|The Complete Chautauquan:
A Guide to What 'Chautauqua' Means in America
|What is Chautauqua?
The answer to this question may depend largely on who you ask. Below is a list of some of the answers you might receive from people in various parts of the country -- all of them are correct, so follow the line of thought. A good overview of the word "chautauqua" can be had if the reader will scan through the topics of each list item, and then go back and read each description.
Chautauqua County is the westernmost county in New York. It is significant to this list only because it is home to the Chautauqua Institution. Link to the Chautauqua County Visitors' Bureau, but only when you've decided you're done learning about the other meanings of 'Chautauqua.' (Chautauqua is also a county or city name in many parts of the midwestern and western United States.)
Chautauqua Lake, located in Chautauqua County New York, sits high at an elevation of over 1306 feet mean sea level (msl). It has been a popular resort area for Northerners since the end of the Civil War. The word "Chautauqua" probably came from the naming of the lake. It is said that Chautauqua is an American Indian word meaning "a bag tied in the middle" (to describe the shape of the lake) or "two moccasins tied together." I have also heard that some believe the word to mean "fish came from here," but it is more likely to be one of the first two.
Chautauqua Institution, the "Mother Chautauqua,"
initially a summer training program for sunday school teachers founded
in 1874 at Fair Point, Chautauqua Lake, New York. In later years,
many secular programs have been added to make the Chautauqua Institution
what is today, an exciting place for Chautauquans to enjoy a scientifically,
politically, and culturally stimulating summer vacation -- what has been
described as a uniquely American experience.
The Chautauqua Literary
and Scientific Circle (CLSC) became the
first "book club." Many local reading circles participated in reading
programs of the CLSC, for which half of the reading content came from prescribed
books printed by the Chautauqua Press, and the other half of the readings
came from the monthly publication, The Chautauquan. The significance
of the CLSC cannot be overstated, for it was the genesis of many libraries
and universities across the country, as well as its other significant contribution
-- it put the name Chautauqua into all the continent to clear the way for
the circuit chautauquas to come into town.
The Chautauqua Press published many books geared toward adult education in the late 19th and early 20th Century. One of my favorite books from the Chautauqua Press is actually a pamphlet that was published about Chautauqua publications.
Chautauquas, (also commonly called "daughter chautauquas" and occasionally
referred to as "community chautauquas") well over 200 of them at one time
became part of the American landscape in the late 1800s. These chautauquas
were either created to emulate the first "Mother Chautauqua" of New York,
or even to imitate the bigger independents. The programs and and
even the architecture of some of the buildings resembled the original. A
few of the original Chautauquas, such as the Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder,
Colorado, have been in business since their beginnings in the 1800s.
Others have revived the old Chautauqua programs to bring their Chautauqua
parks and auditoriums back to life. An example of this is the Waxahachie,
Texas, Chautauqua, which held a one-day program on September 23, 2000,
to revive the old Chautauqua Auditorium for its original use after that
town's chautauqua stopped doing business in 1930. (Waxahachie is
now planning its third consecutive modern chautauqua.)
The Jewish Chautauqua Society
(JCS) was an important idea that was based on the largely protestant Christian
Chautauqua Institution model. Reform Rabbi Henry Berkowitz founded the
JCS in 1893 in Philadelphia to help teach all people, no matter what background,
tolerance and understanding of Judaism. It has been recognized by The Chautauqua
Institution as an important institution in the chautauqua spirit of creating
understanding through a human interaction project. For nearly forty years,
the JCS resembled the Chautauqua Institution with its summer camp meetings,
correspondence school for Sunday school teachers, and similar outreach
Chautauquas grew from an idea by Redpath Lyceum Bureau operator Keith
Vawter beginning in 1904. These programs started with lecturers,
elocutionists, artists, and musicians. During the years of the circuit
chautauquas, magicians, menageries, plays, and operas were added to the
programs for the children were a popular way to get the whole family involved
in the chautauqua, which could last from three to nine (normally seven)
days. A thirty year run of the circuit chautauquas supported by numerous
circuits run by a couple of dozen agencies brought "culture under canvas"
right to the doorstep of millions of people throughout the country, particularly
Movement, sometimes called the Chautauqua Adult Education Movement,
is somewhat of a modern term. In the days when it was changing American
life, people involved in the process knew that they were part of something
important, but they didn't know what to call it. The development
of adult education in America owes much of its roots to the work of the
founders of the Chautauqua Institution, who later started the CLSC. and
inspired the hundreds of local reading groups that came into existence
in North America, and literally around the world. The
independent chautauquas across North America and later the circuit chautauquas
also contributed significantly to the education of American adults -- most
whom had been a long time out of school -- in their own communities.
