If you needed a linguist in 1840 …
you could find not one, but two in Charleston, South Carolina.
Many city directories used to include occupations in the people part of the directory (as opposed to the business or street parts). This information is very useful in tracking down the Early Women Artisan Photographers. However, for my own amusement (the FMOA category for this post), I decided to see if there were any linguists listed in the directories on Ancestry.com.
To my surprise, there were, and the earliest ones were H.P. Feugas and J.D. Ravina. Feugas was French and in 1836 he was listed as a French tutor. Later he is a Professor of Languages, and then a Teacher at a high school. He died in 1870, aged 64 after having served in the Confederate Army. Ravina was Spanish, and he is also later a Professor of Languages. He died in 1852.
Sometimes when you’re doing research you discover things that are repugnant, such as the fact that both Feugas and Ravina were slave owners. The reason I know that is that there was a whole part of the U.S. Census devoted to tallying slaves. No names in these cases, just sex and age. It is horrifying to think this was considered normal anywhere.
I generally try to be positive in these posts, but I don’t really have anything positive to say about Feugas and Ravina.
The first woman who lists herself as a linguist in a city directory is Eveyleen [? the spelling varies] Rooney Acres in 1861 in Hoboken, New Jersey. She was an Irish immigrant, and in the 1860 Census she is listed as a Teacher of Languages, while the 1861 and 1862 Hoboken directories list her as a linguist. That makes her the first person who is listed as a linguist in more than one year (in the directories available on Ancestry.com).
Unfortunately, I don’t know anything else about her. Her husband, William H. Acres enlists in the Union Army, but is (apparently) living in England in 1869 but returns to the U.S., with a different, much younger wife (Ellen). There’s no way to tell if Eveyleen Acres died or got divorced from William. Either is possible. We also don’t know, and can’t really guess in any reasonable way, what languages she might have known, besides English and possibly Irish.
All of those linguists were (probably) not linguists in the sense of one who studies language from a scientific perspective. In scanning the directory listings, the first scientific linguist I spotted was Albert S. Gatschet, in New York City in 1875. The German Wikipedia entry, says that Gatschet moved to the U.S. in 1868. I did find an Albert Gatschet in NYC in 1870, but working as a stationer, so it’s hard to say if that’s him.
Of course, finding a linguist researcher made me wonder about listings for researchers. The earliest ones I found were both in Philadelphia in 1902. Lawrence C. Hickman is just listed as a researcher; Daisy A Murray is listed as a researcher for the Title Ins[urance] and Inv[estment] Company. I haven’t tried to look up any more about them — I’m satisfied just to know they existed.
I have to say it would be fun to find in the business part of a directory a listing for
(and yes they are big and bold). Somehow, I don’t think I ever will, but then I didn’t think I’d find any listings for linguists or researchers, so you never know …