Chautauqua (/ʃəˈtɔːkwə/ shə-TAW-kwə) was an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, showmen, preachers, and specialists of the day.[1] Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is "the most American thing in America."[2]

Chautauqua (pemberton0201)
Cover of a 1917 promotional brochure


Postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first Chautauqua.

The Mother Chautauqua

The first Chautauqua, the New York Chautauqua Assembly, was organized in 1874 by Methodist minister John Heyl Vincent and businessman Lewis Miller at a campsite on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in the state of New York.[3] Two years earlier, Vincent, editor of the Sunday School Journal, had begun to train Sunday school teachers in an outdoor summer school format. The gatherings grew in popularity. The organization founded by Vincent and Miller later became known as the Chautauqua Institution. It was called the Mother Chautauqua, because many independent, or "daughter" Chautauquas were developed under the same fashion.[4]

The educational summer camp format proved to be a popular choice for families and was widely copied by the "daughter" Chautauquas. Within a decade, Chautauqua assemblies (or simply Chautauquas), named for the original location in New York, sprang up in various locations across North America. The Chautauqua movement may be regarded as a successor to the Lyceum movement earlier in the 19th century. As the Chautauqua assemblies began to compete for the best performers and lecturers, lyceum bureaus assisted with bookings. The original site in Chautauqua, New York, near Jamestown, has hosted such diverse speakers and performers as Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and former American vice president Al Gore. [5]

Independent Chautauquas

Independent Chautauquas (or "daughter Chautauquas") operated at permanent facilities, usually fashioned after the Chautauqua Institute in New York, or at rented venues such as in an amusement park.[6][7] Such a Chautauqua was generally built in an attractive semi-rural location a short distance outside an established town with good rail service. At the height of the Chautauqua movement in the 1920s, several hundred of these existed, but their numbers have since dwindled.

Circuit Chautauquas

"Circuit Chautauquas" (or colloquially, "Tent Chautauquas") were an itinerant manifestation of the Chautauqua movement, founded by Keith Vawter (a Redpath Lyceum Bureau manager) and Roy Ellison in 1904.[8] Although Vawter and Ellison were unsuccessful in their initial attempts to commercialize Chautauqua, by 1907 they had found a great amount of success in their adaptation of the concept. The program would be presented in tents pitched "on a well-drained field near town". After several days, the Chautauqua would fold its tents and move on. The method of organizing a series of touring Chautauquas is attributed to Vawter.[9] Among early Redpath comedians was Boob Brasfield.

Reactions to tent Chautauquas were mixed. In We Called it Culture, Victoria and Robert Case wrote of the new itinerant Chautauqua:

"The credit–or blame–for devising the Frankenstein mechanism which was both to exalt and to destroy Chautauqua, the tent circuit, must be given to two youths of similar temperament, imagination, and a common purpose. That purpose, bluntly, was to 'make a million'."[10]

Frank Gunsaulus attacked Vawter:

"You're ruining a splendid movement," Gunsaulus roared at Keith Vawter, whom he met at a railroad junction. "You're cheapening Chautauqua, breaking it down, replacing it with something what [sic] will have neither dignity nor permanence."[11]

In Vawter's scheme, each performer or group appeared on a particular day of the program. "First-day" talent would move on to other Chautauquas, followed by the "second-day" performers, and so on, throughout the touring season. By the mid-1920s, when circuit Chautauquas were at their peak, they appeared in over 10,000 communities to audiences of more than 45 million; by about 1940 they had run their course.


Lectures were the mainstay of the Chautauqua. Prior to 1917, lectures dominated the circuit Chautauqua programs. The reform speech and the inspirational talk were the two main types of lecture until 1913.[12] Later topics included current events, travel and stories, often with a comedic twist.

The most famous speech

The most prolific speaker (often booked in the same venues with Bryan) was Russell Conwell who delivered his famous "Acres of Diamonds" speech 5,000 times to audiences on the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits, which had this theme:[12]

Get rich, young man, for money is power and power ought to be in the hands of good people. I say you have no right to be poor.[13]

