Establishment of the Czech Department at UNL

We would like to present a unique document, which describes the establishment of the Czech Department at the University of Nebraska. The document contains memories from Journals of František Rejcha, whose effort contributed to foundation of the Czech Department. 

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Ty první léta, když jsem farmařil se neseli žádné zimní pšenice jenom samé jarky, oves a korna. A ty jarky žraly moc polní, štěnice nám jí sežraly asi po pět roků, že jsme sotva měli dost na chleba. Lidé toho času neměli žádnou vědu, ani neuměli krmit prasata se ziskem, ani krávy aby daly hojně mléka. To se museli všecko lidé učit a kdo se dříve začal učit, začal též dříve prospívat. Příležitost byla pro všecky stejná. Ale musel to člověk pochopit a udělat a pak nejhlavnější věcí bylo šetřit.

V našem townshipu byly čtyry školní distrikty. Když jsem tam přišel, každý distrikt měl jednu sekci. V roce 1884 pak udělali ze dvou distriktů tři. V tom distriktu, co já jsem bydlel jsme dostali z každého sousedního distriktu tři sekce, takže pak měl každý distrikt šest sekcí. My jsme museli tedy stavět novou školu a zvolit si úředníky. Tak jsme si zvolili Amerikána jménem Beswick. Moderátora Johna Osterthun a pokladníka Fritz Schoeneman, zvolili jsme bondy na stavění školy. Páni úředníci začali stavět, peníze však rozházeli pro svoje věci, obzvláště pokladník. Stavba byla moc špatně postavena a stavební výbor stavbu neschválil. Nejdříve žádali řemeslníci plat, nebyli však peníze. Pak žádal lumberman (pozn. prodejce dřeva) za dříví plat, pokladník neměl peníze. Tak žalovali distrikt, tak pokladníka vyhodili a zvolili mě pokladníkem. Tak mně připadlo soud vyrovnat a o všecky peníze se postarat. Něco jsem dostal po dobrém a něco muselo počkat. Tak jsem sloužil na školním výboru 21 roků. 

English Translation by Míla Šašková-Pierce and Layne Pierce

How the Czech Department was founded at the University of Nebraska.

During the beginning years of my farming, we did not plant any winter wheat, only spring wheat, oats and corn.

And the spring wheat was eaten quite a bit by field bugs, so for about five years they consumed it so much that we barely had enough for bread. The people of that time had no science, nor did they know how to feed pigs profitably, nor did they know how to get a lot of milk from cows. People had to learn everything, and the earlier they started learning the sooner they started to thrive. The opportunity was equal for all. But one had to understand it and act on it and then the most important thing was to economize.


There were four school districts in our township. When I got there, every district had one section. In 1884, they made from two of the districts three. The district where I lived was increased by three sections, one from each neighboring district, so then each district had six sections. As a consequence, we had to build a new school and elect our new officials. So, we chose an American by the name of Beswick, the moderator was John Osterthun and the treasurer Fritz Schoeneman.  We passed bonds for the construction of a school. These officials started building, but they squandered the money for their own things, especially the treasurer. The building was very badly built and the building committee did not approve the resulting structure. First the craftsmen asked to be paid, but there was no money. Then the lumberman (who sold the lumber) asked for payment for the wood, the cashier had no money. So, they sued the district, fired the treasurer and elected me treasurer.

So, it fell to me to settle the lawsuit and take care of all the money. I got something through good faith negotiation and some things had to wait. So, I served on the school committee for 21 years. That first school building was taken by a tornado nineteen years later.   It was on the sixth of June, about a week after classes ended. We didn't have wind insurance for the school, so I had to take care of a new school. I begged more for that school, than I would have begged for myself. Everyone who belonged to the district had to contribute with manual help, which I obligated everyone in advance with their signature, and I built the school 24x34 feet for $473.00 including furnishings. When I was buying benches and 36 ft of 3 ft high slate for blackboards.  two agents met me at my place and each wanted to sell to me. At first, they wanted $200 for 22 chairs, a nice oak table and two chairs with elbow rests and 36 feet of slate blackboard. But then one of them let me have it for $72.00. At that time, almost all my children were of school age, so it mattered to me that the school was in order. In the end the old women began to grumble about me saying that I wouldn't have stayed with the job if I hadn’t made a great profit, and that they had to break their backs, to their detriment, so that I would get rich at their expense. Finally, when my kids grew up and left the school, I gave it up.


