Honoring the Mother Tongue: The Struggle to Establish and Maintain Czech Language Instruction from 1903-1919
“I should be ashamed if I could not speak to my mother in the language in which she first spoke to me, but I should be equally ashamed, if my mother had not seen to it that I received an education in English, the language of my country.”
Šárka B. Hrbková
Chair of Slavonic Studies at the University of Nebraska Lincoln 1908-1919, in an address held July 4, 1917 in Krug Park Omaha (Kučera, 52).
This is the history of the struggle to establish a Czech language, literature, and history program at the University of Nebraska from 1903-1919. This is by no means a complete examination of the rise and eventual fall of the Slavonic Department at the University. While many Czech language sources exist in the University Archives and Special collections including the original Komensky publications from the era, this researcher does not have the necessary language skills to explore those resources. That being said there is a wealth of information regarding this subject in English and these are the source materials that this study draws from.
Nebraska has a strong Czech community which looks to the University to provide its people with educational opportunities. For many Bohemian-American students in the early twentieth century, these opportunities needed to include the ability to study the rich linguistic, literary and cultural traditions of their parents and grandparents. For many of them English was a second language. In an era of multiculturalism and ethnic studies programs it is hard to relate to an era where the struggle to study one's mother tongue faced so many roadblocks. Ultimately it took the work of citizens, politicians, students, and professors to make the Slavic Department a reality in the fall of 1907. This department evolved to become the Czech Language Program that still exists in 2009 at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.