Tag Archives: Clubs

Do You Speak Esperanto?

Included in Midway Village Museum’s collection of postcards is one showing members of Rockford’s “Esperanto Klubo,” or Esperanto Club.  It shows eight young men, sharply dressed, posing proudly for the camera in 1916.  In a community with numerous clubs, this is one of the most obscure ones.

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Esperanto Klubo “Progreso”, Rockford, Illinois, 1916

In 1887 Polish physician Dr. L. L. Zamenhoff devised and introduced Esperanto as a new international language. He created it to serve as a second language that could be used as a linguistic bridge between people speaking different languages.  The idea was not to replace any other language but to provide a common language that is simple to learn and allows people to communicate without having to give up their own native language or adopt someone else’s.  While it is not widely used, there are still lots of people who speak Esperanto and over 100 periodicals published in it.  It is still used as a bridge language by the UN and others to translate documents from say Danish to several other languages.  One person can translate from, let’s say, Danish to Esperanto, then others can translate from Esperanto to any other language.

How did this come to be the focus of a club in Rockford over 100 years ago?  In an era of heavy immigration to the US, it is perhaps understandable that some Americans – including some Rockfordians – felt the need to deal with intense cultural changes by finding a better way for immigrants and long-term residents to communicate.  Esperanto provided an avenue to do that.

In April 1907, Rockford’s Daily Register Gazette reported that several local groups, including the Rockford Temperance guards, the YMCA and a group of south Rockford boys had come together to learn Esperanto.  They announced a “grand rally” to be held at the YMCA building for the purpose of showing off postcards from Esperantoists in over 40 different countries.  Any boys interested in seeing these were invited to come!  The following evening, Floyd B. Hardin, president of the University of Chicago Esperanto Society, lectured on the new language.  The article went on to state that free public courses in Esperanto were soon to be opened in Rockford under the direction of Mr. Hardin with assistance from Mr. E. C. Reed of the Harvard University Esperanto Association.

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The Rockford YMCA at State & Madison Streets.

One of the advantages of Esperanto is that it can be learned very easily.  It has only 16 simple rules to follow (a tad fewer than the English language) and, the local paper reported that the average American student “already knows three-fourths of the words in the vocabulary.”  Therefore, it would only take a couple of months to master the new language.

Subsequent articles in Rockford papers suggest that Hardin’s lecture was a success.  The May 21, 1907 edition of the Rockford Morning Star reported 15 new students for the second class in Esperanto, bringing the total to 100.  Classes were held at the YMCA, then located at State & Madison Streets.

Interest in this new artificial language was high enough in Rockford that the Rockford Republic published three lessons in Esperanto a couple of months later.  Lesson 1 – the Esperanto alphabet and how to pronounce it – appeared on July 18, 1907.  Lesson 2 – article, noun, adjective, present tense – appeared on July 22nd.  Lesson 3 – plural, past tense, future tense, accusative case, and adverbs – was published on July 24th.  Each of these lessons could be printed on a single 8½” x 11” page.  Imagine doing that with an English grammar lesson covering the same topics!

Shortly after these lessons appeared in the paper, Esperantists from all over Illinois met in Rockford to form a statewide Esperanto Association of all the clubs studying the language.  The July 28, 1907 edition of the Rockford Morning Star reported that delegates from 15 societies attended, meeting in the office of E. C. Reed.  Reed was duly elected secretary. The aim of the new group was to “broaden the propaganda and arouse more interest in the study of the language”.

Evidently, Mr. Reed made an impression on his fellow Esperantists as he was selected to be secretary for the Esperanto Association of North America in 1911.  The August 28th edition of the Rockford Daily Register Gazette reported that he was being sent abroad annually by the Association, and that he was the sole American elected a member of the International Esperanto Commission.

