Amos Bronson Alcott (1799 - 1888) MP

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Nicknames: "Amos /Alcott/"
Birthplace: Wolcott, New Haven, CT
Death: Died in Concord, MA
Managed by: Scott David Hibbard
Last Updated:

About Amos Bronson Alcott

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amos_Bronson_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. His 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 and from the celebrity accruing to his daughter, Little Women author Louisa May Alcott.

Alcott was a Garrisonian abolitionist, and pioneered the strategy of tax resistance to slavery, which Henry David Thoreau made famous in Civil Disobedience. 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.

Early life A native New Englander, Amos Bronson Alcott was born in Wolcott, Connecticut (only recently renamed from "Farmingbury") on November 29, 1799.[1] His parents were Joseph Chatfield Alcott and Anna Alcott (née Bronson). The family home was in an area known as Spindle Hill, and his father, Joseph Alcox, traced his ancestry to colonial-era settlers in eastern Massachusetts. The family originally spelled their name "Alcock", later changed to "Alcocke" then "Alcox". Amos Bronson, the oldest of eight children, later changed the spelling to "Alcott" and dropped his first name.[2]

At age six, young Bronson began his formal education in a one-room schoolhouse in the center of town but learned how to read at home with the help of his mother.[3] At age 13, his uncle, Reverend Tillotson Bronson, invited to take him into his home in Cheshire, Connecticut to be educated and prepared for college. Bronson gave it up after only a month[4] and was self-educated from then on.[5] He was not particularly social and his only close friend was his neighbor and second cousin William Alcott, with whom he shared books and ideas.[6] Starting at age 15, he took a job working for clockmaker Seth Thomas[7] in the nearby town of Plymouth.[8]

At age 17, Alcott passed the exam for a teaching certificate but had trouble finding work as a teacher.[7] Instead, he left home and became a traveling salesman in the American South,[5] peddling books and merchandise. He hoped the job would earn him enough money to support his parents, "to make their cares, and burdens less... and get them free from debt", though he soon spent most of his earnings on a new suit.[9] At first, he thought it an acceptable occupation but soon worried about his spiritual well-being. In March 1823, Alcott wrote to his brother: "Peddling is a hard place to serve God, but a capital one to serve Mammon."[10] Near the end of his life, he fictionalized this experience in his book New Connecticut, originally circulated only among friends before its publication in 1881.[11]

Early career and marriage By the summer of 1823, Alcott returned to Connecticut in debt to his father, who bailed him out after his last two unsuccessful sales trips.[12] He took a job as a schoolteacher in Cheshire with the help of his Uncle Tillotson.[13] He quickly set about reforming the school. He added backs to the benches on which students sat, improved lighting and heating, de-emphasized rote learning, and provided individual slates to each student — paid for by himself.[14] Alcott had been influenced by educational philosophy of the Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and even re-named his school "The Cheshire Pestalozzi School".[13] His style attracted the attention of Samuel Joseph May, who introduced Alcott to his sister Abby May. She called him, "an intelligent, philosophic, modest man" and found his views on education "very attractive".[14] Locals in Cheshire were less supportive and became suspicious of his methods. Many students left and were enrolled the local common school or a recently re-opened private school for boys.[15] On November 6, 1827, Alcott started teaching in Bristol, Connecticut, still using the same methods he used in Cheshire, but opposition from the community surfaced quickly;[16] he was unemployed by March 1828.[17] He soon found a job as headmaster of a school on Salem Street in Boston.[18] He arrived in that city on April 24, 1828, and was immediately impressed. He referred to it as a place "where the light of the sun of righteousness has rise."[19] Abby May applied as his teaching assistant; instead, the couple were engaged, without consent of the family.[20] They were married at King's Chapel on May 22, 1830; he was 30 years old and she was 29.[21] Her brother conducted the ceremony and a modest reception followed at her father's house.[22] After their marriage the Alcotts moved to 12 Franklin Street in Boston,a boarding house run by a Mrs. Newall.[23]

Attendance at Alcott's school was falling. A wealthy Quaker named Reuben Haines proposed he and educator William Russell start a new school in Pennsylvania.[22] Alcott accepted and he and his newly-pregnant wife set forth on December 14.[24] The school was established in Germantown[25] and the Alcotts were offered a rent-free home by Haines. Alcott and Russell were initially concerned that the area would not be conducive to their progressive approach to education and considered establishing the school in nearby Philadelphia instead.[24] Unsuccessful, they went back to Germantown, though the rent-free home was no longer available and the Alcotts instead had to rent rooms in a boarding-house.[26] It was there that their first child, a daughter they named Anna Bronson Alcott, was born on March 16, 1831,[22] after 36 hours of labor.[26] By the fall of that year, their benefactor Haines died suddenly and the Alcotts again suffered financial difficulty. "We hardly earn the bread", wrote Abby may to her brother, "[and] the butter we have to think about."[27]

