Surely dear father some good angel or elf dropped a talisman in your cradle that gave you force to walk thro life in quiet sunshine while others groped in the dark . . .
~Louisa May Alcott to her father
November 28, 1855
A. Bronson Alcott was born November 29, 1799. The son of a flax farmer in Wolcott, Connecticut, he taught himself to read by forming letters in charcoal on a wooden floor. Through sheer willpower and dedication to the ideal, he educated himself and guided his genius to expression as a progressive educator and leader of the Transcendentalists.
"Transcendentalism" was a term coined for a movement of New England writers and thinkers in the 1830s. They believed that people are born good, that they possess a power called intuition, and that they can come closer to God through nature. Amos Bronson Alcott was unique in the way he embodied and lived out his Transcendentalist ideas.
As an educator, he believed that all knowledge and moral guidance springs from inner sources and it is the teacher’s role to help these unfold in a beneficial way. His daughter Louisa, one of his most faithful pupils, wrote, "My father taught in the wise way which unfolds what lies in the child’s nature, as a flower blooms, rather than crammed it ... with more than it could digest."
Mr. Alcott taught in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Boston. He introduced art, music, nature study, and physical education to his classes at a time when these subjects were not commonly taught. Many parents did not understand Alcott’s innovative methods and withdrew their children from his schools. Because of this, the Alcott family moved over 20 times in 30 years.
Mr. Alcott believed that the key to social reform and spiritual growth lay in the home, and specifically within family life. Essential values instilled in his children from an early age were self-reliance and the ideals of duty, self-sacrifice, compassion, and charity. Self-expression was also highly valued and cultivated through the keeping of journals on the part of all family members. Journals were even shared on many occasions to foster an openness of thought and feeling.
From 1859 through 1864, Mr. Alcott served as Superintendent of Schools in Concord. In later years, he conducted lecture tours in the Midwest where his enthusiastic presentations on educational reform and Transcendentalism brought much recognition to himself and fellow friends and Concordians, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
In 1879, primarily through the support of his Midwest admirers, his lifelong dream for a school of philosophy in Concord was fulfilled. One of the first summer schools for adults, The Concord School of Philosophy continued for nine summers. It closed in July of 1888 with a memorial service to Mr. Alcott, who had passed away on 4 March of that year.