The American Lyceum Association was founded in 1831 by American statesman Daniel Webster and educator Josiah Holbrook. The Latin word “Lyceum” comes from the Greek word “Lykeion” which referred to the school outside Athens where Aristotle taught from 325 to 323 B.C. In 19th century America, the Lyceum movement was a popular venue for public lectures and concerts and spread quickly to 3,000 locations in New England and the Midwest by 1834. Popular Lyceum speakers of that era included Webster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglas, Henry David Thoreau and Susan B. Anthony. Lyceums often were permanent buildings and lecture halls associated with colleges or churches. The Lyceum movement was most popular from 1831 to 1860 and played an important role in the educational and social development of America. After the end of the Civil War, Lyceum activities continued and helped to inspire circuits of temporary outdoor speaking venues in tents during the summer months named after a meeting at Lake Chautauqua in New York.
The Chautauqua Assemblies began as a camp for religious discussion sponsored by the Methodist Church but later branched out to secular lectures by authors, scientists, artists, politicians, poets and entertainers. That diverse tradition of both Lyceums and Chatauquas was still going on at the dawn of the 20th century.
Daniel Webster was the first prominent national speaker known to have been paid a fee for his lectures even before the Civil War. Around the turn of the 20th century, the first commercial lecture bureaus started to sponsor “traveling Chatauquas” with tent shows that moved from town to town in circuits during the summer. Lyceums were also still in use at this time. Other famous Lyceum speakers from the Civil War to World War I were Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt and poets Carl Sandburg and James Whitcomb Riley. In 1902, Ralph Bingham, a vaudeville comedian, and Edwin Barker, an editor, re-organized the Lyceum network under the new name of International Lyceum Association. The Illinois poet Carl Sandburg worked for “The Lyceumite,” the association trade journal, when Barker was editor in the early years of the new century. In 1918, the name changed again to International Lyceum and Chautuaqua Association (ILCA); the word “Chautauqua” was dropped in 1932. The last name change in 1947 was to International Platform Association (IPA), which has remained the name to this day.
The IPA was formally chartered as a nonprofit corporation in Ohio in 1952 and the key leaders of the last half of the 20th century included Dan Tyler Moore of Cleveland, a former World War II intelligence officer, newsreel broadcaster Lowell Thomas and columnists Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. Some famous IPA board members and presidents in those 50 years included Ted Mack, Edgar Bergen, Art Linkletter, Victor Borge, Hal Holbrook and nuclear physicist Glenn T. Seaborg.
Even though the Lyceum and Chatauqua movements of the 19th century were related, they went in alternate directions in the 20th century with the IPA evolving into an association for professional speakers after 1931. But the Chautauqua traditions are still alive today at the beautiful Chautauqua Institution, west of Jamestown, N .Y., that functions as an adult education resort.
The IPA also continues the Lyceum movement traditions of the 19th century. After 2001, there was an interruption of annual IPA meetings due to staff leadership challenges, but a special committee led by Doris Wilson and Delmas Wood organized reunions for IPA alumni in Washington, D.C., in 2006 and 2008. A regular smaller-scale IPA meeting with 20 speakers and a Silver Bowl Awards Lunch was held on August 13 and 14, 2009, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., that signaled the resumption of full agenda annual meetings. Silver Bowl Awards in 2009 were given to long-time IPA member Gerry Tausch for her volunteer efforts on behalf of boosting the morale of American troops serving overseas. A posthumous award was given to the family of a 19th century Methodist bishop and Emory College president, Atticus Haygood, for his lifetime achievement in promoting higher education for African-Americans. The final 2009 Silver Bowl award for entertainment was given to recording and movie star Pat Boone, who was present to accept and offer funny anecdotes in his lunch remarks. C-SPAN broadcast the Aug. 14 morning session and IPA historian and archivist Eleanor Whitehead presented almost a century of IPA archives to Elizabeth Raiford-Evans, director of special collections for the Gellman Library of the George Washington University, where the 20th century IPA history will soon be available to researchers.
Plans are now being made for the 2014 meeting of the soon-to-be 184-year old organization dedicated to free speech, the art of public speaking, and the lecture platform.