Saturday, January 17, 2015

Esperanto in Boston

And other places too!
It’s hard to say, as the New York Sun does on January 17, 1906, that Esperanto was having a “revival” in Massachusetts, as that would assume there was some period of great interest preceding it, but all indications are that Esperanto took hold of the interest of the people of the Boston area in early 1905. By early 1906, it was still a new enthusiasm.

The American Esperanto Association had been founded on March 16, 1905 (and so was less than a year old), with the Boston Esperanto Society a couple months older than that. One (imported) major promotor of Esperanto was Professor Wilhelm Ostwald, who gave a series of lectures (on chemistry) at Harvard University in 1904–1905, but the Harvard Esperanto Society seems not to have started until 1906 at which point MIT already had one. Both schools were beat by the Perkins Institution for the Blind. At the beginning of 1906, the Esperantists of Massachusetts were seeking greater highest to scale.

Here’s what the Sun reported on January 17, 1906:
“Esperanto,” the latest Universal language experiment, is having a revival of interest, judging by the demand for the text books explaining its principles. A class in Esperanto has been formed in Harvard University and Bostonians are attending the classes which have sprung up all over the city. In Philadelphia, too, there seems to be a marked interest in the new universal language which, according to its students is much nearer the ideal than Volapuk or any of its predecessors.
In 1908, looking back at the earlier days of the Esperanto movement in the United States, the Amerika Esperantisto (itself started in 1906), noted that between the death of Henry Phillips in 1889 and 1906 (though really 1905),
little was heard of Esperanto, and Volapuk also soon disappeared, leaving behind it the impression that an international language was an impossible project. The present Esperanto awakening in the United States began early in 1906.
Its not clear why the author of the piece is shifting activity that happened in 1905 a year forward. It continues with the statement that
Correspondence between Esperanto clubs in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles resulted in the formation of a propaganda body styling itself The American Esperanto Association, with headquarters in Boston. This society, under the energetic management of John Fogg Twombly, the secretary, received and disposed of thousands of inquiries about the new language, and at the close of 1906 had gained a sufficient number of adherents to encourage the management in issuing a monthly publication, The American Esperanto Journal, which it did throughout the year 1907.
The two magazines would co-exist until the end of the American Esperanto Association with the formation of the Esperanto Association of North America. But when the Esperanto movement in the United States looked back at 1906 from the vantage point of 1908, it didn’t see it as a revival, but the starting point. I would shift it back a little further, to 1905. Still, no earlier date really can be considered the beginning of the Esperanto movement in the United States, even though there were glimmers of interest before 1905.
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