Lyceum is a term used to refer to an educational institution (often a school of secondary education in Europe); a public hall used for cultural events like concerts; or an organization that sponsors lectures, concerts and other adult educational programs. The precise usage of the term varies among various countries.
The name “Lyceum” comes from a gymnasium near Athens in ancient Greece, named after Apollo Lyceus, Apollo “the wolf-god.” Socrates, Prodicus and Protagoras apparently taught and led philosophical discussions there during the last third of the fifth century B.C.E. In 335 B.C.E., Aristotle rented some buildings in the Lyceum and established a school there, where he lectured, wrote most of his philosophical works, and compiled the first library in European history. The school was commonly called “Peripatetic” either for the peripatos in the Lyceum grounds or from Aristotle’s habit of lecturing while walking. It continued in existence until Athens was destroyed in 267 C.E., and was an important early milestone in the development of Western science and philosophy. The American lyceum movement of the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century was an early form of organized adult education. Lectures, dramatic performances, classes, and debates held in the halls of countless small towns contributed significantly to the education of adult Americans and provided a platform for the dissemination of culture and ideas.
The Lyceum Movement in the United States was an early form of organized adult education based on Aristotle’s Lyceum in Ancient Greece. Lyceums flourished, particularly in small towns in the northeastern and mid-western U.S., during the mid-nineteenth century, and some continued until the early twentieth century. Hundreds of informal associations were established for the purpose of improving the social, intellectual, and moral fabric of society. Professional speakers would tour from town to town, lecturing on history, politics, art, and cultural topics, and often holding open discussion after the lecture. The lectures were usually held in a theater or gymnasium, and sometimes in large tents, often adjacent to or part of the Town Hall. The lectures, dramatic performances, classes, and debates contributed significantly to the education of the adult American in the nineteenth century and provided a platform for the dissemination of culture and ideas.
The first American lyceum, “Millsbury Branch, Number 1 of the American Lyceum,” was founded in 1826 by Josiah Holbrook, a traveling lecturer and teacher who believed that education was a lifelong experience. The Lyceum Movement reached the peak of its popularity in the antebellum (pre-Civil War) era. Public lyceums were organized as far south as Florida and as far west as Detroit. Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau endorsed the movement and lectured at many local lyceums.
After the American Civil War, lyceums were increasingly used as venues for traveling entertainers, such as vaudeville and minstrel shows. However, they continued to play an important role in the development of political ideas, such as women’s suffrage, and in exposing the public to culture and literature. Well-known public figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, and William Lloyd Garrison all spoke at lyceums in the late nineteenth century. The function of lyceums was gradually incorporated into the Chautauqua movement.
The speech below was given at the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, by Abraham Lincoln, when he was a 28-year old member of the Illinois State Legislature. It was one of his earliest published speeches.
The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions:
Address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois
January 27, 1838
The Lyceum, Liverpool
Racial violence was flaring up in neighboring states over the slave issue and when it struck in Illinois, young Mr. Lincoln rose to voice a warning. The murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois had brought the slavery fight to Lincoln’s doorstep for the first time. The following is the text of an address he delivered to the Young Men’s Lyceum with parts of the speech detailing racial violence in St. Louis and Mississippi omitted.
The Chautauqua Movement
It is not necessary to explain to the reading public of to-day what the Chautauqua Assembly is. Suffice it to say that it is the culmination of the greatest popular educational movement of modern times. It brings to the general public the opportunity, formerly denied to all save the favored few, of seeing and hearing the treat speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers and specialists of the day. To the mass of people who have been denied the advantages of college training, it gives “the college outlook on life.” To the students, the teachers, and the many who are pursuing home studies, it affords inestimable opportunities for intellectual improvements. It is the most delightful of all the summers resorts, combining as it does, opportunities for rest, recreation, intellectual, moral, religious and aesthetic culture and social enjoyments. It has its special inspiration for everyone, from the child to the mature man or woman. No one can attend the Lake Madison Assembly without being made stronger, better and happier.
–Welcome from the 1891 Chautauqua Program
Chautauqua was a social and cultural phenomenon which began in 1874 and expanded and permeated rural American until the mid 1920s. Going to Chautauqua meant music, laughter, relaxation and stimulation for millions of rural Americans. When Chautauqua came to town, there was entertainment for the whole family and the entire community[i].
Chautauqua was the product of John H. Vincent of Camden, New Jersey, a young minister. In 1872, Vincent, then editor of the Sunday School Journal undertook to train Sunday school teachers by bring them together every summer for all day study. His idea for a “summer school” to be held in the outdoors grew in popularity and a home was found at a little used campsite on the shores of Lake Chautauqua, New York. Young people were invited for study, bonfires, good meals and lodging[ii]. It was a huge success and was soon expanded to include not only religious and Biblical study but a wide range of literacy, historical, sociological, and scientific subjects. The “teachers” included such personalities of the late 1800s as Booker T. Washington and Carrie Nation.
The Chautauqua idea was soon copied in other communities for people who could not travel to Lake Chautauqua, New York. The first was in Ohio with similar programs soon to follow in Michigan and Iowa. By 1900 there were two hundred pavilions in thirty-one states. Each furnished vacation blended with study and entertainment. On the program were teachers, preachers, explorers, travelers, scientists, politicians and statesmen, singers, violinists, pianists and bell ringers, glee clubs, bands, orchestras, concert companies, quartettes, quintet’s and sextet’s, monologists, readers, elocutionists, jugglers, magicians, whistlers and yodelers[iii].
