American lyceums in the 19th century were a series of local public lectures. Particularly popular in small towns, they appealed to young audiences made up of the merchant and labor class, according to R. Todd Felton's A Journey Into The Transcendentalists' New England. Billed as entertaining as well as informative, Felton says, these lectures by notable figures from a variey of fields — religion, science, philosophy, activism — were for many audience members their only exposure to higher education.

For Transcendentalists, lyceums served as catalysts for in-depth and sometimes contentious discussion of ideas throughout the community. Lyceum topics from the epicenter of Transcendentalism — Concord, Massachusetts — included such hot-button issues as abolition, women's sufferage and education.

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