Sentimental Imperialists: Ethel Thomas HEROLD and the Philippines


Ethel Thomas Harold, Philippines, Spanish American War, Empire, World War I, Imperialism, World War II.

The story of Ethel Thomas Harold began in Wisconsin, where she was born into a Republican family. Her brother’s work in the Philippines just after the Spanish American war soon led to her own activity there, beginning in the 1920s.  Her story is one of U.S. imperialism in the 1920s new woman, women’s suffrage, and even being taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Then there followed Cold War conservatism, and how her life panned out reflects on US history and follows from the heights of American expansionism and imperialism to the 1960s. The key contours of that life are traced here.


An Igorot man quietly stepped out from the bushes and said, “Mrs. Herold, don’t go in there, you will be hurt.”  On this cool Friday evening in early February 1927, thirty-year old Ethel Thomas Herold had been out with her husband Elmer for a seven-course meal and a few hands of bridge at the Pines Hotel in Baguio. [Baguio is a city in a mountainous region 246 kilometers north of Manila on the island of Luzon. It is popularly known as the Summer Capital of the Phi lippines due to its cool climate.] The Herolds, along with their friend and colleague Jim Wright, had been celebrating the news of Ethel’s first pregnancy.  When they returned to the Trinidad Farm School, where they all taught, Jim had unlocked the front gate and Elmer drove the Chevrolet onto the school grounds to drop Ethel at their cottage before garaging the car.  This was when the young man, a student at Trinidad, whispered his warning to Ethel.[1]

In the next instant, Ethel noticed a large group of boys streaming out from behind the exchange, heading for the cottage.  Elmer, startled at the sight, leapt out of the car.  He and Ethel reached the front of the exchange at about the same time, shocked to see “our dear Mr. W lying on his back in the dirt with a rope around his neck.”  The Herolds and their household servant managed to disperse the students and rescue Jim, who was visibly shaken.  Ethel locked the noose in a trunk in their cottage but when she went back outside she carried Elmer’s walking stick with her.[2]

The remaining students, now a bit calmer, informed Jim Wright, who served as the school’s superintendent, that they had grievances.  Elmer told them that they should all settle down, get a good night’s sleep, and talk over the complaints in the morning, that attacking a teacher was no way to make a point.  But the students refused to be dismissed and started yelling, “Our fathers were head-hunters.”  While Elmer and Jim each tried to reason with them, Ethel looked closely at every boy there because she knew that she would have to make up a list of the troublemakers’ names.  Suddenly several students knocked Jim down again and Ethel lit into them with Elmer’s walking stick, hitting “as hard as I could and hit[ting] heads, backs, anywhere.”[3]

More of the students dispersed after the second unsuccessful attack on Jim Wright.  Elmer, fearing Ethel might suffer a miscarriage, escorted her into their cottage and put her to bed.  As she gratefully sank into sleep, the Baguio police arrived.  Though the violence had abated, the hostility had not–the next morning about two hundred students informed the teachers that they were on strike.  Elmer then refused to release their weekly rations, telling them simply, “No work, no food.”[4]

The implications of this riot extended outside of the Baguio area because it could be perceived as an assault on American authority in the Philippines.  The Manila newspaper reported on it several times and Governor-General Leonard Wood had been apprised of the situation almost immediately.  In his diary, he referred to it as “an unfortunate riot or strike” that was “a sort of bolshevik movement among the students.”  Jim Wright, he knew, was “one of the most kind and tolerant of our superintendents and has done so much for the boys.”  Wood dispatched the assistant director of education and the director of the civil service to Trinidad to investigate, and by mid-March he was convinced that Jim and Elmer had done nothing to provoke the students.[5]

Yet the Governor-General wanted to personally assess the situation.  He decided to go to Baguio to recuperate from a hernia problem and while there he visited Trinidad.  Wood’s personal call reaffirmed his conviction that this had been a serious incident.  He believed that the rebellious students had intended to do lasting bodily harm to Jim Wright, and that “fortunately,” Ethel and Elmer had been there to save him.  Wood encouraged Jim to “be much more rigid in his discipline with everybody who was guilty of participation in the attack upon him.”  He wanted those students expelled and prohibited from ever returning to the school grounds.  At the end of March, he noted in his diary that all was calm at the farm school.  Ethel Herold concluded that she and Elmer “were mighty sorry our Igorots had done this.  It showed us clearly that they needed more help and guidance.”[6]

