Five Personal Development Groups Throughout History

Contrary to some beliefs, neither personal development focused groups or personal growth-focused individuals are new to society. People have always banded together in the same way that we are doing now, especially individuals who were iNtuitive. Here are five groups that I find especially interesting.



1. Junto

Junto was established in 1727 in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin. He created the group to “organize a structured form of mutual improvement.” A group of twelve men- who included bartenders, printers, and clerks- got together once a week on Friday evenings and discussed philosophy, morals, science, and business. Some of their questions to discuss included:

  • Who do you know that are shortly going [on] voyages or journeys, if one should have occasion to send by them?
  • Do you think of any thing at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? to their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
  • Hath any deserving stranger arrived in town since last meeting, that you heard of? and what have you heard or observed of his character or merits?
  • And whether think you, it lies in the power of the Junto to oblige him, or encourage him as he deserves? 
  • Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage? 
  • Have you lately observed any defect in the laws, of which it would be proper to move the legislature an amendment? Or do you know of any beneficial law that is wanting?


2. Transcendentalists

The Transcendentalists were a group of individuals within the Transcendentalist movement during the 1800s who called themselves the “Hedge Club.” Transcendentalism was a response to the societal values created through the Industrial Revolution. It was closely linked with Romanticism. Transcendentalists in particular focused on religion, philosophy, and “principles not based on, or falsifiable by, physical experience, but deriving from the inner spiritual or mental essence of the human.” They were also heavily inspired by nature and Hinduism. Transcendentalism gave birth to the Unitarian church, and their magazine “The Dial” became a major publisher for Modernist literature.



3. Odd Fellows (or Oddfellows)

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is one of the oldest existing fraternal organizations in the world. The term “odd fellow” probably originated from a term used by tradesmen to refer to someone who had a very specific skill, and the Odd Fellows probably formed around individuals who identified as such. According to their website, an Odd Fellow “bases his thoughts and actions on healthy philosophical principles. He believes that life is a commitment to improve and elevate the character of humanity through service and example…He then asks the question, ‘How am I going to spend my life?’”



4. Esalen

Esalen was founded in 1962 by Michael Murphy and Dick Price. Its main campus is located along Highway 1 in Big Sur, California. Esalen was one of the first New-Age personal development organizations in the country. They spearheaded introducing mainstream culture to yoga, organic living, and many other popular wellness practices. They’re still open, and many people still go on retreats there.



5. Arcosanti, AZ

Arcosanti is a community in Arizona that focuses on creating a self-contained community that blends with nature and is environmentally friendly. It was established in 1970, and aims to have a population of 5,000 people. It serves primarily as an example of future towns, with most of the buildings centering around education centers and lodging. It has a community swimming pool, greenhouse, office complex, visitors center, camping/apartment areas, and an outdoor ampitheater.


This is just a list of five groups that I found interesting. There are a ton more throughout history (and modern day!) that also exist. Have a group you’d want to include, or a future topic for a list? Leave me a comment below!

Showing 8 comments
  • Bruce Muzik

    Interesting list. I had not heard of a few of them. No personal development list would be complete without including EST too (now Landmark Education). Werner Erhard brought personal development to the mainstream in the 70’s – more so than any other. Thanks for sharing.

    • Addison Dunlap

      I’m not familiar with EST. I’ll have to look into it. Thanks for the feedback, Bruce!

  • Diane Heather

    THen there is the Human Awareness Institute. What I find interesting in the communities listed above is that they relate to character development, not personality. Stephen Covey talked about the merits of character development too.

    • Addison Dunlap

      That’s an interesting observation. I didn’t think about it that way. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Trish

    Addison, just finished a book on Scientology. Does that fit here? Just wondering your insight.

    ps. Great to see you at the Fam Reunion; although too brief, wish we had visited more.

    • Addison Dunlap

      I’m not completely sure if it would fit. I think, in the eyes of the Church itself it probably would, but I think the general population would disagree. I imagine that sometimes “personal development” has to fit within the confines of a culture.

  • Paula Barndt

    Good article,Addison. Learned something new!9

    • Addison Dunlap

      Thanks Aunt Paula 😛

Leave a Comment