Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century contains publicity brochures, promotional advertisements and talent circulars that document the activities of the Chataqua Movement from 1890-1940, and the performers, lecturers, educators and readers who were part of it. Participants included the Fisk Jubilee Singers, William Jennings Bryan and William Sterling Battis.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
- The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
Related Collections and Exhibits
- American Life Histories, 1936-1940
- The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920
- An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
- Bob Hope and American Variety
- Origins of American Animation
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
Circuit Chautauqua is among the most significant and most often overlooked influences in early twentieth-century United States history. In the years before radio and television, hundreds of millions of people in thousands of rural communities learned about the great issues of their age and enjoyed entertainment from around the world without traveling further than their own towns' Main Street.
Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, offers a glimpse into the heartland of the early-twentieth century United States through thousands of Chautauqua-related materials, including original programs, agency talent guides, event passes, and advertising and promotional materials. Many of these items post-date the era of grand circuit Chautauquas (roughly 1904-1924) but remain indicative of the Chautauqua movement.
1) Circuit Chautauqua
Circuit Chautauqua was not without precedents. For much of the nineteenth century, Lyceum agencies such as the Redpath Bureau offered speakers who, for a fee, delivered topical addresses or lectures to a particular community or civic group. These one-time engagements offered education and diversion to relatively isolated communities. Indeed, even during the height of circuit Chautauqua's popularity, agencies continued to profitably place speakers in Lyceum engagements. This 1915 advertisement (external link) promotes the Redpath agency's Lyceum speakers.
- How does a Lyceum engagement differ from a Chautauqua engagement?
- Who is the audience for this advertisement?
- Why should the potential customer trust the Redpath Bureau to select a suitable speaker?
- In what ways do modern talent agencies differ from Lyceum bureaus? How are they similar?
The original Chautauqua was a Methodist Sunday school teacher's training retreat on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York. As the course of instruction broadened to include non-religious subjects and morally sound entertainment, the popularity of the affordable, outdoor retreat gave rise to other permanent Chautauquas in locales as far flung as Oregon and California. Though no formal relationship existed among the various sites, the name "Chautauqua" came to be synonymous with moral, uplifting, and educational presentations.
J. Roy Ellison and Keith Vawter originated circuit Chautauqua under the auspices of the respected Redpath Lyceum Bureau. Ellison and Vawter combined the programs of the "Mother Chautauqua" (as the New York site came to be called) with the mass marketing strategies employed on the Lyceum circuit. Search on schedules for materials such as this 1906 advertisement (external link) that reflects the content of Chautauqua programs as well as the bureaus' marketing strategies.
- Why would a potential customer be assured by viewing Mr. Green's previous season engagements? Why does the agency make note of return engagements?
- What sorts of towns does Mr. Green frequent on his circuits? What regions are they in?
- How does the passage at the top of the schedule characterize Mr. Green?
- What does Mr. Green's popularity and full schedule tell us about the tastes of audiences in 1906?
At the core of the circuit Chautauqua phenomenon was a unique business contract in which agencies such as Redpath agreed to provide a particular community with a Chautauqua -- a week long exposition of music, theater, lectures, children's programs, and dramatic readings -- for which the leaders of that community agreed to cover the cost. Local citizens were urged to purchase season tickets to ensure the success of that year's event. Under this arrangement, the bureaus reaped huge profits but the civic leaders, at best, broke even.
Chautauqua week, however, was a necessary and much anticipated event for small towns, and community leaders considered it their duty to bring a Chautauqua to their otherwise culturally-isolated community. From1904 until 1924, Chautauqua agencies and circuits grew up across both the United States and Canada with attempts in both New Zealand and Australia.
The "talent," the performers and speakers, typically arrived by train either the night before or the day of their appearance. Once finished, they were herded on to the next town to repeat exactly their previous night's performance. As such, many bureaus were hard pressed to maintain rosters of fresh, enthusiastic performers who could satisfy the audience's concurrent demands for entertainment and instruction. Accessible under the Subject Index heading Program schedules is a Redpath Horner Chautauqua program that describes the assembled talent:
It is impossible in words to do justice to this superb Chautauqua Program. More splendid Personalities, a higher general excellence of Artists, Entertainers, more Interest-more Novelties-more Inspiration-than on any other program.
- How would you characterize the tone of this piece?
- Why would an agency need to reassure prospective attendees regarding the quality of their entertainment?
- What changes in quality might a regular Chautauqua customer notice over the course of time? How might customers communicate dissatisfaction to performers or managers?
- What modern forms of advertising are related to this type of promotion?
Three major factors led to the demise of the grand circuit Chautauquas -- the advent of new means of communication and entertainment such as motion pictures and radio, increased competition from vaudeville shows (which did not require monetary guarantees from the community), and a federal entertainment tax levied on Chautauqua tickets. This tax not only cut into the bureaus' profits but diminished Chautauqua's claim to culture over and above entertainment.
Following the anniversary "Jubilee Year" of 1924, during which some 30 million Americans visited Chautauqua tents, many communities opted not to sponsor a program and the multi-million dollar industry folded practically overnight. Many of the talent agencies such as the Redpath Bureau, however, persisted in one form or another and continued to use the name "Chautauqua" to promote their programs and lecturers well into the 1950s.
2) The First Wold War and Popular Opinion
When hostilities broke out in Europe in August 1914, President Wilson urged Americans to remain neutral in thought as well as in action. Chautauqua programs followed suit, avoiding controversial issues and occasionally featuring eyewitnesses and lecturers from both sides of the conflict. Chautauqua organizers also knew that a significant percentage of their mainstay mid-western audiences were of German descent and took pride in the activities of the fatherland. A good example of the pre-war Chautauqua impartiality is the 1915 promotional program entitled "F. Tennyson Neely's Wonder Pictures with the German Army (external link)."
Accessible through Subject Index headings, Propaganda, Motion Pictures, and World War, 1914-1918, the program promises that not only are Neely's motion pictures "Approved by the Kaiser" but are the only ones "so far brought to this country."
