Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Work of the American Esperanto Association

Ni laboras por vi.
Sometimes when I’m reading old articles about Esperanto I realize that I’m missing something. The New-York Tribune printed a letter in their April 19, 1908 edition which referred to their “recent article about Esperanto.” The letter was dated April 7, 1908, so they clearly had hung on to it for a while, but even increasing my search to February 1, 1908 shows nothing to which John Fogg Twombly could have been responding. On March 2, they had written an article about Moresnet, the proposed Esperanto state (noting that the country would be tax-free for its residents as “the expenses of the state are to be borne by the subscriptions of Esperantists all the world over,” which would seem to be an inducement not to learn Esperanto, and so no wonder that the Esperanto movement rejected the idea) and on March 3 that Edmond Privat had visited the White House. There was also a children’s puzzle in which “Esperanto” was an answer. (During that same period, there are six citations of Esperanto in the New York Sun.)

With the “recent article” left a mystery, all we have left is Twombly’s letter. The letter itself is signed “A.E.A.,” but that’s the American Esperanto Association, of which Twombly was the secretary, though, unbeknownst to him, his time at that position was coming to a close. The AEA had sown the seeds of its own destruction by helping to organize the 1908 conference at Chautauqua, New York. Given that the creation of the new organization doesn’t seem to have bettered the fortunes of Esperanto in the United States, the expression “don’t switch horses in mid-stream” comes to mind. Obviously, we’ll never how how things would have played out had the American Esperanto Association continued.

At the time that John Fogg Twombly wrote his letter, that’s exactly what he expected.

To the Editor of The Tribune.

Sir: Your recent article about Esperanto made no mention of the American Esperanto Association. This association was founded on March 16, 1905, by the two Esperanto societies then existing in the United States, and has done most of the propaganda work that has been done for Esperanto in America. Within the first three years of its activity its secretaries handled nearly sixty thousand pieces of mail matter, and it is now in touch with over twelve thousand Esperantists. It has aided in the establishment of more than one hundred local societies (including four state associations), and its work is steadily increasing in this the fourth year of its existence. Its bureau of information is the Esperanto book office, Fenway Station, Boston. From July 4 to July 25 six different courses in Esperanto will be given daily at Chautauqua Lake, New York, and during the week beginning July 21 a large number of prominent Esperantists will assemble there from all over the United States and Canada.
A. E. A., 10.
Boston, April 7, 1908.

It’s not clear why there is a “10” following the initials “A. E. A.,” but that’s how it is in the Tribune.

An average of twenty thousand pieces of mail a year is pretty impressive. At the time, letter carriers worked Monday through Saturday, and the occasional Sunday, but Twombly was probably picking up the mail himself at the Fenway Station Post Office. Still, at an average of 55 letters a day, if he came weekly, Twombly would be carting away a stack of of more than 350 letters. No wonder that in August 1907, William Gray Nowell said that he was providing necessary assistance to the secretary. I would lay a sizable bet that less correspondence flows into the offices of Esperanto-USA, even if you counted e-mail.

And twelve thousand Esperantists! There might be that number in the United States today, but—alas—only a fraction of that number is known to Esperanto-USA. At the Chautauqua congress, the assembled Esperantists would decide that the AEA didn’t meet the needs of the Esperanto movement in the United States. After just over four years, the AEA would soon come to an end.
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