Amos Bronson Alcott: Wikis


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Amos Bronson Alcott
Born November 29, 1799 (1799-11-29)
Wolcott, Connecticut
Died March 4, 1888 (1888-03-05) (aged 88)
Boston, Massachusetts
Occupation Educator
Spouse(s) Abby May
Children Anna Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott, May Alcott

Amos Bronson Alcott (November 29, 1799 – March 4, 1888) was an American teacher, writer and philosopher who left a legacy of forward-thinking social ideas and whose status as a well-publicized figure from the 1830s to the 1880s stemmed from his founding of two short-lived projects, an unconventional school and an utopian community known as "Fruitlands", as well as from his association with the philosophy of Transcendentalism[1] and from the celebrity accruing to his daughter, Little Women author Louisa May Alcott.[1]


Life and work

Early life

A native New Englander, Amos Bronson Alcott was born in the town of Wolcott in Connecticut's New Haven County[1] The family home was in an area known as Spindle Hill, and his father, Joseph Chatfield Alcox, a farmer and mechanic, traced his ancestry to colonial-era settlers in eastern Massachusetts whose surname had been recorded as "Alcocke". The son adopted the spelling "Alcott" in his early youth.

Alcott taught himself to read and was self-educated.[2] Before reaching his 15th birthday in 1814, he was already earning a living by working in a clock factory in the nearby town of Plymouth. He left home at 17 and, for a few years, was a salesman in the American South,[2]peddling books and merchandise. Returning to Connecticut in his early twenties, he was working, by 1823, as a schoolteacher in Bristol, and subsequently conducted schools in Cheshire during 1825–27, again in Bristol in 1827–28, then in Boston during 1828–30 then, in 1831–33, Germantown, then a separate community, before its later absorption into Philadelphia, and in Philadelphia in 1833. As a young teacher he was most convinced by the educational philosophy of the Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.

In Spring 1830, at the age of 30, he married 29-year-old Abby May,[3] the sister of reformer and abolitionist Samuel J. May. Alcott was himself a Garrisonian abolitionist, and pioneered the strategy of tax resistance to slavery, which Henry David Thoreau made famous in Civil Disobedience.[4] Alcott publicly debated with Thoreau the use of force and passive resistance to slavery; along with Thoreau he was among the financial and moral supporters of John Brown and occasionally helped fugitive slaves escape via the Underground Railroad.

Alcott and Abby May's children:


In 1834 he opened the "Temple School" in Boston, so called because it was located in a Masonic Temple building. The school was briefly famous, and then infamous, because of his original methods. Alcott's plan was to develop self-instruction on the basis of self-analysis, with an emphasis on conversation and questioning rather than lecturing and drill, which were prevalent in the U.S. classrooms of the time. Alongside writing and reading, he gave lessons in "spiritual culture", which included interpretation of the Gospels, and advocated object teaching in writing instruction. Before 1830, writing (except in higher education) equated to rote drills in the rules of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, penmanship and transcription of adult texts. However, in that decade, progressive reformers such as Alcott, influenced by Pestalozzi as well as Friedrich Fröbel and Johann Friedrich Herbart, began to advocate writing about subjects from students’ personal experiences. Reformers debated against beginning instruction with rules and were in favor of helping students learn to write by expressing the personal meaning of events within their own lives.

Alcott was fundamentally and philosophically opposed to corporal punishment as a means of disciplining his students; instead, he offered his own hand for an offending student to strike, saying that any failing was the teacher's responsibility. The shame and guilt this method induced, he believed, was far superior to the fear instilled by corporal punishment; when he used physical "correction" he required that the students be unanimously in support of its application, even including the student to be punished.

As assistants in the Temple School, Alcott had two young women who have subsequently come to be considered among nineteenth-century America's most talented writers, 30-year-old Elizabeth Palmer Peabody who, in 1835, published A Record of Mr. Alcott's School and 26-year-old Margaret Fuller who was a teacher during 1836–37; as students he had children of the Boston intellectual classes, including future writer Josiah Phillips Quincy, grandson of Harvard University president, Josiah Quincy III. Alcott's methods were not well received; many readers found his conversations on the Gospels close to blasphemous, a few brief but frank discussions with the children regarding birth and circumcision were considered obscene and a number of his ideas were denigrated as ridiculous. The influential conservative Unitarian Andrews Norton, a vocal opponent of Transcendentalism, derided the book as one-third blasphemy, one-third obscenity, and the rest nonsense. The school was widely denounced in the press, with only a few scattered supporters, and Alcott was rejected by most public opinion. The controversy caused many parents to remove their children and, as the school closed, Alcott became increasingly financially desperate. Remaining steadfast to his pedagogy, a forerunner of progressive and democratic schooling, he alienated parents in a later "parlor school" by admitting an African American child to the class, whom he then refused to expel in the face of protests.