Other speakers

Maud Ballington Booth, the "Little Mother of the Prisons", was another popular performer on the circuit. Booth's descriptions of prison life would move her audiences to tears and rouse them to reform. Jane Addams spoke on social problems and her work at Hull House. Helen Potter is another notable woman in the Chautaquas. Potter performed a variety of roles, including men and women. As Gentile notes: "Potter's choice of subjects is noteworthy for its variety and for the fact that she was credible in her impersonations of men as well as of women. In retrospect, Potter's impersonations are of special interest as examples of the kind of recycling or refertilization of inspiration that occurs throughout the history of the one-person show."[14] On a lighter note, author Opie Read's stories and homespun philosophy endeared him to audiences. Other well-known speakers and lecturers in Chautauqua events of various forms included Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Champ Clark from Missouri, Missouri Governor Herbert S. Hadley, and "Fighting Bob" La Follette (governor of Wisconsin at the time).[12]

Religious expression

Christian instruction, preaching, and worship were a strong part of the Chautauqua experience. Although the Chautauqua movement was founded by Methodists, nondenominationalism was a Chautauqua principle from the beginning, and prominent Catholics like Catherine Doherty took part. In 1892, Lutheran Church theologian Theodore Emanuel Schmauk was one of the organizers of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua.

Early religious expression in Chautauqua was usually of a general nature, comparable to the later Moral Re-Armament movement. Later on, in the first half of the 20th century, Fundamentalism was the content of an increasing number of Chautauqua sermons and lectures. However, the great number of Chautauquas, as well as the absence of any central authority over them, meant that religious patterns varied greatly among the different Chautauquas. Some were so religiously oriented that they were essentially church camps, while more secular Chautauquas resembled summer school and competed with vaudeville in theaters and circus tent shows with their animal acts and trapeze acrobats. People involved in the Chautauqua movement believed that both secular and spiritual knowledge radiate from God and are both equally important.

In 2006, one extreme can be observed in the Lakeside Chautauqua, privately owned but affiliated with the United Methodist Church, while the opposite extreme is represented by the Colorado Chautauqua, which is entirely nondenominational and mostly secular in its orientation.

Competition with vaudeville

In the 1890s, both Chautauqua and vaudeville were gaining popularity and establishing themselves as important forms of entertainment. While Chautauqua had its roots in Sunday-school and valued morality and education highly, vaudeville grew out of minstrel shows, variety acts, and crude humor, and so the two movements found themselves at odds. Chautauqua was considered wholesome, family entertainment and appealed to the educated classes and religious folk. Vaudeville, on the other hand, was considered by many to be anti-intellectual and appealed to the lower, less educated classes. There was a hard distinction between the two, and neither generally shared performers or audiences.

At the turn of the 20th century, vaudeville managers began a push for more "refinement", as well as a loosening of Victorian-era morals from the Chautauqua side. Over time, as vaudeville became more respectable, Chautauqua became more liberal and secular. The boundaries between the two began to blur, and soon many Chautauqua performers began to try to broaden their appeal and become more than just platform readers so they could cross over to the vaudeville side, taking part in both forms in their eagerness to gain more money and fame.[15]


Music was important to Chautauqua, with band music in particular demand. John Phillip Sousa protégé Bohumir Kryl’s Bohemian Band was frequently seen on the circuit. One of the numbers featured by Kryl was the “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore with four husky timpanists in leather aprons hammering on anvils shooting sparks (enhanced through special effects) across the darkened stage. Spirituals were also popular. White audiences appreciated seeing African-Americans performing other than minstrelsy. Other musical features of the Chautauqua included groups like the Jubilee Singers singing a mix of spirituals and popular tunes, and other singers and instrumental groups like American Quartette playing popular music, ballads, and songs from the "old country". Entertainers on the Chautauqua circuit such as Charles Ross Taggart, billed as "The Man From Vermont" and "The Old Country Fiddler", played violin, sang, was a ventriloquist and comedian, and told tall tales about life in rural New England.

Opera became a part of the Chautauqua experience in 1926 when the American Opera Company, an outgrowth of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, began touring the country. Under the direction of Russian tenor Vladimir Rosing, the AOC presented five operas in one week at the Chautauqua Amphitheater.[16] By 1929, a permanent Chautauqua Opera company had been established.

Political context

Chautauquas can be viewed in the context of the populist ferment of the late 19th century. Manifestos such as the "Populist Party Platform"[17] voiced a disdain for political corruption and championed the plight of the common people in the face of the rich and powerful. Other favorite political reform topics in Chautauqua lectures included temperance (even prohibition), women's suffrage, and child labor laws.

However, the Chautauqua movement usually avoided taking political stands as such, instead inviting public officials of all the major political parties to lecture, assuring a balanced program for the members of the assembly. For example, during the 1936 season at the Chautauqua Institution, in anticipation of the national election held that year for president, visitors heard addresses by Franklin D. Roosevelt, his Republican challenger Alf Landon, and from two third-party candidates.

