[William] Ellery Channing *
For decades, educator and Transcendental philosopher A. Bronson Alcott cherished a dream that was finally realized in 1879 with the opening of The Concord School of Philosophy and Literature, one of the very first summer schools for adults in the United States. Among the notables who presented during Mr. Alcott’s lifetime were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Peabody, Ednah Dow Cheney, Julia Ward Howe, and William Torrey Harris, the last of whom, along with Alcott, Emerson, and Concord educator Franklin B. Sanborn, was also a founder of The School.
The 1879 sessions were held in Mr. Alcott’s Study in Orchard House, with distinguished academics, writers, scholars, artists, and reformers among the participants. Many were also women, whose access to higher education had been severely limited during their lifetimes; some even traveled alone each year from the Midwest and beyond to attend the series. By the next year, “Hillside Chapel” was built on the grounds of Orchard House and served as The School’s venue for the next seven years.
Noted for Platonic-based conversational interaction between presenters and attendees, the sessions offered a unique style of learning for participants. Unlike single-night Lyceum lectures or the popular religion-based Chautauquas held around the country, The School of Philosophy conducted upward of seven weeks of daily educational sessions. Attendees flocked to Concord, often staying for the entire length of series. Among the topics discussed were art, religion, politics, science, Shakespeare, philosophy, history, and mysticism.
The School closed after the Summer of 1888 in honor of Mr. Alcott’s passing, but re-opened to the public in 1976 with a revived summer lecture program. In 1999, the Series was further enhanced by incorporating Mr. Alcott’s conversational style of learning into a week-long interactive educational program which thrives to this day.
* Quote painted on the mantelpiece in Orchard House's Study by May Alcott
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