Monday, March 16, 2015

110 Years of Esperanto in the United States

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Had the American Esperanto Association continued, today we would have a one-hundred-and-ten-year old Esperanto association in the United States. In truth, the AEA lasted far shorter, and was dissolved not long after its third anniversary. In 1908, the American Esperanto Association was disbanded and the North American Esperanto Association was founded as a successor.

In 1907, William Gray Nowell sent a letter to the New York Sun updating them in the progress of Esperanto in the United States. The Mexico Missouri Message probably received a similar letter, since the content is similar. The Message published their article on June 13, 1907, however, given that it reflects back to an event that three-month–0ld news, it’s more pertinent today, the anniversary of the founding of the American Esperanto Association.

It’s clear that the young organization received more correspondence then they deal with, and probably had a policy that as responses were made to enquiries, the original correspondence would be discarded. The Message makes it clear that more than 12,000 letters were retained, but another 6,000 had been discarded. By August of 1907, Nowell was noting of 16,200 letters that could be destroyed and and another 8,000 (or so) that were “put into the waste basket on receipt.” Opening the mail at the American Esperanto Association was a busy job.

It’s clear from the item in the Message that Esperanto got off to a good start in the United States.
On March 16, 1907, the second anniversary of the birth of the American Esperanto Association, its officers had on file more than 12,000 letters about Esperanto, had destroyed half as many, had sold Esperanto literature to more than 9,000 persons, and disposed of more than 50,000 Esperanto books and booklets. Three-fourths of this work has been done within the last six months. This statement does not included the work accomplished by the United Society of Christian Endeavor nor the large number of books sold by various book publishers and book dealers.
It was a great start, yet in August 1908, they scrapped it all and began anew, moving the offices first to Chicago, with Edwin C. Reed taking over the duties of secretary, then the Reeds moved to Washington, D.C., but eventually, the organization moved back to the Boston area. With all that, maybe it would have been better for the Esperanto movement to stay in the Boston area all along.

The claim that was eventually made that the American Esperanto Association was “not considered adequate or sufficiently democratic in its organization” is probably utter bunk, what they really meant was that there didn’t seem to be a way to oust the existing leadership and substitute one that was acceptable to George Harvey, by having him as its head.

What this lead to was that Edwin C. Reed became the effective leader of the Esperanto movement, first with George Harvey as its titular head, followed by John Barrett. It would seem that Harvey’s mission as president of the EANA was to secure the Universala Kongreso, and Barrett’s was to see it through. The general failure of the 1910 Universala Kongreso probably lead to the diplomats (such as Harvey and Barrett) deciding that Esperanto wasn’t worth their minimal efforts, as after that, leadership of the EANA went to people who were fervent and accomplished Esperantists (unlike the first two leaders, neither of whom seem to have bothered to learn Esperanto).

I have met people who passionately supported the idea of learning Esperanto. With great emotion in their voice, they would say that it should be offered in every public school in the United States. You can’t press gang people into learning Esperanto, so now we’re talking mandatory curriculum, although that has been suggested. These same people, as fervent as they are about others learning Esperanto, like John Barrett, never quite get around to learning it themselves.

This probably stalled the Esperanto movement for about four years, with leaders who were never able to make the case for learning Esperanto. But in 1907, when the Esperanto movement was headquartered in Massachusetts, it probably looked as if there would be endless success. The United States had its first national group before the first Universala Kongreso in 1905.

The Mexico Missouri Message ran its article on June 13, 1907. The American Esperanto Society had its second anniversary on March 16, 1907. The important date was March 16, 1905.
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