“Empire is with us,” Robert Bickers wrote in Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai, “in our waking lives, and in our dreams and nightmares.”  This was certainly true of Ethel Thomas Herold, whose life was shaped by empire, by American colonialism in the Philippines.  “Our Igorots,” “help and guidance.”  Ethel’s phrases express an entire attitude toward America’s overseas empire that Stanley Karnow has described as “sentimental” imperialism.  Her experiences in the Philippines personify the colonial domesticity described by Vicente Rafael and others.  Ethel helped promote U.S. imperialism through education and benevolent work, and she participated in what Catherine Forslund, in her work on Anna Chennault, has described as “informal diplomacy”: “Any exchange between citizens or groups of citizens from two or more nations outside the boundaries of the official governmental institutional apparatus.”  Ethel’s belief in this American venture was grounded in her commitment to Republican Party politics as well as her perceptions of class, gender, and race.[7]

Born in 1896 in rural southwestern Wisconsin, Ethel learned from her parents a dedication to family, community, and the Republican Party.  Her eldest brother Bart departed for the Philippines in 1901, among one of the first groups of American teachers to work there at the end of the Spanish American War.  As a child, Ethel grew up on Bart’s stories of the Philippines.   As she grew into a young woman, formally educated at Lawrence College in Wisconsin and informally schooled by her support of U.S. participation in the Great War, she came to believe in the United States’ mission in the Philippines, as formulated by the Republican Party, to Americanize the Filipinos.  Soon after marrying her college sweetheart, Elmer Herold, in 1920, the couple traveled to the Philippines for a two-year teaching stint.  They stayed for almost forty years.

While Robert Bickers described Richard Tinkler, the Englishman adrift in Shanghai, as a “nobody,” Ethel Herold was somebody, at least in the communities where she lived.  In Potosi, Wisconsin, the Thomas family operated a prosperous farm, lived in the biggest house in town, and could afford to send Ethel, their youngest daughter, to a private liberal arts college.  In Baguio, Ethel and Elmer Herold comprised part of the American educational and business communities, necessary and highly visible components of the American imperialist structure.  During the 1920s and 1930s, Ethel helped “invest colonialism with the sense of the domestic and the sentimental,” first as a schoolteacher, then as an officer in the charitable Monday Afternoon Club, activities that required regular interaction with Filipinos.[8]  Whether in Potosi where she grew up and where she retired, in Appleton where she attended college, or in the Philippines, Ethel Herold never shrank from work or leadership roles.

According to Mari Yoshihara in Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientalism, white women’s involvement in discussions about Asia provided them with “an effective avenue through which to become part of a dominant American ideology and gain authority and agency which were denied to them in other realms of sociopolitical life.  By embracing Asia, women gained material and affective power both in relation to American society and vis-à-vis Asian subjects, which brought new meanings to their identities as white American women.”  Ethel intended her life to have meaning; she intended to make contributions to her communities in Wisconsin and in the Philippines.[9]

This exploration of a single life serves as an effective method of investigating the history of U.S. imperialism.  Robert Bickers used the same approach for studying an aspect of twentieth-century British colonialism.  He described his work about the life of Shanghai policeman Richard Maurice Tinkler as “a biography of a nobody which offers a window into an otherwise closed world.”  During the twenty years Tinkler spent in Shanghai between the world wars, he worked first as a policeman, then at other even less prestigious jobs, existing on the margins of Britain’s empire, but with more freedom and choices than he would have had in England.  Ethel Herold lived at the center of America’s empire, which also accorded her more freedom and choices than she otherwise might have had stateside.  Plus her experiences show how and why women participated in U.S. imperialism.  If Shanghai was a “closed world” to the British in the first part of the twentieth century, so were the Philippine Islands to Americans.  Ethel’s biography opens a gateway into that world.[10]

Scholars have written about U.S.-Philippines relations, but those books tend to focus on the war years (Spanish-American or World War II) and/or highlight the activities of the military and political elite.  These include works by Kristin Hoganson, James Bradford, Brian McAllister Linn, and H.W. Brands.  Missing from these studies is an examination of women’s involvement, especially during the interwar years of maintaining the empire.[11]

Recently some scholars have broadened the meaning of foreign relations, moving it out of the male-dominated spheres of formal diplomacy to show how women, through their lives and work abroad, helped to shape public perceptions of foreign countries.  In addition to Catherine Forslund’s book on journalist Anna Chennault, there is Kelly Ann Long’s about Helen Foster Snow, another American writer who focused on China.  Karen Garner and Marjorie King have published biographies of American social workers in China, Maud Russell and Ida Pruitt, respectively.[12]  Although Ethel published little about her life in the Philippines, she was an enthusiastic public speaker, especially in the post-World War II years.

