Sunday, August 23, 2015

An Esperanto Congress at a Time of War

How international
was it really?
August 23, 1915 was the opening day of the eleventh World Esperanto Congress, the Universala Kongreso. It’s not wholly the fault of the San Francisco committee that it was the smallest on record (a mere 163 participants). After all, until the outbreak of WWI in August 1914, the plan had been to hold the 1915 Universala Kongreso in Edinburgh, Scotland. But there was a war on. Plans for the Kongreso don’t seem to have started until March 1915, although the committee actually had been working on this since 1915.

In 1915, the United States was still maintaining its neutrality in WWI, which at that point wasn’t per se a “world war” (the term only came into use after the end of WWII, renaming the earlier war; personally, I lean to the view that there was a cease-fire of about twenty years within a single conflict). Although, one of the papers that covered the opening of the 1915 Kongreso, the Bemidji Daily Pioneer has a comic strip, Scoop, The Cub Reporter, on the same page as one of the articles about the Kongreso. In the strip, the characters are on a ship worrying about the potential for being struck by a torpedo. While the war in Europe was far from the waters Bemidji, Minnesota, it was clearly still on their minds.

Then again, the headlines for the top stories makes it clear why the Bemidji paper was so concerned about torpedoes. “British Officially Charge Liner Was Sunk Maliciously” Tacoma Times. “Berlin Denies U-Boat Sank Arabic; First Part of Page Report Here” Washington Times. “Russia Reports Naval Victory” The Daily Gate City of Keokuk, Iowa, which we’ll get back to. “Drive on Petrograd Is Halted by Rout of German Fleet, Which Lost 11 Ships” Evening World (New York). “Wilson Still Awaits Arabic Proof; German Fleet Beaten Off Riga; British Submarine Sinks Moltke” New-York Tribune. The Bryan Daily Eagle asked “Are German Resources Exhausted?” This was not the most auspicious time to have any sort of international event.

But, the Universal Kongreso did happen, and its opening even made it into the papers. The articles I’ve found on this seem to have their origin in a United Press wire service article. United Press gets attributed in the article in the Daily Gate City of Keokuk, Iowa, but while there is no such attribution in either the Bemidji Daily Pioneer or the Topeka State Journal, both follow the text closely enough that it’s clear they share a common source.

The text from the Daily Gate City of August 23, 1915 gives us the whole article.

Esperantists of the World Meet.
[United Press Leased Wire Service.]
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 22.—Leaders of the Esperanto movement from the principal nations are here today in the eleventh international Esperanto congress which will be in session for one week under the auspices of the Panama-Pacific exposition. This congress is regarded as the most truly international gathering of all of the 820 odd congresses and conventions which will be held during the exposition year, in or near San Francisco.

All of the delegates, including a large number from the nations now at war, will speak the new language exclusively during the different sessions of the convention.

The congress was to have been held in Edinburgh in July, but the difficulty of gathering there all of the delegates while the war in in progress compelled the leaders of the moment to select San Francisco, where the exposition constituted an added attraction.
An attraction for few Esperantists, it would seem. Also, the “large number” of delegates from warring nations couldn’t have been that large, given the minuscule size of the congress. The Bemidji Daily Pioneer ran the identical text, but they dated it August 23, and ran it together into a single paragraph. The Topeka State Journal ran up to the first paragraph break of the Daily Gate City version.

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The Eleventh World Esperanto Congress was coincident with the Eighth National Congress of the Esperanto Association of North America (surely it could have been national or North American, but not both). According to America Esperantisto, both events had their opening ceremonies on Monday, August 23, 1915. The Universala Kongreso opened in Hall J of the City Auditorium at 10:30 a.m, and the EANA National Congress opened in the same room at 2:15 p.m. In a nod to the plan for a Universala Kongreso in Edinburgh, Robert Colquhoun of Scotland was president of the Kongreso, while on the national side, those duties were fulfilled by Professor H. B. Langille, of the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Langille also acted as vice-president of the Universala Kongreso, while Mr. Colquhoun hd no official role in the parts of the event under the auspices of the EANA.

The Eighth National Congress ended with plans to convene for a ninth national congress in Annapolis, Maryland in 1916. No plans for 1916 for the Universala Kongreso were announced. There would not be another until 1920.
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