- How does the text characterize the German military and its endeavors?
- Why would audiences have wanted to see images of famous German landmarks and leaders?
- How might early-nineteenth-century audiences have responded to these photographs?
- What motives might a bureau manager have had for promoting both sides of an entirely foreign conflict?
Once the United States entered the war in April of 1917, however, Chautauqua programs were amended to relflect the country's charged patriotism. Programs extolled the virtues of the allies while condemning the actions and moral shortcomings of the enemy. In fact, such was the wartime importance of Chautauqua platform propaganda, that the secretary of war exempted all Chautauqua personnel from military service due to the educational value of their work.
Materials pertaining to the patriotic programs offered during the war years can be found under the Subject Index heading, World War, 1914-1918. Typical among these is the program presented by the Redpath Chautauqua entitled "The Great War Series." The biographical sketch of Marie Rose Lauler, speaker on "The Spirit of the Women of France," begins:
As long as the memory of the world endures people will honor the heroic women of France and Belgium. The outrages visited upon them by the ravaging Hun, the unquenchable spirit in the midst of overwhelming woes will never be forgotten.
- How does the piece characterize the women of Belgium and France? The German forces?
- How would you describe the tone of the piece?
- How might the language of this piece differ from a similar program delivered before or after the war?
- Of what unique value are eyewitness accounts?
3) Reform in the Progressive Era
The first decades of the twentieth century witnessed a swell in support for anti-liquor legislation that culminated in the Prohibition era of the 1930s. Not surprisingly, liquor was chief among the "bad habits" denounced from pre-Prohibition Chautauqua platforms.
A keyword search on liquor provides the 1914 promotional literature for Malcolm R. Patterson, then governor of Tennessee. The materials claim that the governor is:
The most commanding figure and the most brilliant speaker now enlisted in the American anti-saloon campaign . . .His own story of his part in the greatest crusade of modern times is so convincing, so reasonable, so eloquent, so effective that great audiences in the largest cities all over the Union, during the past six months have been swayed and carried as by a storm and have actually subscribed more than two millions of dollars in the form of a five year endowment to the anti-saloon league, and the liquor traffic is gradually retreating to its final destruction. Yet Governor Patterson's manner and methods are not of violence or vituperation. He loves the liquor dealer as a man, but hates his business. His argument is economic, logical, reasonable, and his oratory sublime.
- Who do you think would have been likely audience members for Patterson's oratory?
- Why might the promoter have wanted to assure that Patterson's argument is "economic, logical, (and) reasonable?" What is the effect of the juxtaposition of this description with the preceding comparison to a "storm?"
- Why might a Chautauqua promoter want to note that Patterson "loves the liquor dealer as a man?" What do you think that this assurance was intended to mean to prospective audience members?
- What techniques does the promotion use to make Patterson and his cause appealing?
- What does this promotion suggest about the techniques and the success of the anti-saloon campaign?
- What role does religion play in Patterson's argument? What is the role of his status as governor?
- What present day causes carry the furor suggested by this piece?
Following the first and second world wars, there was no shortage of speakers with military experience. As such, the agencies' talent rosters included many speakers who brought the social stature of military experience to temperance lectures. The Subject Index heading, World War, 1914-1918 - Personal Narratives, yields fourteen items including promotional materials for Col. Dan Morgan Smith.
Presented as a speaker whose experiences in the trenches lent excitement and weight to his talks on the virtues of temperance, Smith's "tributes from the press" include the following commentary:
"The fight is not over," said Col. Dan Morgan Smith, leader of the "Battalion of Death" in the World War, before a great audience Sunday afternoon in St. Paul's Church. The Anti-Saloon Army is fighting for the same humanity and for the same Constitution for which we fought in France, and the Anti-Saloon League will keep on fighting until the beverage use of liquor is wiped out. Col. Smith is a persuasive orator, and drove home facts and logic in unassailable fashion.
- What does Smith mean when he says, "The Anti-Saloon Army is fighting for the same humanity and for the same Constitution for which we fought in France?" Do you think that this is a reasonable comparison?
- What role does Smith's military background play in his argument? How do you think that Smith's background might have contributed to the effect of his presentation?
- Do you think Smith's military experience makes him a more credible lecturer on the subject of temperance?
- How would you characterize the tone of Smith's rhetoric?
During the 1930s, with the battle against liquor seemingly won through Prohibition, Chautauqua speakers turned their attacks upon other personal vices. For instance, a search under the Subject Index heading, Drug abuse, yields the publicity materials for Juanita Hansen, the ex-silent film star:
Whose Colorful Career Took Her from the Heights of Film Fame to the Depths of Suffering Known Only to Drug Addicts, and Who Valiantly Won Back Health and Strength, is Dedicating the Rest of Her Life to Fight the Dope Evil in a Campaign of Education and Warning.
- What is the tone of this piece regarding drug abuse? How might this tone contribute to the promotion of Hansen's presentation? How might it contribute to the presentation itself?
- Are there differences between the techniques used in promoting temperence and those used in preventing drug abuse?
- How might Ms. Hansen's "fame" help in delivering her message?
- Do present-day stars engage in such campaigns? How are their efforts different or similar to Ms. Hansen's?
4) Expanding World View
Many Chautauqua audiences were eager to hear of developments outside of their own country. To fill this need, agency talent rosters were full of eyewitness lecturers and studied experts who offered opinions, stories, and advice regarding subjects ranging from The Russian Revolution to West Indian Voodoo.
Subject Index heading, Travel, yields 103 results including advertising materials for Captain Sirgurdur K. Gudmundson's "Personal Experiences in Arctic Siberia," James Caleb Sawders's "Interesting Stories of Mexico and Nicaragua," and a series of lectures by Jim Wilson entitled "Yes! Africans are People!"
- Why would travel be an alluring subject for early twentieth century audiences?
- Are travel stories as popular today?