He later taught in Philadelphia in 1833. The couple had three more children who survived past infancy:

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888) Elizabeth Sewall Alcott (June 24, 1835 - March 14, 1858) May Alcott (July 26, 1840 - December 29, 1879)

Experimental educator On September 22, 1834, Alcott opened a school of about 30 students, mostly from wealthy families.[28] It was named the Temple School because classes were held at the Masonic Temple on Tremont Street in Boston.[29] His assistant was Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, later replaced by Margaret Fuller. Mary Peabody Mann served as a French instructor for a time.[30] The school was briefly famous, and then infamous, because of his original methods. 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'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.[citation needed] He even went so far as to decorate his schoolroom in the with visual elements he thought would inspire learning: paintings, books, comfortable furniture, and busts or portraits of Plato, Socrates, Jesus, and William Ellery Channing.

In July 1835, Peabody published her account as an assistant to the Temple School as Record of a School: Exemplifying the General Principles of Spiritual Culture.[30] While working on a second book, Alcott and Peabody had a falling out and Conversations with Children on the Gospels was prepared with help from Peabody's sister Sophia,[31] published at the end of December 1836.[28] Alcott's methods were not well received; many found his conversations on the Gospels close to blasphemous. For example, he asked students to question if Biblical miracles were literal and suggested that all people are part of God.[32] In the Boston Daily Advertiser, Nathan Hale criticized Alcott's "flippant and off hand conversation" about serious topics from the Virgin birth of Jesus to circumcision.[33] Joseph T. Buckingham called Alcott "either insane or half-witted" and "an ignorant and presuming charlatan".[34]

The temple school was widely denounced in the press. Reverend James Freeman Clarke was one of Alcott's few supporters and defended him against the harsh response from Boston periodicals.[35] Alcott was rejected by most public opinion and, by the summer of 1837, he had only 11 students left and no assistant after Margaret Fuller moved to Providence, Rhode Island.[36] The controversy had 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 Beginning in 1836, Alcott's membership in the Transcendental Club put him in such company as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Orestes Brownson and Theodore Parker.[37] He became a member with the Club's second meeting and hosted their third.[33] A biographer of Emerson described the group as "the occasional meetings of a changing body of liberal thinkers, agreeing in nothing but their liberality".[38] 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".[38] Alcott preferred the term "Symposium" for their group.[39]

In late April 1840 Alcott moved to the town of Concord[40] urged by Emerson. He rented a home for $50 a year within walking distance of Emerson's house; he named it Dove Cottage.[41] A supporter of Alcott's philosophies, Emerson offered to help with his writing, which proved a difficult task. After several revisions, for example, he deemed the essay "Psyche" (Alcott's account of how he educated his daughters) unpublishable.[42] Alcott also wrote a series patterned after the work of German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which were eventually published in the Transcendentalists' journal, The Dial. Emerson wrote to Margaret Fuller, then editor, that they might "pass muster & even pass for just & great".[40] He was wrong. Alcott's so-called "Orphic Sayings" which were widely mocked for being silly and unintelligible; Fuller herself disliked them but did not want to hurt Alcott's feelings.[43] 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.[44]

With financial support from Emerson,[45] Alcott left Concord on May 8, 1842, to a visit to England, leaving his brother Junius with his family.[46] He met two admirers, Charles Lane and Henry C. Wright.[47] The two men were leaders of Alcott House, an experimental school based on Alcott's methods from the Temple School located about ten miles outside of London.[45] The school's founder, James Pierpont Greaves, had only recently died but Alcott was invited to stay there for a week.[48] Alcott persuaded them to come come to the United States with him; Lane and his son moved into the Alcott house and helped with family chores.[49] Pursuaded in part by Lane's abolitionist views, Alcott took a stand against the John Tyler administration's plan to annex Texas as a slave territory and refused to pay his poll tax. Abby May wrote in her journal on January 17, 1843, "A day of some excitement, as Mr. Alcott refused to pay his town tax... After waiting some time to be committed [to jail], he was told it was paid by a friend. Thus we were spared the affliction of his absence and the triumph of suffering for his principles."[50] The annual poll tax was only $1.50.[51]

