|History of the Lyceum Movement
A. Literature in 19th Century
What was the most important form of literature in America during the 19th
Century? Some would say that the essay is the most important form of American
literature from the 19th Century. That would proably be a good
answer if the questions was "What was the most important form of literature
from the 19th Century; but the question asked was "What was
the most important form of literature during the 19th century.
I would argue that the lecture was the most important form of American literature
during the 1800s.
B. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essayist and
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an essayist of renown, and many would say one
of the greatest American essayists. However, it is quite possible that
Emerson was better known in his day as a lecturer in the lyceum halls. It
has been said that Emerson was an essayist because he was a lecturer,
not a lecturer because he was an essayist. Emerson was also called
the greatest "adornment" of the lyceum movement. People like Emerson
gave the movement attention and attracted a great many people to programs
and lectures. Lyceum was a new form of popular education for adults
that changed the way America thinks about education. Any study of the Chautauqua
Movement must include at least a peripheral look at the lyceum.
II. The Start of the Lyceum.
The Lyceum started in the 19th Century in the Tradition of the Town Hall
Meetings of the previous decade. People were used to coming together to when
important decisions were to be made, or sometimes to share news. But with
the Lyceum, people would come together to share in opportunities of self
improvement and community development.
A. Origin of the name "Lyceum."
The word "Lyceum" is in reference to the garden of the Temple of Apollo Lyceus
where Aristotle taught young Athenians. If you were a boy in Greece
in about 300-something B.C., the Lyceum was the place to be. A couple
of thousand years or so later in America the recycled word would
assume another meaning of significance which would develop into an important
form of adult education.
B. Josiah Holbrook, educator.
Josiah Holbrook was an educator who brought lectures in science and mechanics
to the Mechanics Institutes. The programs were used to train New England
textile workers in areas that would improve their abilities on the job. In
1826 the Lyceum was begun by Holbrook in Milbury, Massachussetts, as an attempt
to organize these lectures and demonstrations.
C. The First Lyceum in Milbury, Mass.,
III. 1826-1840: The Developments in the Lyceum Movement.
A. The Erie Canal and other factors in the growth
aand spread of Lyceums.
B. The move from primary focus on topics of mechanics
and science to topics of literature and culture.
C. The change in motivation of adult education from
one of economics to one of self improvement.
IV. 1840-1857: Growth in the Lyceum Movement.
A. Expansion into the West and South.
Although lyceum had spread across New England states rather rapidly, the
movement of lyceum to the West was limited only by transportation. As the
railroads moved westward, so did lyceum. Ohio and Illinois were states in
the Western United States that saw great growth in lyceums after 1840. There
was a great demand for ideas and personalities from the East, and lecturers
that were willing to travel the distance could make a decent living, although
it was not the type of money that later stars of the chautauqua platform
would make. In the south, there was not much interest among the community
leaders to promote lyceums. The slave-based economy relied upon preventing
adult education among poor whites and slaves.
B. Pre-Civil War platform performers..
There were a number of people who appeared on the lyceum stage that added
great interest, which helped to promote the growth of the Lyceum Movement.
As mentioned before, Emerson is possibly the most important one, but other
lyceum lecturers and performers made significant contributions to its
1. Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln was 28 years old when he gave a speech "The Perpetuation
of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of
Springfield, Illinois January 27, 1838." This was one of the earliest published
speeches of Lincoln, and one that has been highly scrutinized for the themes
that found their way into later important speeches.
2. Henry Ward Beecher.
Henry Ward Beecher was among the most prominent public figures in American
History. He could be compared to Billy Graham in his name recognition
and popularity. He began his life of public speaking behind the pulpit,
and he came into prominence beginning in 1847 when he bacame the first pastor
of Plymouth Congregational Church of Brooklyn, New York. He had a forceful,
emotional preaching style, and he used the pulpit and the lyceum platform
to promote temperence, abolition and woman suffrage. In later years
he was followed by the shadow of a scandal that he was accused of having
an affair, although he was acquited of an adultery charge after a sensational
trial in 1874. Beecher's sister Harriet Beecher Stowe was quite famous in
the Lyceum, as well as all other American circles, for her book Uncle Tom's
Cabin, which was made into a play and brought to life on many lyceum theater
3. Other Platform Lecturers.
Other noteable lecturers in the lyceum before the Civil War were Bronson
Alcott, DeWitt Clinton, Horace Greeley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell
Lowell, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, Henry David Thoreau, and Emma
C. The depression and Civil War.
V. The Post Civil War Era of Lyceum
A. Performers of the second lyceum era.
Many famous people came out of the lyceum in the post-Civil War era. A
lot of whom would later become involved in vaudeville and chautauqua, and
sometimes all three at the same time. Some later lyceum lecturers and
performers would even become part of motion pictures or radio. Edwin
Brush, John Bunny, Ruth Gordon, Bill Nye were all part of this group.
