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Bismarck’s Lyceum Meetings, 1881


For middle-aged adults, the word “lyceum” might be remembered as having a guest speaker deliver a lecture in the public school auditorium. But in the 1800s, the term referred to a form of community education in which neighbors shared their personal expertise in literature, fine arts, and music; or it could feature a debate or readings and recitations. The lyceum meetings served as social events, too, as a pleasurable way to gather together on a regular basis.

The citizens of Bismarck, seeking to uplift, educate and entertain each other organized a lyceum group in the early 1880s, looking for a way to enliven winter evenings, providing a night full of “entertainment, instruction, amusement, hilarity, fun, frolic and joy.”

On this date in 1881, the Bismarck Tribune declared that the local Lyceum Association was “an established fact,” for the group’s leadership had set up programs and committees and were ready to draft a constitution and establish their by-laws.

The Bismarck organization used the local Methodist Church, and one of the first debate topics pondered whether “the statesman or the warrior” was most beneficial to the U.S., with the judges deciding in favor of the statesman.

No lyceums were held that summer, for there were plenty of other things to do, but weekly lyceum meetings began again that autumn. A November topic was particularly fascinating, exploring whether “intemperance is more destructive than war.” The debate ensued over alcoholism versus battlefield casualties, with the verdict that alcoholism was worse.

Month by month, local debaters examined questions such as: Should the telegraph system of the U.S. be under the control of the government? And which has done the most good for the nation – the printing press or the steam engine?

All of the lyceum meetings were exciting and entertaining because of the opinions expressed and the colorful personalities who did the speaking. Colonel Thompson was said to deliver “eloquent and stirring speeches.” The school principal, Mr. Logan, was inspirational while reciting “Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight.”

The meetings were so enjoyable, partly because “music was interspersed” with the readings and debates. Songs and laughter echoed throughout the Lyceum Nights, bringing cultural refinement to the rough-and-tumble railroad town of Bismarck in 1881.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Bismarck Lyceum,” Bismarck Tribune, February 4, 1881, p. 8.

“Literary Entertainment,” Bismarck Tribune, January 21, 1881, p. 1.

“The Lyceum,” Bismarck Tribune, December 30, 1881, p. 8.

“Bismarck Lyceum Meeting,” Bismarck Tribune, September 9, 1881, p. 1.

“Lyceum Meeting,” Bismarck Tribune, November 11, 1881, p. 8.

Bismarck Tribune, March 25, 1881, p. 8.

“The Lyceum,” Bismarck Tribune, November 18, 1881, p. 1.

“Bismarck Lyceum,” Bismarck Tribune, April 15, 1881, p. 8.

“The Lyceum,” Bismarck Tribune, December 9, 1881, p. 8.

“The Lyceum,” Bismarck Tribune, December 16, 1881, p. 4.

“The Social Season,” Bismarck Tribune, November 9, 1883, p. 6.

“Lyceums And Chautauquas,” Library Guide, Bowling Green University Libraries, "" , accessed January 5, 2016.