Franklin Lyceum Records
Club, Providence, R.I.
Size: 1.75 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 157
Processed by: Rebecca M. Custer, July 1993
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Young students of Mr. G. A. DeWitt's private school in Providence formed a group in 1829 for the purposes of enhancing their education. They called the group the Providence Lyceum, before changing to the Franklin Lyceum on April 28, 1832. Francis E. Hoppin spoke of the name change in his 1858 oration, mentioning that Ben Franklin "established in America the first literary society, the first philosophical society, and the first circulating society".....
The members attempted improve their skills in various ways. Formal debates provided opportunities to sharpen oral delivery and logic. They discussed numerous topics; for example, the question on November 11, l840 was: "Which is the greater evil; slavery or intemperance?," in which intemperance won. Oct. 4, 1852's question, "Ought women be allowed to vote?" was decided "on [by a] motion it was voted that the question be decided in the negative without debate".) Although the Lyceum did not think women should be allowed to vote, they allowed them to members in the 1840s but rarely spoke or contributed to the newspaper. Occasionally the members gave lectures, and special guest lecturers also spoke before the membership. These guests were often used as fundraisers for the Lyceum, bringing in large crowds. Orators included Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Edgar Allen Poe, Horace Mann, Sam Houston, Charles Sumner, and Henry Ward Beecher. A very popular guest, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was asked to speak on anything except the "religion of the present age".
Members practiced their writing and composition through contributions to the lyceum's publication, the Lyceum Star and Evening Chronicle, begun in 1833. The journal went through a series of name changes, from the original to Lyceum Review and Miscellany on May 17, 1834 to The Omnibus on July 9, 1836 and back to the Lyceum Review and Miscellany on November 12, 1836. It contained poems, essays, editorials, and stories.
Members had use of a large lyceum-owned library, holding, by 1890, 6775 volumes. Most of these books were sold to the Providence Public Library at this time, for the Lyceum itself was rapidly losing its popularity. In its heyday, the 1860s, members numbered over 700 people. They charged a two dollar admission and a yearly assessment of three dollars. The Lyceum included corresponding and honorary members.
Meetings were held in the Hoppin Block of Westminster Street from 1849 to 1858 when moved permanently to 62 Westminster Street; previously they were held in private homes. The Society waned by the twentieth century, and in 1906, there was an attempt to revive the Lyceum. This was short-lived and by 1917, the remaining assets of the Lyceum were given to the Rhode Island Historical Society. 1926 saw the demolition of the Lyceum building, but the life-sized statue of Ben Franklin was placed at the Old Stone Bank on Empire Street.
[Bibliography: Lamar, Christine. The Franklin Lyceum: A Century of Ideas. Rhode Island Historical Society, November, 1985.]
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Scope and content:
The Franklin Lyceum collection primarily contains the records of meetings, issues of the unpublished newsletter, membership lists, and ledger books. Also, the group's Charter and Constitution form part of the collection. Approximately fifty letters addressed to A. P. King, a member of the lecture committee, are located in a box with the collection. These letters are replies to the committee's request for speaking engagements. Among the replies are letters from some prominent citizens, including: William Cullen Bryant, William Henry Seward, Henry Ward Beecher, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The earliest records of the Lyceum are presumed lost, and the records in this collection date from 1832 until 1885. While the records provide insight into the lyceum's members, they fail to go into detail about their discussions. Debates and lectures were not published, yet records often indicate the topics discussed. Membership rolls will occasionally inform the reader of the members' standing with the lyceum (withdrawn, expelled, residence, "deceased", etc.). The first members were William B. Shore, Levi H. Holden, Daniel A. Jackson, Geronomino Urmeneta, Thomas L. Dunnell, Charles J. Cushing, William E. Hamlin, and Crawford Nightingale.
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The correspondence files were donated on July 14, 1911 by Eugene P. King, son of lecture committee member A. P. King. The Lyceum's remaining assets were donated on May 17, 1911 to the Rhode Island Historical Society, along with this collection.
