Beacon Hill Seminars is a membership organization of people who have a vigorous interest in continuing their intellectual growth.
In early 2000, under the leadership of Jack Curtin, a “founding council” gathered on Beacon Hill to consider forming a community-based program for lifelong learning. The council’s vision was to provide a diverse set of courses in which participants could broaden their intellectual horizons, learn from one another, and have fun along the way. That vision took root in fall 2000 as the newly organized Beacon Hill Seminars (BHS) offered 13 courses with about 60 participants.
As a guide for the years ahead, our founders set forth a number of operational tenets:
- Remain as an independent organization run by and for the members.
- Maintain openness to all, with no admission requirements. Welcome members of all ages and from all neighborhoods. Extend full or partial scholarships to those needing financial assistance.
- Offer intellectually engaging courses that facilitate discussion. Avoid how-to courses.
- Provide experienced course leaders who serve on a pro-bono basis and welcome the opportunity to engage adult learners.
- Select board members who are active members of the program, either as teachers or participants.
- Encourage volunteer opportunities for members who wish to play a part in various aspects of the program.
- Keep administration and rules to a minimum.
Our in-person courses take place in historic venues in and around Beacon Hill. In the spring of 2020 we ventured online and began offering online courses via Zoom. Over the years we have increased the number of courses available each semester; extended the range of subjects they cover; broadened the type of teaching formats to include a mix of seminars, lectures, off-site visits, and brief pop-up classes on timely topics; and incorporated audio/visual technology into the classrooms. In the process, our membership has grown to about 250 individuals coming from Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and beyond. We look forward to the time when can resume in-person classes and, when that day comes, BHS will be a stronger organization capable of offering in-person, online, and hybrid classes.
Over the years we have facilitated a variety of opportunities for members to get to know one another through the kickoff event we hold before each semester and at other events. We have also gained immeasurably from members’ volunteer efforts in planning and hosting these events, running our annual book sale, serving as class coordinators, generating ideas for courses, leading courses, and recruiting new members.
We have improved our administrative operations, enhanced our communication capacities, benefitted from strategic planning, and established a solid financial foundation for the program while keeping a tight lid on costs to members. We are proud that about 25 percent of our revenues come from member contributions.
Our Challenge Ahead
We celebrate all that we have achieved as an organization. But as we enter our third decade of operation, we recognize that we cannot rest on our laurels. As we continue our efforts to improve the program, we commit ourselves to the challenge of embracing our tradition while also addressing changes taking place in technology, member expectations, and the marketplace for adult learning programs in the Boston metropolitan area.
We would like to thank our invaluable group leaders who give so generously of their time and expertise, and our members who inspire and challenge us to meet their intellectual expectations. We would also like to thank the following for the valuable support they have given to our program:
- Joanne Legge
- Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro
- Cambridge Trust Company
- Church of the Advent
- J.M. Forbes and Meeting House Offices
- Tom Kershaw and Hampshire House
- Toscano Restaurant
Board of Directors 2020-2021
- William Sherden, President
- David Rosenberg, Vice President and Clerk
- Carol Ann Hayes, Treasurer
- Judy Tedeschi
- Mitchell Adams
- Lee Behnke
- Barbara Berkman
- Bev Christians
- J. Ryan Gunsalus
- Christian Henry
- John Hodgman
- Lynn Smiledge
- Roger Stacey
- Amy Tsurumi
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do I have to be a member to take courses?
Yes. You must be a member of BHS to take classes in a given academic year. Annual membership runs from July 1 to June 30 and includes access to BHS classes, regular communications, and invitations to all BHS membership programs and events.
2. How do I become a member?
Becoming a member simply requires filling out the online registration form and paying your annual membership dues of $100 (which are tax-deductible to the maximum extent allowed by law) and the $100 per semester course registration fee.
3. What is my total cost if I take courses in both the fall and spring semesters?
It is $300 ($100 for membership dues and $100 for registration fees each semester). If you take courses in only one semester (fall or spring), your total cost is $200 ($100 for dues and $100 for registration).
4. When are the courses offered?
The fall term begins the first week of October and extends to late November or early December. Spring courses typically take place in two segments, from the first week of February to the end of March, and from the beginning of April until the end of May. Individual courses typically have four to eight classes.
5. How do I register for courses?
You can register and pay for courses online via the Join/Register page of this website. If you prefer to pay by check you can select the Pay by Check option on the online registration form and mail your payment to Beacon Hill Seminars, 121 Mt. Vernon Street, Boston, MA 02108.
6. How many courses can I request and take each semester?
You can register for up to three courses in the fall semester and up to four in the spring semester. It is important that you list your choices in order of preference beginning with #1 as your first choice. Courses that are over subscribed are filled first with members selecting that course as their first choice, then with members selecting it as their second choice, etc. If you wish to take the maximum number of courses in any semester, we suggest that you list an alternative selection. If you are not registered for a course that you chose, you can ask to be put on a waiting list.
7. When do I have to submit my course selections and when will I be informed on my course placements?
You must submit your selections no later than two days after our fall or spring semester kickoff event. You will be informed about your placements seven to ten days after the kickoff.
8. If I am registered for a course and wish to drop it, what should I do?
9. What should I do if I cannot attend a class?
Send an email to the group leader informing her/him of your expected absence. For discussion-focused courses, continuity of attendance can be particularly important to their success. If you know before selecting such a course that you will miss two or more classes, we suggest that you take that into account before enrolling.
10. How do I know if an in-person class will be cancelled?
For weather-related concerns, BHS follows the school cancellation decision of Boston Public Schools. If a class needs to be cancelled for other reasons, the executive director or the group leader will send you an email notice.
11. How can I volunteer to help BHS?
12. How can I offer feedback about classes and the program as a whole?
We suggest that you express your views to individual group leaders and to the class coordinators for the courses. For more general feedback, we urge that you respond to the member feedback surveys we send from time to time and participate in our periodic member feedback forums. At any time, you can contact our office to share your thoughts. We value feedback in any of these ways and do our best to respond constructively to it.
13. How can I make a financial contribution to BHS?
As the only community-based learning in retirement program in the Boston metropolitan area, financial contributions play a particularly vital role in our program. They enable us to make important continuing improvements in our program while keeping our membership and tuition costs fully competitive with other programs.
Members can make donations in response to the annual appeal that we make each year in the fall. You can also donate to Beacon Hill Seminars online at any time via the Donations page on this website. Members are also welcome to mail in additional contributions with their course registration form or anytime during the calendar year.
We also welcome bequests and memorial donations as a means of financial support. Please contact our office for further information in this regard.