Friday, January 20, 2012

What's a Lyceum?

Massanutten Regional Library Presents:
Lunchtime Lyceum Begins Jan. 23rd
—but what’s a lyceum?

ly·ce·um (lahy-see-uh m) n.
1. A hall in which public lectures, concerts, and similar programs are presented.
2. An organization sponsoring public programs and entertainment.

chautauqua (SHəˈtôkwə) n.
(Social Science / Education) (in the US, formerly) a summer school or educational meeting held in the summer named after Chautauqua, the Iroquois name of a lake in New York near which such a school was first held.[i]

Throughout history, from Plato to our modern Think Tanks, people have shared their love of learning. Aristotle is attributed with the first “lyceum” --the gymnasium where he held his lectures.

In America, the lyceum venue began with the Transcendentalists in New England. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau endorsed the movement and often gave speeches in Massachusetts. As the Civil War dawned, the movement faded, but the name has remained synonymous with intellectual exchanges.

In 1874, near Lake Chautauqua in western New York, Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent founded the Chautauqua Institute, a summertime non-traditional educational experience. The purpose was to provide those without time and financial resources the opportunity to obtain a college education. Basically, it was the first long distance learning facility. Instead of “on-line,” it was via mail and traveling lecturers. Locals were also encouraged to form local Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circles (CLSC).

Around 1880, the Reverend A. P. Funkhouser, then principal of the Shenandoah Seminary in Dayton, went to New York and attended the Chautauqua meetings. Much impressed and “greatly benefited,” he returned to the valley and organized an Assembly at Mt. Jackson. In 1891 he purchased twenty-five acres “on the railroad” one mile north of Harrisonburg. It became known as Assembly Park and provided water, cottages, a great hall, a chapel, an auditorium and speakers from all over the nation.[ii] In 1916, the Mennonite Church purchased the property and used the original three-story building as a church school. In 1940, the original building was torn down but some of the material was reused to build an industrial arts building. The rest is history for EMU.[iii]

Such learning circles were popular in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. In his History of Rockingham County (1912) John Wayland notes:
In 1885, one evening in the dark, eight young men met in a fence corner near Dale Enterprise, and sat on a log. They were tired but not exhausted; they were in the dark, but were seeking light.
These young men formed the Dale Enterprise Literary Society which lasted for over twenty years.

The June 24, 1924 edition of the Daily News Record had the headline: Plenty of Entertainment Promised In Chautauqua Here, July 10 to 16. The article lists a political lecture by William Redfield, former Secretary of Commerce; a talk about prison conditions by Frank Tannebaum; an impersonator of Dickens’ characters, Mr. William Sterling Battis; humorist Dr. George P. Bible; a comedy in three acts entitled Their Honor the Mayor, a Shakespearean play, As You Like It, performed by the New York troupe, the Vivian Players and lots of music. The location is not given, except for the phrase “the big tent opens....” Perhaps this meeting was held at Massanetta Springs.

Whether Chautauqua or lyceum, Massanutten Regional Library is dedicated to providing the community with enriching programs. Please join us Jan. 23rd – March 26th, Mondays at 1:00 for a Lunchtime Lyceum as we discuss the art of writing, politics and economics of countries across the pond, bird watching, hydroponics, and much more. A full schedule of events is available at HERE or call Cheryl Metz at 540-434-4475 x 129.

[ii] Rockingham Register, 7 June 1895.
[iii] Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)→Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA) or

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