The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas

Synopsis

In The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas, James Schultz offers a unique pictorial study of a cultural movement that started in 1904 and spread across the country. For almost thirty years, tent shows known as "chautauquas" brought popular education and entertainment to small towns in America from coast to coast. With more than one hundred photographs and other illustrations from the era, the book presents a captivating overview of the tent chautauqua movement from its inception to its demise in 1932. These traveling chautauquas-which were an outgrowth of the lyceum movement-evolved in the early part of the twentieth century. Keith Vawter, owner of the Chicago branch of the Redpath Lyceum, came up with an idea that would bring to rural America the same quality of lectures and other forms of entertainment that were available through the lyceum. His concept was a circuit of traveling tents that moved from town to town. Vawter named his traveling circuits "chautauquas," modeling them after the Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York State, an intellectual community with summerlong programs of lectures, seminars, and workshops. Tent chautauquas offered a variety of cultural events by politicians, writers, and theologians, filling a void in the lives of rural residents who did not have access to the array of talent available to city dwellers. The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas contains many previously unpublished photographs that reflect the styles and customs of a bygone era, as well as photos and anecdotes about many people of prominence who toured as speakers or entertainers. These included individuals such as President Warren G. Harding, Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, journalist and historian Ida Tarbell, poet Carl Sandburg, and many others. Schultz utilizes the existing literature on chautauquas, but he contributes much new information from the files of his father and uncle, both of whom were involved in the management of the Redpath Chautauquas, as well as interviews he conducted with individuals who remember attending chautauqua performances. Celebrating a fascinating chapter of America's cultural history, The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas will appeal to students of American history and chroniclers of the entertainment industry.

Additional information

Contributors:
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Columbia, MO
Publication year:
  • 2002