Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The US Esperanto Group Before the Group Before the Current Group

Dear Sir:
I’ve seen it said that there needs to be a history of the Esperanto Association of North America, because some of that history has been lost due to the lack of continuity between EANA and the current organization, Esperanto-USA.[1] But even if there had been that continuity, it’s not that EANA suddenly formed out of nowhere. If we had a full archive of EANA, there would still be things to find. There’s a bit of history of the Esperanto movement in the United States before EANA was formed in 1908.

EANA was organized at the 1908 National Esperanto Congress in Chautauqua, New York. The new national organization was preceded by the planning of the congress, and more. By 1908, the United States was home to two Esperanto magazines, the Esperanto Journal and the Amerika Esperantisto (the two later merged under the name of Amerika Esperantisto).[2] One of the two magazines was published by Arthur Baker, who had written a book on Esperanto, and cross-promoted the two with a special deal for a copy of The American Esperanto Book and a year subscription for Amerika Esperantisto.


The American Esperanto Journal was published out of Massachusetts, by a core of people who the first Esperanto group in the United States, and who then launched a national group.[3] It’s not clear to me (yet) why the assembled Esperantists in Chautauqua in 1908 felt they needed a new national group. Perhaps the charter of the old one was insufficient. A letter to the New York Sun, published on August 19, 1907, gives a good insider history of one part of that early history of the Esperanto movement in the United States.
The Promotors of Esperanto and Their Success.
To the Editor of The SunSir: A recent article in The Sun named me as one of the editors of the Esperanto Journal. That is an honor which I am not entitled to. My only privilege (in 1906 and 1907) in the American Esperanto field of workers has been to lift from the overburdened shoulders of our self-sacrificing secretary a part of the load he had to carry.

Edward K. Harvey, until lately and for several years principal of the boys’ section of the school in the Perkins Institution for the Blind, is the news editor of our journal, and John Fogg Twombly is editor-in-chief. The publication office of the Esperanto Journal is at 34 Green street, Brookline, Mass.

The American Esperanto Association was founded on March 16, 1905. In that year Dr. William Gray Nowell was its president, Frank O. Baker its treasurer. In 1906 Richard H. Geoghegan, then of Seattle, was president, and in 1907 Professor G. B. Viles of Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. During those two years Stepehn W. Travis, Jr., now of Tenafly, N.J., served as treasurer, and John Fogg Twombly of Brookline, Mass has been secretary from the start, and we hope will always be willing to undertake the responsible and laborious duties of that office.

Of the rapid and wide spread of Esperanto in the United States the following item will give your readers a vivid and accurate impression. Before leaving Boston for my White Mountain log cabin I destroyed 16,200 Esperanto letters important enough to be labelled and filed.[4] Half as many had been put into the waste basket on receipt. The 24,000 had come to me within sixteen months.

The membership of the American Esperanto Association and the circulation of our Journal are rapidly increasing, and the latter is extending all over the world.
William Gray Nowell
The article that Mr. Nowell was referring to was the August 4 article, “Pioneers of Esperanto.” As I wrote in an earlier post, its two columns made it prohibitively long to quote or even discuss at full. However, here I will quote the article where it refers to activity in the United States:
“Where do we stand?” Answer: Not in the front ranks of Esperanto. We inhabitants of Usono—the new Esperanto world for the citizens of the United States of North America,[5] the adjective is usona—have not distinguished ourselves yet.

In Seattle, Wash., lives the first man who translated Dr. Zamenhof’s grammar into the Enlgish language, and he added some admirable explanatory comment, to wit. R. H. Geoghegan, but he is an Englishman by birth. No real American has yet published between covers the translation of any national classic into Esperanto, yet here is a line of books from Emerson’s Essays to Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer,” patiently waiting to join Shakespeare, Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens, Molière, Cervantes and the Grimm bothers on the Esperanto shelves. Many Americans, especially New Yorkers, seem to regard Esperanto only as an ideal movement and are apparently waiting for its practicability to be more obvious.

However, we have two Esperanto papers, the American Esperanto Journal in Boston, L’Amerika Esperantisto in Oklahoma City. The former is edited by J. F. Twombly, who has done a great deal to spread the language here, and by Dr. William Gray Nowell, the assistant secretary of the American Esperanto Association. F. O. Baker[6] edits the Oklahoma Esperanto organ.

There are thirty affiliated organizations in this country, with a membership of perhaps 1,500 in the aggregate. The liveliest is the one in Philadelphia, whose president, Prof. A. M. Grillon, has founded a dinner club of twenty members who speak nothing but Esperanto from soup to cigars. He represents us at Cambridge in August, as he did at Geneva last year.