My biography of Ethel Herold (Citizen of Empire: Ethel Thomas Herold, an American in the Philippines, 2011) also draws its inspiration from two historical studies of the lives of “ordinary” women.   A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s study of the rhythm of life of an average American woman in the early national period.  Ulrich’s reconstruction of Ballard’s life in Maine demonstrates how Ballard’s importance stems from her very ordinariness: her life represented the lives of thousands of women of her time who adjusted to life in the new United States.  Richard and Joy Day Buel’s The Way of Duty: A Woman and her Family in Revolutionary America tells the story of Mary Fish Silliman, an upper-middle class Puritan woman who drew strength from her religious teachings to endure the trials of the American Revolution.  Silliman’s story is crucial to the understanding of women’s lives from the late colonial to early national period, especially the war years.[13]

Women’s historians have lately turned their attention to women and the Republican Party.  Melanie Gustafson examines Women and the Republican Party, 1854-1924, and Catherine E. Rymph picks up where Gustafson leaves off with Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right.  Both are scholarly treatments that highlight the activities of many women.  Janann Sherman’s biography, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Margaret Chase Smith, written with an eye to attracting a crossover audience, focuses on a well-known political figure.  These books focus on women and the Republican Party, whereas Sentimental Imperialist underscores Ethel Herold’s party loyalty but examines her political activities within the broader and deeper context of her daily life.[14]

Through its focus on empire and politics, my book shows how war shaped Ethel’s life.  The Spanish-American War, the Great War, World War Two, and the Cold War.  War dominated the twentieth century and dominated Ethel’s life.  The Spanish-American War led to the U.S. acquisition of the Philippines, which ultimately affected her marriage and her career.  As a high school history teacher, she actively participated in home front support of the Great War.  The Second World War had a direct impact on her life: she spent the duration as a prisoner of the Japanese.  The Allied victory and the subsequent Cold War brought about an end to America’s empire, prompting yet again significant changes in Ethel’s life.

With Ethel Herold’s story, I bring empire, politics, and war down to the personal level.  The book, based on Ethel’s unpublished autobiography and World War II diary, family letters, and contemporary newspapers, also focuses on the main historical events of the twentieth century and their importance for American women.

Potosi, Wisconsin at the turn of the 20th century was a charming and progressive town, situated in the southwestern part of the state along the Mississippi River.  Its inhabitants—farmers, miners, and railroad workers—staunchly supported the Republican Party.  The approximately fifteen hundred residents embraced modern changes such as the introduction of rural free mail delivery and electricity, eager to keep pace with the rest of the country.  Ethel Thomas, the youngest of five children, was born in 1896, on the family’s Willow Wood farm just outside of town.  Within a few years, her father, Clem, gave up the uncertainties of farming to become a mail carrier but was also active in local government, belonged to the Modern Woodmen of America, and was a faithful Mason.  Her mother, Elizabeth, was active in the Home Band and the Ladies’ Aid Society.  Ethel learned that she must be useful, always within the boundaries of acceptable behavior for a white, middle class woman.  But she felt the lure of far-away places.

Two key events from her childhood, both involving her eldest brother Bart, helped form her perceptions of her place in the world.  First, in 1901, Bart, a fresh graduate of one of Wisconsin’s normal schools, went to work as a teacher in the Philippines.  The United States took over these islands from the Spanish at the end of the Spanish-American War, determined to bring democracy to the Filipinos, and education was a cornerstone of American policies there.  Bart’s experiences, described in his letters home, left a lasting impression on Ethel and would ultimately inform her future career decisions.

Second, a murder in Potosi during the summer of 1910, when Bart was home on leave from his teaching assignment, shaped Ethel’s notions about the relationship between Anglos and non-Anglos.  The murder involved a dispute between Hispanic workers on the Burlington railroad, and Bart, the only Anglo in town who knew enough Spanish to act as translator, served in that capacity to make sure that the accused had a fair trial.  Bart’s involvement in the case, coupled with his teaching career in the Philippines, impressed upon Ethel the duty of white Americans to take care of others.

The Education of a “New Woman”

Elizabeth Thomas insisted that Ethel work for five years prior to marriage because she wanted her daughter to be self-sufficient and self-confident.  They ultimately agreed on teaching, an acceptable and useful profession for a young single woman.  In 1913 Ethel matriculated at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, a private Methodist liberal arts school with a statewide reputation for its music conservatory.  By entering college to pursue a degree that would qualify her to teach high school, she joined the tens of thousands of “new women” across the United States determined to receive an education and take their place in the working world.

