Lyceum Movement

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LYCEUM MOVEMENT, an important phase of the early adult education and public school movements, utilizing, principally, lectures and debates. It began with an article in the American Journal of Education (October 1826) by Josiah Holbrook, containing a plan for "Associations of Adults for Mutual Education." Holbrook organized the first lyceum society in November 1826 at Millbury, Mass. Within a year more than a dozen lyceums had sprung up in Worcester County, Mass., and in Windham County, Conn. The movement was endorsed by a meeting of eminent Bostonians, presided over by Daniel Webster, in 1828. By 1831 lyceums existed in all the New England states and in northern New York. State lyceums were organized in 1831 in Massachusetts, Maine, and New York, and in the same year the New York State Lyceum called a meeting in New York City to organize a national lyceum. Pressure from Lyceum organizers contributed to the Massachusetts legislature's decision to commence taxation for a public school system in 1834 and to install Horace Mann as its first Superintendent of the State Board of Education in 1837.

Holbrook journeyed as far west as Missouri and found active interest in the western states, including Kentucky and Tennessee. National lyceums were held each year until 1839, although often poorly attended. The town lyceums, estimated by Holbrook at 3,000 in 1835, were the heart of the movement. The Lyceum's much-touted utopian vision of Lycenia invoked Thomas Jefferson's pre-industrial utopia of educated yeoman farmers. After 1840 the main emphasis was on self-education in science, literature, and morality. At first apolitical, the lyceums often developed interest in topics that later became political issues, such as slavery and prohibition.

Besides improving the public schools and giving a supplementary education to those unable to attend high school or college, the early lyceums led to certain permanent institutions, such as Lowell Institute in Massachusetts and Brooklyn Institute in New York. The Lyceum Village was founded at Berea, Ohio, in 1837. Holbrook conducted the Central Lyceum Bureau from 1842 to 1849, and in 1867–1868 a number of commercial lecture bureaus were founded, among them the Boston Lyceum Bureau of James Redpath, whose successor, J. B. Pond, was a successful lecture promoter. Some lyceums developed into historical or literary societies, public libraries, or museums. A variant of the lyceum idea took different shapes in the Chautauqua movement and women's clubs of the late nineteenth century. The lyceums continued to grow until the early twentieth century. In 1915 their number was estimated at 12,000. By the 1920s they existed mostly in small towns and consisted mainly of popular music and "sanitized vaudeville."


Bode, Carl. The American Lyceum: Town Meeting of the Mind. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968.

Mead, C. David. Yankee Eloquence in the Middle West: The Ohio Lyceum, 1850–1870. East Lansing: Michigan State College Press, 1951.

Scott, Donald M. "The Popular Lecture and the Creation of the Public in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America." Journal of American History 66 (1980).

W. C.Mallalieu/a. r.

See alsoBook-of-the-Month Club ; Chautauqua Movement ; Education ; Franklin Institute ; Libraries ; Mechanics' Institutes ; Science Education .