American intervention…sad very sad