B. Individual Lyceum committees and contracts with
C. James Redpath and the Lyceum Bureaus.
D. The addition of the Chicago district office
and sale of the Redpath Bureau.
The importance of lyceum to the development of Chautauqua has already been
stated. However, it might be tempting for some to say that chautauqua
was just lyceum with a different name. The problem with that thought
is that with as many comparisons as one can make between the two, there are
as many distinctive factors. One can no more say that chautauqua is
a camp meeting with a different name. And while there are elements
of both the lyceum and the camp meeting in chautauquas of the late 19th Century,
chautauquas quickly developed into something quite unique, something that
collectively changed the course of adult education and the arts and
sciences. And, as did the lyceum and the camp meeting, chautauqua made
a major contribution to the development of "community" thought.
|Notable People of the Lyceum
Movement: Pre-Civil War:
Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) Educator and philosopher; founder of Temple
School in Boston; abolitionist and leading proponent of transcendentalism;
father of Louisa May Alcott.
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) Clergyman, temperance and abolition
proponent. Beecher came to prominence in the pulpit and on the lyceum
platform beginning in 1847. He wrote a book called Evolution and Religion
in which he supported the theory of evolution. He
DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) Governor of New York; supported public
education and education for women; supported the construction of the Erie
Oliver Wendell Holmes
James Russell Lowell (1819-) Poet; minister to England.
Henry David Thoreau
Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870), educator, founder of the Troy Academy;
proponent of education for women..
Notable People of the Lyceum Movement: Post-Civil War:
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) Reformer and women's suffrage leader;
organizer of Daughters of Temperance; co-organizer of Women's Loyal League;
president (1892-1900) of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) poet and journalist; lawyer; editor
of New York Review and Atheneum Magazine; part owner and editor New
York Evening Post; leader of anti-slavery Free Soil movement; a founder
of the Republican Party.
George William Curtis (1824-92) journalist and writer; published widely
in Harper's Monthly; editor-in-chief of Harper's Weekly Magazine; "one of
the most polished and popular of platform-orators in America" according to
Thos. W. Herringshaw in 1888.
Relph Waldo Emerson
William Lloyd Garrison
Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), clergyman, writer, publisher; Overseer
of Harvard University; Chaplain of the Senate; American historian; author
of "A Man Without a Country."
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) anti-slavery and womens rights activist;
founder (1874) of "Mother's Day"; author of "Battle Hymn of the Republic";
journalist and essayist; contributor to Boston Commonwealth; editor
of Woman's Journal; a founder of New England Women's Club; president
of the Association for the Advancement of Women; president Boston Author's
Club; delegate to World's Prison Reform Congress; founder The Women's Peace
Bill Nye, born Edgar Wilson Nye (1850-96), humorist, jounalist.
James Whitcomb Riley
Mark Twain (?-1910), writer, humorist, journalist, and lecturer.
Links for Lyceum History:
Lincoln's Lyceum Address from
The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition 2000 Article.
Education Encarta Encyclopedia Article.
Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer
History Of The Lyceum Of Monterey
American educational association The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth
Edition 2000 Article.
Movement Encarta Encyclopedia Article.
Lyceum Movement: A Revolution in American Education" by Diane Fithian,
April 19, 2000.
Lyceums Ward & Trent,
et al. The Cambridge History of
English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnams Sons,
190721; New York: Bartleby.com, 2000.
Naval Acadamy Museum
Ralph Waldo Emerson Ward
& Trent, et al. The Cambridge
History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnams
Sons, 190721; New York: Bartleby.com, 2000.
Office of Historic Alexandria: What is Lyceum?
Links for Josiah Holbrook:
Links for Modern Lyceum Events (Please note that I am aware
of children's education programs that call themselves lyceums, but this listing
is focussed on the original idea of "continuing adult education," and
lists programs that fall into that category):