Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Esperantist Agricultural Expert

Li revas pri bienoj kaj Esperanto.
The Washington D. C. school board was probably well rehearsed on reasons why not to introduce Esperanto into the curriculum by 1914 when Richard Bartholdt, Representative from Louisiana, suggested that Congressional intervention might be the way to go. Their first encounter with the idea seems to be when Sara Crafts, a noted social reformer (and early Esperantis), attempted this in 1908. Even the students got involved with petitioning the school board to teach Esperanto in 1913.

With the suggestion raised in 1908, 1913, and 1914, the big missing number is 1910. You would think that with the Universala Kongreso in Washington D. C. in 1910 that local Esperantists would have been emboldened to bring up the idea once again. And you would think right. In August 1910 (presumably as part of the preparations for the 1910/11 school year), the Washington D.C. school board made their second evaluation of Esperanto in the public schools.

On August 22, 1910, the Washington Post reported that the school board had discussed the matter, with one member taking a decided “no” stance and another that was more open to Esperanto. On August 29, the Post printed a letter from W. J. Spillman, whose name was probably familiar to those reading the Post, as Wikipedia notes that he “is considered to be the founding father of agricultural economics.” At the time of his letter to the Post, he was the head of the Office of Farm Management. What Wikipedia doesn’t note was that Spillman was also active and prominent in the Esperanto movement.

First, here’s the article on the school board, from the Washington Post, August 22, 1910:


Member of the School Board Discuss the New Language.


He Holds That French and Spanish Are More Needed in the District Curriculum—R. R. Horner Is Much Impressed With the Simplicity and Scope of the “Universal Tongue.”
Is Esperanto, the new international language, sufficiently advanced to warrant its incorporation as part of the curriculum of the public schools?

W. V. Cox, the new president of the board of education, says not, and another member of the board, R. R. Horner, is undecided upon the relative value of Esperanto as a study.

Mr. Cox said:
“At the present time we are unable to include French or Spanish in the curriculum of the public schools. To my mind these two languages are of infinity more benefit to the average person than all the Esperanto taught. To a certain extent Esperanto is a wonderful thing, but I am inclined to think its scope will necessarily be limited. It s about as hard to adopt a universal language as to adopt a universal line of thought.

“Just now we lack many necessary studies in the public schools. Each new study taught means an added outlay of money. After we have instilled into the minds of our children all the necessary elements of education which they in future life will be called upon to use, then will be the proper time to teach Esperanto. It is also very hard to say what the future may bring forth. The value of Esperanto may increase to an extent that it will be indispensable in the schools. However, the demand is not that urgent at the present time.”

Mr. Horner’s Views.
R. R. Horner said:
“I attended several of the meetings of the Esperanto congress and I am thoroughly impressed with the simplicity and scope of the new language. As to whether it is necessary in the schools I am undecided. Probably within a few years it may become absolutely necessary, and I have no doubt when that time comes Esperanto will be taught just as any other study. I do not know how the other members of the board feel on the matter, but it is possible we may meet and decide on the merits of the question.”
To which Spillman added in his letter, published in the Post on August 29, 1910:


Aid to Other Languages Argued in Favor of Introducing It in Schools.
Editor Post: I read with much interest, a few mornings ago, comment of two members of the school board concerning the possibility of introducing Esperanto into the public schools of the city. Both of these gentlemen, I infer, are sympathetic to the movement for an international language, and apparent the only objection either of them has to introducing Esperanto into the schools is the fact that the curriculum is already crowded.

In this connection, I wish to call attention to a statement written by Dr. D. O. S. Lowell, principal of the Roxbury Latin School of Boston, and brother of Dr. Lowell, president of Harvard, which is of interest. Dr. Lowell for some years has been experimenting with Esperanto as an introduction to the study of foreign languages. As a result of this experience he makes the unqualified statement that by devoting the first third of the year to the study of Esperanto and the remaining two-thirds to beginning Latin, German, or French, the student is able to make greater progress in Latin, German, or French during the remaining two-thirds of the year, after having acquired Esperanto, than such students formerly could bring the whole year without the preparation which Esperanto gives for language study.

Dr. Lowell is not the only language teacher whom I have heard make this assertion, based on his experience. The objection, therefore, that the curriculum is already too crowded to permit introducing Esperanto into the high schools seems to to be met, especially in the case of students who are to study some other language. It appears that they actually save time by learning Esperanto in advance of another language.

Washington, D. C., August 26.
I find myself wondering, if they weren’t teaching French or Spanish in the D.C. public schools in 1910, just what were they teaching? Though during that era, the assumption that Latin was a vital topic might not yet have been challenged in the D.C. public schools. Still, it’s interesting that the views of David Lowell didn’t command more influence.

But what of Spillman? When he wrote this letter, Walter J. Spillman was on the Executive Committee and the Publication Committee of the Esperanto Association of North America. In April 1909, he received his Atesto pri Kabableco, the high-level diploma given by the EANA. He lead the Esperanto club at the Department of Agriculture (Karl Kellerman, brother to Ivy Kellerman-Reed was also a member). At the time he had written the letter to the Post, had had just concluded his duties as the President of the Organizing Committee of the Sixth Congress, or to put that into Esperanto, Prezidanto de la Organiza Komitato de la Sesa Kongreso, that is to say that he organized the 1910 Universala Kongreso in Washington, D.C.

Yet after his activity up through 1911, he seems to vanish from the movement. He’s included in a list of names of once-active and prominent Esperantists in a December 1918 report by G. W. Lee. What happened to Walter J. Spillman? At one point, according to The Standard Reference Work for the Home, School, and Library (a terribly generic name for what seems to be an encyclopedia), he said:
It would be as impossible to stop the Esperanto movement now as it would be to stop the propagation of the Christian religion.
(The reference work is dated 1922, but the entry focuses almost entirely on the 1910 Universala Kongreso, suggesting that the entry hadn’t been updated in more than a decade.) Did he decide that Esperanto wasn’t unstoppable after all?
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