What is a Chautauqua?

Chautauqua is the most American thing in America!
-Teddy Roosevelt

Chautauqua is an institution that began in the late 19th century to provide higher education opportunities through the combination of lectures, concerts, and public events.  The institution grew from the early-American thirst for self-improvement and education and later evolved into a traveling movement or circuit that became most popular in the rural Midwest. 

The Chautauqua circuit flourished in the early 1900s before a gradual decline in the 1920s and 1930s.  These traveling Chautauquas featured oratory, drama, and music.  Famous personalities or politicians would sometimes speak, and admission was cheap.  The Chautauqua varied in content, approach, and quality.  Typically they were held in an outdoor setting under tents where the public could attend a lecture or performance. 

Chautauqua is an Iroquois word meaning either “two moccasins tied together” or “jumping fish”.   Chautauqua is also a lake, a county, and a town in southwestern New York—home of the Chautauqua Institution.

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