Biographical Note : Jerome and Denison Thomas
Scope and Content
Title: Thomas Family Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1895-1968
Collection number: Special Collections M0260
4 linear ft.
Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain
permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.
Gift of Mary Denison Wilt Thomas, 1973, 1981 and 1983, and James D. Adams, 1981 and 1983.
[Identification of item] Thomas Family Papers, M0260, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford,
Biographical Note : Jerome and Denison Thomas
Jerome Beers Thomas, Jr., who came from a prominent family in Brooklyn, New York, was the son of a physician who had served
in the Civil War. The date of birth of Jerome Thomas, Jr., is unknown, but it is known that he followed his father into medicine.
Where young Thomas attended medical school is also unknown, but his specialty was eye, ear, nose, and throat.
Mary Dension Wilt and Dr. Jerome Beers Thomas, Jr., had been married four years when he was sent in 1900 to the Philippine
Islands as a contract surgeon for the U.S. Army. According to Denison, as she was called, Jerome had offered his services
to the Navy when the war with Spain was declared in the spring of 1898, but the boats made him too sick and he transferred
his services to the Army. Although the Spanish-American War ended in December 1898, The United States still maintained an
Army presence after the war in the Islands with the dual mission of putting down insurrection, which had reasserted itself
after the peace treaty was signed, and of seeing that the U.S. Commission established under the treaty could go about its
work in relative safety while preparing the Philippines for democratic self-government after its 300 years as a Spanish colony.
Denison Wilt was born in Dayton, Ohio, and was graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. By her own account, she
was an avid student and a keen member of the women's rowing crew. She also developed a precise talent for sketching and watercolor
painting. She cheerfully said goodbye to her husband when she learned of his new posting to the Philippines, knowing that
she could soon join him, now that formal hostilities had ended.
Jerome left from New York for the Philippines, traveling east by Army transport to Gibralter, Port Said, Suez, Ceylon, and
Singapore to Manila. Denison sailed from San Francisco a few weeks later, also by Army transport ship, sailing by way of Hawaii
and Japan to Manila. Their first home in the Philippines was at Angeles, not far from Manila. From there, Jerome was sent
to Apalit, where he became so popular among the villagers that the Filipinos name a street after him. While Jerome was occupied
treating civilians and soldiers, the latter mainly for dengue fever and dysentery contracted in their campaigns to root out
insurrection, Denison maintained her house, studied Spanish, grew to know the people, and explored the countryside, her camera
and pencil always at the ready. She made friends wherever she went and was rarely without company. A frequent companion was
Miss Mercy Brett, Jerome's cousin, who had come out to the Islands with Denison on leave from her job in Ohio at a Soldier's
From Apalit, Jerome was sent to Taglibaran (Bohol Province), where he served not only in the field hospital but joined the
troops occasionally on their sorties into the hills after guerillas. He was given a commission in the U. S. Army as a Captain,
and in March 1902 was rushed to Manila to help combat an epidemic of cholora. Later that year, the Thomases were among those
sent to Baguio (Benguet Province), when the mountain village was transformed, with Army help, into the Philippine summer capital,
owing to its cooler altitidues, away from Manila's stifling summer heat. Here, Jerome oversaw the building of a large, modern
hospital and was named to be its director at its completion. Baguio remained the Thomas's home until they returned to the
United States in 1905.
Denison and Jerome Thomas enjoyed the friendship of a number of highly placed U.S. officials in the Philippines, including
High Commissioner, and later Governor General, William Howard Taft, formerly a judge in Cincinnati, Ohion, and his successor,
Luke C. Wright. Commissioners Henry Clay Ide, Bernard Moses, and in particular, Dean C. Worcester and his family, were also
their friends. These connections brought the young couple into the white-linen-suit circles typical of the upper ends of society
in several tropical countries of the period that were under foreign protectorates. As a consequence, the Thomas letters contain
many references to dinner parties, balls, picnics, and horseback trips into the bush. But along with these diversions of their
circle of friends, the Thomases were genuinely interested in U.S. and Philippine relations and in their surroundings and friends
among the Filipinos and native peoples of the Islands. They spent many hours recording their experiences in writing, sketching,
and photographing what they saw and heard.
Details of the Thomas's life on their return to the United States are few. It appears that Jerome resumed his practice in
the New York, from late 1905 to 1910, when he became ill, and was advised by his physicians to seek a warmer climate. The
couple chose California, living in Santa Cruz for a time, and then settling in Palo Alto in 1913. Jerome became a well-respected
physician in his specialty, practicing until 1917. Dension took an active role in civic affairs, becoming one of two women
to first be elected to the Palo Alto City Council in 1919-1923. During her tenure she was instrumental in the City's acquistion
of some 930 acres of bayside marshland, and after her City Council days, she served on Palo Alto's Planning Commission. She
was a member of the Sierra Club, and, although the couple had no children, she was very active in the Parent-Teacher Association.
Both Denison and Jerome served on the Palo Alto Board of Public Safety. In World War I, they were active in Belgian War Relief,
and on the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies in World War II.
The couple lived at 1432 Webster Street in Palo Alto. Jerome died in 1948, and Denison, a charter member of the retirement
community of Channing House, died on July 1, 1983, at the age of 108.
Scope and Content
The Thomas Family Papers collection consists of seven boxes (4 linear feet) of letters, notebooks, diaries, photograph albums
and photos, ephemera, and newspapers and new clips pertaining to the lives of Jerome Beers Thomas, Jr., and his wife, Mary
Denison (Wilt) Thomas. Boxes 1 through 5 are legal sized, Box 6 is regular sized, and Box 7 (newspapers) is a print box. Some
photographs have nitrate negatives, and these have been removed to the nitrate negative file (File 192).
Most of the collection is devoted to the Thomas's stay in the Philippine Islands, 1900-1905, during Jerome Thomas's service
as a U. S. Army surgeon, immediately after the Spanish-American War. The collection presents a clear and astute view of U.S.-Philippine
relations during that period, as well as an informative and pictorial view of village life and the countryside in the hinterland
of the Islands. It also reveals aspects of military operations in the Philippines during this period, which are not often
the topics of studies or books.
A small portion of the collection is devoted to letters from a French family befriended by the Thomases in the years following
World War I. Some memorabilia also remain on Camp Fremont (U.S. Army) in Palo Alto-Menlo Park, California, during World War
I. In addition, a few letters from notables are in the collection (i. e., Jane Addams).