Fruitlands Alcott and Charles Lane founded "Fruitlands" in 1843. Lane and Alcott collaborated on a major expansion of their educational theories into a Utopian society. Alcott, however, was still in debt and could not purchase the land needed for their planned community. In a letter, Lane wrote, "I do not see anyone to act the money part but myself."[52] In May 1843, he purchased a 90-acre (360,000 m2) farm in Harvard, Massachusetts.[53] They moved to the farm on June 1 and optimistically named it "Fruitlands" despite only ten old apple trees on the property.[53] In July, Alcott announced their plans in The Dial: "We have made an arrangement with the proprieter of an estate of about a hundred acres, which liberates this tract from human ownership".[53]

Their goal was to remove themselves from the economy as much as possible in order to live independently;[54] unlike a similar project named Brook Farm, the participants at Fruitlands avoided interaction with local communities.[55] Calling themselves a "consociate family", they agreed to follow a strict vegetarian diet and to till the land without the use of animal labor.[53] After some difficulty, they relented and allowed some cattle to be "enslaved".[56] They also banned coffee, tea, alcoholic drinks, milk, and warm bathwater.[57] They only ate "aspiring vegetables" — those which grew upward — and refused those that grew downward like potatoes. For clothing, they prohibited leather because animals were killed for it, as well as cotton, silk, and wool, because they were products of slave labor.[56] Alcott had high expectations but was often away when the community most needed him as he attempted to recruit more members.[58]

The experimental community was never successful, partly because most of the land was not arable.[59] Alcott lamented, "None of us were prepared to actualize practically the ideal life of which we dreamed. So we fell apart".[60] Its founders were often away as well; in the middle of harvesting, they left for a lecture tour through Providence, Rhode Island, New York City, and New Haven, Connecticut.[61] In its seven months, only 13 people joined, included the Alcotts and Lanes.[62] Other than Abby May and her daughters, only one other woman joined, Ann Page. One rumor suggests Page was asked to leave after eating a fish tail with a neighbor.[63] Lane believed Alcott had misled him into thinking enough people would join the enterprise and developed a strong dislike for the nuclear family. He quit the project and moved to a nearby Shaker family with his son.[64] After Lane's departure, Alcott fell into a depression and could not speak or eat for three days.[65] Abby May thought Lane purposely sabotaged her family. She wrote to her brother, "All Mr. Lane's efforts have been to disunite us. But Mr. Alcott's... paternal instincts were too strong for him."[66]

The members of the Alcott family were not happy with their Fruitlands experience. At one point, Abby May threatened that she and their daughters would move elsewhere, leaving Bronson behind.[67] Louisa May Alcott, who was ten years old at the time, later wrote of the experience in Transcendental Wild Oats (1873): "The band of brothers began by spading garden and field; but a few days of it lessened their ardor amazingly."[68]

In January 1844, Alcott moved his family to Still River, a village within Harvard but, by November, the family returned to Concord to live in a home they named "The Hillside",[69] later renamed "The Wayside" by Nathaniel Hawthorne).

Four years later, Alcott and the family moved to Boston. In March 1853, he was invited to teach fifteen students at Harvard Divinity School in an extracurricular, non-credit course.[70]

He went 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.

Civil War years and beyond Alcott was a Garrisonian abolitionist, and pioneered the strategy of tax resistance to slavery, which Henry David Thoreau made famous in Civil Disobedience.[71] 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.

In 1868, Alcott met with publisher Thomas Niles, an admirer of Louisa May's book Hospital Sketches. Alcott asked Niles if he would publish a book of short stories by his daughter; instead, he suggested she write a book about girls. Louisa May was not interested initially but agreed to try.[72] "They want a book of 200 pages or more", Alcott told his daughter.[73] The result was Little Women, published later that year. The book, which fictionalized the Alcott family during the girls' coming-of-age years, recast the father figure as a soldier, away from home while he fought in the Civil War.

Alcott 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.