Ethel became a “new woman” of the twentieth century, but she shaped that definition to suit her own vision for her future.  Three  key events were focal points during her college years: meeting Elmer Herold, a young man from Prairie du Chien who planned to become an engineer; organizing the campus Equal Suffrage Club; and participating in home front support for U.S. involvement in World War I.  These years, during which Ethel matured into adulthood, coincided with national political debates over the Jones Bill, designed to provide a blueprint for Philippines independence.

Ethel and Elmer met at the beginning of their freshman year, and if it was not love at first sight, it was something very close.  Both ambitious, hard-working young adults, they decided to direct their energies at finishing college and establishing themselves in careers.  They studied hard, pursued extra-curricular activities (Ethel took singing lessons and was known throughout her life for her fine voice), and still managed to find time for dating.

In 1916, during her junior year, Ethel immersed herself in a highly political extra-curricular project: the creation of the Equal Suffrage Club.  Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, urged young women on college campuses across the country to get involved in the fight for suffrage.  Ethel served as the Club’s secretary-treasurer and helped recruit approximately one hundred members, mostly, but not exclusively, female.   The group at Lawrence was bolstered by the appearance in Appleton of noted British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst.  That year Ethel also attended the Republican National Convention, traveling with a group of students and professors to Chicago, where she took part in a massive suffrage parade.

Ethel’s final semester at Lawrence coincided with U.S. entry into World War I, and Elmer Herold, like many of his male classmates, left the college just weeks before graduation to join the military.  Ethel promised to wait for him.  A heady patriotism dominated the early weeks of the war, and Ethel, always deeply patriotic, struggled to keep her mind on her classes, which no longer seemed quite so important.  Yet she managed to finish up her coursework even as she volunteered for Red Cross work and took park in other supportive home front activities.

The Great War and the Influenza Pandemic

Personal and political issues converged for Ethel during the war years.   The Philippines receded in importance, both for Ethel and for the U.S. government. During the summer of 1917 Ethel lived at home in Potosi, where she continued with Red Cross work—Elizabeth Thomas turned her sewing room into the town’s Red Cross center–and tended a wartime garden.  Ethel moved to nearby Lancaster in the fall where she taught high school history and participated in home front support work.  For her, the war and its political, social, and economic affects on the United States were of the utmost importance.  While she sent letters and homemade fudge to Elmer Herold, Ethel used war news to teach history to her students.  She also worked with the local agency of the Food Administration, traveling through Grant County teaching housewives how to economize, frequently singing patriotic songs to keep everyone’s spirits up.

When the Spanish influenza hit in 1918, the town of Lancaster shut down and Ethel went home to Potosi to wait out the epidemic.  Without teaching to keep her busy, she turned her attention to domestic work, helping her mother produce household goods.  Red Cross work continued as well.  Although Ethel witnessed the illnesses and deaths of her friends and neighbors in Potosi, the flu miraculously did not touch her or her parents.

An interruption in the flow of letters from Elmer, however, caused Ethel to fear the worst.  Though he did catch the flu, which rampaged through military encampments, he survived it, as well as a tour of duty in France.  Elmer returned to Potosi in 1919, and formally proposed to Ethel.

 Sentimental Imperialist

Ethel and Elmer married in 1920.  As was proper for a white middle-class woman, Ethel quit her teaching job.  The Herolds moved to Kewanee, Illinois, where Elmer took a job teaching high school science while he worked on an engineering degree through a correspondence course.  Ethel could not remain idle.  She worked as a substitute teacher and took on volunteer work through one of the local churches.  However, Ethel and Elmer’s youth and idealism, their belief that they could and should make a real difference in the world, prompted them to look for more challenging opportunities.

In 1922, the couple decided to go the Philippines.  Looking for adventure and the opportunity to do something worthwhile, they signed on to teach in Filipino schools.  Ethel had never forgotten her eldest brother Bart’s stories of his work and travels in the Philippines, and even Elmer had become mesmerized by them.  They were convinced that, in the spirit of former President McKinley’s desire for “benevolent assimilation,” industrial and vocational training were the keys to Filipino advancement.

