Saturday, February 7, 2015

Which Miss Fernald Spoke Esperanto?

The press didn't actually review the play/
I don’t usually start these off with questions, although in this case I think I’m safely away from being clickbait[1] It’s a real (and, based on the resources on hand) unanswered question. In Washington, D.C. in 1911, there were two unmarried women names Frances Fernald, one a teacher, the other a clerk at the War Department. Which of these two spoke Esperanto?

At least one of them did. We know this because one Miss Frances Fernald got her name in the papers on February 7, 1911 concerning a play that she and her friends put on at the Washington, D.C. YWCA. The play was in Esperanto, which leads to the question of how many people in the audience of the play understood the play. (I suppose it also raises the question of how many were in attendance at the play, although in the years around 1910, there was a fairly large amount of Esperanto activity in Washington, D.C.)

Miss Fernald’s play was covered in the Evening Star, the Washington Herald, and the Washington Times. Since all three pieces are short, I’ll be able to quote them all in full, starting with the Evening Star:
Gave Play in Esperanto.
The first semester of educational work at the Y. W. C. A. came to a close last evening when a number of young women took part in a special entertainment. The program included an Esperanto play entitled “Des Esperanto,” in which Miss Frances Fernald and Misses Peacock, Price and Hoffman participated. Mrs. Herman E. Day made the address of welcome. Others taking part were Miss Coith, Mrs. John Tarbox, Miss Julia Pond, Mme. Maret, Miss Ruth Swem, Miss Emavieve Rose and Miss Louie Leeds.
The play probably wasn’t titled “Des Esperanto,” and the Herald suggests a different title. It’s not that “des” isn’t a word in Esperanto, but rather that it’s one with a meaning (“so much the”) that doesn’t fit into the context.[2] Our Esperantists have been identified as the Misses Fernald, Peacock, Price, and Hoffman.

The Washington Herald reported:

Y. W. C. A. Members Take Part in a Unique Entertainment
A special entertainment, including an Esperanto play, marked the close of the first semester of educational work at the Y. W. C. A. last night. A score of young women took part in the programme. After the exercises, a reception was held in the parlors.

Among those who took part in the play, “Per Esperanto,” were Miss Frances Fernald, who also directed the management, and the Misses Isabel Peacock, Price and Hoffman. The remainder of the programme was as follows: Address of welcome, Mrs. Herbert E. Day; German song, Mis Coith and class; solo, Mrs. John Tarbox; address, Miss Julia Pond, “The recent exhibition of paintings at the Corcoran Gallery of Art”; French songs, Mme. Maret and class; gymnastic exercises, Miss Ruth Swem and gymnasium class; reading, Miss Emavieve Rose; Song, Miss Fernald’s class. Music throughout the evening was rendered by association orchestra, with Miss Louie Leeds directing.

Despite the implications of the Herald, it is unlikely that the Misses Peacock, Price, and Hoffman all shared the name “Isabel,” however other records make it clear that Ms. Peacock had a name close to it, though it might have been either Isabelle or Isabella, or maybe she varied by whim. Miss Hoffman’s name was Julia, as confirmed in Esperanto records. They most likely got the name of the play right, since “per Esperanto” means “by means of Esperanto.” “Miss Fernald’s class” was presumably an Esperanto class, the members of whom would have formed part of the audience, assuming that it numbered more than three.

Finally, the Washington Times wrote:
Esperanto Play.
Miss Frances Fernald and the Misses Peacock, Price and Hoffman were the members of the cast that presented a play in Esperanto as the feature on a program which closed the first semester of educational work at the Y. W. C. A. last night. A reception followed the regular program.
Isabelle Peacock and Julia Hoffman are easily found. In April 1911, Isabelle Peacock and one of the women named Frances Fernald were among the founders of a additional Esperanto group in Washington, D.C. There were at least three others, plus Esperanto groups within other clubs, plus the national society was headquartered there. As in Esperanto speaker in D.C. in 1911, you had plenty of choices of clubs to join where you could speak Esperanto. Amerika Esperantisto reported:
Antaũ nelonge estas organizita nova esperantista klubo, kies oficistoj estas: prezianto, Sro. E. C. McKelvy, vicprezidanto, Sro. L. iItout, Sekretario-kasistino, Fino. Isabelle Peacock, korespondanta Sekretariino, Fino. Frances Fernald. La klubo kunvenas ĉiulunde verspere, ĉe la hejmo de la sekretario-kasistino. Je unu kuveno, la klubo invitis Sron. Edwin C. Reed, sekretarion de la Esperantista Asocio de Norda Ameriko, doni al ili paroladeton pri la historio de la Esperanta Movado en Usono.