The Chautauqua Movement is arguably the most important period in the development
of what we know today as adult education. Many institutions as libraries,
museums, universities, arts and humanities programs, came as a result of
the Chautauqua Movement -- especially those institutions in rural America
-- and even programs such as Elder
hostel exist in a climate formed by the Chautauqua Ideal. Also,
many other aspects of Twentieth Century American life (and in our current
century), such as theater, performance art, and art and music appreciation
were greatly influenced by the Chautauqua Movement -- to which all contributors,
not just one or two aspects, must be given credit. It was the total
of all of the meanings of Chautauqua from the 1870s into the 1930s that
helped to shape American thought of the Twentieth Century.
The Chautauqua Stamp was a great honor, as well as a mistake. In 1974, the U.S. Post Office issued four stamps to celebrate "Rural America." One of the four stamps was to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Chautauqua Institution of New York, founded in 1874. However, the mistake came in the scene depicted on the stamp, which showed a tent of the circuit chautauquas of the early Twentieth Century. The Chautauqua Institution actually had little direct connection with the circuit chautauquas, so the stamp's mixed up message is certainly a confusing situation, to say the least.
Chautauquas, sometimes referred to as the "modern" chautauquas, developed
from a renewed interest in the circuit chautauqua idea during the 100th
Anniversary celebration of the Chautauqua Movement in 1974. However,
instead of presenting contemporary speakers, as the circuit chautauquas
did, the council chautauquas are a recreation of the old circuit chautauquas
with scholars portraying historical figures in a first person setting.
There are usually three to six scholars who portray characters linked,
however directly or indirectly, to a central theme. The humanities
chautauquas are often referred to by The Complete Chautauquan
as the "contemporary model" chautauquas, as opposed to the "historic model"
chautauquas as with the Chautauqua Institution in New York or the independent
chautauquas that are still around or have revived programs.
The Great Plains Chautauqua, originated by the Arts and Humanities Council of North Dakota in 1976, is the father of the "modern" or "contemporary model" chautauqua. The format that is used by most of the humanities council chautauquas came from The Great Plains Chautauqua. The scholar assumes the dress and character of a historic figure for a monologue on the stage of a large tent, then, while still in character, the person will answer a few questions from the audience. The final part of the evening is when the scholar puts aside the character and answers questions of the audience as the scholar. The evening is usually begun with local musical entertainment of some sort. The most interesting part is sometimes during the period when the scholar takes questions from the audience. There are six state humanities councils that have formed a partnership to support The Great Plains Chautauqua, they are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and, recently added, Iowa.
The Arts and Humanities
Council of Tulsa Chautauqua is perhaps the best known, if not the only
contemporary model chautauqua produced by a city -- most humanities council
chautauquas are produced by state councils. With the 2002 program
to be presented in June in a tent at the campus of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa,
the Council Tulsa Chautauqua has produced 11 different programs in 11 consecutive
years in the city of Tulsa, and in most years, the Tulsa Chautauqua has
traveled to one or two other towns in Oklahoma. The Great Plains
Chautauqua was brought to Tulsa for its first chautauqua in 1992, but each
year since, the Tulsa Chautauqua Committee has produced its own original
program with a different theme for each year. Some of the original
Chautauqua scholars from the Tulsa Chautauqua programs have gone on to
participate in chautauquas and History Alive programs all over the country.