Just as evidently, interest in Esperanto flagged in Rockford after its big splash in 1907.  An article in the October 23, 1911 edition of the Rockford Republic included an article that began with the statement that “Esperanto, the international language which was so much talked about a few years ago is not dead in Rockford.”  A new local organization was being formed to study the language.  The new club was to be known as “Progreso,” which gets us back to the postcard that started this discussion.  That name clearly appears at the bottom of the postcard.  Local officers were Herman Hallstrom as president, and Karl Froding, secretary and treasurer.


Men’s Socialist Party of Rockford, 1910. Future Rockford Mayor Herman Hallstrom is in the middle row at far left.

Hallstrom’s interest in Esperanto may have come from the fact that he was born in Sweden in 1888 and came to America (and Rockford) 20 years later.  By 1910, he was active in the Socialist Party in Rockford.  He served overseas during World War I but returned to his interest in politics after returning home.  He served five two-year terms as Rockford’s mayor, his first three terms (starting with the 1921 election) as a member of the Rockford Labor League and his final two terms (following the 1929 election) as an independent.  Outside of politics, his primary interest was with Swedish American Hospital, serving as a board member and as president of the hospital.  He died in 1961 at the age of 72.

Not as much is known of Mr. Froding.  However, according to a brief obituary printed in the Rockford Register-Republic in May 1949, he came to Rockford in 1903 and worked at the Colonial Desk Company.  He moved to Auburn, Wisconsin in 1948 where he died a year later.  We do know, from the September 23, 1913 edition of the Rockford Republic that the Esperanto Club had resumed its activities at that point, meeting weekly in Froding’s offices in the Columbia Building on 7th Street.  There were also classes for beginners once a week.

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Froding, so central to the local Esperanto movement, worked at Colonial Desk Company upon his arrival in Rockford.

Interest in Esperanto continued locally, or at least at the Rockford Republic, which included an article in their March 30, 1912 edition stating that the Esperanto Association of North America would send pamphlets to any of the paper’s readers who sent their name and address to the Association’s office in Washington.  A 1924 article announced plans to form a club among east side workers for the purpose of studying Esperanto.  The paper quotes Mr. Froding as saying that Esperanto was “believed by many to be the most logical international language….”  He was cited as being an official of the Swedish Socialist Club, headquartered on Seventh Street.

Where does Esperanto stand now?  According to the Journal of the American Medical Information Association, interest in the language increased after World War II, especially as Eastern Europe and China saw the need for a common language but were reluctant to embrace English.  Interest in Esperanto peaked in the 1970s, “receiving serious attention from linguistic scholars, with numerous publications appearing in academic journals.  Perhaps two to five million people studied or spoke Esperanto.  Conventions were held; periodicals and more books appeared.”  However, after the ‘70s, interest in it dropped off as English became the closest thing to an international language. Esperanto was simply not practical.  It wasn’t anyone’s native language, finding people who could speak it (outside of Esperanto conventions) was nearly impossible, and it did not have a means of adapting to contemporary terminology.


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Women’s History Month

Kate’s signature from a letter written in 1937 to Chief A. E. Bargren congratulating him on his 47th anniversary as a Rockford policeman. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate’s signature from a letter written in 1937 to Chief A. E. Bargren congratulating him on his 47th anniversary as a Rockford policeman. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate F. O’Connor

In honor of Women’s History Month, we thought it would be fitting to talk about Kate O’Connor, one of the most notable businesswomen, philanthropists and suffragists from the Rockford area. Here are some highlights from her life story.


Early Years

If you lived in Rockford from the 1880s to the 1940s, you would know the name Kate F. O’Connor. Born June 1, 1863 in Rockford, IL to Irish immigrants Cornelius O’Connor and Mary O’Malley O’Connor, Kate was the youngest of 8 children. She graduated from Rockford High School in 1878, and afterwards studied drawing and attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago.



In 1882 Kate was appointed to the position of Deputy to the County Clerk. Four years later she was made a notary public by Illinois Governor Ogilsby. The Register newspaper described her in 1887 as follows: “Though she does the work of an able-bodied man, she is small and slight in appearance, wears her hair down her back in one braid, and never wears her dresses longer than to her ankles.” (12/29/1887) The article continues to state her local popularity in both the business and wider communities.