- What types of professionals would present lectures on foreign experiences?
- What approaches does "Yes! Africans are People!" take towards its subject to make it appealing to the Chautauqua audience?
- What can we infer about the audience from this promotion?
While many speakers drew interest simply because of their travel experience, some speakers brought an international focus to already popular topics. A good example is Whiting Williams, whose promotional materials are accessible through the Subject Index headings, Working Class and Europe - Social Conditions. The material describes Mr. Williams as an educated steel executive who forsook a life of ease in order to study workers' conditions around the world. As such, he was purportedly able to offer an informed and realistic discussion on international labor.
The following text from the promotional biography illustrates not only the character the agency wished to present, but avails researchers of an opportunity to draw conclusions regarding Mr. Whiting's subject and audience:
In July, 1933 Whiting Williams packed two portmanteaux-one containing a tuxedo and patent leathers, the other overalls and denim shirts-and went over to learn what his fellow-laborers as well as government officials and "the man in the street" in Russia and Germany think of Communism, Hitlerism, the alleged ill-treatment of the German Jews, and other timely and vital questions. In all this he was able to see with eyes and listen with ears trained by long and unique experience.
- How does this description portray Mr. Williams?
- What international issues does the piece identify as "timely and vital"? What do these issues have to do with labor?
- Why would a typical midwest American Chautauqua audience be interested in European labor conditions?
In many cases, Chautauqua speakers addressed domestic developments relative to their international significance. The Subject Index heading, Atom Bomb, yields materials for a 1947 lecture by Lt. Col. Perry M. Thomas. The press materials quote Thomas as having said:
International control of the use of atomic energy is imperative if humanity is to survive, Lt. Col. Perry M. Thomas of the United States Army Air Forces told his audience last night. If nations persist in a race to provide still more powerful and still more deadly atomic weapons with a view of utilizing them in a war of conquest, civilization is doomed.
- What is the tone of the passage?
- Does the lecture purport to concern national or international affairs? Does the passage suggest that this distinction can be drawn? What affect does the nature of atomic warfare have upon this possibility?
- What safeguard does Thomas place upon the proliferation of atomic energy?
- What might a different observer say of atomic energy in 1948? A scientist? Journalist? Poet?
5) Native Americans and Popular Culture
Except for play acting "Indian" during the children's portion of the show, early Chautauqua agencies eschewed Native American performances in order to avoid being associated with the low-brow Wild West shows popular at the time. When actual Native Americans did appear on Chautauqua programs, their performances were almost entirely for entertainment value. (Exceptions included educational talks by Native and non-Native speakers as well as exhibitions of photographs or motion pictures depicting Native Americans.)
- Why might Native Americans have been limited to roles as entertainers on the Chautauqua circuit?
- What attitude towards Native American culture and its place in American culture does this limitation reflect?
- How might Native American heritage have helped or hurt the earning potential of a Chautauqua performer?
- What advantages and disadvantages did Chautauqua offer a Native American who was willing to perform?
Researchers will want to look under the Subject Index headings, Cherokee, Eskimo, Ojibwa, and Winnebago, for materials on performances and speakers ostensibly related to particular tribes. A more general search on keyword American Indians, however, yields 100 pertinent documents including promotional materials for "Charles Eagle Plume: America's Foremost Interpreter of Indian Lore, Life and Culture," "The Hiawatha Indian Passion Play," and "The Frederick Monsen Ethnographic Indian Photographs." The latter document is particularly valuable because it includes many of the photos used in Mr. Monsen's presentation.
- What tone and attitude towards Native American culture is voiced in the text of "The Frederick Monsen Ethnographic Indian Photographs"?
- Do the photographs reflect a certain attitude or interest towards Native American people? Do they reflect an opinion about them?
Native American programs often incorporated elements of both Native American and European culture. This advertisement for a performance by Princess Watahwaso, "The Indian Mezzo-Soprano" reveals the degree to which audiences desired a blending of the native and the European.
- What is the importance of the composer's credits?
- How does the description "The Indian Mezzo-Soprano" affect the impact of the promotion?
- Who might enjoy Ms. Watahwaso's performance? Who might dislike it?
- Do current portrayals of Native American culture reflect impressions created by programs such as these? In what way?
The following statement from promotional materials for Gai-I-Wah-Go-Wah (or Albert T. Freeman) reflects a similar interest in its promotion of the speaker as . . .
. . . a highly educated Sioux Indian, is a gripping, convincing speaker, telling from first hand knowledge the 'inside' of Indian life. He has the happy faculty of presenting the Indian Problem in a fair-minded, conservative and unusually intelligent manner. He is without question one of the most fluent and eloquent lecturers appearing on the public platform.
- Why would it be important for a promoter to emphasize the education and intelligence of a Native American speaker? What might this suggest about prevalent beliefs about Native Americans?
- What other characteristics of the speaker are highlighted?
- What is the effect of identifying the speaker with two different names?
- What credentials as a Native American does the text present?
- What do you think that the text means by the "Indian Problem" and how does it characterize Mr. Freeman's approach?
- What criticisms might a modern audience have of such Native American lectures?
6) Science and Technology
The years in which circuit Chautauqua was most active (roughly 1904-1924) were also ones of unprecedented technological and scientific breakthroughs. Not surprisingly, many Chautauqua speakers were knowledgeable individuals from various disciplines of science and industry. The materials in the collection offer researchers the opportunity to examine the manner in which popular culture embraced new technologies and knowledge in the first half of the twentieth century.
Using subject specific searches, researchers can explore the collection for pertinent materials. For example, the Subject Index heading, Aviation, yields twenty-four documents. Among these documents are promotional materials for C.B.F. Macauley, author of "The Helicopters Are Coming", and "A Tribute to Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh," celebrating the aviator's homecoming. The speaker, Louis Ludlow, says the following of Captain Lindbergh's flight:
As if roiled by the very boldness of this Columbus of the air-this winged mercury, speeding like a thunderbolt of Jove-nature sent her tempestuous elements athwart his path, and while he battled with the storm and sleet millions upon millions of his fellow-beings sent up prayers for his safety to the throne of God.
