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The Chautauqua Tradition

The word "chautauqua" is Iroquois and means either "two moccasins tied together" or "jumping fish." Whatever the precise etymology, it's clear the word described a lake in western New York which by the Civil War was known as Chautauqua Lake. In 1874, John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller rented the site of a Methodist camp meeting to use in the post-camp meeting season as a summer school for Sunday school teachers; this became known as the Chautauqua Institution. This reflected a nation-wide interest in the professionalization of teaching. They were very clear that their intent was educational, rather than revivalist. It should be stressed that the Chautauqua Institution was never affiliated with any one denomination; pretty much every faith group in the U.S. has a chapel or building on the grounds today. Still, the sort of mild Protestantism that has informed much of American culture was an underpinning of the Chautauqua Movement.

Within a few years, the scope of the Chautauqua Institution had broadened to include adult education of all kinds, as well as a correspondence course—the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, designed to bring "a college outlook" to working and middle-class people. Along with the educational (and education was broadly defined to include the arts and public affairs) offerings at Chautauqua, its thousands of summer residents attended concerts and social activities. By the last decade of the nineteenth century, the Chautauqua Institution was nationally known as a center for rather earnest, but high-minded, activities that aimed at intellectual and moral self-improvement and civic involvement.

Download: The Story of Chautauqua by Jessie Lyman Hurlburt—digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world's books discoverable online. 
Source: The Chautauqua Trail


Other Chautauquas


2017 Summer Season