The Memoirs of William Jennings Bryan

By Mary Baird Bryan; William Jennings Bryan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
CHAUTAUQUA AND TEMPERANCE SPEAKER

AN American President once made this statement as he stood on the platform of the Mother Chautauqua at Chautauqua Lake, New York: "This is the most American thing in America." He would have had frequent cause to repeat this observation had he been as closely identified as was Mr. Bryan for many years with the great circuit and independent Chautauqua systems of this country.

" Chautauqua" had its origin in a Camp Assembly for Bible Study under the leadership of good Bishop John H. Vincent and Lewis Miller on the shore of the lake bearing that name. This assembly developed into a summer forum and a national reading course which gave to thousands of students "the college outlook." To Chautauqua Lake came a cosmopolitan throng from the north and south, east and west, and each summer hundreds of graduates passed through the gates of "the Hall in the Grove." America came to Chautauqua. It remained to carry Chautauqua to America.

Imitators of the Chautauqua Lake assembly arose on other camp grounds. Independent managers started lecture and concert courses at other summer assemblies. Mr. Bryan took part in such courses as one of the earliest and most popular Chautauqua speakers. He could testify to the hardships met in reaching these widely scattered points. I quote from a letter written to me by Mr. Bryan several years ago:

"What a night I had last night! I left Watertown on the 5 P. M. train for Sioux Falls, 103 miles away. When we got to Badger, about thirty miles out, we found a car off the track, and not knowing when the

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