Stationed in one of the northern provinces of Luzon, the Herolds spent their days teaching English to Filipino children, using their free time to get to know their students’ families.  During their first year there, Elizabeth Thomas died, and Ethel always believed that her departure, which her mother opposed, was partially to blame.  Elmer tried to distract his wife from her grief with a long horseback tour through the Mountain Province, including “headhunting” territory.  This episode, which Ethel detailed decades later, instilled in her a deep interest in Filipino culture and it launched some friendships that would become especially valuable during the Japanese occupation.

During their second year of teaching, Ethel and Elmer became increasingly disenchanted with the way the Philippines schools were run—not enough emphasis was put on the basics, they thought.  So after their two-year contract expired, they returned to the United States, taking an extended world tour along the way.

After a year back in the United States, when Elmer again taught high school science and Ethel tried to write a book about their adventures, the Herolds decided that they no longer felt comfortable in the U.S.  Much of this had to do with Ethel’s continued distress over the death of her mother and the conviction that the States did not feel like home any more.  They wanted to go back to the Philippines.  Dr. W.W. Marquardt, who initially recruited them as teachers, asked Elmer to revise a science textbook for use in the Philippines, and he helped facilitate another teaching assignment for Ethel and Elmer.

The Herolds returned to Luzon in 1925 to take positions at the Trinidad Farm School, a perfect match for them given their educational philosophy.  But they taught for only two more years, until a disturbing event prompted them to re-evaluate their careers.  Shortly after Ethel became pregnant with their first child, a group of disgruntled students staged an uprising at the Farm School.  The students’ discontent was not aimed at the Herolds (a student warned Ethel of the impending trouble), but they took it personally.  Ethel believed that she had done everything she could to understand their culture and was genuinely shocked to find out that some of the students viewed the American teachers as uninformed interlopers.  The incident forced her to realize that not all Filipinos appreciated the presence of the Americans.  Ethel’s pregnancy provided her with a legitimate and understandable reason for resigning her position.  Elmer did so as well, accepting a job as master mechanic with the American-owned Heald Lumber Company in Baguio.

Ethel and Elmer settled into a lovely company-owned home in Baguio and had two children, Billy in 1927 and Betsy just two years later.  Like many other Americans living in the Philippines, Ethel had at her disposal a small staff of servants to do the cooking and cleaning and to help with childcare when necessary.  She and Elmer joined the Baguio Country Club and led an active social life.  They were able to take two around-the-world tours in the 1930s, stopping at home in Potosi each time.  Their life in the Philippines afforded them luxuries and opportunities that were unimaginable for most white middle-class American families caught in the grip of the Great Depression.

Even though she was out of the paid labor force, Ethel wanted to do something that would make a difference in Baguio.  The defining event of her pre-war years was the 1933 founding of the Monday Afternoon Club, a charitable organization made up of American and European women living in and around Baguio.  Ethel reluctantly attended the first organizational meeting, fearing that it would be run by missionaries, and ended up as one of the Club’s early officers.  Over the next few years she carved out a niche for herself, volunteering in as many capacities as she could.

So the Herolds stayed on in the Philippines—Elmer working seven days a week at the lumber company, Ethel throwing herself into volunteer work, Billy and Betsy receiving a fine education at the private Episcopalian Brent School.  Never isolated in Baguio, Ethel was well aware of world events: Nazi aggression in Europe, Japanese expansion in the Pacific.  But like most other Americans, she did not believe that these troubles would involve the United States.  Even as the Japanese expanded their reach into China and French Indochina, the Herolds remained in the Philippines, a decision that had dire consequences for the family.

Empire in Flames

On Monday morning, December 8, 1941, the Japanese attacked the Philippines.  At the same time, on the other side of the International Dateline, Pearl Harbor was also under attack.  Caught up in international political issues over which she had no control, Ethel moved quickly to guard the safety of her family and community.  The Herolds scrambled to build air raid shelters and to stock up on food and other supplies.  Ethel took Billy and Betsy up the Mountain Trail, away from the city, to stay with friends, then she returned to Baguio to be with Elmer and to lead first aid classes at the country club.  After the situation stabilized, she retrieved Betsy and Billy and the family threw themselves into Christmas preparations.  During these weeks, Baguio braced for war, and Ethel did what she could to help.

On December 22, the Japanese launched a major, successful invasion at Lingayen Gulf; Baguio lay directly on their path to Manila.  Five days later, Japanese troops moved into Baguio, taking over the city without a struggle (American troops had already moved south in an attempt to protect Manila).  Ethel and Elmer were wakened late that night by Japanese officers pounding at their front door, demanding to know how many people lived in the house, how many weapons they had.  In a curious and sometimes terrifying visit, the Japanese removed their boots, as was their custom, before threatening and harassing the Herolds.

