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Children Of The Famous

January 2, 2012 by staff 

Children Of The FamousChildren Of The Famous, The local literati welcomed “America’s Socrates,” Amos Bronson Alcott, to Jacksonville in January 1871. Alcott was a well-known American philosopher, teacher, reformer and member of the New England Transcendentalist group. He also was the father of Louisa May Alcott, an author best known for her children’s books, especially “Little Women.”

Over the course of a few days in late January 1871, Alcott spoke to several groups in Jacksonville.

On the afternoon of Jan. 27, he met local teachers and citizens at Washington High School. “His talk … was full of instruction and rich with thought and interest,” wrote a Journal reporter. “Genial manners, forbearance and kindness are the traits of character for good teachers,” Alcott told his Jacksonville audience. “A melodious voice, social qualities and patience also go far to win over the roughest heart.”

He said that teachers who used the least force with their students were the most successful. “And while he was not prepared to say that the rod should not be used at all, he believed the time would come when it would not be allowed,” wrote the Journal reporter.

The Washington High School building, which served as Jacksonville’s public high school for many years, stood where Washington Elementary School stands today.

After speaking to the local teachers, Alcott gave an address on American authors to a “very select and literary audience” at Music Hall on the south side of the public square. “Franklin was, he thought, the first real American scholar who was not tinged with the English type, though he had a little of the French,” wrote the Journal reporter.

“He dwelt largely upon New England authors of modern times, whom he called the galaxy of American thinkers and scholars, such as Longfellow, Hawthorne, Lowell, Whittier, Holmes, and many others, closing with the female authors, all of whom he eulogized in the most frank and artless style,” the Journal reported. “It was a real literary feast, which would be enjoyed by any literary circle and relished by all who have any taste for intellectual culture, and we trust may be repeated.”

The minutes of Sorosis, a local women’s organization, record Alcott’s meeting with that group at the time. “Such societies are the most hopeful signs of the time. They are more vital than public gatherings,” Alcott told Sorosis members.

Alcott’s 1871 stop in Jacksonville was part of a four-month, seven-state tour. “His most popular theme, ‘Concord and Her Authors,’ was often converted, upon request, into a discussion of Louisa’s childhood, domestic virtues and methods of literary work,” wrote Odell Shepard, an Alcott biographer. “Thus he helped to spread the East westward and to extend literary reputations.”

He came to Jacksonville as “a scholarly gentleman visiting his friends,” wrote Ethel Seybold, a longtime English professor at Illinois College. “He basked in the role of cherished guest, flattered his hosts shamelessly, attended receptions and ‘conversed’ with any group that invited him.”

Alcott was a friend of Hiram K. Jones, a Jacksonville physician who was a lifelong student of philosophy and literature. Alcott and Jones were among the founders of the Concord (Mass.) School of Philosophy.

Alcott was a vegetarian, an abolitionist and an advocate of women’s rights. “His thought was vague, lofty and intensely spiritual,” wrote a biographer. “Always poor or in debt, he worked as a handyman or lived on the bounty of others until the literary success of his second daughter, Louisa May Alcott, brought him financial security.”

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