- How does Mr. Ludlow characterize Lindbergh? With whom or what is the aviator associated? What does this portrayal suggest about Americans' attitudes towards pioneers in science and technology?
- What role does nature play in this passage?
- What part does Mr. Ludlow assign the general public of the United States in Lindbergh's success?
- How might such rhetoric contribute to confidence in the growing aviation industry?
In the case of the theremin, an early electronic instrument that produced tones based on the motions of the player, art, science, and technology blended in a novel way that made for a dramatic, entertaining performance. Accessible under the Subject Index heading, Theremin, promotional materials for "Charles Stein: America's Foremost Exponent of the Theremin" observe:
Perhaps the first thing that impresses the person who sees and hears the Theremin, is the apparently miraculous effect produced by moving the hands easily in the thin air about a polished mahogany cabinet a little more than waist high. It is as if the hands were running over strange and invisible strings. The weirdness of this first impression, however, soon gives way to interest in the compelling beauty of the tone produced.
- To what senses does the theremin performance appeal? How might this have made the theremin have particularly suitable for Chautauqua presentations? What might make the instrument an effective topic for a scientific presentation?
- How does this piece characterize the manipulation of the theremin?
- Does the statement place more emphasis on the strangeness or the beauty of the theremin?
- What reaction might an early twentieth-century classical musician have upon first hearing the theremin? What reaction might a scientist have had?
- In what ways are new technologies introduced to the public today?
Also popular on Chautauqua programs were presentations that dealt with emerging scientific knowledge. A search on keyword science results in 100 pertinent documents including "Captain Jack Harrison: Science Fights Crime," Frederic Campbell's "Popular Lectures on the Stars," and, proving that the domestic sphere was not beyond contemplation, "Good Cookery" by Miss Florence Norton.
Early scientific Chautauqua programs strove to assure the buying public that science and public demonstration were not only mutually compatible but also desirable. The materials relating to Professor J. Ernest Woodland's 1906 program "Demonstrations in Twentieth Century Science" note that:
Every community should have at least one popular scientific lecture a year. If presented by a student who knows how to give to laymen the results of his scientific research, such lectures are eminently instructive and delightfully entertaining. The community has a right to demand, however, something more than can be learned by books and magazine articles. The lecturer must speak with authority; he must come fresh from his laboratory; he must give the audiences the results of the latest scientific research.
- According to the passage, what are the benefits of a scientific presentation? How is such a presentation different from scientific books and periodicals?
- What assumptions does the statement make about the public's interests and expectations?
- What does the statement suggest is the proper relationship between scientists and the general public?
- What do the promotional materials as a whole suggest about the relationship between scientists and the general public in this era?
- How is the contemporary relationship between scientists and the general public different from that suggested by the article? How is it similar?
7) Women's Suffrage
One of the great issues in the first decades of the twentieth century was women's suffrage. As early as 1903, Chautauqua performer Billy Arlington included a burlesque lecture entitled "Female Suffrage" in his "Minstrel Reminiscences," in which he dressed as Susan B. Anthony.
- Do you think that Mr. Arlington's portrayal of Susan B. Anthony was serious or humorous?
- What does this portrayal tell us about opinion at the turn of the century?
- What members of Mr. Arlington's audience might have been offended by his burlesque?
The issue of voting rights for women, however, became more serious with time and the Chautauqua platform was a place where many noted women's rights activists made their appeal for equal political power and responsibility.
The Subject Index heading, Women Orators, yields dozens of documents including promotional materials for speakers such as Grace Wilbur Trout and Bertha Pratt King. Among King's advertised speeches is one concerning women's suffrage:
This subject is now one of the most important before American men and women and is dealt with in concise and vigorous fashion. A brief sketch shows what men have done in the past to gain their enfranchisement. Then follows an interesting outline of the objects of the movement. The lecture is serious and convincing, yet full of humor.
- Why would women suffragists be interested in what "men have done in the past"?
- Why would humor be effective in such an address? Why might a booking agency insist on some humor?
- What types of groups might protest an appearance by Ms. King?
- How do the materials on Mrs. Trout differ from those promoting Ms. King? How would you expect the two speakers to be different?
With the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, many woman orators took to the Chautauqua platforms to lecture on the proper use of political power, the potential gains to be made from newly-enfranchised female voters, and the necessity of leading by example.
A search on keyword suffrage results in eighty documents including materials for early women political figures such as Nellie Tayloe Ross, "The First woman governor of Wyoming" and Jeannette Rankin, the congresswoman from Montana. The materials for Ross observe:
Governor Ross so directed the affairs of the state of Wyoming that she achieved nation-wide recognition, and not a single act or omission of hers was cited to impugn the fitness of women for public office. As her two-year term of office drew to a close, she issued a challenge to her opponents "to point out a single act of mine wherein I have failed because I am a woman, and wherein a man would have succeeded because he is a man." That challenge was never met.
- What does Ms. Ross's success say about the women's suffrage movement as a whole?
- Is it important to know that Ms. Ross succeeded her recently deceased husband as governor of Wyoming?
- Why might women's rights have been more accepted in the relatively new western states?
- What might have been the affect of lectures by Ms. Ross or Ms. Rankin upon young female Chautauqua audience members?
- Do current female politicians need to defend their position vis-a-vis their gender?
The materials in Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, can be used for a variety of interesting projects involving research and analysis. Through a chronological examination of documents pertaining to foreign relations, researchers can better understand the connections between the foreign and domestic spheres of politics. The materials can also be used to better understand the role and debated value of Circuit Chautauqua in national culture. The collection also lends itself well to research into the history of advertising.
