|The Complete Chautauquan:
The Chautauqua Institution
|The Birthplace of the Chautauqua
John Hyle Vincent had a vision. By the time he transformed a little lakeside Methodist church camp into "the most American thing in America," he had been interested in educating adults for many decades. As early as the 1850s, he had the idea for many of the programs that came into play at the Chautauqua Institution. He shared his vision with an Ohio industrialist by the name of Lewis Miller, and together they assembled a summer training institute for Sunday-school teachers and later added secular programming -- a plan that even in the early years was often imitated. Learn more about the people who brought education, culture, entertainment, and even a little imagination to the masses in the page The Complete Chautauquan: Who's Who in Chautauqua.
The Chautauqua Institution started out small in the Summer of 1874. But it wasn't long before platform tents were replaced by cabins, dorms, and hotels. A large open air auditorium became a central point for major events for many decades to come. People from all the neighboring areas to the easternmost county in New York came to be a part of the many programs in music, art, literature, politics, science, and other areas of interest. But perhaps the most important contribution this "place" made to American culture was actually what went on outside the gates of this summer attraction.
The outreach programs of Chautauqua put this term into every neighborhood and home across the USA and Canada. For those adults who came to know it, the word "Chautauqua" meant a second chance for a liberal education. Stolen moments with a book on the way to work, during lunch, and after the evening chores allowed many thousands of people in rural America to learn about classical thought and literature, to get the background for a common base of knowledge. This was the goal and the result of Chautauqua.
The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) formed in 1878 was the idea of Vincent, but it was William Rainey Harper, later to become the president of the University of Chicago, who Vincent called on to put together the plan. Many of the ideas that Harper would later implement in Chicago, such as distance learning, correspondence study, and the concept of the community college. The CLSC is covered in more detail on the page The Complete Chautauquan: The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle.
An important way that Chautauqua found its way into American life is through a monthly publication of the CLSC called The Chautauquan. Starting in 1880 and published until 1914 when it was merged with a weekly magazine called The Independent, The Chautauquan was the way Chautauquans learned of world events, received monthly readings, and found out about other CLSC reading circles around the country and world. Many of the copies of The Chautauquan in the collection of The Complete Chautauquan have been found in the Midwest, but the best source these days are bound library editions of each volume. The only disadvantage to the bound volumes is that most of the advertisements, an important part of American history, were removed from the magazines before being bound.
A visit to the Chautauqua Institution in New York is like traveling back to another age -- The Chautauqua Age. Step through the gates of this Victorian village and push aside the pages of history, like so much underbrush in the forest of time, and you will feel and hear the Chautauqua spirit as if it were born yesterday. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a chance to visit Chautauqua, even if only for a brief time.
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