Tuesday, April 21, 2015

America’s First Esperanto Congress?

What's the date for that?
In 1908, the organizers of the Esperanto Congress at Chautauqua, New York (which saw the birth of the Esperanto Association of North America, and the end of the American Esperanto Association) said that they were hosting the first Esperanto congress in the United States. Were they preceded by an envent at the Jamestown Exposition?

As early as 1906, word had gone out that the organizers of the Jamestown Exposition, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, had invited Esperantists to gather at the Exposition.

To digress for a moment. Jamestown was settled on May 14, 1607, making it the first permanent English settlement in the New World. The Pilgrims did not arrive at Provincetown, Massachusetts until November 13, 1620, more than thirteen years later. In the period after the Civil War, tracing the country’s origins to a group from recently rebellious Virginia seemed like a bad idea, so the Pilgrims (who were sailing for Virginia, but ended up too far north) became the substitute founders of the nation. The British of the time probably saw the northern colony a good stop to southward expansion by the French. But I digress.

I have found no direct evidence that any Esperantists gathered at the Jamestown Exposition. However, on April 21, 1907, the New York Times made reference to the possible inclusion of Esperantists at the Exposition, which ran from April 16 through November 30, 1907. In the midst of a large article, the Times wrote:
Two hundred conventions and special events fill the Exposition calendar from May 6 to the middle of November. July 4 will be Jefferson Day. Virginia Homecoming Week begins on June 10. The Colonial Dames meet on June 5 and the Sons of the Revolution on Oct. 11. There will also be the first congress of students in Esperanto—the new universal language.
Certainly an invitation had gone out. The December 1906 British Esperantist had published a letter from one of the Exposition organizers, Robert H. Sexton, which had been forwarded to them by William Baff, of Worcester, Massachusetts.
(Dated 26/9/’06.) Dear Sir,—The importance and value of Esperanto is finding such general appreciation that it seems proper and desirable to have a World’s Esperanto Congress meet at the Jamestown Exposition in 1907. Thus great International Exposition and military, naval and education celebration, in which the armies and navies of the great nations of the world will participate, will be held on the shores of Hampton Roads, near Norfolk, April 26 to November 30, 1907. The Board of Governors of the Jamestown Exposition Company desires to extend to the various Esperanto organizations in the world a cordial invitation to hold an international congress at the Exposition Auditorium or Hall of Congresses, at such time as my be desired during the Exposition period…. The Auditorium with seating capacity of 5,000 and such committee-rooms as may be required will be at your service free of charge.… —Very respectfully,
Robert H. Sexton,
Chief, Department of Congresses and Special Events.

The British Esperantist preceded this by an explanation under the title “Granda Ekspozicio en U.Ŝ.A.” They also translated the letter into Esperanto. By the time the word had gone out, the Esperanto movement had already scheduled the 1907 Esperanto Congress, the third Universala Kongreso de Esperanto. It seems surprising that the British Esperantist didn’t note it was quite impossible for the World Esperanto Congress to assemble in Hampton Roads, as preparations were already underway for the congress to take place in August at Cambridge. Early on the Americans had a knack for proposing a Universala Kongreso in the United States after a location had been settled for the year in question (the same would happen in 1908 and 1909).

The Oregon Teachers Monthly also noted in November 1906 that the Esperantists had been invited to the Exposition.
They will also be invited to make an exhibit and will be given a special day and permission to draw up a program to suit themselves.
In any case, even if the congress had been held in Virginia, it wouldn’t have been the first. The first in the United States, but there had already been two preceding Esperanto congresses. If the Esperantists came and drew up a program of events, no record of it has survived. The first Esperanto congress in America was almost certainly the August 1908 Chautauqua gathering. The 1910 Universala Kongreso in Washington, D.C., was the first international Esperanto gathering in the United States to include people from outside of North America, but that was the sixth Universala Kongreso.

There were Esperantists in Virginia, though it’s not clear how many. The April 1908 Amerika Esperantisto Lists Leo V. Judson as the head of the Jamestown Esperanto Club. Mr. Judson was sixteen at the time.
You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at impofthediverse@gmail.com.
This blog runs solely on ego! Follow this blog! Comment on this post! Let me know that you want to read more of it!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...