Chronological Thinking: Russo-American Relations
The advertising materials that form the bulk of the collection afford a unique perspective for examining change in a particular subject over time. Because promotional literature tends toward sensationalized rhetoric that reinforces an audience's expectations, researchers can use these documents to form impressions of popular tastes and culturally significant political trends. Of particular use are documents that deal with foreign relations and public opinion.
For example, the Subject Index heading, Communism and Russia, yields numerous documents from three decades that form a picture of the rise of the Soviet Union and evolving U.S. sentiments.
In 1912, Count Alexander M. Lochwitzsky offered to deliver his lecture "A Russian Nobleman's Story of Siberian Escape and Exile," which detailed the abuses in czarist Russia. By 1920, however, with the communists in power, audiences were offered an appearance by Princess Radziwell, an exiled member of the Russian royal family who could speak with authority on the deplorable political situation in her homeland as well as on the personalities and mannerisms of European royalty.
- What changes had taken place between the time of Lochwitzsky and Radziwell's experiences?
- How might Lochwitzsky's and Radziwell's opinions of Russian monarchy differ? How might the opinions of their audiences have differed with respect to the Russian Revolution and the rise of Bolshevism?
- Why would democracy-loving Americans be interested in Lochwitzsky's criticisms of monarchy? Why would the same audiences be interested in Princess Radziwell's intimate knowledge of European aristocrats?
In the 1930s, former Russian premier Alexander Kerensky was available to audiences to explain the disastrous ramifications of the pro-democracy position that he took while head of Russia's provisional, revolutionary government. In 1940, audiences could engage Freda Utley for her lecture "The Dream We Lost: Soviet Russia Then and Now." Utley offered to explain her early love of communism, her move to Russia, her marriage to a communist, and her life in that country for six years before her husband's arrest and her own disillusionment with Stalin's regime. And, in the 1950s, with the Cold War in full swing, Hede Massing the former Soviet spy and intelligence expert, was a featured speaker.
- What precipitated the establishment of a provisional, revolutionary government?
- What events might have caused Utley to equate Soviet Russia with a lost dream?
- How might the experiences of Kerensky, Utley, and Massing be similar?
- Would Chautauqua audiences expect certain types of programs durring certain political developments?
- Of what interest would an ex-communist speaker be to a pro-democracy audience? What about an ex-spy?
- What sorts of people deliver opinions of Russia in today's news programs? Does firsthand knowledge of that country have the same significance today as it did in 1912 or 1950?
Historical Comprehension: Circuit Chautauqua
A perusal of the collection's Subject Index headings imparts a sense of the enormous scope of circuit Chautauqua and the important role that it played in the development of the American character. Chautauqua took pride in providing programs that appealed to both the intellect and the humor. Circuit Chautauqua may have been the first time in history that an individual could hear an accordianist, ask questions of a travel expert newly returned from Malaysia, and view a zoologist's slide show -- all under the same tent!
Prominent politicians, internationally known writers, explorers, businessmen, and social workers delivered their messages from Chautauqua tents and, as in the case of men such as William Jennings Bryan and Warren G. Harding, achieved fame first as Chautauqua speakers. The Subject Index heading, Presidents - United States, yields five documents including a 1916 list of lecture topics by former President William H. Taft.
- What groups would be likely to retain Taft as a speaker?
- Do the speech topics present a wide variety of subjects?
- Do you think that Taft's audiences would have found him more or less trustworthy because of his political career?
- Why would a former president want to go on the Chautauqua circuit? What does this say about the stature of Chautauqua at the time?
The typical Chautauqua program lasted four to six days and featured different entertainments and speakers each afternoon and evening. A season ticket guaranteed admission to all the performances. Once the Chautauqua was in town, however, those who did not hold season tickets were encouraged to purchase admission to individual events.
By browsing under Subject Index headings such as Programs and Tickets, or by searching on keyword chautauqua, researchers can view original materials related to Chautauqua production. A 1924 Dominion Chautauqua program promotes the purchase of season passes as a cost benefit to the consumer.
Subject Index heading,Ticket, directs the researcher to a pass for the Mary Garden Summer Chautauqua and Winter Forum. The disclaimers and guarantees printed on the ticket are indicative of Chautauqua promotional rhetoric and reveal a great deal about the expectations of the audience.
- What is the target audience of the Dominion program advertisement? How does the promoter appeal to its audience?
- What does the rhetoric of the Dominion program and Mary Garden pass suggest about the role that Chautauqua played in American communities?
- What does the Mary Garden pass claim that its Chautauqua supports? What values are associated with Chautauqua?
- What impact would you expect the arrival of a Chautauqua to have had upon a community?
- What do these items suggest about the character and expectations of Chautauqua audiences?
- What can we learn about Chautauqua from these items that we could not from a secondary source?
- What current modes of communication couch their claims in unbiased, community-based rhetoric?
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Jubilee Singers: African-American Culture and Popular Entertainment
From Chautauqua's earliest days, companies of African-American "jubilee" singers were immensely popular attractions. Most of these performances featured a group of singers and musicians performing slave songs of the pre-Civil War South, in some cases with period backdrops and costumes. Oftentimes, the groups would also perform selections from popular Broadway "negro productions" such as "Showboat" and "Porgy and Bess." Groups such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers performed to raise money for their institution (Tennesee's Fisk University) while other groups such as the Southern Jubilee Singers and Players did so as a profession.
Chautauqua Jubilee performances tended to package African-American culture in caricatures and stereotypes that reflected the white audience's expectations and that persisted as popular images until the 1950s and the birth of the Civil Rights movement. By searching on keyword, jubilee, researchers have access to scores of materials relating to African-American performances.
The promotional literature for the Jackson Jubilee Singers is typical:
There is a subtle witchery in negro singing that charms an American audience. Even when negro voices are untrained, when the harmony is forced, negro melodies have a charm that is all there own. The race in America, through the years of slavery and later years of irresponsible freedom has had a leaven of humor and care-free abandon in their lives and relationship with each other. The rhythm and character of their songs are a relic and inheritance in which are blended joy, superstition, and religion.
