Influence people

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ideas Once Spreading

One hundred and fifty years before TED revitalized the chalk talk, lecture halls known as "lyceums" flourished across the U.S.

At their peak in the 1850s, the halls drew more than a million people a week—nearly 5% of the country's population.

Attendees brought their 19th century attention spans to hear itinerant speakers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, Daniel Webster and Theodore Parker.

Unlike other public gathering spots of the day, lyceums welcomed women and, north of the Mason Dixon Line, African Americans. 

Tickets, sold by subscription, were cheap (about 25 cents).

Most speakers delivered "instructive" talks about science, travel, and the arts; but lyceums also hosted proponents of hot political ideas, especially early feminists, prohibitionists and abolitionists.

The latter aroused so much animosity as the decade progressed that audiences, afraid of violent outbreaks, eventually stopped going to lyceums, and the phenomenon lost much of its steam.

Following the Civil War, many of the once-heady halls were converted to venues for vaudeville acts.

2 comments:

  1. Great post, thanks for the information. In high school I did a report about poet Vachel Lindsay who was quite a sensation in the early 1900s as he toured America reciting his poetry. His public performances were very popular - hard to imagine something like that happening today.

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  2. Yes, it's hard to imagine a poet attracting large audiences today. I recently heard historian Harold Holzer refer to the 19th century as "the time before all Americans were stupid."

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