Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mr. Dibble and Esperanto

"Onklino Lajz" by Virgil C. Dibble
Virgil C. Dibble, jr. was an early Esperantist in South Carolina. While his involvement seems to have peaked in the second decade of the twentieth century (though I could be wrong), it is clear that he remained a user and advocate of Esperanto his entire life. He first promoted Esperanto in South Carolina in 1909, attended the Universala Kongreso in 1910, but by 1911 he had resigned his position in the Esperanto Association for North America.

The reference to him in connection with Esperanto is cryptic. He’s described merely as “Mr. Dibble, the representative of the Esperanto movement” (and in saying that, I’ve given you about a quarter of the item), which lead me to wonder, “so, who is this ‘Mr. Dibble’?”

To start, this is what the Laurens Advertiser of Laurens, South Carolina printed in their October 19, 1910 issue:
Mr. Dibble, the representative of the Esperanto movement, has succeeded interesting a class of pupils in the graded school in the convenient short hand language. Dr. Bean is an enthusiastic esperantist.
The phrase “the representative of the Esperanto movement” was the needed clue to find his name. In 1910, Amerika Esperantisto wrote that
Mr. Virgil C. Dibble, Jr. 76 Wentworth St, Charleston, S.C., the General Councilor of the Southern Division, is anxious to find assistants in all parts of his division to act as State Secretaries and assistants. On the nomination of Mr. Dibble, the following State Secretaries have been appointed:

North Carolina, Dr. A Rudy, Dept. of Modern Languages, Raleigh, N. C.

Mississippi, Prof. Calvin S. Brown, Dept. of Romance Languages, University, Miss.

Georgia, Prof. Richard Schliewen, Brennau College, Gainsville, Ga.
That expands us out to who “Mr. Dibble” was. He was Virgil C. Dibble, jr. Let’s now consider his father, Virgil C. Dibble. The elder Dibble fought in the Civil War (on the Confederate side, of course). He was born in 1841, which would have made him about 20 years of age at the start of the Civil War. I’m going to guess (perhaps incorrectly) that he is the Virgil C. Dibble listed on the masthead of the Orangeburg News from 1867—1868, though the name Dibble seems to be a common one. He is certainly the Virgil C. Dibble who was elected to the position of “Third Assistant Teacher” for the Charleston High School in 1866. Mr. Dibble is listed as a teacher in the 1880 Census, with two children, Virgil C. Dibble (our future Esperantist), age 3, and E. Marion Dibble (probably erroneously named), age 2.

The “graded school” mentioned in the article was probably his father’s. Virgil C. Dibble goes from teacher, to principal, to superintendent of the Marlboro Graded School. But the older Dibble doesn’t seem to remain with that much longer. He retired and started a new career as a Methodist minister.
Onward to the son, “our” Mr. Dibble. Virgil C. Dibble, jr. was born (according to a later Census) in August 1876 in South Carolina. In 1900, he’s listed as a teacher, as is his father. He’s 23 years old, unmarried, and living with his parents.[1] Ten years later, he’s still living with his parents, still unmarried, and working as a salesman for a map publisher. Contemporary news articles make it clear that his employer was Rand McNally & Co. Something may have happened after that.

Although he resigned from the responsibilities as the Councilor of the Southern Division (which was one of four divisions left vacant), Mr. Dibble’s Esperanto activities included writing a lengthy piece, “Onklino Lajz,” which initially was serialized anonymously in 1911 in La Simbolo, an Esperanto magazine published in Tacoma, Washington, and later published in 1915. In La Simbolo, it’s given as part of a set of “Rememoroj” (Remembrances). Dibble is not talking about his own aunt, but rather about a former slave. He writes:
Onklino Lajz oni nomis ŝin pro la jena kaŭzo. Ŝi estis iam sklavino, kaj dum tiu tempo alkutimiĝis al la bonsklavina sintenado al la familio kies posedaĵo ŝi estis.

They called her Aunt Lize for the following reason. She was a former slave, and during that time became accustomed to the behavior of a a good slave toward the family who owned her.
The elder Dibble also seems to have been something of an apologist for the antebellum South and the Confederacy. Still, something must have happened in the family because in 1918, the older Dibble died, and while he obituary is a wealth of genealogical information, it has an odd omission. The obituary mentions the Reverend Dibble “is survived by three sons and one daughter,” only two sons get named. There’s one son, Dr. Marvin Dibble (at whose home he died) and Evans Dibble (listed as “now in France, as is his son-in-law, Dr. Daniel”). We can guess that the daughter is Dr. Daniel’s wife.[2] No reference to the namesake son?[3] Was there a falling out? Likewise, an article on Dr. Dibble (either Enoch or Eric Marvin Dibble, mentions his fathers, but no siblings.)

Whatever happened, the younger Virgil Dibble seems to have made his mark in the business world. He did marry, though late in life. In the 1940 Census, he’s living as a lodger, along with his sixteen-year-old son, Virgil Dibble III. He was about 47 when his son was born. He’s the secretary of the Columbia Merchants’ Association. In 1939, he wrote a letter to The Rotarian in response to an article on the International Auxiliary Language Association, which initially gave itself the task of comparing the various candidates for an international auxiliary language (and eventually created its own, Interlingua). Mr. Dibble points out that
If 99 percent of those whom Mrs. Morris terms “interlinguists” use Esperanto and 1 percent use all other “systems,” what is the justification of any organization undertaking to put the other systems which are named in the article on an equality with the one which the man in the street has already assigned the auxiliary-language field.
From what I have found, Virgil Dibble died in 1947, an Esperantist to the end, even if he doesn’t seem to have had much official connection after those early days of the movement in the United States. In his obituary, the Florence Morning News wrote that
Dibble maintained a world wide correspondence in Esperanto, in which he was intensely interested for many years.

  1. If you’ve been paying close attention, no one ever gets listed in the 1890 census. It was largely lost in a fire.  ↩
  2. As of this writing, while North Carolina has same-sex marriage, this freedom has not come to South Carolina. No one had it in 1918. Update: Now, of course, same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country.   ↩
  3. For that matter, the users of FindAGrave list only the two sons mentioned in this obituary.  ↩

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