- What attitude towards African-American performance is expressed in this citation?
- What do you believe is the purpose of showing singers in both formal and stage attire in promotional materials?
- How does this piece characterize and portray African-American singing and culture?
- How might this portrayal be distorted to suit the needs of the advertisers?
- What distinction does the piece draw between "negro" culture and "American" culture?
- What modern forms of advertising use stereotypes to promote products?
By the 1920s, many jubilee companies began to consist all or in part of white performers wearing blackface makeup. This occurred because bureaus could cut costs by borrowing talent from different shows and because the practice was already popular on Broadway and the vaudeville circuits.
A search on keyword, blackface, yields several documents including materials concerning the Manning Glee Club. The materials feature several comments from former audiences members, one of whom remarks:
The second part was entitled "Half Hour with the Old Time Minstrels." There was the regulation circle, but the old-time feature of having all the men in black face was missing. Fred H. Lawton as tambo, and Elmer Millard, as bones, were in black face and fancy costume, and carried off the honors . . . There was a spirit and a hearty good will in the singing of the negro melodies that won the sympathy of the audience.
- What do the images in the materials for the Manning Glee Club suggest about what minstrel shows were like? What do they suggest about the kinds of roles that African-American and blackface performers had in these shows?
- What expectations does the reviewer have for "old-time" shows? How might these expectations have changed over the years?
- Do you think that it was advantageous or damaging to race relations in the United States to feature mixed companies? What about blackface performances?
- What is the purpose of having white men in blackface perform "negro melodies" instead of African Americans? Does this hold a certain appeal for the audience? Does it lend the music a different meaning?
- What stereotypes of African-American culture might a white man in blackface be more willing to exploit than an African-American performer?
Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: The Cultural Value of Chautauqua
For many rural Americans in the early twentieth century, circuit Chautauqua was a key component of their lives. For these people, the traveling culture show provided exactly what its promoters claimed --education, uplift, and entertainment at a fair price. Through the aegis of circuit Chautauqua, far-flung communities enjoyed Broadway musicals and talks by internationally known personages.
Circuit Chautauqua, however, was not without critics. In 1920, Sinclair Lewis wrote that instead of offering real education, circuit Chautauqua "seemed to be a combination of vaudeville performances, Y.M.C.A. lectures, and graduation exercises of an elocution class." In 1924, at the height of Chautauqua's popularity, Bruce Bliven wrote in The New Republic that Chautauqua demonstrated the "mental poverty of Main Street."
This collection offers the opportunity to consider the question of the value of Chautauqua and to form conclusions based on its numerous materials. By observing changes in style and substance, researchers can also better understand how circuit Chautauqua affected and/or was affected by popular tastes.
- What is Lewis's complaint against circuit Chautauqua? What does his comparison of Chautauqua with "vaudeville . . . Y.M.C.A. lectures, and graduation exercises" suggest?
- What do Lewis's and Bliven's criticisms have in common?
- Do materials in the collection support these charges against Chautauqua? Why or why not?
- What evidence is there that circuit Chautauqua was a beneficial component of American culture?
- Do you feel that the programs advertised in theses materials presented topics in appropriate ways? Do speakers seem to handle their topics with enough sophistication or are they pandering to a low estimate of the average audience member?
- Are there any dangers to mixing education with entertainment?
- How might the nature and size of the Chautauqua audience have influenced the content and quality of Chautauqua programs?
- How might having to give the same presentation night after night have influenced the content and quality of the Chautauqua programs?
- Did the content and quality of Chautauqua programs seem to change with time?
Historical Research Capabilities: Advertising
The collection lends itself well to research of American advertising as a component of the country's broader culture. Through the Chautauqua materials, researchers can explore a unique, American phenomenon that left its imprint upon all forms of mass communication and entertainment that followed it, including radio, television, and the Internet.
Not only do the materials themselves constitute a collection of pertinent artifacts, but several items promote lectures on contemporary sales techniques and business practices.
For example, Harry "Gatling Gun" Fogelman was available to deliver talks such as "Finding the Customer" and "The Power of Suggestion in Advertising and Salesmanship." Under the Subject Index heading, Salesmen and salesmanship, are materials for Frank Pryor Myers and his lecture topics including "The Law of Suggestion," "Importance of the Emotional Appeal," and "Buying Motives and Inhibitions."
- According to the numerous examples in this collection, what promotional techniques were most prevalent in the Chautauqua business?
- Why might these techniques be especially suited to Chautauqua? Would these techniques be effective for other sorts of promotions? Why or why not?
- According to the materials on speeches about advertising and salesmanship, what advertising techniques were being used in the early twentieth century? Are these techniques still popular today?
Arts & Humanities
The materials in Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, provide an opportunity to explore several lines of study in the arts and humanities disciplines. Topics include the transition of popular theater presented to traditionally conservative rural America, the diversity of musical taste in the early twentieth century United States, early methods of presenting literary figures to the general public, the role of oratory in the formation of American culture; and advertising techniques in graphic design.
The early twentieth-century United States was, by and large, a conservative culture, and Chautauqua organizers were careful not to include any material that might offend the delicate sensibilities of their rural audiences. Concomitant with its founding mission of uplift and education, early Chautauqua drama featured readings of morally sound excerpts from dramatic works.
In Chautauqua's early days, Shakespeare was considered too risque and high-brow for rural audiences, but individual speeches and edited versions of the Bard's plays were presented by dramatic interpreters. Once audiences became more accepting of full-length plays, several Shakespearean companies toured on the Chautauqua circuits. A search on keyword Shakespeare yields 100 documents including promotional materials for Bob Jones, Jr.:
Profoundly interested in Shakespeare and thoroughly cognizant of the literary and scholastic value of his works, Mr. Jones realizes that Shakespeare was himself an actor and a dramatist who wrote for the stage and not for the library. With this in mind, Mr. Jones has brought enthusiasm and youth to the interpretation of his characters and has combined the mind of the scholar with the temperament and heart of the actor.
