Thursday, July 3, 2014

Was the Baby’s First Word “Zamenhof”?

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in Esperanto?
People who don’t speak Esperanto are often amazed to find that there are birth speakers of Esperanto. The phrase for this in Esperanto is denaskaj esperantistoj, “esperantists by birth.” What typically happens is that a couple meets through the Esperanto movement, often with separate native tongues, and they use Esperanto as a household language, bringing up their children in this language as well.

On July 3, 1912, the Beckenridge News of Cloverport, Kentucky, published a short article on one such child. They didn’t name the child, so I set off to see if I could find any record of this, in order to flesh out the short item. Despite the tempting biographical details “one of the leaders in America of the so called universal language” and “is fifty-eight years old,” I hit a stone wall doing my research. This was a shame, because this child may have been the earliest denaska esperantisto born in the United States. But if he were such a leader, why couldn’t I find him in the Esperanto magazines of the era?

As it turned out, not only was the Beckenridge News reporting old news, they were getting it wrong. The News reported that “a girl baby born to Mrs. John Conrad Buetler of Detroit will be educated to speak only Esperanto.” That’s all well and good, except that family’s name was Beutler: E before U. It’s much easier to find this way. Here’s the News piece, corrected.
Only the “Universal” Language to be Taught to Beutler Child.

A girl baby born to Mrs. John Conrad Beutler of Detroit will be educated to speak only Esperanto. Mre. Beutler is one of the leaders in America of the so called universal language. He and his wife use it exclusively when conversing together.

Mr. Beutler is fifty-eight years old. Mrs. Beutler is much younger and is his second wife.
Alberta Francisca Beutler was born in December, 29 1911, according to a piece that appeared in the Chicago Examiner, which also noted that the father received a telegram of congratulations from President Taft. Beutler
replied that the baby was the first Esperanto girl in the country and would be a suffragette when she became of age. Women got the vote nine years later.
His statements to the the Detroit Free Press were probably premature.
“She hasn’t spoken anything but Esperanto as yet,” said John Conrad Beutler, proprietor of the Randolph Hotel, and proud father of the first child born in Michigan who will be educated entirely in the new universal language. Alberta Francisca, as she was christened by Judge Phelan Freiday afternoon shortly after her arrival, was honored the day of her birth by much festivities which were continued yesterday.
At that point in her life, we can assume she didn’t speak anything. The New York World didn’t look at this in a positive light:
Only Esperanto is to be taught to a girl baby born to Detroit parents. Is there no society for the preservation of the right of childhood in Detroit? 
But Amerika Esperantisto added
The editors of Amerika Esperantisto can add to the above little fact that the proud parents of the little lady are receiving innumerable letters of congratulations from esperantists in all parts of the world.
Generally, Mr. Beutler seems to be reasonably obscure person; the owner of a hotel in Detroit, yet he got a congratulatory telegram from the President. I have not worked out his role in the early Esperanto movement.

Update: John Conrad Beutler died not many years later, as the 1930 Census lists his wife, Frances, as a widow. He was about fifty-four at the time of his second marriage; his wife was twenty-six. Despite his plans to raise the child as an Esperanto speaker, there is no evidence that she continued with the language after the death of her father.
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