Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


The Ulyssean Society is created to encourage older adults' learning

This year, Dr. John McLeish and a group of students from the University of Toronto create the Ulyssean Society to encourage adults in their middle and later years to foster their creative learning ability. They named the society after after Ulysses, the legendary Greek explorer and hero whose final voyages took place in his later years.

In those years, many adults used to turn off their ability to learn because they accept the self-fulfilling myths about age and the aging process. Among them are the following:

During the seventies, John McLeish wanted to challenge those myths, because he had found that the mature students he worked with in university extension classes and other settings year after year were far from being "over the hill."  Indeed, contrary to the traditional view of the time, they showed a great deal of creative learning ability. At the same time, John realized that if he was to gain acceptance of the concept in academic circles, anecdotal evidence was going to be insufficient. So he turned to the research on adult education. After poring over more than 300 studies on this topic, in 1976 he published his findings in The Ulyssean Adult: Creativity in the Middle and Later Years. The following year, the Ulyssean Society was created in Toronto, Canada.

McLeish, his students and the first members of the society believed that the middle and later years of the adult life journey can be filled (and should be filled) with new growth, new learning, fresh creative enterprise and rich productivity. In the book The Challenge of Aging (1983). John McLeish developed the following five elements as the essential areas of study for those who would like to lead the Ulyssean life:

Following that philosophy, The Ulyssean Society has functioned for more than 25 years with membership at about 200 women and men in the 55-90 age bracket. In those 25 years, more than 287 consecutive monthly program meetings have been held, almost all at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus. Presentations by distinguished guest speakers are followed by a social period and then by the Mosaic, a part of the program organized and presented by members.

Educational seminars and workshops are offered several times a year; cultural excursions to museums, galleries, exhibitions, parks and theatres are monthly events, and groups of members meet regularly for book reviews, film and creative discussion. In 1985 a Ulyssean chapter was formed at Niagara-on-the-Lake and is functioning successfully.

Prepared by DS, from materials written by the Ulyssean Society (

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Last updated on July 07, 2002.