- What qualities does the promotion promise that Mr. Jones brings to his presentation of Shakespeare? What does this suggest about the expectations of the audience and the role of drama in Chautauqua?
- What advantages does a program such as Mr. Jones's offer to promoters that a full production does not?
- Why might a Chautauqua agency be criticized for presenting edited or partial versions of plays?
- How could someone use the collection for research on Shakespearean drama?
Over time, dramatic readings expanded to include character impersonations. The Subject Index headings, Impersonators and Dramatists yield hundreds of documents including those for one of the masters of the genre: Gay Zenola MacLaren. Ms. MacLaren's popularity made her a mainstay through three decades of Chautauqua performances. In the promotional literature, her abilities are credited to natural talent:
Gay Zenola MacLaren attends the production of a modern play five times, and then, without ever having read the original book or dramatization, or, in fact, any of the lines in any way, can go upon the Lyceum or Chautauqua platform and give an imitative recital of the entire production, impersonating every character . . . In preparing for her recitals she attends only the great productions, sees the interpretations only by the best actors, and in the leading playhouses of her home city, New York.
- Why might Ms. MacLaren's method of learning a play have impressed her audience?
- What questions of authenticity does the excerpt raise?
- How might performances such as Ms. MacLaren's have bridged the divide between straight readings and full-scale productions?
- In what other art forms does dramatic monologue and character impersonation play an important role?
Following the World War I, the mood of the country changed and Chautauqua organizers began presenting full Broadway productions. Indeed, one of the chief claims of many postwar Chautauqua programs was that audiences could enjoy Broadway plays at discount prices without leaving their own Main Street. A search on keyword Broadway yields 100 pertinent documents.
- What does the popularity of Broadway productions following the World War I suggest about the needs of Americans at that time?
- How would a career on the Chatauqua circuit differ from other kinds of performance careers, such as on Broadway?
Music was an essential component of a Chautauqua event. Over the course of Chautauqua week, audiences might hear opera, folk music, marching bands, classical orchestras, and world music performances to name but a few. The collection abounds with thousands of promotional materials for hundreds of musical ensembles and performers ranging from obscure Croatian tamburica orchestras to famous Chicago opera divas. These materials lend themselves well to categorical historical research in any one of several areas.
For instance, the Subject Index heading, Mandolinists, yields nine documents including materials for the Filipino Collegians. This document reflects not only the popularity of mandolin and banjo groups in the American universities of the 1920s and 1930s, but also the fascination with the music of the South Seas that burgeoned during that era.
- Why would variety be essential to a Chautauqua?
- Why might music often play a part in large gatherings of
- Why might people be drawn to music from the South Seas?
- How might the different manner in which people receive music today (that is, radio, television, and recorded material) affect the diversity of their tastes?
Given the large numbers of musical acts available to Chautauqua organizers, ensembles often promoted themselves as being able to provide multifaceted performances. The Subject Index headings, Fiddlers, Storytellers, or Comedians will direct the researcher to "Charles Ross Tagart: And His Old Time Country Fiddlers." The promotional materials observe:
This entertainment is entirely unique. It is not like any you ever attended. Charles Ross Taggart is a famous entertainer. He is not only a fiddler, but also a story teller, a pianist and a ventriloquist. So you will find a delightful variety in the entertainment. And when it comes to the fiddling part-O boy! How those fiddlers can fiddle the old-time jigs, reels and hornpipes! And if you want a good laugh you will get it in the comedy sketch "The Pineville Orchestra."
- Is this passage promoting the group on its merits as educators or entertainers?
- In what ways does the group promise to entertain?
- What passages from this excerpt indicate the degree to which the fiddlers were competing with similar acts?
- How has the method of promoting music changed since this passage was written? How has it remained the same?
Some musical companies strove to reassure audiences that their performances were edifying both as art and entertainment. This statement from the "Davies Light Opera Company," accessible through a search on keyword Opera, is typical of such documents:
William Davies, internationally known Welsh tenor and director of this ensemble, has brought together a group of outstanding artists and perfected a program which not only pleases the popular audience, but meets the unqualified approval of musicians as well. They have attained a perfection in ensemble singing seldom heard. Their musicianship is impeccable.
- What does this promotion assure the potential audience member?
- Why might an opera company feel that its reputation was impugned by participating in a traveling Chautauqua?
- In what language does the excerpt describe the members of the company?
- Why might it be to a company's advantage to make a distinction
between musicians and the popular audience?
- What unique problems does writing about music present?
Prestigious writers and literary critics were mainstays of the Chautauqua rosters. Historians will find the collection useful in gauging the impact of literature upon the general American populace during the first half of the twentieth century. Moreover, the collection affords the unique opportunity to explore how early twentieth century writers were marketed to the general public and how Chautauqua impacted American literature.
A search on Subject Index heading, Poets, results in more than a hundred documents. Fred Emerson Brooks the "poet and humorist," Marshall Louis Mertins "the poet of the commonplace," and Anne Campbell "the poet of the home" are but a few examples of the more or less forgotten poets who appeared on Chautauqua platforms.
Also accessible under Subject Index heading, Poets, are materials relating to Roscoe Gilmore Scott's 1918 lecture and workshop "Do Your Poems Limp?: If Editors Refuse Them They Need Critical Attention."
- What relationship does the piece establish between critic and poet?
- What differences are assumed to exist between the "scholarly" and "practical" angles?
- Why would the critic be able to perceive things that an intimate friend could not? What does this say about the role of the critic in society?
- In what ways does the piece detail the commercialization of art?
Carl Sandburg first appeared on a Chautauqua program in 1907 under the name Charles Sandburg. The poet returned at irregular intervals to deliver discourses and to read from selected works. One of his more popular early talks, "An American Vagabond" dealt with Walt Whitman. His press materials observe:
All that was striking, dramatic, and significant in his career has been grasped by Mr. Sandburg and marshaled into a lecture that ripples and glistens with human interest. About no other American writer is opinion so varied and extreme as about Walt Whitman . . . "An American Vagabond," as given by Mr. Sandburg, will put you close to, not an angel or a demi-god, but a great, warm, throbbing, very human personality.
