In a preceding article we have shown how self-education is possible to young men who, by reason of their employments, are prevented from availing themselves of the ordinary facilities afforded by the numerous institutions of learning scattered over the length and breadth of our free and happy land. In another article we have shown that by a systematic distribution of time, a margin of time could be rendered available for intellectual improvement to mechanics, except under extraordinary and exceptional circumstances. And we have promised to give in due time a synopsis of ways and means by which those engaged in manual labor might secure to themselves greater facilities than are commonly possessed by individuals of that class. Books, implements, etc, may be beyond the means of a single individual, but an association can obtain them all. In this, as well as in all other things, association is the means of securing to each individual among many, privileges which are unattainable by each separately. The facilities required are a suitable room, a well selected library, and special instruction on certain subjects. These are essential, but other collateral facilities for improvement may be sscured, which will not only pay their own way, but aid very materially in paying for the essentials. We allude to popular lectures, not only upon technical subjects, but upon general topics interesting and attractive to all. The possibilities here indicated will be perhaps more apparent by an illustration of how they have been already accomplished than by any other means. It was once our pleasure and good fortune to be instrumental in initiating such an association as we have described, and to see 'it succeed beyond all that was hoped for it at the outset. It was organized in a town of not more than four thousand inhabitants, among whom were about two hundred mechanics, mostly shoemakers, but there were also some machinists, carpenters, and bricklayers. Out of the two hundred, about fifty were found willing to subscribe to the terms of membership, and some twenty-five who were not mechanics also joined it. The entire fund, at two dollars per member, amounted at first to about one hundred and fifty dollars. With this fund a room was rented and a few books bought. The works first obtained were books of reference, and were not allowed to be taken from the reading-room of the association. A prospectus of a lecture was advertised, and subscriptions from the citizens at large were obtained to an encouraging extent, attracted by the names of several first class popular lecturers. Circulars were printed and sent into neighboring I towns, and one of the largest churches obtained for the lecture course. In no instance was there a failure to fill the church fairly at fifty cents per ticket, and the net profits of the course put the association in possession of sufficient funds to purchase a well selected library of two hundred volumes, including " The Encyclopedia Britannica," to carpet and furnish their room, and to pay for a course of lessons in mechanical drawing given to all the members of the association, who formed themselves into a class for the purpose, the drawing boards, paper, and instruments having been donated by a wealthy gentleman who had become quite enthusiastic over the success of the enterprise. The second season was equally successful, but less money was expended in books, and more in instruction than the first season; and the number of members was greatly augmented, and the receipts consequently much larger. Our own connection with this association terminated shortly after the close of its second lecture course, but we have since learned that it is still prosperous. We are far from saying that such success would be the rule, but that every association of the kind will succeed to a greater or less degree if judiciously managed we are thoroughly convinced. A selection of good lecturers upon popular scientific or literary subjects, at reasonable prices, can easily be obtained. One of the principal things to be looked after in the commencement of such an association is to avoid expenditure for anything that is superfluous either in books or furniture. The books should be bought not for their amusing, but their instructive character. As funds become more ample, entertaining works of fiction of the best kind, and well selected poetry may be added, and will prove a source of income by the sale of library tickets to outsiders. History and biography should be added as circumstances may permit, but the first books should be those of reference and text-books, of which latter there should be no lack of duplicates. We feel a deep interest in anything that tends to elevate the noble army of industrious mechanics, upon whom depend in so great a degree the continued prosperity of our common country ; and we shall be happy to give all the information in our power that will aid in the diffusion of knowledge among them, and the establishment of such associations as we have described.
This article was originally published with the title "How Workingmen May Obtain Facilities for Intellectual Improvement" in Scientific American 20, 8, 121 (February 1869)