Winter Chautauqua, is not a new concept, but this use is to refer to two versions of winter chautauqua that are present today. The first is simply a Historic Winter Chautauqua concept that originated at Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. It was closely modeled after the summer assembly of the original Chautauqua in New York and originally ran from 1885 to 1920. The Florida Winter Chautauqua was revived in 1996 and continues to hold an annual February weekend event. The second form is that of the Humanities Winter Chautauqua started in 2002 by Tulsa Community College Assistant Professor Suzan King and Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers Director Theresa Miller at OSU-Tulsa. The Tulsa Winter Chautauqua might be best described as a cross between the contemporary chautauqua model -- with the first person performance of historic and literary figures -- and the historic lyceum model -- with a winter schedule of lectures in public auditoriums.
also known as School Chautauqua, is a program that takes the "contemporary
model" chautauqua idea to the public schools. Children in many states
have benefited from having people from history come into their schools
to speak. To bring a real person into contact with students enables
students to have a better understanding of history and the people who shaped
it. This program is usually an individual historic figure portrayed
by a scholar, as opposed to a humanities council chautauqua program that
will have several scholars around a central theme.
also known as Junior Chautauquas have become a part of the curriculum
of many schools across the nation in the past few years. The children
themselves become the "scholars." They study a person from history,
learn about his or her life, and develop a monologue to present "in character"
to other students. Some students have become very talented at this
sort of program. Several of the humanities council chautauquas are
auditioning the best of the student chautauqua scholars to showcase as
opening cameos for their chautauqua events or even complete student chautauquas.
have become known for emphasizing the arts and entertainment aspects of
chautauquas, such as programs offered by the New Old Time Chautauqua on
the West Coast. Musical Theater Chautauqua, for example, has become
something of a well known program in the Great Lakes area. This form of
chautauqua has revived one aspect of the circuit chautauquas -- music.
The circuit chautauquas of old brought music to the people of rural America
in tents, along with all the other programing. The Lake Superior
Big Top Chautauqua has brought musical performance and theater to the location
three miles south of Bayfield, Wisconsin, in a tent each summer since 1986
-- and since 1994 with Tent Show Radio, a national network radio program
that originates from the tent auditorium and is heard on Wisconsin Public
Radio and other public radio programs around the country. Arts
Festival Chautauquas appear to be another form of specialty chautauquas
-- one such chautauqua in Madison, Indiana, has been an annual event for
30 years, which also includes a food fest and musical entertainment, and
an arts festival chautauqua held its 16th Annual event in 2000.
Democratic Education at CAL, is a popular education organization that one might find linked to the word "chautauqua," because for the first few years of operation from 1981 to 1984 it was called "Chautauqua -- A Center for Democratic Education." Read Berkeley Professor John Hurst's article on adult education called Popular Education, which also has information about the Highlander Research and Education Center, an adult education institution in Tennessee that has been working in the rural areas of the Appalachians and the deep South since 1932 with such former students as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Disney Chautauqua, known as Disney Institute, was inspired by Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Michael D. Eisner 's family vacation to the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Link to an article called Return of the Chautauqua.
Senior Chautauqua takes form in such programs as Elder hostel, and the Southern Baptist Chautauqua. One organization, the Southern Baptist Convention, has bible study, crafts, and other special interest programs included in their Chautauqua -- as well as a golf tournament (greens fees not included in the Chautauqua fee). Link to Southern Baptist Chautauqua. Link to Spurgeon's College Summer Chautauqua, of London, England.
have stretched the use of the word to its limit, but I feel it must be
included in this list of the meanings of chautauqua since they have kept
education and the arts and sciences as their main focus. The "chautauquas"
found on the Internet take two forms, the Continuing Education Chautauqua
Seminar and the Virtual Chautauqua. Continuing Education
Chautauqua Seminars are a part of adult education on the Internet.
However, many are for the training of educators in certain fields of study,
to prepare them to go back to the classroom with new information and technology,
such as the program of the National Science Foundation Chautauqua. We live
in an age where numerous professional members of a political, scientific
or business community can come together in an instant, without the long
train ride to a lakeside resort. And individuals who want to benefit
from such a gathering can "log in" from their rural Iowa towns without
having to wait for the big tent to arrive with the circuit chautauqua railroad
cars. In some ways the chautauqua of the Internet, and, even better,
the emerging National Computational Science Association Alliance Access
Grid, which is better at connecting people than the World Wide Web, have
turned cyberspace into the big top tent for the chautauquas of the future.
Chautauqua has become a part of the Internet, where Web surfers can
download music and other recorded arts and humanities performances.
It is a trend that is likely to grow with the use of online services.
What is Chautauqua?
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