- Why would celebrating a historical figure's humanity be edifying to Chautauqua audiences?
- What other literary figures and topics might be particularly suited to Chautauqua audiences? What topics would not be suited to Chautauqua and why?
- Why would a researcher working with Sandburg's later work be interested in these materials?
- How might Sandburg's Chautauqua experiences have influenced his craft?
- Do contemporary artists seek employment in similar ways to Mr. Sandburg and his generation?
The Subject Index heading, Literature, yields numerous documents pertaining to dramatic readers of authors such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and William Shakespeare. One of the several hundred documents resulting from a search under the Subject Index heading, Authors, are the 1899 promotional materials for Charlotte Perkins Stetson, author of the famous short story "The Yellow Wallpaper." The materials laud Mrs. Stetson's literary achievements and then state:
But, brilliant and helpful writer though she is, it is perhaps, as a public speaker that Mrs. Stetson makes her most effective appeal. Sprung from the celebrated Beecher stock (a great-grand-daughter of Lyman Beecher and a grand-niece, therefore, of Mrs. Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher) . . . her gift of ready and eloquent speech seems inborn and almost more characteristic of her genius than is her writing. She speaks as she thinks, clearly, quietly, and in a perfectly straightforward and simple manner, but with something in her utterance so magnetic and out of the common that she wins a unique attention from all her hearers.
- By what means does this passage extol Mrs. Stetson's virtues as a speaker? Is the passage effective?
- How would Mrs. Stetson's lineage diminish her popularity with certain audiences? What audiences?
- How have methods of promoting authors changed in the century since these materials were published?
- What benefits did Chautauqua provide writers and literary critics?
In the days before radio and television, the Lyceum Chautauqua platforms were the site where many rural Americans formed impressions and opinions of the world outside their own community. On the often grueling, fast-paced Chautauqua cricuits, speakers developed methods for pleasing different audiences with the same speech. Some orators altered their addresses to suit a particular crowd while others delivered lectures on topics with universal appeal.
Among the most popular and well paid lecturers of the period was Russell H. Conwell who delivered his touchstone speech "Acres of Diamonds" more than 5,000 times. The secret to the popularity of "Acres of Diamonds" lay in Conwell's ability to alter his homespun stories to suit the special qualities of each crowd. Whether spoken to a Kenutuckian or Californian, however, Conwell's stories illustrated the advantages of steadfastness and the follies of unnecessary change.
A search on keyword Conwell yields two sets of promotional materials from 1908 and 1909. Also available under the Subject Index heading, Orators, the earlier of the two sets provides a telling comment on the nature of Conwells oratory:
A winning cordiality, a glow of interest, an absorbing and all-unconscious magnetism, a quenchless enthusiasm communicated through a delightful at-homeness, a sincere purpose to help the listener to be better, happier, and more useful for having heard the lecture-all making an evening with Conwell a profitable delight.
- How would suiting each speech to a particular audience earn Conwell the reputation described in this passage?
- What difficulties in customizing a speech would face a traveling orator? What other challenges would face a Chautauqua orator?
- In what ways does the statement ensure that the audience would arrive at Conwell's lecture with preconceptions? How might these preconceptions affect the audience's response?
- What characteristics of the statement's target audience can be inferred from the text?
- What might the popularity of Conwells message suggest about an emerging national identity?
- How might successive years of Chautauqua popularity contribute to a national identity?
Chautauqua lectures were not limited to improving only the mind. The body was also a place where improvements could be made and lessons in virtue learned. A good example is Chas. E. Barker's "Health and Happiness Campaign" literature, accessible through the Subject Index heading, Health, which yields a total of nineteen documents.
Dr. Barker is well-known throughout the East as a very remarkable speaker, particularly well qualified to deal with the problems relating to health, physical education and sex hygiene . . . This is a very unusual opportunity to hear from a man of Dr. Barker's standing, the last word that science has to say on the prevention of disease and prolongation of life.
- What reasons does the excerpt give for attending Dr. Barker's course?
- Why would a speaker such as Dr. Barker not need to customize his speech for a particular crowd?
- Why might Dr. Barkers speech topic have been controversial in early twentieth century America?
- What does Dr. Barkers popularity as a speaker tell us about the concerns of his audience?
- Why would some people prefer to simply read about Dr. Barkers lessons than attend a public lecture? What advantages does a live address offer?
- How does the Chautauqua health lecture format compare with modern forms of dispensing similar information?
The collection is rich with materials that can be used to examine the ways in which graphic design is used to convey meaning in promotion and advertisement. Browsing the collection through the Subject Index provides an overview of visual techniques used in Chautauqua promotions. The Index also provides the opportunity to examine the way that those techniques varied according to the type of program promoted.
Cover of "'The Melting Pot': The Great American Drama."
Cover of "Robert Jackson's Plantation Singers."
Cover of "Rollo McBride: Public Defender of Pittsburgh."
- How do promotions that highlight the subject matter of performances and presentations differ from promotions that highlight the performers and speakers?
- How do promotions that emphasize the entertainment value of a program differ from those that emphasize the educational value of a program?
- How do the promotions vary according to the specific programs they advertise? Do certain types of promotions tend to rely more heavily on graphic design? Do certain types of promotions tend to be more visually appealing? If so, why?
- What roles do photographs, pictorial drawings, and abstract designs play in Chautauqua advertisements? Do they convey information or an overall feeling? Are these elements used in advertising today?
- Would attractive, interesting looking promotional materials for a Chautauqua program have influenced you to see the program?
- What kinds of Chautauqua offerings would have most benefited from the visual nature of promotional materials?
- How are these promotions different from advertising today? What might account for some of the changes that have taken place? Do these differences reflect larger cultural changes?