The next day, the Japanese ordered all Americans and Europeans to the Brent School for registration, then informed the civilians that they would all be interned for an indefinite period.

Surviving internment required discipline and organization, two things at which Ethel Herold excelled.  This chapter focuses on the political issues of internment and their personal consequences: Ethel’s involvement with the women’s work committee, debates over sleeping arrangements, and the controversy over voting rights in the camp.

The Japanese initially concentrated the Allied nationals at Camp John Hay, a military recreation center located adjacent to the Herold property.  The Japanese instructed the internees to organize themselves and to live together as a community, albeit a captive one.  The men set up a General Committee made up of male internees.  Since the men were forced to live in separate barracks, the Committee initially appointed a Women’s Committee to oversee matters pertaining to women and children.  Positions on the Women’s Committee later became elected.  Ethel agreed to serve as the head of the women’s work committee, a job she took only when one of the ministers reminded her of patriotism and duty.  Her strict demands on the women to contribute to camp work earned her the enmity of many of the internees.  But she firmly believed that if they did not all work together, and work hard, they would not survive the war.  Besides, even her harshest critics readily acknowledged that Ethel did more work in the camp than almost anyone else.

Because of his experience with Japanese workers at the Heald Lumber mills, Elmer was chosen to act as the liaison between the Japanese captors and the civilian internees.  While others squeezed into the available barracks space, separated by gender, the Japanese allowed the Herolds to live together, rationalizing that they could most easily find Elmer if he was with his wife.  Their living arrangements, which continued even after the internees were moved to Camp Holmes, sparked considerable discussion about equality and fairness.  The debate played itself out in the spring of 1943 when the General Committee considered reallocating precious living space to allow families to cohabitate.  This episode revealed power politics within the camp, politics inextricably tied to personal issues.

During 1942 and 1943, a political controversy over suffrage raged through the camp.  Some of the women resented the fact that they had a separate Women’s Committee and were not allowed to vote for members of the General Committee, which was run by the men.  Yet Ethel, one of several women always elected to serve on the Women’s Committee and one of the strongest defenders of American democracy, considered this a trivial issue under the circumstances.

 Work seemed endless in internment.  In addition to her duties for the camp as a whole, Ethel also had personal, family issues to tend to, all of which were more critical because of the situation.  In early 1942, she successfully fended off a request from a Japanese officer for young American women to be sent to the Pines Hotel to serve as “waitresses.”  Ethel understood that the Japanese intended to use the women as prostitutes and she was determined to do anything to prevent that, especially when she realized that her daughter Betsy’s turn might soon come.

In August 1942, the Kempeitai, the Japanese secret police, came into camp and took Elmer away for a day, bringing him back unharmed–fortunately for Elmer because he refused to give them the information they sought.  They returned for him the following year, though, to help them look for Herman Kluge, a former employee of Elmer’s who had joined the guerrillas in the mountains of Luzon.  Ethel did not want their dear friend Herman captured, because she knew what the Japanese would do to him, but she also feared that the Japanese would punish Elmer for not cooperating enough.  The Japanese never took out their frustrations on Elmer, though, and his trips into the mountains usually resulted in him bringing back additional supplies for the internees, food and other items donated by friendly Filipinos.  Herman Kluge, however, was eventually captured and executed by the Japanese.

Ethel and some of the other women also managed to revive the Monday Club, soliciting unwanted items from internees to dole out to the neediest people in camp.  But starvation began to set in during 1944.  The Japanese cut the camp’s food rations and refused to allow outside parcels in.  The biggest blow came in September 1944 when Rokuro Tomibe, the camp commandant who tried to do as much for the internees as possible, was transferred and replaced by a harsher overseer.  Tired of constant hunger, Billy Herold and a friend stole a chicken from the Japanese coop, presenting it to Ethel to cook.  This desperate bid to stave off starvation could have brought down the harshest punishment from the Japanese, and Ethel was furious with her son for putting so many people in jeopardy.  But ever practical—and very hungry–she managed to cook the bird without attracting attention.  The Japanese never found out.

On December 28, 1944, the Japanese closed down Camp Holmes and moved all of the internees to Manila, settling them in the partially bombed-out prison called Old Bilibid.  There, Ethel and her family endured the worst weeks of the war.  As the Japanese braced for the battle of Manila, enraged that General MacArthur had made good on his pledge to return to the Philippines, they made no provisions for their captives beyond some poor quality rice and tea.  Even as American troops fought their way to Manila in a desperate race to liberate the military and civilian prisoners of the Japanese, Ethel watched as the people around her slowly starved.  She and her children were plagued by almost every kind of disease provoked by malnutrition; Elmer’s frequent urination signaled that he would soon succumb to starvation.  This time there was nothing Ethel could do.

