Source: The Early Life of Lexington [KY] before the Year 1820, Mary Estelle Delcamp, A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Transylvania College in Candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts June, 1916

Schools were not the only places in which the early Lexingtonian trained himself. Educational societies and lecture courses furnished other means for increasing his knowledge. In 1787 there was in existence the Society for Improvement of Knowledge (Nov. 24, 1787; July 26, 1788). In 1804 a Medical society had been established "for the promotion of medical and natural science" (June 5, 1804). Five years later the Lexington Debating Society was holding interesting meetings with important questions for discussion (Jan. 3, 24, 31; Feb. 7, 1809). In 1811 a Whig Debating Society arose, and two years later was formed the Investigating Society (Oct. 8, 15, 22, Dec. 17, 1811). The Lexington Athenaeum was founded in 1815, and four years later was incorporated by the legislature (Mar. 24. 1815). In a letter to his wife on his first visit to Transylvania University, Dr. Holley spoke of this organisation thus: "The Athenaeum is an institution not yet furnished with many books, but well-supplied with newspapers and the best periodicals. I find everything of this sort, which is valuable, from Boston and other Atlantic cities (Caldwell’s Life of Holley).

It was customary for these organisations to hold meetings in taverns. The ball-rooms of the Kentucky Hotel, of the Satterwhite, and of the John Keiser Tavern shared the honors of the day (Jan. 3, 1809; May 7, 1811; Oct. 8, 15, 22, 1811; May 11, 1813). In a few cases Transylvania Hall, the court house or even the Lodge Room were used (June 5, 1804; Apr. 11, 1809; June 15, 1813). The Athenaeum, however, had its own room at the corner of Main and Mill (Mrc. 24, 1815). Seven in the evening was the popular time for these meetings (Jan. 3, 17, 1809; Oct. 8, 15, 1811; Dec. 17, 1811). This general rule was not invariable, for the hour might range from four p.m. to eight p.m. (May 7, 1811; May 25, 1813).

The subjects discussed by these debating societies were of wide range, consisting of matters scientific, political, religious and social. The following questions were the burning issues of the day" "Ought the government to suppress societies, whose proceedings and objects are secrets, and which require for members oaths of secrecy?" (Jan. 3, 1809). "Is the color of the human species attributable to climate and local circumstance?" (Jan. 17, 1809). "Ought the federal constitution be amended by giving the states the power of recalling senators?" (Jan. 24, 1809). "Ought a man be subject to imprisonment for debt?" (Jan. 31, 1809). "Is a good or bad man most respected in society?" (Feb. 7, 1809). "Are instructions from state legislatures to senators in congress binding?" (May 7, 1811). "Should the United States raise and support a navy?" (Oct. 8, 1811). "Do theatrical exhibitions injure public morals?(Oct. 15, 1811). "Ought the legislature to accept a general system of education of the youth?" (Oct. 22, 1811)." "Should the report of the committee of foreign relations in the congress of the United States be accepted?" (Dec. 17, 1811). "Ought the overture of the Russian emperor to act as mediator between the United States and Great Britain to have been acceded to by our executive?" (May 11, 1813). "Ought the laws which relate to usury be repealed?" (May 18, 1813). "Is it probable that wars will in the progress of civilisation become less frequent, and how far is the total exclusion of the cause of war desirable?" (May 25, 1813). Is representative democracy more endangered by war than monarchy or aristocracy?" (June 5, 1804). Even the Medical Society discussed momentous questions, if this one is any criterion: "Is heat material, and the cause of the elasticity of gases?" (June 5, 1804).

Traveling lecturers, or orators, as they called themselves, found Lexington of sufficient importance to visit not only once but repeatedly. Some of their subjects were extremely technical. At the court house in 1809 Henry Fink exhibited a model and explained the principle of perpetual motion discovered by him, which, as he said, would tend to remove every doubt of its success from the minds of those who would think proper to attend (Apr. 11, 1809). In 1811 Mr. Ogilvie, on a tour of the United States, began his annual visits to the ‘Metropolis of the Bluegrass’ (July 2, 1811). In the ballroom of the Postlethwait Tavern he discussed such subjects as: "The Progress of Civilisation, and the Prospects of Society"; "Female Education," towards the close of which he endeavored to show "the radical utility of charitable institutions, which amiable and accomplished women are peculiarly and almost exclusively qualified to establish and superintend" ((Jan. 9, 1813). Three years later Dr. J. Herwitz delivered a course of Hebrew lectures (Nov. 20, 1815). The following year Mr. Huntington delivered his "Lectures and Recitations" on these themes: "Utility of Aiming at Excellence;" "The Art of Printing." Families were admitted to these two lectures on a family ticket, costing $1.00; others paid $.50 apiece (Apr. 29, 1816).

Transcribed February 2002 by pb

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