Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Linguistic Romance

Here's the wedding announcement.
The Pensacola Journal ran an item in their social column on October 11, 1908 announcing the engagement of one linguist to another. Mr. H. F. Sexauer[1] was a former resident of Camp Walton, Florida,[2] while his bride-to-be lived in far off California, for which Mr. Sexuer had departed some time previously.

The article mentions that Mr. Sexauer was “an accomplished linguist,” but research indicates that a career that suggests that he was an accomplished bullshitter. I don’t want to be nasty about someone who was an early Esperanto speaker, but the claims made in the article just don’t add up, and I have to suspect that Mr. Sexauer was to blame.

Here’s what the Pensacola Journal printed on October 11, 1908:
Mr. H. F. Sexauer, who resided at Camp Walton last year but who left for California has sent to his friends the announcement of his marriage to Miss Frida Neidamuller of San Francisco. Miss Neidamuller is a very accomplished young lady speaking three languages fluently and is also a noted and expert botanist. As Mr. Sexauer is an accomplished linguist spearing and writing five languages fluently and also having the ability to translate all these languages into Esperanto and being a lover of nature his friends feel assured that he has made no mistake in choosing Miss Neidamuller for a life companion. Mrs. Sexauer will remain in San Francisco where she is a teacher of languages until her present term expires, when she will join Mr. Sexauer in Germany where he has gone to take charge of his father’s business.
During a stay in England, Mr. Sexauer was the secretary of the British Esperanto Association, as he’s listed on the masthead of the British Esperantist in 1905 as the secretary. The article was certainly correct that he was an Esperantist. But was he a linguist? He emigrated to the United States in 1907. As he was born in 1883, he would have been 24 at the time (and so in his early 20s when he was a member of the British Esperanto Association).

Like her husband, Frieda Neidermuller (the Pensacola Journal misspells her maiden name) was a German immigrant. She was born in 1878, so she was about 30 when she married (slightly older than her husband, who was 27). They had four children before her death in 1921. I have not turned up any evidence that Frieda shared her husband’s enthusiasm for Esperanto, since apart from the listing in Amerika Esperantisto of their marriage, I cannot find any connection between her and Esperanto.

The couple seems to have spent only a short time in Germany, as they must have been back in the United States for the 1913 birth of their second child Wolfram. They had returned to Santa Barbara, where Frieda had been teaching. Frieda is listed in the city directories of the time as a teacher.

In 1912, Frida is listed as a student at the University of California, living in Oakland. (She had previously received a degree from the University in 1908.) In 1913, they’re in Santa Barbara, where she’s a teacher and he’s a tree warden, which continues through at least 1915. By 1917, he’s listed as a mushroom grower, which he holds as a profession at least through 1921, the year Frida dies. The censuses list him as a carpenter’s helper (1920), a construction laborer (1930), and finally the manager of a food store (1940). This is the man whom the Pensacola Journal described as “an accomplished linguist speaking and writing five languages fluently.” I suspect Mr. Sexauer’s flair for language was far below that of his wife.

I’d be more inclined to think that Mr. Sexauer was a linguistically accomplished person who simply had trouble finding a job in his chosen field (and so worked in the building and agricultural trades), were it not for the end of the article where it is written that
she will join Mr. Sexauer in Germany where he has gone to take charge of his father’s business.
Such business does not seem to exist. Every indication in the public records show that Hermman Sexauer’s father was Frederick Sexauer, who had lived in the United States since 1892. Frederick Sexauer had a child named Hermann F. who was born in Germany and lived with the family, though he is not listed on the 1910 Census. Hermann Sexauer’s history seems to be that he emigrated with his family to the United States in 1892 (at the age of 9), and at about the age of 20, returned to Germany, moved to England for about a year, and then returned to the United States. Frederick doesn’t seem to have had business interests in Germany, as he was a day laborer (1900), a beer bottler (1910), and unemployed (1920, 1930)[3]

In addition to being an Esperantist, Hermann Sexauer seems to have been a vegetarian. In a letter to the Vegetarian Magazine in 1907, he writes,
A Florida Experiment
To the Editor:—In January last I took charge of this place—“Dreamland”—in order to experience and prove what can be done by a vegetarian in fruit and vegetable raising. It’s an excellent demontration lesson. One neighbor recently remarked: “If that young man keeps in such splendid condition all summer through we’ll all have to adopt vegetarianism.”

I am a member of the German Vegetarian Society and belonged to the London Vegetarian Association. Should you know of any vegetarian in Santa Rosa County, West Florida, kindly let me know.—H. F. Sexauer.
Certainly the places of residence line up: Germany, London, Florida. It’s our man. Now I wonder if Frieda was a vegetarian as well.


  1. My word processing program keeps insisting on replacing “Sexauer” with “Sexier.” I do not know if Mr. Sexauer was sexier, as I have not been able to locate an image of him.  ↩
  2. Wikipedia gives the city’s current name as Fort Walton Beach.  ↩
  3. In 1920, he was 68 years old. The Census lists his occupation as “none,” which I’m assuming was a harsh way of saying “retired.” This is repeated on the 1930 Census.  ↩

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