Then I worked for ten years as an assessor, and 12 years as an appraiser at the Farmers' Insurance Association. There I rewrote and improved the entire by-laws, which, with small corrections, are still used today. At the same time, I farmed industriously. I had four sons and I always made sure that they had always a lot to do at home and their veins did not shrink. Of course, I did know that idleness is the sister of all evil. So, we finally bought more land, it was six sections of eighty.  Additional cattle and pigs were raised, so a carload of cattle and a carload of pigs or more were sold every year, money was made on the fly. My wife also had three children, [our girls] helping with the household and she herself also economized a lot. That's how I finally became the most famous Czech in Lancaster County. I took interest in public affairs and quite often my integrity was recognized and appreciated. I was often on the jury for trials. Once when I was on the jury, a lawyer named Clark Frank came up to me. "Get ready, a deputation is coming to ask you.  They want you in the legislature," supposedly it was discussed a few days before in the Commercial Club in Lincoln.  I was scared because I felt inadequate. In America I never went to school, although I read and wrote English quite well. Additionally, I heard from those who experienced it, there was nothing to it but a bit of fame, so I thought I'd never take it.

Then finally one day in the afternoon, an old lawyer, with whom I was well acquainted, and who was called the father of the city of Lincoln, named A.L. Billingsly came with Eharley Severin, my good friend. They brought three bottles of beer, and while talking, Billingsly told me that at the Commercial Club they resolved that I should go to the Legislature, and that they would greatly need me there. I told him nothing likely would come out of it, and he gave me a week to think about it. So, I didn't know what to do. However, pushed perhaps by ambition, I finally agreed and made up my mind that if I were elected, I would do my best with what was in my power. I was elected and I performed my task honestly and honorably.


It was the fifteenth of February 1907, when Jan Rosický and Václav Bureš came to me in the legislature and asked me to go with them to appeal for the Czech chair at the university in front of the Board of Regents, who were meeting that day. They said that they had received a hearing fifteen minutes after one o'clock in the afternoon. So, at the appointed time we arrived. Jan Rosický spoke first, followed by Václav Bureš, then finally me. When I finished, then a director from Kearney got up from the table and gave me both hands and said: “if

I am able to help, you Czechs will get a Czech chair. Chancellor Andrews saw this and he stood up and said: "Gentlemen, every business cost money, we still don't get enough money and under the current conditions, it is not possible to establish any other schools, and therefore not your Czech chair.   But since your representative from the legislature is here, let him work for the proposal we have submitted in the legislature number 76. which sets aside one million (sic) in tax from all the property in the state, for the university. If this proposal passes, then something can be done. So, Messrs. Rosický and Bureš urged me to see to it that the proposal passed. So, I left the university feeling sad.  I had several good friends in the legislature, among whom stood out, E. P. Brown from Lincoln, so I confided in him. He listened to me carefully and said: "Frank, never let it happen that you say to anyone that you want a Czech chair, because you can't do anything and you won't be able to get a chair. But watch carefully for when the opportunity comes.” So, Omaha had a proposal called the “Terminal Taxation Bill'' before the legislature, which directed that all railway property outside the track, such as buildings, machinery, tools, etc. would be assessed for the railroad and taxed separately. Every railroad that ran through the state had its lawyer or two there to prevent the acceptance of the proposal at all costs.  They were constantly conferring. 

All the votes were tallied and they were sure that they would defeat the proposal.  And those of us from the Lancaster district had the proposal for the One Mill Tax for the university there. The delegation from Omaha was definitely against our proposal. And the representatives of the railroads were sure they would beat Terminal Taxation now.  I, when I saw it, thought, Frankie you can profit from that.  The next day at 2:30 in the afternoon both drafts were to be voted on. So, I went to Victor Rosewater and asked for a confidential audience.