Transcendentalism and Fruitlands

The Wayside, home in turn to the Alcott family, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Sidney.
Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts.

Beginning in 1836, Alcott's membership in the Transcendental Club put him in such company as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Orestes Brownson and Theodore Parker.[5] A biographer of Emerson described the group as "the occasional meetings of a changing body of liberal thinkers, agreeing in nothing but their liberality".[6] Frederick Henry Hedge wrote of the group's nature: "There was no club in the strict sense... only occasional meetings of like-minded men and women".[6]

In 1840 Alcott moved to the Massachusetts town of Concord where, writing for the Transcendentalists' journal, The Dial, during the early 1840s, he contributed a series of "Orphic Sayings" which were widely mocked for being dense and meaningless. In the first issue, for example, he wrote:

Nature is quick with spirit. In eternal systole and diastole, the living tides course gladly along, incarnating organ and vessel in their mystic flow. Let her pulsations for a moment pause on their errands, and creation's self ebbs instantly into chaos and invisibility again. The visible world is the extremist wave of that spiritual flood, whose flux is life, whose reflux death, efflux thought, and conflux light. Organization is the confine of incarnation,—body the atomy of God.[7]

On May 8, 1842, Alcott left Concord for a visit to England, where he met two admirers, Charles Lane and Henry C. Wright.[8] The group's formation of a Transcendental center in the Massachusetts town of Harvard was conceived as a utopian socialist experiment in farm living and nature meditation, tending to develop the best powers of body and soul. The commune, named "Fruitlands" (now a national historic landmark), failed within seven months and was later described by Alcott's daughter Louisa May in the title of her published chronicle of the project, Transcendental Wild Oats. In January 1844, Alcott moved his family to Still River, a village within Harvard but, by November, the family returned as neighbors of Ralph Waldo Emerson to live in their Concord home, "Hillside",[9]later renamed "The Wayside" by Nathaniel Hawthorne). Four years later, Alcott moved to Boston and, again, back to Concord after 1857, where he and his family lived in the Orchard House until 1877. While there, Alcott served as Superintendent to the Concord Public Schools in 1860–61.

He spoke, as opportunity arose, before the "lyceums" then common in various parts of the United States, or addressed groups of hearers as they invited him. These "conversations" as he called them, were more or less informal talks on a great range of topics, spiritual, aesthetic and practical, in which he emphasized the ideas of the school of American Transcendentalists led by Emerson, who was always his supporter and discreet admirer. He often discussed Platonic philosophy, the illumination of the mind and soul by direct communion with Spirit; upon the spiritual and poetic monitions of external nature; and upon the benefit to man of a serene mood and a simple way of life. His teachings greatly influenced the growing mid-19th century New Thought movement.

Final decade

Louisa May attended to his needs in his final years. As the seventy-nine-year-old founder of the "Concord School of Philosophy and Literature", he opened its first session, in 1879, in his own study in the Orchard House. In 1880 the school moved to the Hillside Chapel, a building next to the house, where he held conversations and, over the course of successive summers, as he entered his eighties, invited others to give lectures on themes in philosophy, religion and letters. The school, considered one of the first formal adult education centers in America, was also attended by foreign scholars. It continued for nine years, closing in 1888, following Alcott's death. It was reopened almost 90 years later, in the 1970s, and has continued functioning with a Summer Conversational Series in its original building at Orchard House, now run by the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association.

Alcott's published books, all from late in his life, include New Connecticut[1], Tablets (1868), Concord Days (1872), and Sonnets and Canzonets (1882). He left a large collection of journals and memorabilia, most of which remain unpublished. He died in Boston three months past his 88th birthday, with Louisa May dying only two days later, as an aftereffect of mercury poisoning.

Criticism and legacy

Alcott's philosophical teachings have been criticized as inconsistent, hazy or abrupt. He formulated no system of philosophy, and shows the influence of Plato, German mysticism, and Kant as filtered through the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Like Emerson, Alcott was always optimistic, idealistic, and individualistic in thinking. The teachings of William Ellery Channing a few years earlier, had also laid the groundwork for the work of most of the Concord Transcendentalists. Of the contributors to The Dial, Alcott was by far the most widely mocked in the press, chiefly for the high-flown rhetoric of his "Orphic Sayings", but also, as a separate matter, for his inability to support his family above poverty level.