Not to long ago, a new Esperanto club was organized, whose officers are: president, Mr. E. C. McKelvy; vice president, Mr. L. Mitout; Secretary-Treasurer, Miss Isabelle Peacock, Correspondence Secretary, Miss Frances Fernald. The club meets every Monday at the home of the secretary-treasurer. At one meeting, the club invited Mr. Edwin C. Reed, secretary of the Esperanto Association of North America, to give to them a small talk on the history of the Esperanto movement in the United States. (My translation)
This club, I suppose, was for those whose need for Esperanto on Monday evenings was not being met by the Internacia Klubo, the Katolika Klubo (presumably for Catholic Esperantists in Washington, D.C.), the Esperanto section of the Anthony League (I am not wholly certain what the Anthony League was; it does not appear to have been a group for people named Anthony), or the various other Esperanto clubs that formed a part of Washington life in the early twentieth century. Miss Hoffman was one of the American attendees of the seventh Universala Kongreso in Antwerp.

But what of Miss Fernald? The two Frances Fernald who lived in Washington D.C. in 1911 were a twenty-eight-year-old native of the District who worked as teacher and a thirty-three-year-old stenographer who worked for the War Department, a native of Maine. The older Miss Frances Fernald (the daughter of a watchman) is undoubtably the Miss Fernald of the Maine Society of Washington. In 1916 and 1917, the Washington Post and Washington Herald created phantom third Miss Frances Fernalds, the Post with a “Miss Frances L” and the Herald by stating that the daughter of the Senator from Maine was involved with events at the Maine Society. However, Bert Fernald, Senator from Maine, had a daughter named Amelia who had died as an infant. The father of the Francis Fernald who was born in Maine was Benjamin F, not Bert M. Washington does not seem to have had a Frances L. Fernald.

The two Miss Fernalds had different middle initials.
  • Frances M. Fernald. Born about 1877 in Maine. Worked as a clerk in the War Department. She died July 20, 1934 (if that’s her).
  • Frances P. Fernald. Born about 1883 in Washington, D.C. Worked as a teacher. There is a death notice for a Frances P. Fernald in 1957, but it this seems to be another one, as the names of her sisters don’t match.
The argument for Frances M. is that she, like Miss Peacock and Miss Hoffman, worked for the government. All three were clerks at various federal departments, with Miss Peacock at the Reclamation Service in the Department of the Interior, and Miss Hoffman at the Treasury. Did the three ladies bond over their shared experiences as government employees? Also, Frances M. Fernald had a connection with international diplomacy, as her brother was secretary of the United States Legation to Boliva.

Or was it a question of similar ages? The difference between twenty-eight and thirty-three isn’t large, but Miss Peacock was twenty-six in 1911 and Miss Hoffman twenty-two. Frances P. Fernald was closer to them in age. And, as a teacher, she had the professional competency to lead an Esperanto class at the Y.W.C.A. (which is why I think she is the more likely choice).

In 1920, both of our possible Esperantists were still unmarried, still at their respective professions (and the Census gave them both the masculine spelling of Francis). Frances M. Fernald does not seem to appear in the 1930 Census. Frances P. Fernald is in both the 1930 and 1940 censuses, an unmarried teacher, living her sister in 1930 and a female lodger (another teacher of similar age) in 1940.

Did the two women know each other? Did one of them react to a cheery “saluton” with “I’m so sorry, I’m not that Miss Fernald”? Alas, except for the articles on February 7, 1911 and that one mention in Amerika Esperantist, Miss Fernald’s Esperanto activities (whatever they may have been) went without remark.

Happily, for us, one newspaper article clears it up. Miss Fernald was involved with multiple Esperanto groups. I’ve noted my choice above (the teacher). Before reading on, you might want to make your own, because the answer is coming. The Washington Times noted on July 11, 1911 that the Ingram Memorial Esperanto Club, of the Ingram Memorial Church, held its second meeting. Its officers are not the same as the one listed in Amerika Esperantisto in April 1911 (which gives the impression of not only multiple, but overlapping Esperanto groups in Washington, circa 1910). Miss Fernald is the treasurer of this group, but is otherwise identified by her initials. Her first two initials.
Esperanto Club Holds Its Second Meeting
The Ingram Memorial Esperanto Club, recently organized, met at the Ingram Memorial Church, Tenth and Massachusetts avenue northeast, for its second meeting. The following officers were elected: President, Mr. D. C. Sherman; vice president, Mrs. Blakemore; secretary, Miss F. M. Fernald; treasurer, W. H. Deck; historian, Dr. Schubert.

Classes for beginners in Esperanto are held each Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the church.
We have now established not only Miss Fernald’s identity, but also what she did with her Monday and Tuesday evenings. What she did with herself on the other five days of the week is anyone’s guess, though she did have the Maine Society as well.

I write this with a pattern of “research, write, research, revise,” repeating the last two steps until I publish.[3] Our Miss Fernald was the government employee, like her fellows in the play at the Y.W.C.A. (assuming the same of Miss Price, of whom I have found nothing, with so little to go on). Along the way, I make assumptions and check them.

Which Miss Fernald spoke Esperanto? That would be Miss Frances M. Fernald, born in Maine in 1877, clerk in the War Department.

  1. It’s not as if I’m titling this “What Happened When She Tried to Speak Esperanto? — You Won’t Believe Your Ears!”
  2. The phrase des pli bone translates as “so much the better.”
  3. Whereupon it becomes “research, update.” Sometimes I just stumble onto stuff for which I had earlier been ardently searching for, giving me reason to suspect that you have to sneak up on some information.  ↩

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