Typical chautauqua circuit

A route taken by a troupe of Chautauqua entertainers, the May Valentine Opera Company, which presented Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado during its 1925 "Summer Season," began March 26 in Abbeville, Louisiana, and ended September 6 in Sidney, Montana.[18]


  1. ^ Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century – Collection Connections – For Teachers (Library of Congress) Archived May 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
  2. ^ Pirsig, Robert M. (1999). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Quill. ISBN 0688171664. 25th Anniversary Edition.
  3. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Chautauqua" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 19.
  4. ^ "History of Chautauqua in Florida". Archived from the original on July 25, 2008. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Chautauquan. M. Bailey, Publisher. 1905.
  7. ^ Services, DNC Web. "amusement-parks-gallery-1 -". Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  8. ^ Gentile, John S. (1989). Cast of One: One-Person Shows from the Chautauqua Platform to the Broadway Stage. Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-252-01584-3.
  9. ^ Page, Walter Hines; Page, Arthur Wilson (1921): The World's Work ...: A History of Our Time Vol. XLII. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company.
  10. ^ Case, Victoria (28 March 2007). We Called It Culture - The Story Of Chautauqua. Chapman Press. p. 284. ISBN 9781406775440. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  11. ^ Case, Victoria; Case, Robert O. (1948). We Called it Culture: The Story of Chautauqua. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 51, 73.
  12. ^ a b c Tapia, John E. (1997). Circuit chautauqua: from rural education to popular entertainment in early twentieth century America. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 53. ISBN 0-7864-0213-X. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
  13. ^ Smith Zimmermann Heritage Museum: Chautauqua History Archived October 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Gentile, John (1989). Cast of One: One-person Shows from the Chautauqua Platform to the Broadway Stage. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press. p. 43.
  15. ^ Gentile, John, S. (1989). Cast of One: One-Person Shows from the Chautauqua Platform to the Broadway Stage. University of Illinois Press. pp. 47–51. ISBN 0-252-01584-3.
  16. ^ Chautauqua Opera – History. Retrieved on 2011-03-28 from
  17. ^ People's Party Platform, Omaha Morning World-Herald, 5 July 1892
  18. ^ May Valentine Opera Co. in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" Archived January 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine from a University of Iowa Library website that's part of American Memory archives


  • Hurlbut, Jesse Lyman (1921): The Story of Chautauqua. New York: G.P. Putman's Sons.
  • What was Chautauqua? University of Iowa Libraries, accessed: 2006-03-18.
  • Galey, Mary (1981): The Grand Assembly: The Story of Life at the Colorado Chautauqua. Boulder, Colorado: First Flatiron Press, ISBN 0-9606706-0-2.
  • Gentile, John S (1989): Cast of One: One-Person Shows from the Chautauqua Platform to the Broadway Stage. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-01584-3.
  • Gould, Joseph Edward (1961): "The Chautauqua Movement". Albany, New York. State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-87395-003-8.
  • Pettem, Silvia (1998): Chautauqua Centennial, a Hundred Years of Programs.
  • Rieser, Andrew (2003): The Chautauqua Moment: Protestants, Progressives, and the Culture of Modern Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 0231126425.
  • Strother, French (September 1912). "The Great American Forum: Chautauqua and the Chautauquas in Summer and the Lyceum In Winter". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXIV: 551–564. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  • Merkel, Diane on behalf of the Walton County Heritage Association (2008): Images of America DeFuniak Springs. Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 0-7385-5407-3.

External links

Camp Sierra, California

Camp Sierra (formerly, Sierra Chautauqua) is an unincorporated community in Fresno County, California. It is located 7 miles (11 km) north-northeast of Shaver Lake Heights, at an elevation of 4534 feet (1382 m).The Sierra Chautauqua post office opened in 1918, the name was changed to Camp Sierra in 1924, and was closed in 1935. The name Chautauqua is transplanted from New York

Chautauqua, New York

Chautauqua is a town and lake resort community in Chautauqua County, New York, United States. The population was 4,464 at the 2010 census. The town is named after Chautauqua Lake. The traditional meaning remains "bag tied in the middle". The suggested meanings of this Seneca word have become numerous: "the place where one is lost"; "the place of easy death"; "fish taken out"; "foggy place"; "high up"; "two moccasins fastened together"; and "a bag tied in the middle".

