Alcott, Bronson

Alcott, Bronson

(ôl`kət, ăl–, –kŏt), 1799–1888, American educational and social reformer, b. near Wolcott, Conn., as Amos Bronson Alcox. His meager formal education was supplemented by omnivorous reading while he gained a living from farming, working in a clock factory, and as a peddler in the South. He was master of several schools before opening (1834) his Temple School in Boston. Strongly influenced by the ideas of Johann PestalozziPestalozzi, Johann Heinrich
, 1746–1827, Swiss educational reformer, b. Zürich. His theories laid the foundation of modern elementary education. He studied theology at the Univ.
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, he advocated the development of each child's unique intellectual abilities and eschewed the corporal punishment generally favored at the time. Alcott's own records, as well as those made by his illustrious assistants, Elizabeth Palmer PeabodyPeabody, Elizabeth Palmer
, 1804–94, American educator, lecturer, and reformer, b. Billerica, Mass. The Peabody family moved (c.1809) to Salem, where the father began practicing dentistry.
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 and Margaret FullerFuller, Margaret,
1810–50, American writer, lecturer, and public intellectual, b. Cambridgeport (now part of Cambridge), Mass. She was one of the most influential personalities in the American literary circles of her day.
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, show his concern with the full and integrated mental, physical, and spiritual development of the child. Unfavorable reactions to his advanced and liberal theories forced him to close (1839) his school. However, his disappointment was lessened when he learned of the success of Alcott House, a school founded by his disciples in England.

A leading exponent of transcendentalismtranscendentalism
[Lat.,=overpassing], in literature, philosophical and literary movement that flourished in New England from about 1836 to 1860. It originated among a small group of intellectuals who were reacting against the orthodoxy of Calvinism and the rationalism of the
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, as were his friends EmersonEmerson, Ralph Waldo
, 1803–82, American poet and essayist, b. Boston. Through his essays, poems, and lectures, the "Sage of Concord" established himself as a leading spokesman of transcendentalism and as a major figure in American literature.
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 and ThoreauThoreau, Henry David
, 1817–62, American author, naturalist, social activist, and philosopher, b. Concord, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1837. Thoreau is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature.
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, Alcott wrote for the periodical Dial (the "Orphic Sayings" was his most famous contribution) and was a nonresident member of Brook FarmBrook Farm,
1841–47, an experimental farm at West Roxbury, Mass., based on cooperative living. Founded by George Ripley, a Unitarian minister, the farm was initially financed by a joint-stock company with 24 shares of stock at $500 per share.
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. He was one of the founders (1843) of a cooperative vegetarian community, "Fruitlands," near Harvard, Mass., but it proved unsuccessful and was abandoned in 1844. Poverty continually plagued the life of the Alcotts until the writings of his daughter, Louisa May AlcottAlcott, Louisa May,
1832–88, American author, b. Germantown, Pa.; daughter of Bronson Alcott. Mostly educated by her father, she was a friend of Emerson and Thoreau, and her first book, Flower Fables
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, relieved the family of financial worry. He became (1859) superintendent of the Concord public schools, whose reformation he described in his Reports. From 1879 he was dean of the Concord School of Philosophy, which annually gathered disciples to hear him and many other speakers. Among his writings are Observations on the Principles and Methods of Infant Instruction (1830), Conversations with Children on the Gospel (1836, repr. 1989), Record of a School (1835, repr. 1969), and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1882, repr. 1968).


See his Journals, ed. by O. Shepard (1938, repr. 1966) and Letters, ed. by R. L. Herrinstadt (1969); K. W. Cameron, Transcendental Curriculum, or Bronson Alcott's Library (1984); biographies by F. B. Sanborn (1893, repr. 1974), O. Shepard (1937, repr. 1967), D. McCuskey (1940, repr. 1969), and F. C. Dahlstrand (1982); dual biography of Bronson and Louisa May Alcott by J. Matteson (2009); biography of his wife, Abigail May Alcott, by C. H. Barton (1996); studies by G. E. Haefner (1937, repr. 1970), and L. James (1994).

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Alcott, (Amos) Bronson

(1799–1888) educator, mystic, author; born near Wolcott, Conn. (father of Louisa May Alcott). Largely self-educated, he became an itinerant teacher (1823–33) before settling in Boston to found his own school (1834). By this time he was a mystic and transcendentalist and his radical ideas of educating children—plus his acceptance of a black girl as a pupil—led to the failure of his school (1839). He settled in Concord, Mass., but after an 1842 trip to England, where a school (Alcott House) based on his theories had been set up, he returned to establish a utopian community, Fruitlands, outside Boston (1844). Devoted to vegetarianism as well as to high thinking, the community failed within 8 months. He took his family back to Concord, and although he had to move about to teach and lecture, he spent most of the rest of his life there, the center of the transcendentalists. He was appointed superintendent of schools in Concord (1857) and he is credited with several innovations including the first parent-teacher association. The success of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868) gave the family financial security and allowed him to set up his Concord Summer School of Philosophy and Literature (1879). He wrote poetry, several books on his theories of education, a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and an autobiography, but his greatest impact seems to have come through his personal presence and conversation.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.