The American Lyceum Movement got its start when Josiah Holbrook, a teacher and amateur scientist in Millbury, Massachusetts, formed a local volunteer educational institution in 1826. He called his new club a lyceum in honor of the public space where Aristotle had lectured in ancient Greece.
Holbrook's idea spread with amazing speed. Within a few years hundreds of other local lyceums were springing up. And in 1829 Holbrook even published a book, American Lyceum, giving tips on organizing local chapters "for the diffusion of useful knowledge."
By the mid-1830s, lyceums were booming. From sophisticated cities in the east to rough settlements on the edge of the frontier, people would gather to listen to lectures and discuss important issues.
At the Concord Lyceum, in Massachusetts, speakers included such notables as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Springfield, Illinois, a young Abraham Lincoln gave an early speech at a lyceum in 1838.
As schools and libraries became more common, towns felt less need for lyceums, and they tended to fade out by about 1900. But in their day they educated and informed and gave curious Americans a place to go every week.
Read the full article: The American Lyceum Movement.
Illustration: Henry David Thoreau, who refined his essays at the Concord Lyceum/Library of Congress
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