Taking Culture across the Land; the Chautauqua Circuit and an America Long Gone

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 5, 2003 | Go to article overview

Taking Culture across the Land; the Chautauqua Circuit and an America Long Gone


Byline: Bill Croke, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

After the Civil War, the westward expanding United States became fertile ground for the educational and cultural amenities previously available only to eastern city dwellers.

The first to fill this vacuum were professional humorists such as Mark Twain and Artemus Ward, but soon the "Chautauqua" circuit featured stage plays, musical recitals, and lectures on everything from politics to religious subjects and descriptions of travels to exotic locales. This inherently American phenomenon is chronicled by James R. Schultz in "The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas." Mr. Schultz mixes historical scholarship with personal reminiscence, as he grew up on the circuit that gave both his father and uncle (Richie and Eben Schultz) employment.

The Chautauqua Institution was founded in 1874 in the western New York town of the same name as "a summer school for Methodist Sunday school teachers," that evolved into "an intellectual community with programs devoted to lectures, seminars, and workshops on economic and social issues, theology, literature, science and the arts." It was established by a collection of people, most prominent among them was James Redpath, an impresario who had worked with Twain, Josh Billings, and Henry Ward Beecher.

Redpath's vision was carried on by Keith Vawter, who in 1904 dispatched the first traveling "tent chautauquas" to the rural Midwest. Vawter eventually had three circuits going from Montana and the Dakotas to Iowa and Missouri. A chautauqua stayed in a town for a week and offered "a variety of cultural events through the day and night." The reasonably priced ticket brought Shakespearean drama or rousing oratory to enliven life on the mundane, windswept prairies.

One practitioner of the latter was William Jennings Bryan, a three times failed presidential candidate whose fiery "Cross of Gold" speech (blasting the then-advocated gold standard as an economic panacea) at the 1896 Democratic Convention (which earned him the nomination over incumbent President Grover Cleveland) made him a staple on the chautauqua circuit thereafter. One observer later commented: "There were no microphones, but he didn't need one."

Another speaker was Ida M. Tarbell. She was a noted Lincoln biographer, but had made her reputation as a muckraking journalist at a time when the foremost made names for themselves attacking corporate monopolies with the object of their reform. Her book, "The History of the Standard Oil Company" contributed to the breakup of that conglomerate, and caused John D. Rockefeller much heartburn. Tarbell toured the circuit and espoused her anti-trust message for years.

Chautauqua turned out to be an effective tool for the nascent temperance movement, which was gathering force in the early decades of the 20th century. The legendary Carrie Nation- ax-wielding destroyer of saloons - frequently lectured on the circuit, and distributed souvenir miniature hatchets to the audience. Another regular to decry the evils of John Barleycorn was the spirited evangelist Billy Sunday.

It can be argued that chatauquas contributed much to the passage of the Volstead Act (1919) and its eventual elevation as the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and the ensuing 14 years of Prohibition.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Taking Culture across the Land; the Chautauqua Circuit and an America Long Gone
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.