Final years Alcott's published books, all from late in his life, include Tablets (1868), Concord Days (1872), New Connecticut (1881), and Sonnets and Canzonets (1882). Louisa May attended to her father's needs in his final years. She purchased a house for her sister Anna which had been the last home of Henry David Thoreau, now known as the Thoreau-Alcott House.[74] Louisa and her parents moved in with Anna as well.[75]

After the death of his wife Abby May on November 25, 1877, Alcott never returned to Orchard House, too heartbroken to live there. He and Louisa May collaborated on a memoir and went over her papers, letters, and journals. "My heart bleeds with the memories of those days", he wrote, "and even long years, of cheerless anxiety and hopeless dependence."[76] Louisa noted her father had become "restless with his anchor gone."[77] They gave up on the memoir project and Louisa burned many of her mother's papers.[78]

On January 19, 1879, Alcott and Franklin Benjamin Sanborn wrote a prospectus for a new school which they distributed to potentially interested people throughout the country.[79] The result was the Concord School of Philosophy and Literature, which held its first session in 1879 in Alcott's 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.

As he was bedridden at the end of his life, Alcott's daughter Louisa May came to visit him at Louisburg on March 1, 1888. He said to her, "I am going up. Come with me." She responded, "I wish I could."[80] He died three days later on March 4; Louisa May died only two days after her father due to mercury poisoning.

Beliefs 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.

The most detailed discussion of his theories on education is in an essay, "Observations on the Principles and Methods of Infant Instruction". Alcott believed that early education must draw out "unpremeditated thoughts and feelings of the child" and emphasized that infancy should primarily focus on enjoyment.[81] He noted that learning was not about the acquisition of facts but the development of a reflective state of mind.[82]

Alcott's ideas as an educator were controversial. Writer Harriet Martineau, for example, wrote dubiously that, "the master presupposes his little pupils possessed of all truth; and that his business is to bring it out into expression".[83] Even so, his ideas 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. The teachings of William Ellery Channing a few years earlier had also laid the groundwork for the work of most of the Concord Transcendentalists.

The Concord School of Philosophy, which closed following Alcott's death in 1888, was reopened almost 90 years later in the 1970s. It has continued functioning with a Summer Conversational Series in its original building at Orchard House, now run by the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association.

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.[84]

His teachings greatly influenced the growing mid-19th century New Thought movement.[citation needed]

Criticism 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.[citation needed] 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."[85]

Like Emerson, Alcott was always optimistic, idealistic, and individualistic in thinking. Writer James Russell Lowell referred to Alcott in his poem "Studies for Two Heads" as "an angel with clipped wings".[70] Even so, Emerson noted that Alcott's brilliant conversational ability did not translate into good writing. "When he sits down to write," Emerson wrote, "all his genius leaves him; he gives you the shells and throws away the kernel of his thought."[42] His "Orphic Sayings", published in The Dial, became famous for their hilarity as dense, pretentious, and meaningless. In New York, for example, The Knickerbocker published a parody titled "Gastric Sayings" in November 1840. A writer for the Boston Post referred to Alcott's "Orphic Sayings" as "a train of fifteen railroad cars with one passenger."[43]

In his later years, Alcott related a story from his boyhood: during a total solar eclipse, he threw rocks at the sky until he fell and dislocated his shoulder. He reflected that the event was a prophecy that he would be "tilting at the sun and always catching the fall."[86]

Modern critics often fault Alcott for not being able to financially support his family. Alcott himself worried about his own prospects as a young man, once writing to his mother that he was "still at my old trade—hoping."[87] Alcott held his principles above his well-being. Shortly before his marriage, for example, his future father-in-law Colonel Joseph May helped him find a job teaching at a school in Boston run by the Society of Free Enquirers, followers of Robert Owen, for a lucrative $1,000 to $1,200 annual salary. He refused it because he did not agree with their beliefs, writing, "I shall have nothing to do with them."[88]

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.

-------------------- Amos Bronson Alcott (November 29, 1799 – March 4, 1888) was an American teacher and writer. He is remembered for founding a short-lived and unconventional school as well as a utopian community known as "Fruitlands", and for his association with Transcendentalism. He was the father of the novelist Louisa May Alcott.

Alcott was born on Spindle Hill in the town of Wolcott, New Haven County, Connecticut on November 29, 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.

Alcott taught himself to read and was self-educated. He began in 1814 to earn his living by working in a clock factory in Plymouth, Connecticut. He left home at the age of 17 and for many years after 1815 he was a door-to-door salesman in the American South, selling peddled books and merchandise. He began teaching in Bristol, Connecticut in 1823, and subsequently conducted schools in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1825-1827, again in Bristol in 1827-1828, in Boston, Massachusetts in 1828-1830, in Germantown (now part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) in 1831-1833, 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 the spring of 1830 he married Abigail May, the sister of Samuel J. May, the reformer and abolitionist. Alcott himself was a Garrisonian abolitionist, and pioneered the strategy of tax resistance to slavery which Henry David Thoreau made famous in Civil Disobedience. 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 on the Underground Railroad.

