New York and Boston: Lecture Venues

October 17th, 2012, by Kent Larsen

In the mid to late 19th century, if you knew something unusual, of public interest, you set up a series of lectures on the issue, and toured starting in New York and Boston. Like it is today, this was a very common approach to the issues of the day, something less expensive and involved than publishing a book (in fact, it was a common way of promoting a book), and something that allowed discussion of issue more complex and involved than what could be published in newspapers. And Mormonism was one of those frequent topics that appeared on the lecture circuit.

I haven’t collected enough information to say when public lectures first took on Mormonism as a subject — it may have been Origen Bachelor in 1838, if my memory is correct. In general, these lectures were not favorable to Mormonism. In fact, apostates who had made the news often used lectures to develop and then promote the books written about their experiences. Recently, I’ve come across notices of the following, generally anti-Mormon, lectures:

  • 1842, before June 8. Boylston Hall, Boston. George J. Adams, who had just returned from England, on “the glories of the new and everlasting covenant.”
  • 1842, September 2. New York City. John C. Bennett was introduced by Origen Bachelor. Bennett’s primary subject was the Mormon “spiritual wife” system. He had written a book that was about to be released. While I don’t have reports of his lectures in Boston, news reports claim he had gone there to lecture in October 1842.
  • 1844 September 15. National Hall, Canal street, New York City. George J. Adams, Wm. Smith, and Thomas A. Lyne in pro-Mormon lecture on the “Restoration of All Things.” All three later left the Church, but at this point were probably speaking in favor of Mormonism.
  • 1857 January 13. Clinton Hall, New York City. Lecture by former Boston mayor Josiah Quincy Jr. on “The Mormons and their Prophet.” Sponsored by the Mercantile Library Association.
  • 1857 July 14 & 15. Hope Chapel, New York City. John Hyde, Jr., former Mormon, on “Mormonism as a Religion” and “Mormonism as a Civil Polity.” Hyde had written a book that was about to be released.

Perhaps that is a short beginning to a list of the lectures given. I know many are missing — Humorists Mark Twain and Artemus Ward both gave presentations about Mormons in the latter part of the 19th century. So, I’m sure there will be more to come in this list.

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