The lyceum movement gained momentum in the decades preceding the Civil War, presenting members with the opportunity to participate in literary life and engage with the issues of the day. While urban lyceums played host to a who's who of nineteenth-century intellectual life, literary societies also cropped up in thousands of villages across the nation, acting as influential sites of learning, creativity, and community engagement. In rural New England, ordinary men and women, farmers and intelligentsia, selectmen and schoolchildren came together to write and perform poetry and witty parodies and debate a wide range of topics, from women's rights and temperance to slavery, migration, and more.
Wit and Wisdom takes readers inside this long-forgotten tradition, providing new access to the vibrant voices, surprising talents, and understated humor on display on many a cold winter's night. Having uncovered dozens of handwritten newspapers produced by village lyceums across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, Joan Newlon Radner proves that these close-knit groups offered a vital expression of the beliefs, ambitions, and resilience of rural New Englanders. Paperback; 272 pages.