Thursday, January 21, 2016

Never Too Late to Learn Esperanto!

Ŝi esperantiĝis kiam ŝi havis 70 jarojn!
We can all learn from the example of Agnes Corliss, who passed her preliminary examination in Esperanto in mid–1912, as was reported in the June 1912 Amerika Esperantisto. What the magazine didn’t report was that Mrs. Corliss was a seventy-four year old woman. She began her study of Esperanto, according to her obituary,[1] when she was seventy, which would have been either late 1907, or during just about any part of 1908.

That makes her a fairly early Esperantist, learning it just about at the beginning of the Esperanto Association of North America. Her earliest connection to the movement seems to be in 1910, when she gave 50¢ to EANA.[2] As the annual membership in the organization was also 50¢, I suspect she sent in a dollar and made a contribution of the other part, although I do not see her in the subsequent membership lists. The 1911 EANA Adresaro lists twelve Esperantists in Vermont, eleven of them the membership of the Brattleboro Esperanto Society.

Mrs. Corliss was not particularly active in the Esperanto movement in the more visible way; there are no little poems or stories attributed to her, she did not write to the press advocating Esperanto. Clearly though, her interest in Esperanto was enough for the Middlebury Register to take not of it when when they reported on her death, in their edition of January 21, 1921.

Learned Esperanto at 70
Mrs. Andrew Corliss of Marshfield, whose funeral took place Saturday morning learned Esperanto through a correspondence course after she passed her 70th birthday and received a diploma from Washington, D.C. She was a woman of rare intellectual ability. She died in her 83rd year.
I want to be diplomatic here. I know we are talking about a woman who was born in 1837 in Vermont. There clearly were some limited opportunities to being a woman in pre-Civil-War Vermont. What does a young woman of “rare intellectual ability” do in 1855? Well, we know that in 1862, Agnes Batchelder married Andrew Corliss, and she became a farmer’s wife.[3] I realize that no matter how rare a woman’s intellect was in the second half of the nineteenth century, it’s not that Mrs. Corliss would have been doing something like running for the Vermont legislature.[4]

It’s clear that despite her seeming lack of involvement, that she was involved in a local club, even though she seemed unable to attend. The Montpelier organization, La Interurba Klubo Esperantista (Inter-city Esperantist Club), was twenty-five miles away, and they remembered her fondly in a memorial in the February 1921[5] Amerika Esperantisto. Its author, Nellie Gill, was one of the principal members of the group, mentioned frequently in its news.
With profound regret we report the death of Mrs. Agnes G. Corliss, an isolated by enthusiastic esperantist.

Mrs. Anges C. Corliss, wife of Andrew Corliss of Marshfield, Vermont, died January 12, 1921, at the age of eighty three years.

Mrs. Corliss had passed her seventieth birthday before she ever heard of Esperanto and then she chanced upon lessons given in a magazine. Being of a studious nature she soon became surprisingly proficient for a woman who was well into the evening of life and who was so remote from other samideanoj. Through correspondence with distant Esperantists she learned that within twenty-five miles—in Montpelier, Vermont,—there were others interested in Esperanto.

At about this time, the Interurba Klubo Esperantista was organized by John L. Stanyan and Mrs. Corliss became a member. Owing to feeble health she was never present at meetings but continued her studies by correspondence. In the June number of Amerika Esperantisto, 1912, her name appears as having passed the preliminary examinations and receiving a diploma from Washington.

From time to time the members of the Interurba Klubo went to her home where they found a warm welcome. Her joy was unbounded when she heard la karan lingvon spoken for the first time. Her interest in the cause of Esperanto continued to the last. We ho have known and loved her keenly feel the loss of a valued friend.
—Nellie Monte Gill,
Montpelier, Vermont.
Still, rare intelligence and a studious nature. She was an isolated Esperantist. That larger organization in Brattleboro, Vermont, was about 100 miles away from Marshfield, making Montreal, Quebec, slightly closer (as the crow flies; the actual roads are longer). And, remember, Montpelier was too far for her at twenty-five miles. It is not clear if she knew John Pellett, the head of the Brattleboro group. I only hope she had a happy life, and that she found satisfaction on a farm in Vermont.

  1. You did know that someone who was seventy-four almost one hundred four years ago is long since dead, right?
  2. Okay, it’s not exactly a princely sum, however, it seems that a similar donation today would be somewhere between $12 and $25, so don’t think her ungenerous. Two others also only gave 50¢. Seven gave a dollar each. Two big spenders gave $5. One profligate individual gave $10. Dr. Erwin Smith of Washington, D.C. donated $100 to the group.
  3. In 1867, Andrew and Agnes had a daughter, Annie. Clearly any mail that came to that house address simply “A. Corliss” was up for grabs.
  4. Oh, so who was the first woman in the Vermont House of Representatives? That was Edna Beard, who took her seat the same year that Mrs. Corliss died, 1921.

  5. It offers me no end of amusement that the issue is dated “February, 1821.”  ↩

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