Culture and Recreation


What was the lyceum movement?

It was a public education movement that began in the 1820s and is credited with promoting the establishment of public schools, libraries, and museums in the United States. The idea was conceived by Yale-educated teacher and lecturer Josiah Holbrook (1788–1854), who in 1826 set up the first “American Lyceum” in Millbury, Massachusetts. He named the program for the place—a grove near the temple of Apollo Lyceus—where the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) taught his students. The lyceums, which were programs of regularly occurring lectures, proved to be the right idea at the right time: They got under way just after the completion of the Erie Canal (1825), which permitted the settlement of the nation’s interior, just as the notion that universal, free education was imperative to the preservation of American democracy took hold. The movement spread quickly. At first the lectures were home-grown affairs, featuring local speakers. But as the movement grew, lyceum bureaus were organized, which sent paid lecturers to speak to audiences around the country. The lyceum speakers included such noted Americans as writers Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864), as well as activist Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). After the Civil War (1861–65), the educational role of the lyceum movement was taken over by the Protestant-led chautauquas.


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