Margaret Fuller referred to Alcott as "a philosopher of the balmy times of ancient Greece—a man whom the worldlings of Boston hold in as much horror as the worldlings of Athens held Socrates."[10]

From the other perspective, Alcott's unique teaching ideas created an environment which produced two famous daughters in different fields, in a time when women were not commonly encouraged to have independent careers. His ideas also helped to found one of the first adult education centers in America, and provide the foundation for future generations of liberal education. Many of Alcott's educational principles are still used in classrooms today, including "teach by encouragement," art education, music education, acting exercises, learning through experience, risk-taking in the classroom, tolerance in schools, physical education/recess, and early childhood education.

While many of Alcott's ideas continue to be perceived as being on the liberal/radical edge, they are still common themes in society, including vegetarian/veganism, sustainable living, and temperance/self control. Alcott described his sustenance as a "Pythagorean diet": meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk were excluded and drinking was confined to well water.[11]



  1. ^ a b c d "Old New Haven", Lapidos, Juliet. The Advocate, March 17, 2005
  2. ^ a b Hankins, Barry. The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004: 129. ISBN 0-313-31848-4
  3. ^ McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2004. p. 79. ISBN 0802117767
  4. ^ Gross, David (ed.) We Won’t Pay!: A Tax Resistance Reader ISBN 1434898253 pp. 178-179
  5. ^ Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003: 32–33. ISBN 0-674-01139-2
  6. ^ a b Gura, Philip F. American Transcendentalism: A History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007: 5. ISBN 0-8090-3477-8
  7. ^ Felton, R. Todd. A Journey into the Transcendentalists' New England. Berkeley, California: Roaring Forties Press, 2006: 23. ISBN 0-9766706-4-X
  8. ^ Packer, Barbara L. The Transcendentalists. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2007: 147–148. ISBN 9780820329581
  9. ^ Ehrlich, Eugene and Carruth, Gorton. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 62. ISBN 0195031865
  10. ^ Nelson, Randy F. (editor). The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 152. ISBN 086576008X
  11. ^ Baker, Carlos. Emerson Among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait. New York: Viking Press, 1996: 217. ISBN 0-670-86675-X.


  • Alcott, Amos Bronson. Conversations with Children on the Gospels.
  • Brooks, Geraldine. "Orpheus at the Plough." The New Yorker, January 10, 2005, pp. 58–65. (The New Yorker article is reproduced on author's website)
  • Russell, D. R. (2006). Historical studies of composition. In P. Smagorinsky (Ed), Research on composition: Multiple perspectives on two decades of change (pp. 243–275). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Alcott, Amos Bronson. Letters of Amos Bronson Alcott.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Alcott, Amos Bronson". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.  

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

American Transcendentalism 1835-1880



A New America emerged in the 19th century, a fusion of Eastern esoteric thoughts (Mystical secrets and knowledge of God as a Supreme Being), individuality of the person and nature. The merge of this philosophy by primarily theologians, authors, and poets was a unique effort to address a new America in the form of a Utopia. Any era of a "New" philosophy, art, music or anything else is always evidence of a result of something that has occurred. Transcendentalism was the result of a conflict with science in the Industrial age, with its bleak look at human nature, something new evolved, Romanticism in Art and painting. An extended transformation continued from intersections with European thought and Eastern philosophy, those of beliefs and attitudes, religion, literature and politics. The movement was given the name "American Transcendentalism."

In relation to Amos Bronson Alcott's 1842 time period, this philosophy progressed from the American Romantic period to become a fusion of sorts in unison within Literature and Thought. Transcendentalism occurred at the heart of the American Renaissance of 1835 to 1880. Transcendentalism is understood as an idealism of the time.
The system of philosophy "Transcendentalism Ideology" took its name from German Philosopher Freidrich Schelling. He argued that scientific observation and artistic intuition were complimentary, not opposed, modes of thought. "Nature," Shelling wrote, "is visible Spirit; Spirit is invisible Nature." [1]
However, "American Transcendentalism" was a result from philosopher Emmanuel Kant who called "all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects." [2] This philosophy gave authority and led to the inner light that Walt Whitman expressed in his poem of the "self."

[1] "Instant Karma" by John Lennon. A modern Eastern Transcendentalist example, you can "see" the influence of eastern philosophy on western philosophy.


Themes and issues of this philosophy (although impossible to simplify) according to Michael Robertson of The Chronicle Review, [3] contain these points: (1.) The Spark of Divinity is within us. (2.) That everything is a microcosm of existence and (3.) That the individual soul is identical to the World soul.

