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Salem Lyceum Records, 1829-1898, undated

Identifier: MSS 269

Scope and Content Note

The Salem Lyceum Records document the activities and administration of this Salem, Massachusetts, organization. The collection has been arranged into 5 series.

Series I. Administrative Records include: the constitution and bylaws; legal papers such as insurance policies and real estate records; building specifications; rules and regulations for leasing Lyceum Hall; a seating plan of Lyceum Hall; and lists of renters of the building.

Series II. Financial Records include: treasurers' reports; two account books; bills and receipts; a bankbook; and a checkbook.

Series III. Business Records include: correspondence; lists of subscribers; and a record book that contains the constitution and by-laws, minutes of meetings, and lists of lectures and lecturers. Correspondence written to Robert Rantoul late in the 19th century gives information regarding the lyceum movement in Massachusetts.

Series IV. Publicity Papers includes programs, tickets, publicity brochures on lecturers, and copies of the texts of two lectures that were presented before the Lyceum.

Series V. Miscellaneous Papers includes a history of the Salem Lyceum, papers of the Essex County Lyceum, and information on other lyceums.


  • Creation: 1829-1898, undated


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Historical Sketch

The Salem Lyceum was founded in 1830 in Salem, Massachusetts, for the purpose of "mutual instruction and rational entertainment by means of lectures, etc." The first president was Judge Daniel A. White, who delivered the introductory lecture on the subject "The Advantages of Knowledge." The original subscribers included Daniel A. White, Leverett Saltonstall, John Forrester, John Russell, George Choate, Francis Peabody, and John Derby. At first, lectures were mostly delivered by members of the Lyceum who contributed their services without fee or reward. Early lectures were given in the Methodist meetinghouse on Sewall Street or the Universalist meetinghouse on Rust Street. Lyceum Hall was constructed in 1830 to be ready for occupancy in January 1831 at a cost of $3,036.71. The new hall could accommodate 700 patrons in amphitheater-style seating and was decorated with images of Cicero, Demosthenes and other great orators of bygone days.

Lectures were held on Tuesday evenings. Admission was $1 for men and 75 cents for women, who had to be "introduced" by a male to gain entrance. Most of the early speakers, including John Pickering, Henry K. Oliver and Charles Upham, were Lyceum members and spoke gratis or for a minimal fee. The combination of unpaid lecturers and sellout crowds (most talks had to be repeated on Wednesday) enabled the Society to pay off the outstanding mortgage on its new hall in a short time. The organization was incorporated in 1852.

Lecturers included: Charles F. Adams, John Quincy Adams, Louis Agassiz, Clara Barton, Henry Ward Beecher, Rufus Choate, Rev. James Freeman Clarke, Frederic Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edward Everett, Edward Everett Hale, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., James Russell Lowell, Horace Mann, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, Henry David Thoreau, and Daniel Webster.

The most significant event to take place in the Lyceum Hall, Alexander Graham Bell's first public demonstration of the telephone, occurred on February 12, 1877.

In 1898, the Salem Lyceum voted to dissolve the corporation. The records and remaining monies were given to the Essex Institute. The money was to be invested and to be known as the "Salem Lyceum Fund" to be used to maintain a course of lectures.


2.25 linear feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Salem Lyceum Records document the activities and administration of this Salem, Massachusetts, organization.

Series List

SERIES I. Administrative Records

SERIES II. Financial Records

SERIES III. Business Records

SERIES IV. Publicity Papers

SERIES V. Miscellaneous Papers

Physical Location

Phillips Library Stacks


The records were donated to the Essex Institute in 1898 when the Salem Lyceum dissolved the corporation. One letter from Jonathan Worcester to Simon Greenleaf dated 1838 was purchased on October 9, 1989. The Reminiscence of Prof. Golberg's lecture of Feb. 26, 1879 was donated by Mrs. Edna A. Odell on January 31, 1956. Two plans of Lyceum property were removed from the collection and cataloged in the print collection.

Bibliography and Related Collections

McAllister, Jim. "Of Lectures and Lyceums: The Salem Lyceum Society." Salem Massachusetts. Salem Web, 2007. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Act of incorporation and by-laws of the Salem lyceum. Salem, Mass., [1853] E S1 S5 E1 S2 1853

Processing Information

Collection processed by Terri McFadden, December 1987 and Marion Clark, June 1994. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, November 2015 and June 2018.

SALEM LYCEUM RECORDS, 1829-1898, undated
Processed by: Terri McFadden and Marion Clark; Updated by: Tamara Gaydos; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rajkumar Natarajan.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Phillips Library Repository

Peabody Essex Museum
306 Newburyport Turnpike
Rowley MA 01969 USA