Wolcott Historical Society News - January 2008
By Florence Goodman
Our town is fortunate to have not one, but two famous Americans born within our boundaries. They are Seth Thomas and Amos Bronson Alcott. In this edition, I would like to concentrate on Amos Bronson Alcott, better know as Bronson Alcott.
In 1731, John Alcocke, the first of the Alcott family in this area, purchased a 117-acre tract of land. He continued to add to his land and after 47 years, he had acquired over 1200 acres. Each of his children were given 100-acre tracts of land in the area of his Spindle Hill farm. That is why the Alcott name is found throughout our town. The spelling of the name has changed throughout history from Alcock(e), Alcocks, Alcox to Alcott, but Bronson and his cousin William Andrus Alcott are responsible for making the final change to Alcott.
Bronson Alcott was born in a log cabin on Spindle Hill on November 29, 1799. This house was located on the land at the corner where Spindle Hill and Beach Roads meet. AlcottŐs family moved into his grandfatherŐs farmhouse situated on this property when he was very young. His father, Joseph Chatfield Alcox, was a farmer. His mother, Anna Bronson Alcott, was well educated and instilled in him a love for learning and reading. She also gave him the basis for his strong Episcopal religious training. During his childhood, Alcott read as much as he could and went to great lengths to borrow as many books as possible, reading them from cover to cover. He did attend the local school in the area, but for the most part he was a self-taught man. At the age of twelve, he began to keep a journal; this journal writing continued throughout his life.
During his boyhood, he worked on the farm with his father and brothers. Later he traveled to Plymouth and tried clock making. He also tried his hand as a Yankee peddler, which brought him as far south as Virginia, but the profession that brought him the most joy and notoriety was that of an educator. Alcott taught in several one-room schoolhouses in Bristol, Southington, Cheshire, and even at one in the western part of Wolcott on Spindle Hill Road. He taught at schools in Boston, Concord, as well as, Germantown, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Bronson Alcott was an educator ahead of his time, and the parents and other educators of his generation did not always accept his advanced ideas in methods of teaching. He was responsible for making a classroom more like home. He designed and built the first single desks that had the seats attached to them, he designed individual student slates, and classroom libraries. He encouraged his students to borrow books from school and read them at home. He did not believe in corporeal punishment for poorly behaved students and did away with such practices at his schools. This is what his daughter, Louisa, wrote of his teaching methods, "My father taught in the wise way which unfolds what lies in the child's nature, as a flower blooms, rather than crammed it, like a Strasbourg goose, with more than it could digest."
Alcott married Abigail May in 1830 in Boston; they moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania, at the end of that year. That is where their first two daughters were born. Louisa May, their second child, was born on her father's birthday, November 29, 1832. Abigail and Bronson had a total of four daughters. They also had a son who died shortly after birth.
Alcott was an educator, author, and an important part of the transcendental movement with good friends Emerson and Thoreau. His educational ideas were too advanced for his times so many of his ideas were not instituted until much later. It is important to note that even though Amos Bronson Alcott was born and grew up in our town, his daughter, Louisa May Alcott, famous author of Little Women was not born in Wolcott. However, she did accompany him on one of his last trips to the town in September of 1882. He was 83 at the time of this visit. Amos Bronson Alcott died in 1888 in Boston.
This is only a brief summary of Bronson AlcottŐs life and accomplishments. Much of my information was found in Samuel OrcuttŐs, History of the Town of Wolcott From 1731 to 1874, from the booklet Wolcott, Connecticut 175th Anniversary by John Washburne, and from "Amos Bronson Alcott" on Google. I also found much valuable information in a recently published book, Eden's Outcasts, (The story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father) by John Matteson. This biography gives the reader much insight into the life and struggles of Alcott and his family, and especially Bronson's relationship with his daughter, Louisa May.
Postcard showing birthplace of A. Bronson Alcott, Wolcott, CT.
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