Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An Early Nebraska Esperantist

Abigal Russell
It’s not clear when Abigail Russell learned Esperanto. On August 6, 1911 the Omaha Daily Bee said that she had learned Esperanto “even before text books and readers in the language arrived in this country,” which if accurate would mean she had she had learned Esperanto within a year of so of its inception, as Henry Phillips, Jr. had translated and adapted Zamenhof’s pamphlet in 1889, under the name An Attempt at an International Language.[1] The implication seems to be that she learned the language not long after it was introduced.

Mrs. Russell is not listed in The North American Review's first list of American esperantists in July 1907 (nor are any other Nebraska esperantists). By May, 1908, she is listed as the head of the First Nebraska Esperanto Club, as noted in Amerika Esperantisto. (She is not the first Nebraskan to be listed in Amerika Esperantisto. That honor goes to John Springer, of Red Cloud, who had himself listed in the “Fako de Korespondado”[2] section in January 1908.) In the July 1908 issue, she actually has a short piece, “La Ĉielo Lin Benu!”[3]
La Ĉielo Lin Benu!
Metodista pastro rakontis al mi antaŭnelonge pri sia lasta nesukceso. Enirinate la oficejon de loka semajna ĵurnalo, li diris as la redaktoro: “Mi estas petanta monhelpon por sinjoro de ĝentileco kaj inteligenteco, kiu bezonegas malmulte de kontanto, sed kiu estas multe tro fiera por sciigi pri siaj suferoj.”

“Ja!” ekkriis la redaktoro, suprenpuŝante sian okulŝirmilon, “Mi estas la sola virĉjo en la vilaĝo, kiu respondas al tiu priskibo. Kio estas la nomo de la sinjoro?”

“Bedaŭrinde,” diris la pastro, “mi ne havas liberecon por sciigi.”

“Do tiu devas esti mi,” diris la redaktoro. “Estas mi—estas mi sendube! La ĉielo vin prosperu, Pastro, en via bona laboro!” —Esperantigis Mrs. E. A. Russell, Ord, Neb
The Omaha Daily Bee didn’t tell us she wrote too. This is what they told us:
Nebraska Woman Who Speaks Ten Languages
Mrs. E. A. Russell of Ord, Neb., was one of the first persons in the United States to become convinced that the nations of the world, each with its separate languages, should have one language in common by which to carry on their international affairs.

And so she began the study of Esperanto, the universal language invented by Prof. Zamenhoff[4] of Warsaw, Poland, twenty-five years ago,[5] even before text books and readers in the language arrived in this country, sending for them to London. When she had mastered Esperanto, Mrs. Russell started a club for the study of the language in Ord, and from that spring up many clubs throughout the state, one of the most enthusiastic of which is the Omaha Esperanto society, of which her daughter, Mrs. W. B. Howard, has been secretary since its beginning three years ago.

Mrs. Russell, who is a New England Yankee, hailing from New Hampshire, has as many languages at the end of her tongue as she has fingers—for she knows ten different languages—her native English, the Latin and French, which she studied in her school days, and German, Welsh, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Esperanto, and another universal language, Adam-man.[6] Mrs. Russell is also an active club woman, being secretary of the Ord Daughters of the American Revolution and ex-president of the Woman’s club.

Mrs. Russell is visiting her daughter, Mrs. Howard, and is looking forward to the picnic which the Esperantos are going to hold in Hanscom park August 18.
Abigail Russell was born May 1, 1839, her father was from Massachusetts and her mother from Connecticut.[7] Her husband, Edwin, was a retired Baptist clergyman, so her joke about a Methodist minister probably had some family connection. In 1900, their son Benjamin (26) was living with them along with his wife Ethel (21) and their daughter Elfreda (5 months). Did avino Abigail teach her granddaughter any Esperanto? After all, she had taught her daughter.

Edwin and Abigail had five children, Alice, Albert, Edith, Gilbert, and Benjamin. Alice, the eldest, was the wife of William B. Howard. She was 50 years old at time of the picnic, with three children (and did any of them speak Esperanto?). Eventually, they moved to Portland, Orgeon, to live with their son, Albert, his wife Katherine, and their two children. Abigail died in 1923.

Updated: I corrected a couple misstatements, having found an earlier listing for her club and finding I misread what month her story appeared in.

  1. Phillip’s book lists fifteen publications in Esperanto, including Lingv-o inter-naci-a. Antaŭ-parol-o kaj plen-a lern-o-libro en la lingv-o angl-a at 20 kopeks.  ↩

  2. Correspondence department.  ↩

  3. “Heaven Bless Him”  ↩

  4. Not a professor. And they spelled his name wrong.  ↩

  5. In 1911, Esperanto had just passed the twenty-fourth anniversary of its publication.  ↩

  6. The Adam-Man Tounge: The Universal Language of the Human Race was published in 1903 by Webster Edgerly, under the pseudonym Edmund Shaftesbury. Another pseudonym was “Everett Ralston”; the Ralston-Purina company got its name from this.

    Arika Okrent has an extract of Adam-Man Tongue on her website. It's messed-up English.  ↩

  7. I’m following the 1900 Census on this on. The 1910 says “Kentucky,” which is less believable.  ↩

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