American troops reached Bilibid, accidentally but most fortunately, on February 3, 1945, quickly liberating its inhabitants.  Even as the battle of Manila raged around them, the Herolds enjoyed the bounty the Americans brought with them—cartons and cartons of rations, food like Spam that soldiers derided but the liberated internees savored.  In a matter of days, Ethel and Elmer gained ten pounds and were back on the road to recovery; Billy and Betsy enjoyed the same rapid return to health.  Walking through the rubble of Manila, visiting friends who had been interned at Santo Tomas University, socializing with soldiers, Elmer told Ethel about his plans to get the Heald Lumber mills operational.  But first, under orders of the U.S. military, they had to return stateside.  In April 1945, while the world war still raged, the Herolds arrived safely in San Francisco, their first time in the states in seven years.

Ethel, Elmer, and the children visited relatives in Montana and Wisconsin for a few months, marveling at everyday conveniences, reveling in their freedom.  After losing just about everything they had, Elmer worried about how he was going to get back on his feet.  When he received permission to return to the Philippines in the fall of 1945, Ethel accompanied him out west where he boarded a ship in California.  As much as she dreaded the separation, she knew that Elmer had to get back to work, that he had to salvage the Heald Lumber Company.  Ethel turned her attention to her children and her community.  She gave public lectures about their wartime experiences, and at the end of each talk always solicited donations for the Filipinos.  Even if she could not live in the Philippines, she could figure out a way to help along the post-war rebuilding.

As soon as Ethel found out that she could join Elmer, she made arrangements for Bill and Betsy to continue their schooling in the States, and left once again for her expatriate home.  The Japanese had destroyed almost all of Baguio during their retreat in 1945.  The Herold house was rubble; only the chimney was left standing.  When Ethel saw all of the need around her, she began to distribute the goods she had sent from the states, and officially re-launched the Monday Club in November 1946.  Using the Burpee catalog, she also began to literally re-seed the Mountain Province, by providing packets of vegetable seeds to Igorot students, a program that would later be run by the Asia Foundation as Seeds for Democracy.

But the war had permanently altered Baguio.  As much as the Allied victory dealt a deathblow to fascism and militarism, it also brought an end to U.S. imperialism in the Philippines.  In July 1946, the islands finally received independence, and Ethel correctly observed that white people were no longer as welcomed there.  Yet Elmer’s livelihood was in the islands, and so was Ethel’s heart, so they stayed.  She grew increasingly critical of Filipino politics and policies, many of which excluded foreigners, including Americans.  From that point on, Ethel knew that they really were interlopers, that they could not remain indefinitely.

The growing Cold War occupied much of Ethel’s thoughts throughout the 1950s.  When the Korean War broke out in 1950 she feared that the fight against communism would extend to the Philippines and that she might become a prisoner once more.  Yet she again refused to leave Baguio.  Elmer was determined to stay there, and Bill and Betsy, now young adults, did not need her as they did when they were children.  Her place was with her husband.  Sandwiched between Monday Club activities and ever-growing social events, Ethel kept up with the national and international news.  Still a staunch Republican, her political views began to take a turn toward conservatism, which would deepen with each passing year.

Ethel also struggled with her memories of internment.  In 1949 she began to edit her war diary, and the following year the Hollywood movie Three Came Home had a powerful affect on her.  Memories were not the only legacy of internment.  All of the Herolds suffered recurring health problems, and the separation from her children caused some family strain.  Finally, in 1959, Elmer retired from Heald Lumber; Ethel was named Baguio Woman of the Year for her contributions to the city.  The couple was treated to innumerable fetes prior to their departure in July.

Back in the States

Ethel and Elmer established themselves on the Bonn farm in Potosi, property Ethel had inherited from a childhood friend.  They intended to spend summers there but to winter in the warmer climates of California and Arizona.  During the 1960s, Ethel carved out a public life by giving talks and by volunteering to the local Republican Party.  From the 1970s until her death, motivated by grief and a desire to create a family history, she wrote the story of her life and struggled with how public she wanted to make it.

