Thursday, April 23, 2015

Unhappy Professor Simkins

Wow. Totally lurid headline.
As always, I have to note that not all of the people in the early twentieth century who used the honorific “professor” actually held academic positions. In the case of Myron Charles Simkins, the title seems to have been more aspirational than actual. It does seem that Myron Simkims never actually managed to hold any sort of teaching position. Instead, he had moved to Los Angeles with the hope of being hired to teach Esperanto.

On April 23, 1907, the Los Angeles Herald reported that his attempts had come to an end, and Simkins was in a bit of a bind with the rent. But the bulk of the article is a long letter in which he takes the heads of several institutions of learning to task for their shortsightedness in not employing him. The letter is too long to quote in full, but it can be found at the Chronicling America web site.

The article tells of his distress, clearly written by a sympathizer.

Writes Last Appeal to Los Angeles Educators, in Which He Scores Citizens for Their Indifference
The pathetic story of a great sacrifice of the cause of humanity in education of the masses came to light yesterday afternoon when Constable De La Monte was called to interfere in an argument between a landlord and Prof. M. C. Simkins, one of the most thorough exponents of “Esperanto language” in this country.

The professor, reduced to positive want through failure of his plans in Los Angeles, engaged in argument with his landlord or his landlord’s representative with disastrous results, for the aged professor was attached and injured before the officers interfered.

Prof. Simkins came to Los Angeles several months ago from the east. His plan was to establish Esperanto thoroughly in the Los Angeles schools and colleges before moving northward and advancing the language to every college on the coast that would receive it. Esperanto is the universal language, a language which all the nations of the world are learning to some degree and which the exponents thereof hope to make the one language of the world.

Writes Final Appeal
Some of the big eastern colleges accepted it, and Prof. Simkins, one of the most thorough professors of the new language, came west in the hope of establishing it here. Prof. Simkins is a brilliant man, well educated, and his enthusiasm for his new language was magnificent, but he met with failure. The instructors of the city did not take to the new language. It failed to appeal to them in the light that it had to the easterners, and Prof. Simkins and aged wife were reduced to want, and finally to the humiliation of an attack from their landlord.
The article then continues with Simkins’s lengthy “last appeal,” which is addressed to:
President Bovard, University Southern California; President Baer, Occidental college; Superintendent Moore, Los Angeles public schools; Superintendent Emery, Harvard Military school; Superintendent Adams, Yale School for Boys; the principals of Los Angeles commercial schools; the principals of the several girls’ academic school, and the heads of education in Los Angeles generally.
Did he leave anyone out?

From what source did the reporter conclude that Myron Simkins was “a brilliant man, well educated, and his enthusiasm for his new language was magnificent,” if it wasn’t from Simkins himself? He seems to have been a bit of a fraud. His two publications are a book, Betty Gaskins (Dimicrat), Wife of Jobe Gaskins (Republican), or Uncle Tom’s Cabin Up to Date, which he published under the pseudonym W. I. Hood, and he was soon (from the time of view of the article in the Herald) to come out with a concordance of Zamenhof’s Esperanto exercises. It has an amazingly full title for a forty-nine page booklet, but there’s no doubt about what it contains: Concordance to the L. Zamenhof Ekzercaro de la lingo internacia “Esperanto” and to the Plena gramatiko together with the English renderings given by Do Zamenhof, and citations from the Universala vortaro and the Fundamento de Esperanto.

Further, though some schools did allow their professors to give classes in Esperanto, Simkins wasn’t likely the sort of person that a college or university would hire, since he dropped out of Yale halfway through his sophomore year. The 1914 account of his Yale class noted that
After leaving Yale, he taught for some years in Goldwater, Mich., and was much in advance of the times in his theories of education. He introduced new methods, sought to interest his pupils in their studies, and organized among them a literary union. Later he was an agent for the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, with headquarters at Omaha, Neb. In 1897 he published “Betty Gaskins,” under the nom de plume of W. I. Hood.

He is married and has been for several years a resident of Los Angeles, Cal.
He clearly did some teaching, but that didn’t seem sufficient to convince the heads of institutions of higher learning in Los Angeles, much less the secondary schools.

Oddly enough, though he was unable to pay the rent in 1907, by 1922, he was listed on the voter rolls as a philanthropist. Was there money in that? But in 1907, as an unemployed sixty-one-year-old man, he criticized the educational leaders of Los Angeles, taking as an example, how
All over the civilized globe arrangements have been made to carry delegations of blind children to Cambridge, England, the coming August, where before the third world’s congress of the international language, the blind of all nations will give oral and visible manifestations of that new heaven which this wonderful discovery has opened up to them by enabling those of different races and languages to communicate freely with one another. I say the blind of all nations will have this glorious opportunity freely. No! The blind of America, alone, in all human probability, will not have it. Because those of your class, ladies and gentlemen, who are supposed to be right in the van of educational progress, you who old the position of teachers against all insturders, you fall back upon the childish area, which each and every one have you have repeatedly made to me: “I haven’t time.”
Mr. Simkins seems unaware of the efforts of Edward K. Harvey in getting a group of blind Boston natives to the Cambridge Universala Kongreso. Of course, Mr. Harvey took up the instruction of Esperanto during his own time, adjacent to his duties as a teacher at the Perkins Institution, while Mr. Simkins was looking for a paid position.

Mr. Simkins’s letter ends with a description of his circumstances:
But now, at the very last, because in carrying my devotion a little too far, I have fallen behind in my rents a mere bagatelle, I and my poor wife, aged and infirm, have even assailed in our very rooms, browbeaten, scandalized and actually beaten with fists till I must surrender my hold upon the casket.
The “casket” in question is the box of his manuscripts on Esperanto. He was sixty-one at the time. His wife, Laura, was eight years older, and was 69. She would die five years later at the age of 75. It’s a decade after that when he’s listed as a philanthropist. In 1910 (when his wife was still alive), the Census reports that he was retired (though the word “student” is on the form, but crossed out). Ten years later, he’s a deputy constable. He died in 1928.

But perhaps he gave up too soon. Only a year later, in 1908, the Throop Institute (now Caltech) would hire an Esperantist to teach languages.
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