I said: "You are trying in vain to get your proposal through. You have already counted it up, you will get 46 votes and nothing more, and we too will fail with our proposal, if you do not help us. If you will vote for ours, we'll vote for your proposal.“ He said to me: “Who will guarantee it for us that you will vote for our proposal? ” “I vouch for it on my honor. " So, he said: "we will call a meeting of the Omaha delegation tonight at the Lincoln Hotel and let you know in the morning what we have decided."  Then in the morning the Omaha legislator A. R. Harvey  came to me and said that they had agreed to vote for our proposal, so that I should get enough voters to push both drafts through. So, I acquired quite a few neutral voters and the vote turned out as I had calculated to the smallest degree, for us as well as for them, when Harvey told me that the Omaha people had decided to vote our earlier vote.    And so, I told my colleague E. P. Brown and he answered: “so I’ll arrange for a vote on our draft earlier so that we have them in our pockets.” And so, it happened. A vote was taken and the bill passed. Now Frank Best came to me and said: “You have us cleverly in the bag now, so don’t dare to not vote for us.” I And I said: “Don't worry, you'll get 56 votes and you don't need more.” They just got 56 votes, that was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. At about 5 o'clock, a messenger came to tell me to go to the phone. So, I went to the phone and there someone asked me to come to the Commercial Hotel. When I entered, there I saw those lobbying lawyers.   I immediately felt like I had been punched in my gut. They attacked me there and insulted me vulgarly.  They said that I had struck down their plans.  However, I was taken aback, I did not expect such a welcome but then when it was too much, I said: "Gentlemen, I didn't come to represent corporations, I came to represent our people. Good bye.' So, I thought we had our Czech Chair secured, but it was a mistake. When the legislature finally adjourned and issued its outline for the necessary money for the next two years, then Governor Sheldon cut the budget by $80,000 and then Chancellor Andrews had an excuse, so he told us he could not give us the chair when the governor had done such a reduction. So Václav Bureš appealed to him several times and finally, at considerable expense, he caught up with him by telegram on the Atlantic Ocean, where finally he permitted the Czech Chair.


I also have to note that when I went to the legislature and I came to the station, an agent by the name of Henry Moore spoke to me and said: “Mr. Rejcha you can now have a free pass if you want it.”  “No, Mr. Moore I will buy my ticket.”'

Now something about the prohibition. A motion was made in the House by Hart for the local option, and I was

definitely against that proposal with body and soul, and I think that because of my doing that proposal was defeated.

At last, the matter reached Governor Sheldon. One day the governor met me in the corridor and said

that he really wanted to talk to me, so to come to his office after five o'clock. When I came to the office, there were several, about a dozen people waiting for an audience with him.  When he saw me, he got up and took me by the shoulder and led me to a private room and sat me on a chair.  He said:” Mr. Rejcha, I heard you're the reason that the Local Option Bill was defeated.” And I said: “Governor, first of all

, I don't believe in prohibition, and second, I represent 90 percent of the people in my district,

wet ones, I can't do it any other way.” And he says: "I have nothing against it, but it's not the best

way to counter prohibition. The greatest thinkers, the best heads, and everyone came to me

and agreed that if we want to stand up to prohibition, that we must get rid of the cursed free drinks.

 Prohibition is on the march, and something radical has to happen to stop it,” He said:

“I have a good plan, but it's too late in this session to submit a proposal.”  And with that we broke up.  This was

because he had planned to submit his draft regarding the sale of liquor when he was re-elected during the next legislature.

But it was a mistaken assumption. In the election, Sheldon was defeated by Shalenbergen. When I

visited him, I cannot deny it, I must confess he wept saying that he thought that if he served the people honestly and faithfully,

it would be acknowledged.   He said that he had donated over ten thousand dollars into the office beyond his services, and that

 he was heavily in debt.  So, after the election on November 1st, I received a telegram with the following wording, the original of which I still have.

"The best legislature Nebraska ever had. Has still an opportunity to render great service to this

states. If I convene the legislature will you support a statutory provision, reserving to any:

municipality the right by three fifths vote to suspend it and dispense liquor under such restrictions

as maybe provided by law.” Geo. L. Sheldon Gov.