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This collection was cataloged on OCLC in 1993. In 1999, these records were placed in archival boxes and folders, and the finding aid was slightly revised by Rick Stattler.
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Minutes and record books
Box 1, folder 1. 1836-1843
Box 1, folder 2. 1843-1853
Box 1, folder 3. 1853-1860
Box 1, folder 4. 1861-1867
Box 1, folder 5. 1867-1875
Box 1, folder 6. 1875-1879
Box 1, folder 7. 1880-1885
Periodicals (manuscript drafts)
Box 1, folder 8. The Franklin Miscellany May-November, 1842
Box 2, folder 1. Lyceum Star and Evening Chronicle 1833-1836; Lyceum Review and Miscellany May 17, 1834-1836, The Omnibus July 9, 1836, Lyceum Review and Miscellany November 12, 1836
Box 2, folder 2. 1831-1858
Correspondence. All letters to corresponding secretary A.P. King except as noted.
Box 2, folder 3.
?, June 7, 1856
William Cullen Bryant, June 7, 1856
John Saxe, June 8, 1856
David Paul Brown, June 15, 1856
Bayard Taylor, June 16, 1856
B. C. Clark, September 24, 1856
John G. Saxes, September 28, 1856
Thomas Starr King, October 15 & 17, 1856
C. Fred Livermore, October 30, 1856
Edward G. Russell, November 7, 1856
George S. Hillard, November 11 & 12, 1856
Box 2, folder 4.
William F. Morgan, December 1, 1856
Henry Ward Beecher, December 9, 1856 and December 13, 1856
Zoeth Sherman Durfee, December 29, 1856
William F. Morgan, January 7, 1857
John Charles Fremont, June 15, 1857
William Henry Seward, June 16, 1857
George Nixon Briggs, July 25, 1857
Richard Henry Dana, July 28, 1857
Box 2, folder 5.
Horatio Seymour, August 16, 1857
Rufus W. Clark, August 20, 1857
Henry Giles, August 20, 1857
Caleb Cushing, September 10, 1857
Mark Hopkins, September 17, 1857
? Wells, October 2, 1857
George Sumner, October 3, 1857
William Allen Butler, October 10, 1857
Box 2, folder 6.
Joseph Ripley Chandler, November 27, 1857
Barnas Sears, December 12, 1857
Edwin Hubbell Chapin, January 9, 1858
Henry Ward Beecher, February 24, 1858
George William Curtis, February 24, 1858
Henry Whitney Bellows, March 3, 1858
Charles Anderson Dana, June 30, 1858
Box 2, folder 7.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, July 2, 1858
George Sumner, July 5, 1858
Thomas Starr King, August 31, 1858
Henry Ward Bellows, September 2, 1858
Bayard Taylor, October 28, 1858
Thomas Starr King, November 3, 1858
Henry Champion Deming, November 30, 1858
George William Curtis, December 4, 1858
George Sumner, December 7, 1858
George William Curtis, January 2, 1859
Box 2, folder 8.
Officer nominations, 1865
Postcard to Mr. Kirby, Journal Officer, Providence, November 3, 1885
Letter of gift from Eugene P. King to R.I.H.S.L., July 14, 1911
Wendell Phillips, June 16, September 15, October 7, December 1 (no year)
Henry Ward Beecher, November 10 (no year)
Box 3, folder 1. Treasurer's book, 1844-1851
Box 3, folder 2. Ledger, 1855-1861
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*Beecher, Henry Ward (1813-1887)
*Bryant, William Cullen (1794-1878)
*Curtis, George William (1824-1892)
*Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1803-1882)
*Fremont, John Charles (1813-1890)
Lyceums - Rhode Island
*Phillips, Wendell (1811-1884)
Providence, R.I. - Education - Lyceums
Rhode Island - Education - Lyceums
*Seward, William Henry (1801-1872)
*New entries in 1999
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