Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gathering Esperantists in Iowa

State? I'll settle for local
Oh, for the days when there were both state and local Esperanto organizations. By the time I had joined the Esperanto movement, most states had but a single Esperanto organization, and if a state (like California) was large enough, it had regional groups, but nothing more. In the mid–1980s, I was a member of the Esperanto Society of New England,[1] shows from what a (theoretically) large area we were drawing our potential members; it might have more truthfully been called the Esperanto Society of Greater Boston. I lived in Cambridge, and the furthest I ever remember going for a meeting was Concord, some 15 miles away.

The same was true, about the same time, when I was one of the founders of the Gaylaxian Science Fiction Society.[2] As the first, we didn’t attach any geographic designation to our name (subsequent groups did, usually on the form [Place] Gaylaxians), but we really were a group for LGBT (and LGBT-friendly) science fiction fans in the greater Boston area. A meeting has to be pretty compelling to spend an hour getting there.

This has been the problem I’ve had in trying to run an Esperanto group: too few people spread out too thinly.[3] It’s about impossible for the few Esperanto speakers in Orange County to find a mutually convenient time to meet. Subtract those who (for whatever reason) do not desire face-to-face communication with other Esperantists, and it’s a recipe for announcing a meeting and finding that no one actually shows up.

So when I jump back in time nearly a century and see that on January 20, 1910, the announcement of the formation of a Iowa state organization, it gives me a warm feeling of nostalgia, as if in some small way, those were more halcyon times. Apart from Esperanto, they really weren’t, but let’s not kill my fantasy so quickly. Somewhat surprisingly, this development in the Esperanto movement was not published in the Iowa newspapers, but instead came to the attention of the Omaha, Nebraska Daily Bee.

It was one of two articles in the Bee on Esperanto. I’ve cited the Bee enough to suspect there was an Esperantist tucked in amongst its staff. The other item was just a filler, which probably came from some source that provided such things to newspapers. You never see these anymore, probably the average newspaper still can produce more in-house copy than they have room for in their pages. One of them probably made sense in 1910, but I have no idea even how to figure out what was meant by:
Now that a silk handkerchief has stopped a death-dealing bullet, the corset steel may take a back seat.
Whatever that means. The Esperanto item two items later lowercases the names of all three languages mentioned, but I’ve taken the liberty of correcting the Bee:
The new universal language, successor to Volapuk and Esperanto, is called Ido. Give it time and it will be dodo.
In 1910, pretty might the height of the Ido-schism, the Bee was not predicting a great future for Ido.
The other item was earlier in the paper. The short items were on page 6, and there was a news item on page 2 as part of a column of Iowa news. Omaha is right at the Nebraska/Iowa border,[4] so no doubt Bee readers felt some affinity with news from Des Moines. In the subhead, we have “Esperanto Movement Grows,” and after a couple other items, we get:
State Esperanto Club
Iowa Esperanto advocates have formed a state organization and have elected the following officers: President, Prof. James Ellis Gow, Cedar Rapids; vice president, E. E. Garber, Leon.

Miss Elsie Bagley of Cedar Rapids and Arthur Baker of Chicago, editor of the American Esperantist, will lecture in Des Moines at the city library soon.
James Ellis Gow was a professor in the Department of Geology at Coe College, but his work was both in geology and botany. In 1910, when he became president of the new state organization, he was just shy of his thirty-third birthday. He died in 1914 at the age of thirty-seven. According to an obituary in the University of Iowa alumni magazine, he died of kidney failure.

Professor Gow was active in the Esperanto movement at least as early as 1909, when he is listed as an Iowa Esperantist in the January 1909 Amerika Esperantisto. That same year, a club was formed at Coe College, of which Professor Gow was the secretary-treasurer. Amerika Esperantisto reported:
Cedar Rapids.—An Esperanto club was organized at Coe College in this city, November 23, with twenty-six members. The following officers were elected: President, Prof. Hubert Scott, head of the Department of English of Coe College; vice-president, Miss Pearle Bailey; secretary-treasurer, Prof. James Ellis Gow, of the Department of Geology. Classes will meet regularly for the study of the language. The very promising way in which the club starts is due largely to the enthusiasm of Prof. Lola M. Condit, of the Department of Modern Languages, of Coe College.
Coe College was clearly a hotbed of Esperanto in 1909. Twenty-six members. I’m kinda envious. Groups do come and go. A year later, on January 20, 1911, the Seattle Star reported:
Fifty Esperantists met last night to reorganize the Seattle Esperanto Society, which originally was formed in 1906.
Fifty Esperantists! That’s even better then twenty-six (nearly twice as good). But there are bigger numbers. The second paragraph of the 1910 Omaha Bee article promised a talk at the public library (though it happened in Cedar Rapids, not Des Moines) by Miss Elsie Bagley and Mr. Arthur Baker.[5] How did that go? Amerika Esperantisto reported on it.[6]
Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Tie, en la publika biblioteko, okdek personoj aŭdis la paraladon. El tiuj, preskaŭ kvardek restis post la fino por konsiliĝi pri fondo de klaso, kaj oni skribas, ke poste pli multaj aliĝis. Prof. James E. Gow, el Coe College, scienca profesoro, prizorgas la afteron.

[There, in the public library, eighty persons heard the talk. Of those, about forty stayed after the end to council about the formation of a class, and one writes that later more joined. Professor James E. Gow, from Coe College, science professor, took care of the affair.
Eighty for a public lecture on Esperanto! Not bad at all! No, I don’t know how to capture that kind of attention in 2016.

  1. Amherst Esperanto describes itself as a chapter of the Esperanto Society of New England. The link provided to to the ESNE website is dead.
  2. The Gaylaxians do not seem to currently have a presence on the web. I suspect that they have quietly gone out of existence. There was thought of a Boston-area Gaylaxicon as late as 2015, though the decision was made to run currently with Bent-Con in Burbank, California. Bent-Con 2015 didn’t occur, which meant no Gaylaxicon 2015 either. (For the record, I don’t like the idea of piggybacking on other cons.)
  3. Come. Join. Learn Esperanto. I’ll bake cookies. (Venu! Aliĝu! Lernu Esperanton! Mi bakos kuketojn!)
  4. I had to look it up.
  5. He certainly turned Esperanto into a profitable venture for a while, and does seem to have jumped ship once the profitability dropped.
  6. Do note that the editor of Amerika Esperantisto was, at that time, none other than Arthur Baker.  ↩

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