The town of Chautauqua is in the western part of the county on the northwestern end of Chautauqua Lake. It is northwest of Jamestown. Chautauqua is famous as the home of the Chautauqua Institution, the birthplace in 1875 of the Chautauqua Movement of educational and cultural centers.

Chautauqua, Ohio

Chautauqua ,

also Chautaugua or Chatauqua, is an unincorporated community in Montgomery and Warren counties in the U.S. state of Ohio. Chautauqua is located at 39°35′28″N 84°17′47″W (39.591072, -84.296293). It lies on the west bank of the Great Miami River at the county boundary. It was established in 1901 with 310 acres (1.3 km²). The members of the Miami Valley Chautauqua Association lived in common in the town, occupying about two hundred homes.

The Montgomery County portion of Chautauqua is part of the Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area, while the Warren County portion is part of the Cincinnati–Middletown, OH-KY-IN Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Chautauqua Airlines

Chautauqua Airlines, Inc., was an American regional airline and a subsidiary of Republic Airways Holdings based in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States. Prior to the shut down of operations, it operated scheduled passenger services to 52 airports in the United States and Canada via code sharing agreements as the Delta Connection for Delta Air Lines and AmericanConnection for American Airlines. Chautauqua previously flew feeder services for other airlines as well via code sharing agreements. Its last day in operation was December 31, 2014, at which time all flying was absorbed by the Shuttle America certificate.

Chautauqua had crew bases at LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Louisville International Airport, and Port Columbus International Airport.

Chautauqua County, Kansas

Chautauqua County (county code CQ) is a county located in Southeast Kansas. As of the 2010 census, the county population was 3,669. Its county seat and most populous city is Sedan. Chautauqua County is named for Chautauqua County, New York, the birthplace of Edward Jaquins, a Kansas politician who was instrumental in getting the county established.

Chautauqua County, New York

Chautauqua County is the westernmost county in the U.S. state of New York. As of the 2010 census, the population was 134,905. Its county seat is Mayville, and its largest city is Jamestown. Its name is believed to be the lone surviving remnant of the Erie language, a tongue lost in the Beaver Wars; its meaning is unknown and a subject of speculation. The county was created in 1808 and organized in 1811.Chautauqua County comprises the Jamestown-Dunkirk-Fredonia, NY Micropolitan Statistical Area. It is located south of Lake Erie and includes a small portion of the Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca.

Chautauqua Institution

The Chautauqua Institution is a nonprofit education center and summer resort for adults and youth located on 750 acres (3 km²) in Chautauqua, New York, 17 miles (27 km) northwest of Jamestown in the southwestern part of New York State. The Chautauqua Institution Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was further designated a National Historic Landmark.

Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge

The Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Illinois River in Mason County northeast of Havana, Illinois. It is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the four Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges.

The refuge consists of 4,388 acres (17.8 km²) of Illinois River bottomland, nearly all of it wetland. The parcel is the former Chautauqua Drainage and Levee District, a failed riverine polder. In the 1920s, workers with steam shovels surrounded the levee district with a large dike in an attempt to create a large new parcel of agricultural farmland. The levee district proved to be financially unable to maintain the dike, however, and the Illinois River reclaimed the polder. The complex alluvial topography that had existed before this intervention was replaced by the broad shallow pool of Chautauqua Lake.

In 1936, the federal government acquired the 4,388-acre (17.8 km2) Chautauqua Drainage and Levee District parcel, including the dikes that enclosed the pool, and began to manage it for wildlife-refuge and flood control purposes. The flood-control aspects of this management have grown more challenging in the years since, as continued agricultural runoff and siltation of the Illinois River has made much of Chautauqua Lake shallower. On some shoreline strips of the lake, the silt has built up to the level of the lake surface, and an alluvial topography of sloughs and floodplain woodlands may be slowly re-establishing itself. However, many of the plant and animal species inhabiting the current Chautauqua Lake and Wildlife Refuge and adjacent Illinois River are nonnative and invasive species such as the Asian carp.

As of 2005, of the 4,388 acres (17.8 km²) of the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, 3,200 acres (12.9 km²) were classified as an open pool, 800 acres (3.2 km²) were classified as "water and timbered bottomland", and the remaining 388 acres (1.6 km²) were classified as upland forest. The closest numbered highway is U.S. Highway 136 in Mason County.

A nesting pair of bald eagles was observed in the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge in the winter of 2005-06.The Cameron/Billsbach Unit is a detached section of the refuge located further north, in Marshall County, near Henry, Illinois. It covers an additional 1,079 acres (4.37 km²).

