Wednesday, September 23, 2015

An Early Chicago Esperanto Society?

William E. Curtis
What did he know about
The column, “Matters of Interest to Women and About the Household” that appeared under the name Marion Harland was edited by the American writer Mary Virginia Terhune (she wrote a number of books under the name, including some novels and an autobiography). The column in the (Richmond, Virginia) Times of September 23, 1902, includes four photos of women’s hair styles (the fashion seems to be “adorned with artificial leaves and flowers”), a couple of recipes (the first done by weight, the second by volume measures), and in between, questions and answers.

I should note that though these were noted to be “For the Housewife,” they did not deal with domestic matters, for the most part. The first is on croquet rules, the second a series of disconnection questions (“Was any Pope of Rome a Mason?” “What is the square area of New York and of Philadelphia?”), and the third is how to contact the Ethical Culture Society. Not all questions get answered, and the final question (of nine) is one.

This is where Harland gets to Esperanto.
During his recent trip abroad Mr. William E. Curtis, in one of his letters to the Chicago Record-Herald, wrote of the new international language, “Esperanto.”

I have heard that there is in this city a club organized for the study of Esperanto. Can you or some of your accommodating contributors put me in communication with one of its officers?
F. C. H.

Who can tell us of the club and more of the international language that is to bring to naught the work done in the shadow of Babel’s Tower? The city is Chicago.
The writer mentioned, William E Curtis, was a journalist who worked for (yeah, you guessed it already) the Chicago Record-Herald. What he might have said about Esperanto, I have not been able to determine, as there seems to be no online resources for the Record-Herald. Mr. Curtis was unlikely to have particular knowledge of Esperanto doings in Chicago, since he seems to have been a bit of a traveler, and a couple of his books deal with the conditions in Turkey.

Onward then to the more interesting question as to whether there was an Esperanto group in Chicago in 1902. I bear the hard responsibility, attenuated through the intervening years, of telling F. C. H. that the answer is “probably not.” As a caveat, I have only the historical record from which to work. If there had been a club, established in August 1902 and disbanded in October 1902, which left no records whatsoever, the appropriate answer to F. C. H. would have been “yes,” though the net effect would be the same as a “no.”

The earliest record of an Esperanto group in Chicago is the Ĉikaga Esperantista Society (Chicago Esperantist Society), which was founded on May 31, 1906 (and the current Esperanto Society of Chicago is not a continuation of this earlier group). None of its leaders have the initials F.C.H., so the identity of the person enquiring about a Chicago Esperanto group in 1908 will have to remain a mystery.
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