Biographical / Historical
Theodore de Laguna (1876-1930) was a philosopher, author and professor of philosophy at Bryn Mawr College, serving in that capacity for 23 years. Born July 22, 1876 in Oakland, California to European immigrants Alexander de Laguna and Frederica Bergner, Theodore de Laguna was first educated at home by an older sister, then educated at the public schools of Oakland and the University of California where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 1896. While an undergraduate, de Laguna’s interests were broad and he studied literature and mathematics, wrote for the University publications and for local papers and magazines, and played chess. His interests focused on philosophy and English literature during his graduate work, and he graduated from the University of California with his Master’s degree in 1898. His education continued at Cornell University from 1900 to 1901 as a Fellow in philosophy, earning his doctoral degree in 1901. From 1902 to 1903, de Laguna served as a teacher in the Philippines, where he learned the Visayan dialect of the district. According to an account of the memorial services honoring de Laguna, “these two years’ experience among people of an alien culture, he always regarded as of the utmost value to him,” (The College News). After his return from the Philippines, de Laguna studied again at Cornell University, from 1903 to 1905, as honorary fellow and as assistant in the Sage School of Philosophy. It was here that he met his wife, Grace Mead Andrus (1878-1978), a doctoral student at Cornell University’s Sage School of Philosophy.
In 1905, the de Lagunas moved to the University of Michigan where Theodore de Laguna worked as an assistant professor of education. His tenure there lasted until 1907 when he was asked to become assistant professor of philosophy at Bryn Mawr College. In 1910, he was promoted to full professor. Grace de Laguna immediately began serving the department becoming Associate Professor in 1911. According to Bryn Mawr’s history of the philosophy department, from 1907 to 1947, “the de Lagunas led the Bryn Mawr philosophy department,” (Dostal) and founded the Fullerton Club in 1925, an association of Philadelphia area philosophers based upon a like organization at Columbia which did not admit women. The de Lagunas “were much influenced by recent Anglo-American developments in philosophy, especially by the work of Whitehead, Peirce, and Dewey, [and they] shared philosophical interests and alternately taught course in ethics, metaphysics, and the history of philosophy,” (Dostal). Theodore de Laguna served as chair of the department until his death in 1930, when Grace became chair, serving until 1942 when she retired.
Theodore de Laguna wrote Dogmatism and Evolution, which he co-authored with Grace de Laguna, in 1910; An Introduction to the Science of Ethics, in 1915; and The Factors of Social Evolution, in 1926; as well as many scholarly articles, a few of which were published posthumously. He was a composer of music for both voice and guitar.
De Laguna died on September 22, 1930. Dr. Marion Edwards Parks, President of Bryn Mawr College at the time of de Laguna’s death in 1930, stated at his memorial service, that de Laguna was “a fine and untrammeled human being interested in all human things, a friend of all social and educational reform, [and] a passionate upholder … of the independence of women, whether the women were in his own gifted family, or among the succession of his students or the industrial workers who come to campus each summer,” (The College News).
Theodore and Grace de Laguna were the parents of Frederica de Laguna (1906-2004) who graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1927 and from Columbia University with her doctorate. She was a celebrated anthropologist who, with Margaret Mead, was one of the first women elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Dostal, Robert. History of the Department of Philosophy. Bryn Mawr College. http://www.brynmawr.edu/philosophy/history2.html (accessed October 11, 2010).
Unknown author. Services Held in Memory of Theodore de Leo de Laguna. The College News. November 19, 1930.