about for forty years and finally founded in 1879 by Amos Bronson Alcott,
The Concord Summer School of Philosophy was one
of the first adult summer schools in the United States largely based
upon the ideal of Plato’s Academy. Conducted its first year in
the Study of Orchard House, The School received a generous donation from
a New York City philanthropist, enabling Mr. Alcott to design and have
constructed a building, originally called “Hillside Chapel,” on
the grounds of Orchard House, where the next eight years of The School
Left: A. Bronson Alcott on the steps of The School,
speakers at The School included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Julia Ward Howe,
William James, and Elizabeth Peabody, who were among the first
to encourage the study of original American thought, especially Transcendentalism.
The School was an enormous success, drawing hundreds of participants
summer from throughout this country and Europe, more than half of
whom were women. With Mr. Alcott’s death in 1888, the School was
closed in his honor after that summer’s sessions.
Sketch of proceedings of The School, early 1880s.
In 1975, through a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission,
the building was repaired and re-opened for a series of summer lectures.
Only minor modifications have been made to the structure, the exterior
of which has been left unfinished — as it was in Mr. Alcott’s
time — to harmonize with the natural surroundings. Plans are currently
underway to properly reinforce and restore the structure so it may endure
for generations to come.
modern-day “Summer Conversational Series” (see photo
at left) has endeavored to keep the spirit and purpose of the earlier School proceedings
In recent years, speakers have included psychologist B.F. Skinner,
cartoonist Paul Szep, and educator Theodore Sizer, as well as renowned
from universities throughout the country. Themes for the Series are
determined each year by Orchard House Staff and are carefully chosen
current issues of importance so as to promote productive thought and
its re-opening, The School has had a varied life -- in 1982 it was the
site of a one-woman show by Katharine Houghton, niece of actress
Katharine Hepburn (who starred as “Jo March” in the 1933
Little Women movie); in 2002, First Lady Laura Bush held a reception
for invited guests and gave media interviews within the rustic charm
of its walls; and
for the past several years, it has been the venue for dramatic re-creations
of “The Trial of Anthony Burns” (a
fugitive slave whose arrest and return to slavery captivated the attention
and emotion of many citizens in the North during 1854) for middle- and
high-school students. Every summer also finds numerous children’s
programs and varied entertainments presented in The School to the benefit
and delight of local residents as well as visitors from around the world.
Trial of Anthony Burns.” interactive
historical drama performed in The School by Theatre Espresso.
Below: Youths enjoying Victorian
games such as “Hoops & Sticks” outside
The building has such an evocative atmosphere that it is occasionally
rented for poetry readings, professional meetings, and small weddings.
Whatever the event, however, the motivation behind the use of the building
remains true to the original intent of Mr. Alcott, and pays tribute
to his insight and foresight. We leave you now with what would become
of Mr. Alcott’s last journal entries before his stroke in 1882:
village is livelier by this incoming of attendants at the School
of Philosophy. … It is almost too much to credit my eyes as I gaze
upon the spectacle. Here gather the best, the wisest persons of our
time. From this humble beginning I know not what may spring and spread.
should its present prospect fade and these walks be trodden no more
by eager attendants, a creditable work will have been done on the
furthering good living and high thinking. The great and good things
have a humble origin, and await their time, subject to reverses,
over their seeming failures. Philosophy knows less of geographies
than of the ideas that give place and time to all things.