The Philippine Commission Act No. 854 signed in August 1903 authorizes the sending of Filipino students to the United States for four years of study in American colleges and universities. The first batch composed of 104 boys left Manila on October 9, 1903, aboard the Japanese ship Rohilla Maru bound for Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the boys transferred to a larger ship S.S. Korea, arriving in San Francisco on November 9, 1903, as “bedraggled unsophisticated young boys” according to Alexander Sutherland, the Spanish Secretary to Governor William Taft who finalized the Pensionados Program. Together with his wife, they accompanied the first 104 boys in their journey to America.
The Pensionados were the first boys and girls sent to America to study. The first batch of 104 scholars was selected from over 20,000 applicants. The send-off party on October 9, 1903 held at the Port of Manila was graced by Governor-General William Taft with free San Miguel Beer. After three days, they reached Hongkong and transferred to a larger liner. They arrived in San Franciso on November 9, 1903.
They first attended high schools in California living with American families to study English. They were first sent to the Philippine Site at the St. Louis Exposition at St. Louis, Missouri. In the Fall of 1904, they were sent to the respective colleges and universities assigned to the. Included in the list of universities were Indiana, Chicago, Notre Dame, Cornell, Purdue, Wisconsin, Columbia, Pennsylvania, MIT, Yale, and the agricultural college and teachers colleges in America. Half of them studied Education to teach in public schools.
In the next two years, more than 80 students were sent with girls already included. The first phase of the Pensionados stopped in 1914. From 1903 until 1914, more than 200 were sent.
Alexander Sutherland, the Spanish Secretary to Governor-General Taft and his wife Minnie Newberry Sutherland joined the first bath in the Japanese Liner Rohila Maru. Alexander Sutherland was the Superintendent of the Program until the year 1908 when he returned for a teaching assignment at the New Mexico State University at Las Cruces
Jorge Bocobo from Tarlac, who became the President of the University of the Philippines was in the first batch In the following years, the names Jose Abad Santos, Conrado Benitez, Camilo Osias, Tomas Mapua, and Vicente Lim were included.
Dr. Alexander Sutherland, who served as the President of the New Mexico State University, returned to the Philippines in 1950. No other than President Elpidio Aquino, whose elder brother Antonio Quirino belonged to the 1903 batch, graced the occasion to honor him.
After the occasion, Dr. Sutherland prepared his memoir, which is kept at the library of the New Mexico State University. In his memoir, Dr. Sutherland is very proud of the Pensionados as no one of them was accused of any wrongdoing.
Five of the Pensionados served as the Grandmaster ng Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines. Jose Abad Santos who studied at Illinois then finished Law at George Washington University, Conrado Benitez studied at Chicago, Camilo Osias at Columbia, si Francisco Delgado at Indiana University at Bloomington and Yale and Vicente Orosa studied at Illinois.
A number of them joined Freemasonry in different lodges in Manila and the provinces. I found out that Tomas Mapua, General Vicente Lim, Jose Abad Santos, and Conrado Benitez were all raised at Bagumbayan Masonic Lodge No. 4 in Manila. For instance, in my hometown in Munoz, Nueva Ecija, one of the founding members of Memorial Lodge No. 90 was Marceliano Hidalgo. He was also a founding member of Nueva Ecija Lodge No. 73 in the town of Quezon, Nueva Ecija. He was in the 1903 batch and he studied at Wisconsin.
In my further research, I personally talked to Mario Orosa, the youngest son of Vicente Orosa who until now is going research on the Pensionados.
My attention was just directed to the Pensionados just three years ago. I really do not know the story of the Pensionados. As we are planning to prepare the plan for the Philippine Studies Center that is going to serve as the venue for immigrant Filipinos in the US to contribute to the development of the Philippines, I am searching for the best name that would also serve as an inspiration for the organization. I was thinking also that the name should have an attachment to a university that has a historical connection with the Philippines. In my research, Cornell University is an ideal university. Dr. Jacob Schurman was the incumbent President of Cornell University when he was appointed as the Chairman of the First Philippine Commission. By coincidence, my daughter was admitted to Cornell. I did research on the history of the first students of Cornell. I learned that the first students from the Philippines were the Pensionados. In fact, there are household names in the Philippines. Tomas Mapua who studied Architecture at was the founder of what is now the Mapua University. Ambrosio Magsaysay who is the co-founder of Magsaysay Lines, which until now is sending Filipino seafarers studied Civil Engineering. I then decided to name the Philippine Studies Center to honor the Pensionados.