Two of the most popular lecturers were Russell Conwell and William Jennings Bryan. Conwell’s lecture “Acres of Diamonds” was delivered six thousands times. The theme was “get rich young man, for money is power and power ought to be in the hands of good people. I say you have no right to be poor.” It was an excellent example of “Mother, Home, and Heaven” – lectures designed to include platitudes about the desirability of truth and virtue, given in an earnest style, with a touch of sentiment. William Jennings Bryan’s “Prince of Peace” lecture was a favorite and for thirty years his honey-sweet voice packed pavilions with rapt audiences. The most famous political speech was Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech given at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago July 9, 1896.
Circus tents were used in communities that did not have permanent Chautauqua pavilions. Soon speakers and entertainers were on the Chautauqua circuit moving from town to town.
The movement ended soon after the Golden Jubilee, held at Lake Chautauqua in 1924. Improved communication and transportation in rural areas made radio and movies readily available plus the commercialization that had crept into the Chautauqua circuit and weakened the program made the movement a thing of the past. In 1931, George Dalgety suggested that Chautauqua had ceased to exist “because it arose out of a passing need. It gave the people in good measure what they wanted and brightened millions of otherwise drab lives. But whatever is was, its day is gone.” However, today Lake Chautauqua is renewing the Chautauqua movement. Visit the Chautauqua Institute for more information.
HISTORY OF THE CLUB
Date: Not determined; circa 1985
Author: Not determined; possibly Joseph Arduino, Sr.
The Young Men’s Lyceum is the oldest organization within Tarrytown and North Tarrytown (Sleepy Hollow today). It was established on June 22, 1866 as a reading and debating club.
The members, all men, originally met in the schoolhouse of the Rev. Edmund Guilbert at 151 North Washington St., Tarrytown. Guilbert was the first President. Under his direction members immediately put together a library which boasted more than 1,400 volumes within 15 years. Readings, recitations, debates and related activities were presented to members and the public every Tuesday evening.
Incorporated in 1869, the Young Men’s Lyceum had outgrown its original meeting room and met in a series of rented quarters in the business district while saving money to build permanent quarters of its own.
The dream came true on March 8, 1881 when the first Lyceum Building was opened on the northwest corner of Central Avenue and North Broadway in Tarrytown. The structure, which contained a spacious hall and a large stage, was located in back of a large lawn which rolled from Broadway to the Queen Anne-style building. The village’s first kindergarten was opened in an upstairs room.
In 1884-1885 a number of members attempted to change the name of the Lyceum, its scope and aims. The majority of members refused to go along and the proposals were dropped.
The annual LYCEUM FAIRS, usually held in the Music Hall, were highlights of village life. The fairs featured all-in fun popularity contests among businessmen, lawyers, politicians, teachers and fire companies. First-rate concerts were another feature of the fairs.
In the 1890’s, the Young Men’s Lyceum made sports a prominent aspect of the club by installing the communities first bowling alleys and fielding crack baseball and football teams.
Equally popular was the bicycle club, whose participants peddled throughout Westchester and Rockland and sometimes into Connecticut.
Prizes at the annual fairs included gold and silver-headed canes, gold watches, porcelain vases imported from Germany and even a grand organ complete with cathedral chimes.
One of the Young Men’s Lyceum’s most memorable programs was the six-lecture series given by Woodrow Wilson, then a professor at Princeton University, from November 29, 1895 to January 10, 1896. He discussed “Leaders of Political Thought” under the club’s university extension program. Other noted orators the Young Men’s Lyceum presented included William Jennings Bryan, Chauncey M. DePew, Lee Parsons Davis, Humphrey J. Lynch, and William Bleakley.
Social events centered on well-attended dances. The Leap Year Dance of 1916 was a major event and was well planned and extremely enjoyable. Most of these dances were held at the Music Hall.
In 1916 the Young Men’s Lyceum installed telegraphic equipment to receive the presidential election returns for the Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans contest. Woodrow Wilson won in an extremely close race.
In 1916, a fire at the Lyceum Building destroyed scores of books and most of the organizations records. It also damaged the building and plans were soon laid to move or construct a building. The Young Men’s Lyceum first purchased three acres of land on South Broadway, opposite Church Street, for a new home. However plans were changed and the present Lyceum Building was opened on June 1, 1931, just east of the old building. The new building featured bowling alleys in the basement, a large meeting room, stores and offices.
The three acres on South Broadway were sold and became the nucleus of Loh Park.
The Young Men’s Lyceum’s Annual Lincoln Day Dinners continued for many years to be a highlight on the calendar. The Young Men’s Lyceum’s 100th Anniversary was celebrated on June 22, 1966 with a luncheon, golf outing and dinner at the Leewood Golf Club in Eastchester.
The Young Men’s Lyceum remains a male-only club, although about 20 years or so ago, the directors voted to admit women at social events in the Lyceum Building.
The first women admitted to the Young Men’s Lyceum’s clubroom were during World War II. The room was set up as a triage area in case the area was bombed, and nurse assisted physicians in air raid drills.
Not mentioned in this brief history of the Young Men’s Lyceum is that members participated in golf tournaments and bowling tournaments for many years. They had several outstanding bowlers and golfers as members.
The Young Men’s Lyceum attracted many physicians, businessmen and community leaders as members over the years.
The club was basically for Republican registered men. It has been only over the last 25 years or so that Democrat registered men have been voted in as members.
I served as the busboy in the club during my senior year in high school. The club was busy almost every night of the week as the members cam in to relax and have drinks with friends, to play pool and cards. The club’s library was used by many members as Bill Ward and Jim Loughney, who managed the club, made sure new books came in every month.