Kate, age 30, pictured in 1894. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate, age 30, pictured in 1894. (Midway Village Museum)


Her popularity was put to the test in 1894. That year, the papers reported that the new County Clerk wanted Kate to resign from her position, citing that too much of her time was being spent on other commitments. (Morning Star, 11/15/1894) The local uproar was reported in the papers, citing her faithful and exemplary record in the position, and within 5 days, the County Clerk reversed his original statement.

In 1898 Kate did leave her position, opening up her own offices in the Brown Building, which offered services in pensions, loans, real estate, and insurance, with probate matters listed as a specialty. Kate found much success in the real estate business and focused her efforts in that sector. She eventually opened an office in Chicago, doing business in Winnebago, Stephenson, Ogle, and Cook Counties.



Looking at Kate’s long list of organizations and clubs she was a part of there were not many clubs in Rockford that she was not involved in. She was a part of groups at St. James’ Catholic Church, member of the Business & Professional Woman’s Club, founded the Rockford Riding Club in 1887, and was involved in the Winnebago County Home for the Aged, among many, many others. She sponsored petitions, directed inquiries into wrong doings, and fought for Civil War widows to receive their husband’s pensions.

In 1921 Kate, along with her fellow members of the Business & Professional Woman’s Club, backed Rockford teachers in a dispute over equal pay for female teachers. She continued this fight when being appointed to the Board of Education, pushing for general teacher and student welfare. Her advocacy eventually led to her appointment in 1933 by Governor Henry Horner to supervisor of the new minimum wage law for women and children in Illinois. She made strides, getting new wage scales for women & minors working in laundries, and pushed for wage regulations in beauty shops. In 1942, she was made assistant to Thomas F. O’Malley, regional director of the federal wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rockford Republic, 4/29/1921

Rockford Republic, 4/29/1921



Kate was an outspoken supporter of the woman’s equal rights movement, cited many times locally in papers for her comments on the subject, and was well known for her strong opinions on equal rights for women in all ways. In an 1888 article noting Rockford women’s differing opinions on the topic, Kate states: “Great reforms will always work out in time, and woman suffrage is inevitable. There is certainly no good reason why woman should not vote if she wants to, and every argument advanced against it so far, is without foundation, and cannot be substantiated by rational proof.” (Daily Gazette, 1/26/1888) As the flag was raised on the newly completed courthouse in Rockford, Kate tied a yellow ribbon, representing equal suffrage, to the flag’s rope.

A charter member of the Illinois League of Women Voters, she spoke to women’s groups across the state, working diligently in the effort to win the vote, and, after that battle was won, continued to remind women of their duty to vote. In 1929, along with Jane Addams & Catherine Waugh McCulloch, she was honored by the National Suffrage Organization for her efforts. The next year, she had another first as a member of the first jury in Winnebago County to have women and men serving together. In 1932, she was Vice chairman of the 12th Congressional District for the Illinois Democratic Women’s Congressional Committee.

She actively campaigned for Ruth Hanna McCormick, Judge Henry Horner, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was appointed by Horner to run his re-election campaign for his second term as Governor of Illinois.


Starting around 1907, Kate commented on her preference to wear suits, as seen in this photo, c. 1930. (Midway Village Museum)

Starting around 1907, Kate commented on her preference to wear suits, as seen in this photo, c. 1930. (Midway Village Museum)

Kate died May 25, 1945 in St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago of a heart attack.

This of course is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s lots more to learn about Kate! Go to our Downloadable Resources page here to learn more!

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The Swedish Can Really “Break a Leg”

Hjalmar FryxellIn the days before Netflix, television, radio, and moving pictures, the theater was the place to go for entertainment.  The Swedish Theater of Rockford was born from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1911 when Hjalmar Fryxell (left) and J. Herman Hallstrom, who later became mayor of Rockford, formed the group.  Carl Bruce, who had previously acted with a traveling theatrical company in Minnesota, joined the theatrical group early on.  Bruce acted and created the sets.  Fryxell wrote a few plays as well as yearly revues of Swedish Rockford performed by the players.

