Friday, September 25, 2015

An Esperantist President in Washington

Big man in the Esperanto movement
Despite Edwin C. Reed’s fairly central role in the U.S. Esperanto movement of the early twentieth century, there is no entry for him in the Esperanto-language Wikipedia, even though there is one for his wife, Ivy Kellerman-Reed. In a way, they seem to be Esperanto’s first power couple, she being a writer, editor, translator, and teacher, and he being guy who organized things. Organizing things can be less enduring; even if you put your stamp on an organization, organizations can quickly go from vibrant to nonexistent. While Dr. Kellerman-Reed’s books can still be found on bookshelves, her husband’s organizations are all now defunct.

Reed (and throughout, I’m going to distinguish them by referring to him as Reed and her as Kellerman-Reed) was the first secretary of the Esperanto Association of North America, but as the role of president seemed to be largely ceremonial, the actual administrative duties fell to the secretary. This probably hampered the organization’s ability to capitalize on its early growth, since it the actual presidents weren’t the slightest bit interested in being strong leaders, and the first two (while Reed was secretary) weren’t even Esperanto speakers. From about 1909 through 1913, Edwin C. Reed was pretty much the central figure in the U.S. Esperanto movement.

In September 1910, following the (small) 1910 Universala Kongreso, Reed was elected president of the District Federation of Esperantists, the local organization for Washington, D.C. This was the subject of an article by the Washington D.C. Evening Star on September 25, 1910.

Secretary of National Association is Elected President of Local Organization.
E. C. Reed, secretary of the Esperanto Association of North America, was elected president of the District Federation of Esperantists, at a meeting in Pythian Temple, on 9th street northwest, last night. Mr. Reed, who is in charge of the North American headquarters of the Esperantists in this city, and to whose efforts the success of the recent Esperanto Congress here was largely attributed, was elected by a vote of 27 to 1.

The other officers elected for the ensuing year were W. J. Spillman, first vice president; Fanny M. King, second vice president, and I. C. I. Evans, secretary and treasurer, re-elected.

The meeting was called to order by I. C. I. Evans, secretary and treasurer of the District federation. Mr. Reed was appointed temporary chairman, pending the election of permanent officer, as W. F. Gude, the retiring president, was not present. The other retiring officers were Irwin F. Smith, vice president; Charles W. Russell, second vice president, and I. C. I. Evans, secretary and treasurer.

Increase in Membership.
Mr. Evans read a short report of his work for the last year, telling of the present condition of the finances of the federation and progress and increase in membership during the year.

The organization committee of the federation met for the first time November 1, 1909. Since that time five chartered societies have sprung up in the District federation, with a total membership of 107, which the forty-three individual members, brings the membership up to 150. The report of the receipts and expenditures for the last year shows a balance in the treasury of $6.40.

The North American Association of Esperantists has opened new headquarters in the Edwards block, on 15th street, near H street.
My first question really has to be, did I. C. I. Evan’s friends call him “Icy,” even behind his back? Mr. Evans was most likely Illtyd C I Evans, a clerk in the Department of Agriculture (then a hotbed of Esperanto activity), who in 1910 was a forty-three-year-old widowed Welsh immigrant. That treasury report he read doesn’t sound so good. Sure, the buying power of $6.40 was a lot greater in 1910 than it is more than a century later, one site suggests that the group had the equivalent of $156.81 on hand, which is little more than a 2015 dollar for every member.

The first vice president, Walter J. Spillman was a prominent employee of the Department of Agriculture, whose activity in the Esperanto movement seems to have peaked about this time.

Erwin F. Smith (the Evening Star got his name slightly wrong) was a pathologist in the Department of Agriculture. He was fifty-six-year old widowed man.

There were three women in 1910 Washington named Fannie King, although we can discount Fannie J. King. In 1912, that rose to five.

The past president, William F. Gude, was the president and treasurer of Gude Brothers, florists. Mr. Gude and his wife, were born in the District of Columbia to German parents.

It’s not clear who Charles W. Russell was. There was a prominent diplomat of that name whose home was in D.C. during that time, however, he spent most of 1910 in the Middle East, and so it seems unlikely that he could have been at all effective in the leadership of an Esperanto organization.
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