Saturday, April 18, 2015

Mrs. Brewster’s Esperanto Party

Bring your pennies to Brooklyn
Esperanto has a verb, krokodili, literally “to crocodile,” but it means to speak one’s native language among Esperantists. According to some, it is only possible to krokodili in the presence of an Esperantist who does not share the native language of the other speakers, an American and a Brit dropping into English despite the presence of a French Esperantist. It’s not clear when the verb came into use (probably the 1920s), but from the beginning there was certainly the problem of those who supported the idea of Esperanto without bothering to learn the language, including the first two presidents of the Esperanto Association of North America, George Harvey and John Barrett.

But when Mrs. Brewster held her Esperanto gathering in Brooklyn, on [date], the EANA was a few years in the future, and the American Esperanto Association had been founded just a month before in Boston. One of its founders, Charles Matchett, was coming to Brooklyn to give a talk about Esperanto (in English) at the Brewster’s home. Oddly enough, records make it clear that the address, 131 Rutland Road, was their home only briefly. Was the party so dreadful that they felt they needed to move from a home they had only recently occupied?

The New York Sun reported on the plans for the Esperanto gathering in the April 18, 1905 edition.

Fine of One Cent for Every Departure from the Universal Language.
The Allied Arts Association announces that at an Esperanto Evening, on April 29, at the home of Mrs. Brewster, 131 Rutland road, Brooklyn [take Flatbush, Rogers or Nostrand avenue car] “the new universal language will be spoken exclusively and a fine of one cent will be imposed for every beach of this rule. A grammar will be sent (price 5 cents), and as a scientific experiment only two hours is to spent studying it, which is said to be sufficient to understand it fairly well. Recitations and songs in that language, preceded by an address in English by Charles H. Matchett. A large attendance will do much to promote this new language, which bids fair to become the language of all nations. Bring plenty of pennies! An unique contest has been arranged and prizes will be awarded.”
Finding Mrs. Brewster took some hunting, given that the Sun didn’t grace her with a first name. As noted above, the Brewsters seem to have spent only a short time living on Rutland Road, but luckily, a 1906 city directory lists a Eugene V. Brewster as living at that address. Mrs. Brewster’s name, given on when the question came up, was Emilia, Emilie, Emily, or Emma. She seems to have preferred Emilie, and judging from the 1914 Woman’s Who’s Who of America (which undercuts its title by noting in the subtitle that it includes prominent Canadian women), she was a fairly prominent New Yorker.

As was her husband. The Mr. Brewster married to Mrs. Brewster was Eugene V. Brewster, who would go on to found the first movie fan magazine, Motion Picture Story Magazine. Even before that, Successful American profiled him in its September 1902 issue, noting that
Mr. Brewster’s married life has been “one grand sweet song,” and he finds great pleasure when surrounded by his three children.
His married life started in on May 10, 1893, when he married Emilie C. Churbuck (the real subject of this post). Woman’s Who’s Who notes that she was a member of the Brooklyn Democratic Club and the N.Y. Women’s Democratic Club, when women were still yet to get the vote, so it isn’t surprising that she was also in the People’s Suffrage Club and the 11th Assembly District Suffrage Club. There three children were Ruth Bryan, Eugene Rafael, and Marie Theresa. The family clearly wore their politics on their daughter’s sleeve, as they were prominent supporters of William Jennings Bryan.

In the 1920 Census, Emilie is living with her son, Rafael, and is listed as married, but Eugene is not to be found. Mrs. Brewster was not married in 1920, but divorced. Mr. Brewster may have found pleasure when surrounded by his three children, but perhaps less pleasure in the company of his wife, as by 192o, he was married to a woman 22 years his junior. (Eleanor Brewster was only a year older than her husband’s eldest daughter. His third wife would be younger than any of the children from his first marriage.) Eugene didn’t die until January 1, 1939, but by the 1930 Census, Emilie was already describing herself as “widowed” (as she also did on the 1940 Census).

This 1905 event seems to be Mrs. Brewster’s one connection to the Esperanto movement. The Sun did do a follow-up article, but it doesn’t note how much money was raised by people failing to speak Esperanto.
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