Czech Language Program

“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.

Letter from Matice Vyššího Vzdělání, Bohemian Council of Higher Education to Chancellor Avery and Board of Regents

Bohemian Council of Higher Education (Matice Vyššího Vzdělání)

“The cultural as well as the practical value of the study Of the Bohemian (the first of the Slavonic languages introduced into the curriculum of the University) cannot be over-estimated, and we heartily commend the action placing the Bohemian among the languages of modern Europe which are formally recognized as fulfilling the modern language requirements of your esteemed institution.” July 24, 1909

This organization was the forerunner of the Komensky Club. The student organization instrumental in the establishing of the Slavonic Department was referred to as an auxiliary group of the Bohemian Council of Higher Education in Cedar Rapids Iowa (Čapek, 262). The connection between the the University of Nebraska Slavic Department and the Bohemian Council of Higher Education runs even deeper than sponsorship of scholarships and the Komensky Club. The first chairman and instructor of the Slavic Department, Jeffery (Efrem) D. Hrbek was the inspiration for W. F. Severa founding of the council (Hrbek,12).

Visualization of the Czech Language Program


A study in how the information and factors presented in this project are intertwined rather than organized in a linear fashion. Throughout the research phase of this project the many interconnections revealed the complexity of how the Czech Language program began at the University of Nebraska in the fall of 1907. The interconnections continued as the program thrived and suffered discontinuation in 1919.