The "Spark" of Divinity alludes to Mystic or Esoteric (Inner self) knowledge of spiritual context. The persona of the self, the hidden knowledge, is exemplified by the scientist Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and his images of Angels through his automatic writings of 25 years. Mythical refers to an external fact such as Zeus or other Greek and Roman Gods.


The Concord School of Philosophy was founded by A. Bronson Alcott. The school (1879-1888) taught adults about ideals, beliefs and values. In a sermon/lecture style of teaching, Alcott focused on the Transcendentalist philosophy.
Table Talk- refers to diary entries, conversations and other notable items that Alcott had with others such as Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau.


1.) German Philosopher Frederich Schelling (1775-1854) and his philosophy of Idealism is instrumental in the gathering of Concord locals and ministers that formed "The Transcendental Club." The Humanities volume II: Culture Continuity and Change. Page 1069.
2.) In the article "I Hear American Singing" by Thomas Hampton of, references Emmanuel Kant and the fundamental beginnings of American Transcendentalism.
3.) Michael Robertson, in his article "Reading Whitman Religiously" refers to the Philosophy of Transcendentalism an idea simplified and put into words by Ralph Waldo Emerson, as noted in "Self-Reliance."


In a letter dated Thursday May 10, 1888 Walt Whitman was being interviewed in Camden and asked to compare authors, Emerson, Alcott and Longfellow. His reaction can be found here in the Whitman archive- [2]

On Sunday February 17, 1889, Walt Whitman expresses his thoughts regarding Alcott's eccentricities as a fellow writer. He is respectful although critical in his response-[3]

Authors F.B. Sanborn and William T. Harris in their book, A. Bronson Alcott: His life and Philosophy suggest through an extensive study, that Alcott was a theological idealist. Alcott's artistic method and literary style showed a relationship of "man to Absolute" rather than "man to man" philosophy. [4]For the most part Alcott kept his rhetorical skills focused on ascent or descent, to or from the vision of God. His style was of continuous oration of the "Genesis" theme and prevented, according to Sanborn, his poetry from having any "go."[5]However, they seemed to have "depth of expression" with a "true philosophical theme." [6]An example of his poetry can be seen here :

"The Seer's Rations"
"Takes sunbeams, spring waters,
Earth's juices, mead's creams
Bathes in floods of sweet ethers,
Comes baptized, from the streams;
Guest of Him, the sweet-lopp'd,-
The Dreamer's quaint dreams.
'Mingles, orals idyllic
With Samain fable
Sage seasoned from cruets,
Of Plutarch's chaste table.
"Pledges Zeus, Zoroaster,
Tastes Cana's glad cheer ;
Suns, globes, on his trencher,
The elements there.
"Bowls of sunrise for breakfast,
Brimful of the East ;
Foaming flagons of frolic
His evenind's gay feast.
"Sov'reign solids of nature,
Solar seeds of the sphere,
Olympian viand
Surprising as rare.
"Thus baiting his genius,
His wonderful word
Brings poets and sibyls
To sup at his board.
"Feeds thus and thus fares he,
Speeds thus and thus cares he,
Thus faces and graces
Life's long euthanasies.
His gifts unabated,
Transfigured, translated,-
The idealist prudent,
Saint, poet, priest, student,
Philosopher, he."[7]


  • Alcott, A. Bronson. Concord Days. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1872.
  • _____ . The New Connecticut Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, 1881.
  • Folsom, Ed and Kenneth M. Price. Re-Scripting Walt Whitman: An Introduction to his Life and Work. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
  • (2)Hampton, Thomas. "I Hear American Singing." [4] Accessed 13 April 2008.
  • Kirven, Robert H. Angels in Action: What Swedenborg Saw and Heard. West Chester: Chrysalis Books, 1995.
  • (3)Robertson, Michael. "Reading Whitman Religiously" The Chronicle Review: The Chronicle of Higher Education: April 11, 2008 [5]
    (Note: This reference requires a log in and account information)
  • (4,5,6,7)Sanborn, F.B. and William T. Harris. A. Bronson Alcott: His life and Philosophy. Cambridge: University Press, 1893.
  • (1)Sayre, Henry M. The Humanities volume II: Culture Continuity and Change. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008.
  • Schmidgall, Gary Ed. Walt Whitman: Selected Poems 1855-1892 A New Edition New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
  • [6] Accessed 13 April 2008 "Disciples: Sunday, February 17, 1889."
  • [7] Accessed 13 April 2008 "Disciples: Thursday, May 10, 1888."
  • You Tube. Accessed, 13 April 2008 "John Lennon and Instant Karma."

