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History of Lyceum

The Lyceum was a part of the ancient city of Athens and the site of a philosophical school founded by Aristotle, where Greek scholars and philosophers would meet with public audiences to exchange the latest frontiers of knowledge.

The Lyceum was perhaps the first attempt by a society to bring education and enlightenment to the common person outside the formal university setting. Over the next 2,500 years the concept would alternately flourish and wither in a dozen or more major cultures, but it would never entirely disappear.

The Lyceum philosophy reached its zenith at about the turn of the Twentieth Century. An enormous network known as the "Circuit Chautauqua" was founded in New York State, and by its heyday would bring cultural and intellectual stimulation to much of rural and small-town North America. In the mid 1920s, Chautauqua performers and lecturers appeared in more than 10,000 communities in 45 states before audiences totaling 45 million people.

The historian Jeffrey Scott Maxwell described the Chautauqua, the strongest offshoot of Lyceum, as "the largest and most successful adult-education program in the history of the world." Maxwell estimated that as many as 28 million adults bettered themselves through the moral, intellectual, and cultural programs. Theodore Roosevelt called it "the most American thing in America," while Woodrow Wilson described it during WWI as "an integral part of the national defense." William Jennings Bryan deemed it "a potential human factor in molding the mind of the nation."

Through a dozen reincarnations, probably the most recent of which are the nationwide "community concert associations," Lyceum has maintained a grasp on thousands of communities as the most important forum for the examination of political, social, cultural, and even moral issues of the day.