Friday, February 5, 2016

Mondays, Mrs. Roe Teaches Esperanto

Ŝi volas paroli esperante kun vi
Esperanto seems to have been at the center of the social world of Omaha, Nebraska in the period before World War I. In 1909, according to the Adresaro published by the Esperanto Association of North America, the Omaha Esperanto Club had forty-two members, with an additional twenty-two in the evening class (what this distinction indicated, it’s not quite clear). Oddly enough, Omaha had fifteen additional members of the EANA who were not members of the Omaha Nebraska Club.[1] Given this, it’s no surprise that the Omaha Daily Bee covered the local Esperantists so thoroughly.

I’ve already written about two of these Omaha early Esperantists, Charles J. Roberts (EANA membership number 923) and Mrs. W. B. (Alice) Howard (1346). Alice Howard’s mother, Mrs. E. A. (Abigail) Russell (1713) was a member of the First Nebraska Esperanto Club, of Ord, Nebraska (her number seems to indicate that she joined the EANA some time after her daughter did). According to Wikipedia, about this time Omaha had a population of 124,000 people. Not bad to have sixty-four people speaking or studying Esperanto.[2]

The February 5, 1911 Omaha Daily Bee had two items about Esperanto, both in what was termed the “Woman’s Section.” One was an item in the Social Calendar that on the following Friday (the 10th), Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Roberts would be hosting an Esperanto evening in their home. The other, part of a recurring reminder (not the first, but this is when I’m getting to it) was that:
The Esperanto beginners’ and advance classes will meet at the public library Monday evening at 7:30 o’clock. Mrs. J. P. Rowe will lead the beginners’ class.
The only other reference to this appeared two weeks before in the Omaha Daily Bee of January 22, 1911:
Mrs. J. P. Rowe will be the leader of the beginners’ class in Esperanto, which meets Monday evening at 7:30 o’clock in the lecture room of the public library. The advance class will meet for study at the same hour.
No such person.

Imagine people's surprise when
there was no Mrs. Rowe
There are certain problems that crop up in doing this kind of research, first of which is that in the early twentieth century, many women used their husband’s initials. This is still the most proper form, but we do know that “Mrs. John Doe” does not have “John” as her given name, which means to find “Mrs. J. P. Rowe,” we need to find “Mr. J. P. Rowe.”

No such person. I did the genealogical research and completely failed to find a J. P. Rowe in Omaha, Nebraska at the right time. There was a John A. Rowe (his widow’s name was Emma), and sometimes newspapers get little things like that wrong, but the Bee did have an awful lot of references to not only Mrs. J. P. Rowe, but J. P. Rowe as well, indicating that we weren’t talking a widow. As always, the address list of Amerika Esperantisto came in handy.

The leadership of the Omaha Esperanto Club consisted of the two previously discussed Esperantists, Charles J. Roberts (president) and Mrs. W. B. [Alice] Howard (secretary-treasurer). The vice-president was Mrs. M. P. Roe. Could M. P. Roe have any relationship to J. B. Rowe?

The listing is a hodgepodge of ways of noting married women. We’ve got Mrs. Josephine Carroll but also Mrs. Samuel Rees. Charles Roberts’s wife is there as Mrs. Agnes D. Roberts. It seemed likely that Mrs. Rowe might actually be Mrs. Roe.

Mary Frances (Pierce) Roe was the wife of John Phipps Roe. John Roe was in real estate in 19oo, but by 1910, the Census reported his occupation as “own income” (nevertheless his seventeen-year-old son had an occupation of “daily paper route,” no doubt delivering the Bee). Mary Roe was twelve years younger than her husband. He does not seem to have been involved in the Esperanto movement. Nor does it seem that Mary Roe was long involved in the movement either.

There’s only one other reference to her in Amerika Esperantisto, but that reference really shows what a mania there was for Esperanto in 1911 Omaha. There were four classes available.
Omaha, Neb.—Jam kvara Esperanta kurso estas starigita en ĉi tiu urbo. Ĉiusabate kunvenas klaso instruata de Fino. Gertrude Bailey, en la Publika Biblioteko. Ĉiulunde vespere en la sama loko kunvenas alia klaso, instruata de Sino. J. P. Roe, kaj samtempe grupo de esperantistoj, kuij deziras sin ekzerci per esperanta interparolado. La kvara kurso estas starigita sub la kontrolo de la “American Women’s League,” kaj ĉi tui granda klaso estas instruata de Sino. W. B. Howard.

[Already a fourth Esperanto course is started in this city. Every Saturday a class meets instructed by Miss. Gertrude Bailey, in the Public Library. Every Monday evening in the same location another class meets, instructed by Mrs. J. P. Roe, and at the same time a group of Esperantists, who desire to exercise themselves through talking amongst themselves in Esperanto. The fourth course has started under the authority of the American Women’s League, and that large class is taught by Mrs. W. B. Howard.]
The item continues with a description of the party held by Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, “kaj eĉ la glaciaĵo portis en si verdan stelon” (and even the ice cream carried within itself a green star). It all sounds like if you were one of the social set of Omaha in 1911 you needed to brush up on your Esperanto.

  1. I’m assuming here that as the local chapter of the EANA, membership was probably a small surcharge over the EANA dues, but that all members had to be members of the national organization. I suspect a local Esperanto club that tried that today would find it impossible to retain members.
  2. I mean, I live in a city of 250,000 people, and I’d be lucky to find six. I don’t think there are sixty-four in the whole county.  ↩

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  1. Hmmmm... Small town in Nebraska... no television, presumably little or no cinema (silent film era). Radio was just getting started, and was telegraph code, not voice. Might one be far off in simply assuming that any social entertainment of 1911 Nebraska was mostly participatory?

    Today, on the other hand, how many people are willing to forgo the latest TV serial, Cinema blockbuster, or web-surfing, for any sort of night school or club activity?

    We may have more free time today (?) but the competition for that free time has gotten rather fiercer -- and requires less effort on us "consumers" to enjoy.

    Bernardo Verda

  2. Mi loĝas en Omaha. Nun estas eble du aŭ tri esperantistoj en la urbo.


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