I then called a meeting at Hallam Bank, 22 of them were present. The matter was thoroughly discussed

 and I was ordered to vote accordingly. So, I wrote to the governor that I was in favor of the

draft when the legislature would be convened. A few days later, the governor called me asking me to visit him in Lincoln the next day.   So, I went. I came to him and he said: “Since you defeated the Local Option, you certainly know all the wet members. I would like to get their names before I convene the legislature in order to know if I can push the proposal through.”

So, I had to go home first, because I had notes of everything at home, and the next day I mailed him the names labeled

wet and dry, and I certainly expected the Legislature to be called to discuss the question. I waited two weeks and I didn’t hear anything.

So, I went to Lincoln to the Governor and he told me that he could not convene the legislature because he received only 46 favorable responses and the Omaha delegation, which was all wet, answered him that they would vote against the proposal, because they, as a metropolis were not afraid of Prohibition, and if there was any limitation, the business of the city would suffer greatly.


So we were lucky.  And then something came out every now and then and people started saying that supposedly I sold my soul to prohibition.  And it spread like stinking air.   Everybody believed that I was for prohibition, no one asked about the truth, but everyone was throwing it at me that first I pretended to be a saint, but I was dirty like all the others.  So rather than keep apologizing and explaining, I preferred to remain silent

and suffer. However, the public did not even know the true state of affairs. Altogether from the financial side, I took a loss, but I don't regret it. I served the people to the best of my ability and those who were with me recognized my honest will and also appreciated it. For example, Beatrice sent a deputation to the legislature with a request to build a house for the feeble minded, amounting to $65,000. On that

a proposal was made to send a commission there to investigate the true state of affairs, the proposal was approved. After that a proposal was made to send Frank Rejcha there and to choose two members according to his wishes.   Then word came from the governor that wrongdoing was happening at the Grand Island Soldiers Home.  The governor sent for me and told me that he would send me to that institution and gave me

instructions on how best to investigate the state of the matter. So, I went and fulfilled my mission to the

last letter. The director of the institute was dismissed within thirty days. At that time, I often

visited our Max Storkan, who was a baker at the Lincoln Insane Asylum and Šnajdr, a Czech, who was a florist there. During the conversation, I learned that the Czech inmates were being abused there. I asked how it could be remediated.

Šnajdr said: “I would probably know, but it’s probably unreachable.”  So, I asked: “What do you mean?”

 He said that if there were Czech nurses there, they would have better compassion for their unfortunate countrymen. And I said: “They’ll be here soon.  Trust as my name is Rejcha.”  So, I went to the governor and so strongly appealed for

our people who were suffering terribly. So, in a few days Miss Tobišková was already there, then Miss Shutáková

and Miss Hospodských, and within a year there were six Czech nurses. Lincoln news also reported one time from the legislature a picture of a scowling old man with a clinched fist standing at attention.  Underneath was the note "Frank Rejcha watching political l grafters!" I say again, I performed my duty honestly and selflessly, but it was not appreciated by the people. They attacked me verbally.

Saying I was a dirty prohibitionist and that they could just as well have sent a one-year-old screaming baby there.   And even my friends went all the way to Omaha to the [office of the Czech language periodical] Pokrok Západu to slander me, and one so-called friend also told me that he voted for me although I didn’t give him more than a lunch. 


The Pokrok Západu [Progress of the West] at that time published news from the state legislature, where among the news was verbatim

the following: "in addition to the important drafts mentioned above, there were discussed or partially discussed

many budget proposals and as we understand, one of the conditions under which

the university administration promised to establish a chair for the Czech affairs was agreed to   That is, the budget required by the university

was passed.  Great credit for this matter goes to our Representative Rejcha, who, by the way,

is one of the hardest working and most conscientious representatives in that legislative body.

  And we think that we can rightly say that we have never had any countryman in the legislature who would excel in it, both in the abundance of his work, as well as in honest effort and popularity. 

We regret very much that we that we cannot say the same about his colleague Mr. Vopálenský, who with his vote, though in vain, strove for the Czech chair to not be established, since he voted against the budget that would have allowed the necessary funds for the