Dunkirk, New York

Dunkirk is a city in Chautauqua County, New York, in the United States. It was settled around 1805 and officially incorporated in 1880. The population was 12,563 as of the 2010 census, with an estimated population of 12,328 in 2013. Dunkirk is bordered on the north by Lake Erie. It shares a border with the village of Fredonia to the south, and with the town of Dunkirk to the east and west. Dunkirk is the westernmost city in the state of New York.

Jamestown, New York

Jamestown is a city in southern Chautauqua County, New York, United States. The population was 31,146 at the 2010 census and was estimated at 29,591 in 2017. Situated between Lake Erie to the northwest and the Allegheny National Forest to the south, Jamestown is the largest population center in the county. Nearby Chautauqua Lake is a freshwater resource used by fishermen, boaters and naturalists.

Notable people from Jamestown include comedian Lucille Ball, U.S. Supreme Court justice and Nuremberg chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, naturalist Roger Tory Peterson, disc golfer and entrepreneur kiefer mcmillan,singer Natalie Merchant, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Products developed in Jamestown include the crescent wrench and automatic voting machines.

Jamestown was once called the "Furniture Capital of the World" where people visited from all over the country to attend furniture expositions at the Furniture Mart, a building that still stands in the city and houses offices for a variety of companies.

Lake Erie State Park

Lake Erie State Park is a 355-acre (1.44 km2) state park located in the Town of Portland in Chautauqua County, New York, United States, northeast of the village of Brocton. Its major attraction is its Lake Erie beach, in addition to its campsites and other recreational facilities.

List of county routes in Chautauqua County, New York

County routes in Chautauqua County, New York, are signed with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices-standard yellow-on-blue pentagon route marker. Even numbered routes are west–east roads, while odd numbered routes are south–north roads. One exception is the north–south County Route 380 (CR 380), part of which was once New York State Route 380 (NY 380). The numbers increase roughly from southwest to northeast across the county. All roads maintained by Chautauqua County are assigned a county highway number; this number is unsigned. Each county route comprises one or more county highways; however, not all county highways are part of a signed county route.

Long Point State Park on Lake Chautauqua

Long Point State Park (on Chautauqua Lake) is a 360-acre (1.5 km2) state park located in the Town of Ellery, near the hamlet of Maple Springs in Chautauqua County, New York. The park is located on a short peninsula on the east side of the lake and can be reached on Route 430.

Mayville, New York

Mayville is a village in Chautauqua County, New York, United States. The population was 1,709 at the 2010 census, which is down 2.7% from the 2000 census. Mayville is in the town of Chautauqua and is the county seat of Chautauqua County. The village and town offices share a building on Main Street, directly across from the Chautauqua County courthouse.

Midway State Park

Midway State Park, located in Maple Springs, New York, was established in 1898 by the Jamestown & Lake Erie Railway as a picnic ground. Today, it is recognized as the fifteenth-oldest continually operating amusement park in the United States, and the fifth-oldest remaining trolley park of the thirteen still operating in the United States.

National Register of Historic Places listings in Chautauqua County, New York

This is a list of the National Register of Historic Places listings in Chautauqua County, New York.

This is intended to be a complete list of properties and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Chautauqua County, New York, United States. The locations of National Register properties and districts for which the latitude and longitude coordinates are included below, may be seen in a map.There are 45 properties and districts listed on the National Register in the county, including 2 National Historic Landmarks.

This National Park Service list is complete through NPS recent listings posted February 15, 2019.

North Carolina Central University

North Carolina Central University (NCCU), also known as simply Central, is a public historically black university in Durham, North Carolina. It is part of the University of North Carolina system and offers programs at the baccalaureate, master's, professional and doctoral levels. The university is a member-school of Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

Westfield, New York

Westfield is a town in the western part Chautauqua County, New York, United States. The population was 4,896 at the 2010 census. Westfield is also the name of a village within the town, containing 65% of the town's population.

Wytheville, Virginia

Wytheville () is a town in, and the county seat of, Wythe County, in western Virginia, United States. It is named after George Wythe, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence, and mentor to Thomas Jefferson. Wytheville's population was 8,211 at the 2010 census. Interstate Highways 77 and 81 were constructed to intersect at the town, long a crossroads for travelers.

During the American Civil War, Wytheville had a strategic importance. It was attacked in 1863 (Toland's Raid) and 1865 (Stoneman's 1865 Raid). The town is the birthplace of Edith Bolling Wilson, second wife of President Woodrow Wilson.

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