Candyangel43 14:40, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

AMOS BRONSON ALCOTT (1799-1888), American education alist and writer, born on Spindle Hill, in the town of Wolcott, New Haven county, Connecticut, on the 29th of November 1799. His father, Joseph Chatfield Alcox, was a farmer and mechanic whose ancestors, then bearing the name of Alcocke, had settled in eastern Massachusetts in colonial days. The son adopted the spelling "Alcott" in his early youth. Self-educated and early thrown upon his own resources, he began in 1814 to earn his living by working in a clock factory in Plymouth, Conn., and for many years after 1815 he peddled books and merchandise, chiefly in the southern states. He began teaching in Bristol, Conn., in 1823, and subsequently conducted schools in Cheshire, Conn., in 1825-1827, again in Bristol in 1827-1828, in Boston in 1828-1830, in Germantown, now part of Philadelphia, in 1831-1833, and in Philadelphia in 1833. In 1830 he had married Abby May, the sister of Samuel J. May (1797-1871), the reformer and abolitionist. In 1834 he opened in Boston a school which became famous because of his original methods; his plan being to develop self-instruction on the basis of self-analysis, with an ever-present desire on his own part to stimulate the child's personality. The feature of his school which attracted most attention, perhaps, was his scheme for the teacher's receiving punishment, in certain circumstances, at the hands of an offending pupil, whereby the sense of shame might be quickened in the mind of the errant child. The school was denounced in the press, was not pecuniarily successful, and in 1839 was given up, although Alcott had won the affection of his pupils, and his educational experiments had challenged the attention of students of pedagogy. The school is perhaps best described in Miss E. P. Peabody's A Record of Mr Alcott's School (18J5). In 1840 Alcott removed to Concord, Massachusetts. After a visit to England, in 1842, he started with two English associates, Charles Lane and Henry C. Wright, at "Fruitlands," in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts, a communistic experiment at farm-living and nature-meditation as tending to develop the best powers of body and soul. This speedily came to naught, and Alcott returned (1844) to his home near that of Emerson in Concord, removing to Boston four years later, and again living in Concord after 1857. He spoke, as opportunity offered, before the "lyceums" then common in various parts of the United States, or addressed groups of hearers as they invited him. These "conversations," as he called them, were more or less informal talks on a great range of topics, spiritual, aesthetic and practical, in which he emphasized the ideas of the school of American Transcendentalists led by Emerson, who was always his supporter and discreet admirer. He dwelt upon the illumination of the mind and soul by direct communion with the Creative Spirit; upon the spiritual and poetic monitions of external nature; and upon the benefit to man of a serene mood and a simple way of life. As regards the trend and results of Alcott's philosophic teaching, it must be said that, like Emerson, he was sometimes inconsistent, hazy or abrupt. But though he formulated no system of philosophy, and seemed to show the influence now of Plato, now of Kant, or of German thought as filtered through the brain of Coleridge, he was, like his American master, associate and friend, steadily optimistic, idealistic, individualistic. The teachings of William Ellery Channing a little before, as to the sacred inviolability of the human conscience - anticipating the later conclusions of Martineau - really lay at the basis of the work of most of the Concord transcendentalists and contributors to The Dial, of whom Alcott was one. In his last years, living in a serene and - ?R�CH5�N02 - >R�C<NOH OZ Nitrolic acid. R1 >CH�N02 >R1>C<N0 Pseudo nitrol. .I - >(RSR2R3)C�N02.

beautiful old age in his Concord home, the Orchard House,where every comfort was provided by his daughter Louisa, Alcott was gratified at being able to become the nominal, and at times the actual, head of a Concord "Summer School of Philosophy and Literature," which had its first session in 1879, and in which - in a rudely fashioned building next his house - thoughtful listeners were addressed during a part of several successive summer seasons on many themes in philosophy, religion and letters. Of Alcott's published works the most important is Tablets (1868); next in order of merit is Concord Days (1872). His Sonnets and Canzonets (1882) are chiefly interesting as an old man's experiments in verse. He left a large collection of personal jottings and memorabilia, most of which remain unpublished. He died in Boston on the 4th of March 1888. Alcott was a Garrisonian abolitionist.

See A. Bronson Alcott, His Life and Philosophy (2 vols.,Boston, 1893), by F. B. Sanborn and William T. Harris; New Connecticut: an Autobiographical Poem (Boston, 1887), edited by F. B. Sanborn; and Lowell's criticism in his Fable for Critics. (C. F. R.)

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