The Chautauqua Movement

The Progressive Era was a time when many Gilded Age issues and problems were either Improved or resolved. Some of the greatest Improvements were in the areas of the Arts and Education. At the turn of the 20th century, education was very scarce. Many people were illiterate and not many children had the opportunity to go to school because they were too busy working in factories or on farms.
However, it had been a goal of some Progressive reformers to develop programs that would eliminate hillside’s participation in child labor, and increase their involvement in education and extracurricular activities (Davis). To that end, in 1874, John Heel Vincent and Lewis Miller rented the site of a Methodist camp to use a summer school for Sunday school teachers. This was known as the Chautauqua Institution (History of the Chautauqua Movement). The original Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly in western New York began as a program for the training of Sunday-school teachers and church workers.
Soon the institution drew in more curious people and they expanded their studies to politics, culture, literature, and science. They attended lectures and performances but unfortunately the decline of the movement put an end to Chautauqua reign. During the Progressive Era, the Chautauqua Movement impacted American Society by providing adult education in various subjects, exposing people to many new ideas, and paving the way for new ideas regarding mass entertainment. The expansion of the Chautauqua idea later extended from general education to lectures, discussions, and home readings.

A combination of formal classes, informal conferences, recreation and entertainment had also been offered. It was through the success of the Chautauqua Minimal year that the program’s expansion was Inspired. In 1875, Hebrew and Greek classes were added for student use. A year later, In 1876, English Literature had been included where students completing the four-year reading program receive official diplomas. A little while after, French and German classes were added in 1878. Eventually, in-service courses were also offered for public school teachers.
Also in 1878, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle was organized as a 4-year plan of home reading In English, American, European, and classical history and literature. This plan Is considered to be the first basic program of coordinated instruction on a national level for men and women in the united States. To further aid adult education, books were supplemented by a monthly magazine called the Chautauqua, published from 1880-1914. The books included articles related to yearly themes, discussion questions, bibliographies, literary extracts, Inspirational statements and news (RUG).
As expected from the exposure adults gained to various subjects, the Chautauqua Chautauqua learned so much, and it was marveled by many. “William Jennings Bryan deemed Chautauqua a “potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation” (Chautauqua Trail). Chautauqua showed people different aspects of education. Not only could the people take general education classes, but also many informal classes were offered as well. Millions of people attended and as part of the Chautauqua cultural program, Chautauqua could take music lessons, elocution, calisthenics, and dance. Music was an important part of the movement.
Some hymns were written by Mary Lathery and became an integral part of religious services. The Chautauqua band had also performed at both formal and informal events (The Chautauqua Experience). Since the Chautauqua cultural program was so diverse, the Movement has also paved the way for many new ideas regarding mass entertainment. Due to the fact that all good things must eventually come to an end, the decline of the Chautauqua Movement occurred in the mid asses. Since the movement was densely populated with women, the rise of liberated and educated women caused them to no longer need Chautauqua.
Due to the fact that it functioned for many lower/middle class women, Chautauqua were training grounds from which women could launch careers. When more opportunities arrived, the woman’s interest in Chautauqua added (Chautauqua Trail). Another reason for the decline was, of course, the Great Depression. The Depression made the Chautauqua Movements economically impossible to function. Even though these occurrences put an end to the movement, it paved a path for further inventions regarding technology and mass entertainment for our society.
Some of the inventions that also caused the movement’s decline were, automobiles, motion pictures, and radios. Automobiles eliminated isolation in American towns because people could travel one place to another in certain time frames. Motion pictures, movies, provided nationwide entertainment. The invention of radios allowed people to listen to current cultural events without having to buy newspapers or leave their home (Lakeside Ohio). Even though these inventions led to the decline of the movement, as well as the other factors, the Chautauqua movement was the start of the new technological advancements.
The movement paved the way then fell away to leave room for bigger and better things. The Chautauqua movement was very successful. Unfortunately, the movement eventually led to a decline due to factors such as, the rise of automobiles, movies, radios, and other forms of entertainment. There was also the Depression and the rise of liberated and educated women (Lakeside Ohio). However, despite its decline, Chautauqua still lives on today. The demand for authentic experiences are growing and people are resurrecting the Chautauqua and modernizing it.

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