Dr. Max Talmey, an occultist and language expert, is the president of the New York society, and author of “Practical and Theoretical Esperanto.” Some ardent Yankee Esperantists are Dr. D. O. S. Lowell of Boston, Mass.; Prof. Viles of the Ohio State University and Stephen W. Travis of Tenafly, N. J.
The Esperanto-language Wikipedia reproduces the text of the 1934 Encikopedio de Esperanto. The history given there is actually slightly at odds with that given by William Gray Nowell, who, given as he states he was the first president of the American Esperanto Association, at the time when the group was still a going concern, might actually be more credible. Vikipedio says the following:
La 16-an de februaro 1905 kelkaj interesatoj en Bostono fondis la unuan grupon en Usono, kies prezidanto estis John Fogg Twombly, sekretario Edward K. Harvey. La 23-an de marto 1905 la Bostonaj esperantistoj fondis nacian asocion, Amerika Esperantista Asocio, kies prezidanto fariĝis Charles A. Matchett, sekretarioj Harvey kaj Twombly.
And in English[7]
On February 16, 1905, a few interested people in Boston founded the first group in the United States, whose president was John Fogg Twombly, secretary Edward K. Harvey. On March 23, 1905 the Boston Esperantists founded a national association, the American Esperanto Association, which made Charles A Matchett president, secretaries Harvey and Twombly.
Well, it was either Matchett or Nowell. Unfortunately, I have not been able to turn up an online copy of the American Esperanto Journal. If twenty-five years ago, when I lived in the Boston area (and was a member of Esperanto Society of New England[8]), I had realized how close I was to the early history of the Esperanto movement in the United States, I would have been checking Boston Public Library for issues of the American Esperanto Journal, although a search of their catalog didn’t turn up anything.

Four things (okay, not just these) happened as a result of the 1908 Chautauqua meeting:
  • Formation of the Esperanto Association of North America
  • Dissolution of the American Esperanto Association
  • Local clubs became chapters of the national organization
  • Merger of the American Esperanto Journal and Amerika Esperantisto.
Perhaps Arthur Baker would only promise to cease competing on a national level if the Boston group changed its identity. Further, Nowell expressed his hope that John Twombly would “always be willing to undertake the responsible and laborious duties” of secretary of the organization. But, when EANA formed in 1908, Edwin C. Reed became secretary of the organization, the headquarters of which were moved to Chicago. Ironically, in the 1920s, EANA was headquartered in the Boston area once more.

A late reference to John F. Twombly in Amerika Esperantisto identifies him as a bit of a reformist, suggesting some pretty wholesale revisions to the vocabulary of Esperanto. I have yet to do the research to find if Mr. Twombly continued being active in the Esperanto movement.

  1. Esperanto-USA’s former (and I think still legal) name was the Esperanto League for North America. The change to Esperanto-USA was taken in part to reflect that it is the United States organization and that Canada and Mexico have their own Esperanto organizations.

    ELNA was founded because the head of EANA in the 1950s, George Allen Connor, was a fervent anti-communist, who wanted the UEA to purge itself of all communists and communist groups. This would have been in violation of the UEA charter (politically neutral itself) and destroyed the Esperanto movement (the large Esperanto dictionary, Plena Ilustrita Vortaro is published by SAT, the Sennacia Asocio Tutmonda, “the World-Wide Anational Association”).[9]

    EANA was instead pushed out of the UEA and a new group was formed to represent Esperanto speakers in the United States.  ↩

  2. And Esperanto-USA’s magazine is called Usona Esperantisto.  ↩

  3. This has especial import for me, since I was one of the founders of the first group for LGBT science fiction fans, and later helped found a national umbrella group. These groups are now more than 25 years old, and still in existence.  ↩

  4. That sound you’re hearing is archivists sobbing.  ↩

  5. Specifically, Usona is the country, an inhabitant in a usonano. The Sun is right about usona being the adjective form.  ↩

  6. Arthur Baker, actually.  ↩

  7. To my readers who do not speak Esperanto: Lernu ĝin! It’s not like it’s difficult.  ↩

  8. The 1905 group was the “New England Esperanto Society.” I do not know if there was any continuity between the two groups. As I noted in the text, NEES became the New England chapter of EANA. My guess is that ESNE was a new group, formed to join ELNA.  ↩

  9. No national boundaries in the workers' paradise.  ↩


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