Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Nevin Lyceum--High Culture On the Prairie

I own a copy of The Story of Nevin: An Historical Narrative of The Early Days of the New England Colony of Iowa Copyright, 1901, by J. Loran Ellis. It's a fragile and obscure paperbound book, so I was surprised to find its complete text on the Web. When I was a little girl, Nevin still had a telephone company serving less than fifty households. The wheelchair bound telephone operator, Mr. Taylor, was a relative of my Great Aunt Cora's. She and Uncle Frank also lived in Nevin, just a little ways from the general store that was Nevin's other going concern. My mom had gone to high school in Nevin, and the brick school building was still standing, although long closed. By the early 1980's, every last vestige of Nevin was gone, leveled, fenced, plowed and planted with corn. There was nothing to suggest there had ever been a house there, let alone a little town that once considered itself an outpost of high Bostonian culture.

Here's an excerpt from The Story of Nevin detailing the rise of its Literary Society.

On the evening of January 22nd, 1859, the Nevin Lyceum was organized at the new school house, and on the evening of February 1st, its first session was held. The question discussed was, "Which Is the greater Evil, Intemperence or Slavery?" Occasionally a part of the weekly exercises would be a lecture from someone. Among the lecturers were Mr. I. Harlow, a Mr. Crista and Miss "Debby" Stephenson.

In December, 1861, a literary society, styled, the "Farmers's Club," was formed, to succeed the Nevin Lyceum of 1859. Discussions were had on various subjects, at the weekly evening gatherings. Some were agricultural, some on social subjects. A few lectures were scattered along. One, was from Rev. Davis. The ladies conducted a paper, called the "Grand Splurge." Miss Harriett White, Miss Mary Stephenson and some others, were, in rotation, editors-in-chief. Everything was fine.

In December, 1862, the winter sessions of the club were resumed. Mr. George White gave a lecture upon Ancient Agriculture in Egypt. Mr. Caleb Atkins gave a lecture. The ladies paper discussed and reviewed current events, happenings and neighborhood gossip, -- in one case down, even to young Quimby Jewett's black hen.

1 comment:

Larry said...

Fascinating recollection, Rebecca! It interests me how Lyceums and literary discussion groups were an important part of rural and small-town communities in the pre-TV era.

Henry Thoreau used to give Lyceum lectures to the no-doubt-bemused attendants in his Massachusetts neihborhood. I gave a series of talks to the Knox County Rotary Club during the 1990s on a variety of subjects. It's rather a shame that the custom has fallen into disuse these days.