Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Chautauqua Movement: Revolution in Popular Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Chautauqua Movement: Revolution in Popular Higher Education

Article excerpt

The importance of the Chautauqua movement in American popular culture has long been recognized. The original Chautauqua in western New York (1874-present) is a center for nontraditional education, religion, and the arts. From the 1870s to the 1930s, a variety of Chautauquan formats and notions spread across the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world. The general public and educators, alike, continue to respect the "Chautauqua Idea." Yet, academia has never fully acknowledged its debt to Chautauqua for historical innovations in adult and university education. No previous Chautauqua movement studies have analyzed the entire range of its contributions to the US system of higher learning. Furthermore, leading histories of American higher education, such as Frederick Rudolph's The American College and University: A History (1962); Laurence R. Veysey's The Emergence of the American University (1965); John S. Brubacher and Willis Rudy's Higher Education in Transition (1976); and, Christopher J. Lucas's American Higher Education: A History (1994), made little or no mention of Chautauquan ideas. The aim of this research is to set the record straight.

Analyzed in this article are the Chautauqua movement's influences on the development of US higher learning during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (with linkages to current issues facing postsecondary education). To begin with, Chautauqua cofounder John H. Vincent probably articulated the first modern theory of adult education in this country. Vincent also created the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC), 1878-present, the first national adult education program and correspondence school. Across America, several hundred independent Chautauqua grew up, modeled after the original. Chautauqua University (1883-1892), on the grounds of the original Chautauqua, pioneered extension and correspondence courses, summer sessions, and the university press in the United States. Thus, this institution served as William Rainey Harper's model for organizing the University of Chicago in 1892 (extension, summer sessions, university press). The "Wisconsin Idea" (1904), too, was linked with Chautauqua in that the University of Wisconsin adopted extension services during the 1890s and President Charles R. Van Hise was influenced by Harper's Chautauquan ideas. Finally, the circuit or traveling chautauqua companies, during the summers of 1904-1932, introduced cultural refinements to millions in rural North America.

Original Chautauqua: First Modern Theory of Adult Education

The Chautauqua movement was part of the American tradition of popular self-improvement. This tradition dates back to Benjamin Franklin and extends forward to the community college of today. In colonial times, Franklin formed the Junto, then came the nineteenth-century literary societies, mechanics' institutes, lyceums, and religious camp meetings. When the Chautauqua emerged, it was built upon this tradition (Kett, 1994, pp. xii-xiii).

The movement began with the founding of a Methodist institute for Sunday school teachers on the shore of Lake Chautauqua in western New York, during the summer of 1874. Its visionary cofounders were Reverend John H. Vincent (superintendent) and wealthy layman, Lewis Miller (president). Neither was college educated. Chautauqua strived to be all-denominational and was an immediate success. This original Chautauqua, which still operates today, was the model that several hundred communities across the land attempted to imitate by forming independent Chautauqua. During America's agrarian period, prior to compulsory education, Sunday schools were key educational centers. Therefore, the Chautauqua offered an intensive summer course for religious teachers to parallel the contemporary "Normal courses" for public school teachers. Early on the curriculum was expanded to include general education. A bewildering variety of programs and modes of delivery found expression on the then 50 acre site each summer. …

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