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 the lecture and drill which were prevalent in U.S. classrooms of the time. Alongside writing and reading, he gave lessons in "spiritual culture" which often involved the Gospels. Reformers like Bronson Alcott advocate for 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 the 1830s, progressive reformers like Bronson Alcott, influenced by Fröbel, Herbart, and Pestalozzi, began to advocate writing about objects from students’ personal experiences. Reformers debated against beginning instruction with rules and were in favor of helping students learn to write by writing.

Alcott sometimes refused 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 of nineteenth-century America's most talented women writers, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (who published A Record of Mr. Alcott's School in 1835) and more briefly Margaret Fuller; as students he had the children of the Boston intellectual classes, including Josiah Quincy, grandson of the president of Harvard University. Alcott's methods were not well received; many readers found his conversations on the Gospels close to blasphemous, a few brief but frank discussions of birth and circumcision with the children were considered obscene, and many in the public found his ideas ridiculous. (For instance, the influential conservative Unitarian Andrews Norton 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. After the school closed Alcott was increasingly financially desperate as the controversy caused many parents to remove their students. In a later "parlor school," Alcott alienated many parents by admitting an African American child to the class, whom he then refused to expel in the face of protests. Alcott's pedagogy was a forerunner of progressive and democratic schooling.


.Beginning in 1836, Alcott was a frequent member of the Transcendental Club alongside people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Orestes Brownson and Theodore Parker. A biographer of Emerson described the group as "the occasional meetings of a changing body of liberal thinkers, agreeing in nothing but their liberality". 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".

In 1840 Alcott removed to Concord, Massachusetts. He left for a visit to England on May 8, 1842, where he met two admirers, Charles Lane and Henry C. Wright. The group formed "Fruitlands", in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts, a utopian socialist experiment in farm living and nature meditation as tending to develop the best powers of body and soul. The experiment quickly collapsed, and Alcott moved his family to Still River, a village within Harvard, in January 1844. In November, the family returned their Concord home "Hillside" (later renamed "The Wayside" by Nathaniel Hawthorne) near that of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Alcott removed to Boston four years later, 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 1860-1861.

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 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 New Thought movement of the mid 1800s.

In his last years, his daughter, the writer Louisa May Alcott, provided for him. He was the founder of the "Concord School of Philosophy and Literature", which had its first session in 1879 in Alcott's study in the Orchard House. In 1880 the school moved to the building next to the house, called the Hillside Chapel, where he held conversations and invited others to give lectures during a part of several successive summers on many themes in philosophy, religion and letters. This school is considered to be one of the first formal adult education centers in America, and was attended by scholars from several countries. The school ran for nine years, closing after its last session in 1888 after Alcott passed away. The school was reopened in the 1970s, and still runs today 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, included New Connecticut, Tablets (1868), Concord Days (1872), and Sonnets and Canzonets (1882). Earlier he had written a series of Orphic Sayings which were published in The Dial as examples of Transcendentalist thought. The sayings, though called oracular, were considered sloppy or vague by contemporary commentators as well as twentieth-century ones. He left a large collection of journals and memorabilia, most of which remain unpublished. He died in Boston on March 4, 1888. Just two days later, his daughter, Louisa May Alcott, died of aftereffects of mercury poisoning.

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 Coleridge. Like Emerson, Alcott was always optimistic, idealistic, and individualistic in thinking. The teachings of Dr. William Ellery Channing a few years before had laid the groundwork for the work of most of the Concord Transcendentalists, also. 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." Alcott has also been widely criticized 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 worldings of Boston hold in as much horror as the worldings of Athens held Socrates."

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 are still on the liberal/radical edge today, they are still common themes in society, including vegetarian/veganism, sustainable living, and temperance/self control. Alcott described his diet as a "Pythagorean diet": excluding meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk and drinking only well water.

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Amos Bronson Alcott's Timeline

1799
November 29, 1799
Wolcott, New Haven, CT
1830
May 23, 1830
Age 30
Boston, Middlesex, MA
1831
March 16, 1831
Age 31
Germantown, Philadelphia, PA
1832
November 28, 1832
Age 32
Germantown, Pennsylvania, United States
1835
June 24, 1835
Age 35
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
1840
July 16, 1840
Age 40
Concord, Middlesex, MA
1888
March 4, 1888
Age 88
Concord, MA
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