When the Herolds were at home on the farm, Ethel lectured to General Federation of Women’s Clubs chapters about the Monday Club and to local PTAs on teaching in the Philippines, donating her speaker’s fees to the Monday Club.  In 1963, she represented the Monday Club at the GFWC’s international meeting in Milwaukee.  Many of the talks she delivered had political overtones, since they in some way commented on U.S. foreign policy, a topic that continued to interest Americans in the 1960s.

Ethel and Elmer also became involved in the local Republican Party, performing campaign work in 1960 and serving as delegates to the state convention in 1961.  Both ardently supported conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964.  Ethel’s beliefs could be classified as traditionally politically conservative in that she considered a small, unobtrusive national government to be the most proper for and beneficial to the United States.  Yet she was not necessarily socially conservative: on matters of race and gender her opinions reflected a curious inconsistency.  Ethel closely monitored national and international politics during the 1960s and 1970s.  She opposed the war in Vietnam because she believed that it was not in the best interests of the United States to get involved.  She decried the violence that had cropped up around the civil rights movement but not necessarily the goals of the movement itself.

In 1963, Ethel and Elmer embarked on a world tour, which brought them back to Baguio one last time in early 1964.  Ethel enjoyed the visit but felt saddened that it no longer seemed like home.  On June 24, 1970, the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in the old Thomas home in Potosi, and they had only one more anniversary together before Elmer died of heart trouble in August 1971.

Devastated by Elmer’s death, Ethel began writing her “Memory Quiz,” a massive autobiography that she considered part family history, part therapy.  It was her way of keeping Elmer close to her while she documented the major events of her life.  In 1973 she rented out the Bonn farm and moved to a retirement community in Phoenix, Arizona.  Despite failing eyesight and other age-related health problems, Ethel remained as active as possible.  She visited family and friends, gave occasional lectures on her experiences in the Philippines, and reworked her war diary for publication in a small journal that focused on Americans in the Philippines.

In the 1980s, deteriorating health finally forced Ethel to give up the last of her independence and move to Alabama to be looked after by Bill and his family.  She died there on March 30, 1988, at the age of 92.

[1] Ethel Thomas Herold, “Memory Quiz,” p. 248.  A copy of the unpublished autobiography is in the possession of the author.

[2]“Memory Quiz,” p. 248.

[3] “Memory Quiz,” pp. 248-249 and “Trinidad Riot Investigation Helps Wright,” Manila Daily Bulletin, 16 March 1927, p. 1.

[4] “Memory Quiz,” p. 249.

[5]Leonard Wood Diary, March 8 and 15, 1927, Vol. III (January 1, 1927-May 27, 1927), Papers of Leonard Wood, Box 24-25, Library of Congress.

[6]Leonard Wood Diary, March 22-25, 1927, Vol. III (January 1, 1927-May 27, 1927), Papers of Leonard Wood, Box 24-25, Library of Congress; “Memory Quiz,” p. 254.

[7] Robert Bickers, Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai (London: Allen Lane, 2003), 1; Stanley Karnow, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (New York: Random House, 1989), 12-13, Vicente L. Rafael, “Colonial Domesticity: White Women and United States Rule in the Philippines,” American Literature 67 (December 1995): 639-666; Catherine Forslund, Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2002), xiv.

[8] Rafael, 639.

[9] Mari Yoshihara, Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 6.

[10]Bickers, 4-5

[11] Kristin Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippines-American Wars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); James C. Bradford, Crucible of Empire: The Spanish-American War and its Aftermath (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1993); Brian McAllister Linn, Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); H.W. Brands, Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

[12] Forslund, Anna Chennault; Kelly Ann Long, Helen Foster Snow: An American Woman in Revolutionary China (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2006); Karen Garner, Precious Fire: Maud Russell and the Chinese Revolution (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003); Marjorie King,  China’s American Daughter: Ida Pruitt, 1888-1985 (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2005).

[13] Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (New York: Knopf, 1990) and Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel, Jr., The Way of Duty: A Woman and Her Family in Revolutionary America (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).

[14] Melanie Gustafson, Women and the Republican Party, 1854-1924 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001); Catherine E. Rymph, Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right  (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006);  Janann Sherman, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Margaret Chase Smith (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000).

Theresa Kaminski earned her Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She taught American history and American women’s history for over 25 years at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Her study of Ethel Thomas Herold was published in 2011 by the University of Tennessee Press as Citizen of Empire: Ethel Thomas Herold, an American in the Philippines. In 2015, Kaminski published Angels of the Underground: The American Women Who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II with Oxford University Press. In June 2020, Lyons Press will publish Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War: One Woman’s Journey to the Medal of Honor and the Fight for Women’s Rights.