Lyceum movement

Lyceum movement

The lyceum movement in the United States was a trend in architecture inspired by (or at least named for) Aristotle's Lyceum in ancient Greece. (The Lyceum was the school outside Athens where he taught, 335–332 BC.)

Lyceums—in the sense of organizations that sponsored public programs and entertainments—flourished in the mid-19th century, particularly in the northeast and middle west, and some lasted until the early 20th century.

Many of the halls in which the public lectures, concerts, and similar programs were presented, and which were named "Lyceum," exist to this day.



The lyceums, mechanics’ institutes, and agriculture organizations that flourished in the United States before and after the Civil War were important in the development of adult education in America. During this period hundreds of informal associations were established for the purpose of improving the social, intellectual, and moral fabric of society. The lyceum movement — with its lectures, dramatic performances, class instructions, and debates — contributed significantly to the education of the adult American in the nineteenth century and provided the cultural framework for many of the areas of influence. Noted lecturers, entertainers and readers would travel the "lyceum circuit," going from town to town or state to state to entertain, speak, or debate in a variety of locations.


The first American lyceum, "Millbury Branch Number 1 of the American Lyceum," was founded by Josiah Holbrook in 1826. Holbrook was a traveling lecturer and teacher who believed that education was a lifelong experience, and intended to create a National American Lyceum organization that would oversee this method of teaching. Other educators adopted the lyceum format but were not interested in organizing, so this idea was ultimately dropped.

Peak of the movement

The Lyceum Movement reached the peak of its popularity in the antebellum era. Public Lyceums were set up around the country, as far as Florida and Detroit. Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau endorsed the movement and gave speeches at many local lyceums. As a young man, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to a Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois.

Lyceum as entertainment

After the American Civil War, lyceums were increasingly used as a venue for travelling entertainers, such as vaudeville and minstrel shows. However, they were still used for public speeches, and notable public figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victoria Woodhull, Anna Dickinson, Mark Twain, and William Lloyd Garrison all spoke at lyceums in the late 19th century.


Further reading

  • Ray, Angela G. The Lyceum and Public Culture in the Nineteenth Century United States. E. Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005.
  • Powell, E. P., “The Rise and Decline of the New England Lyceum”, The New England Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 6 (February 1895), pp. 730–739.

External links

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