Monday, January 26, 2015

Esperanto’s Femme Fatale

La danĝera virino
On January 24, 1910, the Washington Evening Star made reference to an attempt to push Edwin C. Reed from his position as the secretary of the Esperanto Association of North America. There had been no earlier articles in the Star, which brought the crisis in medias res, not telling what the issue at hand was. Two days later, we find out, but not from the Star.

Esperanto was a hot topic in the Washington papers of 1910, perhaps because the Universala Kongreso was coming to the city, or perhaps because that’s where the headquarters of the fledgling EANA were located at the time. Just to give an indication, the site Chronicling America has 236 hits for “Esperanto” in the D.C. newspapers for 1910 (that comprises the Evening Star, National Forum, National Tribune, Washington Herald, and Washington Times). I have to go elsewhere to see what they were saying in the Washington Post. If you were an Esperantist in 1910 Washington, your newspaper choices would be the Herald or the Times, both of which gave fairly extensive coverage of the EANA.

The story, as explained by the Washington Herald on January 26, 1910, couldn’t have been more petty. I suspect all involved were thoroughly embarrassed that this little interpersonal spat ended up in the papers.

J. W. Cheney Withdraws Charges Against Dr. Reed.
Secretary of National Society Held Blameless for Incident at International Congress
Charges against the methods of Dr. E. C. Reed, secretary of the the National Esperanto Society, were withdrawn ad a meeting of the Esperanto Society of Washington last night, at which national officers were present, It was shown to have been a case of misunderstanding on the part of those involved.

Accusations were brought against Dr. Reed by J. W. Cheney, a member of the council of the national association.

When Miss Hedwig Reicher, of the German stage gave a performance at the international congress here and Prof. Arnold Christen,[1] a noted Esperanto teacher, was not invited, he attached blame to Dr. Reed, it is said, as one who was responsible, and from this the charges arose.
There’s more to the article, but here we get the whole source of the contention: someone didn’t get invited to a performance by an actress. I suspect in an editing error the words “who” and “was” were omitted from the account, since in January 1910, there had not been an international Esperanto congress in Washington D.C. (the “here” of the article). If instead, the paragraph read:
When Miss Hedwig Reicher, of the German stage who gave a performance at the international congress, was here and Prof. Arnold Christen, a noted Esperanto teacher, was not invited, he attached blame to Dr. Reed, it is said, as one who was responsible, and from this the charges arose.
I’ve been meaning to write about Hedwig Reicher. She learned Esperanto to give a performance at the 1908 Universala Kongreso in Dresden, Germany. Subsequently, she made her American début. In October 1909, Reicher was in Washington, D.C. performing in English. This was presumably the performance to which Dr. Christian had not been invited.

There is an “are you kidding me” aspect to all of this. Was there really a call for the general secretary of the Esperanto Association of North America to step down because some retired Swiss professor hadn’t been included in the theater party? In which language did Mrs. Christen[2] say to her husband, “just how intent were you to stare a a twenty-five-year-old German woman?” And then there’s J. W. Cheney, the sixty-one-year-old librarian of the War Department. What might have Mr. Cheney[3] said about his involvement in this little contempts?

There’s also no indication of why Professor Christen (who had become well-known as a promoter of Esperanto) didn’t take this matter up with Mr. Reed himself. The whole problem with the Washington and national Esperanto movement was over a woman with a fairly peripheral attachment to the moment herself. But Ms. Reicher did not become the femme fatale of Esperanto.

The remainder of the article is concerned with the more pleasant parts of the gathering and gives a nice snapshot of some of the names of those involved.
Dr. B. F. Schubert[4] was elected a member of the council to the International Congress. Members of the press committee elected were Dr. Schubert, chairman; Miss A. Saunders, and Miss Edith Griffin. A reception committee, consisting of Mrs. S. J. Moore, Miss D. C. Condfron, and F. A. Preston, was also elected.

An entertaining programme, arranged by Prof. W. J. Spillman, president of the Washington society, was given. Prof. Spillman spoke. Others on the programme were Prof. Cheney, piano solo; I. C. I. Evan, Esperanto reading; Charles W. Stewart, reading, Prof. Norman E. Daley, story in Esperanto; S. M. Stuckland, humorous story; F. M. King, story, Mrs. Steel, an original Esperanto poem, and Prof. Arnold Christen, a talk in Esperanto.

Prof. Cheney taught the members to sing “La Espero,” the national hymn of the society.
As I noted before, Edwin C. Reed was not appropriately addressed as “Dr.” He was a lawyer. J. W. Cheney wasn’t a professor, but the librarian for the War Department (as I’ve noted). William J. Spillman, though he did not hold an academic appointment at the time, had been a professor of agriculture before joining the Department of Agriculture. No idea who Daley is (and there are just too many people on this list to figure them all out).

The important part was that the storm over Ms. Reicher had blown over. (I think anyone who has been involved in a conflict in a club can recognize this story.)

  1. Misspelled “Christian” in the original article.  ↩
  2. Mary Y. Christen. She was somewhat older than her husband, and would have been 62 to his 53.  ↩
  3. Margaret K. Cheney, his second (and substantially younger) wife.  ↩
  4. Not a doctor in any sense, but a piano manufacturer. Watch him, though, since he eventually becomes the president of the EANA.  ↩

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