Friday, February 20, 2015

The Girl Scouts and Esperanto

What's Esperanto for "Girl Scouts"?
On Wednesday, February 20, 1918 the Evening Public Ledger of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania reported on the plans for the upcoming Washington’s Birthday celebration, scheduled for the following Friday. As there were no further reports, we can only assume it went off without a hitch. One of the highlights of the event was going to be a celebration of Esperanto by the Girl Scouts.

It’s not clear how one goes from “Washington’s Birthday” to “Esperanto,” but the article notes that the Philadelphia girl scouts had taken up Esperanto with something of a passion, and they were going to use this celebration as an excuse to display their skills. The Girl Scouts were a new organization at the time, only having the name since 1913.[1] The Universal Esperanto Association was somewhat older, as it had been founded in 1908. Esperanto was just past its thirtieth birthday, and its creator, Dr. Ludovik Zamenhof, had died the year previously.

While the Ledger described this as “a Girl Scouts’ affair,” it was clearly also an Esperanto affair, the combined brainchild of Henry W. Hetzel and Pearl J. Parker, both advocates of Esperanto.

Parade to Betsy Ross House and

Acceptance of Esperanto Flag to be Feature of Event.
Banner of Universal Language Will Be Borne

by Three-Year-Old Representative of the Cause
Exercises in Independence Square, the presentation of the Esperanto flag, symbol of the universal language and a parade to the Betsy Ross House on Arch street will mark the activities of the Girl Scouts of Philadelphia on Washington’s Birthday.

Ruth Lawson Solon
About 500 girls from West Philadelphia and other parts of the city will gather in front of Independence Hall at 2 o’clock on Friday, where Prof. Henry W. Hetzel,[2] of the West Philadelphia High School for Boys will present the green flag with the green star on a white field in the name of the Universal Esperanto Association to Miss Anna Mowbray, organizer of the Girl Scout movement in Philadelphia.

After scout exercises and singing in Esperanto the girls will march to the Betsy Ross House on Arch street, where the flag will be given to the Association. Little Ruth Lawson Solon, as the “Goddess of Hope,” the three-year-old daughter of J. P. Solon, 932 West Huntington street, will lead the parade, proudly bearing the flag. She is the youngest Girl Scout in Philadelphia and believed to be the youngest child speaking Esperanto.

The Boy Scouts have offered to furnish two bands for the occasion and a brigade of Boy Scouts will be present in the parade.

It is a Girl Scout’ affair, however, for they are the ones who have diligently taken up the study of the universal language. About six weeks ago classes in this study were started under the direction of Mrs. Pearl Parker, and already more than 100 girls are enrolled and it is not an uncommon thing to hear a group of Girl Scouts jabbering away in Esperanto. They are the first organization in this country to devote themselves to the study of Esperanto, and it is to encourage the work that the association is presenting them with the flag.

Mrs. Parker is extremely interested in the work and it is through her effort that the study was taken up. In speaking of it she said: “Esperanto is a coming language, for more than ever there will be the need of a universal tongue after the war. It has been used quite extensively in Europe for the last thirty years. It is being used now in exchanging prisoners of war and by the Red Cross, while about a year and a half ago pamphlets were issued by both the French and German governments telling of their war aims.

”People here have been talking about Esperanto,“ said Mrs. Parker, ”but we want them to talk in it. The older people have not time for the study of it, though it is very simple, but the girls have time for it and can pass it along. When it comes time for the general use of it they will be ready."
According to Amerika Esperantisto, Mrs. Parker had been propagandizing Esperanto to the Girl Scouts since 1917. The November 1917 issue noted that
Thru the efforts of Mrs. Pearl J. Parker the Girl Scouts of Philadelphia are showing considerable interest in Esperanto. Recently the Philadelphia Society gave an entertainment to the members of Troop 56, at which the Misses Constance Wills, J. Lacey, Ada Bachman, Marion Bachman, Minnie Thomas, Catherine Morris and Johanna Werner sang the Esperanto version of “Die Lorelei,” having been introduced to the pronunciation by Dr. A. A. Jones.
In 1920, however, Mrs. Parker was listed in Amerika Esperantisto as residing in New York, so the Philadelphia Girl Scouts seem to have lost her further encouragement. In a later Ledger article,[3] Mrs. Parker described herself as a “prevocational expert and introducer of Esperanto to the Girl Scouts of Philadelphia.” Unfortunately, I have not been able to further pin down the identity of Mrs. Pearl J. Parker.

Mr. Hetzel, after some initial difficulty, proved easy to find. He was the more active in the Esperanto movement. He attended Esperanto conventions and was on the examinations committee of the EANA, in addition to leading the Philadelphia Esperanto Society. Like Mrs. Parker, he convinced pliant young minds that they ought to learn Esperanto and started an Esperanto group at the West Philadelphia High School for Boys, where he was an art teacher. He was born on March 29, 1872 (when he handed the flag off to Miss Mowbray so that she in turn could hand it to Miss Solon he was forty-five years old). He died (of a heart attack) on February 8, 1941.

Ruth Solon might not have been the youngest Esperantist on record, given the intention of John Beutler to teach his daughter Esperanto as a cradle language. No denaska esperantisto here, and Alberta Beutler was three years older than Ruth Solon. There are no references to Ms. Solon in Amerika Esperantisto, or even anyone with her family name (the only “solon” I can find is the accusative form of “solo”). The “Goddess of Hope” did not continue to fly the green flag.

  1. According to Wikipedia. There was a earlier rival organization, the Girl Scouts of America, which Wikipedia notes was founded in 1910 and certainly existed at least until 1913. It’s not clear if they were still in existence in 1918. It seems likely that the 1918 Philadelphia organization was the Girl Scouts of the United States.  ↩
  2. The Ledger recorded this as “Henry W. Hengel,” who did not actually exist. Further research pointed to the right man.  ↩
  3. I’ll get to it. Be patient.  ↩

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