Carl Bruce as Sven pa Lappen

Carl Bruce in his Sven pa Lappen (Sven on the Patch) persona.  He performed comic monologues as Sven in Swedish communities and organizations throughout Northern Illinois.

Carl Bruce Accordian

Carl Bruce played this M. Honer accordion as part of his Sven persona.

Carl BruceCarl (left) was born in Sweden on July 19, 1887.  He immigrated in 1903 and became a naturalized citizen in 1916.  He married Wilma Peterson around this time, who was an actress in the Swedish Theater.

Wilma Peterson BruceBorn in Rockford to Swedish immigrants, Wilma (right) worked at the National Lock Factory as a Fore Lady who supervised a department of young Swedish women.  Carl worked at National Lock as a machinist.  Wilma passed away in 1933.

Gunnar Edstrom

Gunnar Edstrom (left) and Carl Bruce put on acts together from the late 1920s to the 1950s.

Actress Alma Nelson (below) helped her husband, Albin, operate Nelson’s Home Bakery at 7th Street and 5th avenue.Alma Nelson

Swedish Theater

Group photo of the Swedish Theater of Rockford players performing as Swedish immigrants.  Carl Bruce is seated with his accordion that he used as Sven pa Lappen.

Swedish Theater Carl Bruce

Scene from a production.  Carl Bruce is on the right.

Swedish Theater Group Carl Bruce

Scene from a production.  Carl Bruce is on the right.

Swedish Theater Group Rockford

Scene from a production. Carl Bruce is second from the right.

Al Goranson, Gunnar Edstrom, Carl Bruce

Al Goranson, Gunnar Edstrom, Carl Bruce, 1937

Swedish Theater Group of Rockford

Group photo of Swedish Theater of Rockford players.  Wilma and Carl Bruce are at the far left, Hjalmer Fryxell is third from right, and Alma Nelson is at the far right.

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Rockford’s Luck o’ the Irish

1916 Postcard

The earliest Irish immigrants who traveled to the Rockford area settled in a place known as Irish Grove in 1838.  Between Pecatonica and Durand, it was a community made up of farming families that surround St. Patrick’s Church, which was established in 1841.  The church and community are still present today, keeping their history alive.

As the first foreign-born group to immigrate to Rockford, the Irish arrived in large numbers to escape the Great Potato Famine in 1846-47.  They occupied two square blocks bordered by S. Rockton Ave., Cedar St., Short Horsman St., and Chestnut St.  This area became known as the “Irish Patch,” the “Potato Patch,” or sometimes just the “Patch.”  Many of those who settled in this area are known for laying the first railroad track through Rockford and building the Chicago & Northwestern railroad bridge across the Rock River.  Quickly outgrowing the Patch, many Irish occupied the areas around the Water Power District, where the men worked in the factories along the Rock River, as well as the on the east side of the river near St. James Church.

To preserve their history in Rockford, a group of Irishmen formed the Irish Fellowship Club of Rockford in 1920.  The club, like its counterparts nation-wide, had a mission to promote the culture and traditions of the Irish heritage with the area’s citizens.

Irish Fellowship Club Charter Meeting, June 6, 1920

If you go out on the town this Saturday night, you may be looking forward to a big mug or a tall glass of green beer.  But the Irish are most often associated with a love of whiskey.  An Irish wake consisted of sitting up all night with the corpse of the deceased friend, “Paddy,” toasting him, sharing memories, and giving him a last ‘hurrah.’

St. Patrick’s Day was, and remains to be, the most celebrated Irish occasion.  Rockford radio personality and third generation Irish immigrant Morey Owens said that on St. Patrick’s Day “there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are Irish and those who wish they were Irish.”

1913 Postcard

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Midway Village!

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