See: “Chautauqua” by Edna Luce, Buffalo Tales, Volume 10, No.7,
Nov. 26, 1889 – Hesperian Chautauqua circle was to meet at the home of Miss
Dec. 10, 1889 – The Hesperian Chautauqua circle was to meet at the home of
Mss Lill Stevens
Jan. 4, 1890 – The Hesperian Chautauqua circle was to meet at the home of
Mrs. K. O. Holmes
Jan. 15, 1890 – The Hesperian Chautauqua circle was to meet at the home of
Mrs. K. O. Holmes
Jan. 22, 1890 – The Hesperian Chautauqua circle was to meet at the home of
Jan. 29, 1890 – The Hesperian Chautauqua circle was to meet at the home of
Miss Pulis [a ministers daughter].
Feb. 17, 1890 – The Hesperian Chautauqua circle was to meet at the home of
Miss Amanda Wolf.
Mar. 28, 1890 – Reference made to a Chautauqua program at Long Pine last
Apr. 15, 1890 – Beatrice had a Chautauqua grounds beside the city.
Performances to be held June 26 – July 7. Special trains were scheduled to
May 22, 1891 – Central Chautauqua in Fremont in June
June 8, 1891 – Crete Chautauqua to be June 29- July 10. B & M RR to run
June 27, 1891 – Beatrice Chautauqua in full swing. City had built a street
car line from the down town to the Chautauqua grounds.
Nov. 28, 1891 – Editorial suggesting Kearney form a Chautauqua Association,
suggests the ministers might get behind the idea. Performances could be
given on the sloping land around Lake Kearney or the two lakes west of town.
[that would be the lake by the State Industrial School or Echo Lake]
May 1, 1892 – A man from Lincoln and a man from Beatrice completed
negotiations to become owners of stock known as the Beatrice Chautauqua
June 7, 1892 – Beatrice and Crete both had chautauquas scheduled and the
Burlington had trains scheduled, round trip half fare.[Union Pacific also
had special excursion rates. Articles ran daily through June and early
Sept. 18, 1893 – Chautauqua celebrated its 20th anniversary. Organized in
1873 by Lewis Miller and Bishop John incent as a Sunday School assembly.
June 27, 1894 – Chautauqua still in Beatrice.
July 1, 1895 – Beaver City had a Chautauqua circle.
May 25, 1897 – Beatrice still had Chautauqua.
July 21, 1899 – Auburn started one.
Aug 8, 1899 – Long Pine started its 13th year.
June 23, 1900 – Long Pine in session again.
June 19, 1901 – Beatrice Chautauqua scheduled for later in the month.
Oct. 16, 1901 – Tecumseh planning to start one next summer.
Aug. 12, 1903 – Beatrice ended this year’s programs with $1000 to the good.
June 22, 1905 – Beatrice set its dates in July this year.
July 12, 1905 – Chautauqua in Fairbury at Chautauqua grounds.
Aug. 11, 1905 – Second annual Chautauqua at Lexington city park.
Feb. 17, 1906 – Chautauqua association formed in Hastings.
July 23, 1906 – over 200 people from Kearney filled four coaches on the
Burlington to Hastings for the Chautauqua at Prospect Park. Over 5000 day
tickets were sold, 8000 were expected to attend. Tent could accommodate 4000
so many stood to listen. Can’t put up a bigger tent because they do not have
permission to cut down any trees. Plan to build a tabernacle for next year.
Four types of music – 150 voice choir, a band, an orchestra, and a concert
company. Speakers were Dr. Herbert Willett, a theologian and philosopher
from Chicago, and Sen. Robert LaFollette, a reformer and economist from
Wisconsin. Dr. Willett spoke in the morning and evening, Sen. LaFollette
spoke for 3 ½ hours in the afternoon.
July 24, 1906 – Organizations with
headquarters on the grounds:
Nebraska Women’s Suffrage Association
Grand Island College
Several Hastings churches
July 28, 1906 – Plans underway to organize an association to hold
chautauquas in Kearney. Stock company, not for profit, any profit to be put
back into the association to bring in good speakers and programs. Several
community leaders had been approached already and thought it was a good
idea. An organizational meeting to be held in the next 3-4 days.
Aug. 8, 1906 – Moses Sydenham spoke at the Lexington Chautauqua.
Aug. 21, 1906 – Chautauqua in York
Jan. 9, 1907 – [editorial] Many Kearney citizens were wondering why nothing
had come of the idea last fall to organize a Chautauqua. It was their
understanding plans had to be made early to get good programs. They had been
looking forward to having a Chautauqua here.
Jan. 15, 1907 – In a letter to the Hub an unidentified Kearney citizen
called for unity in the community to get a Chautauqua association organized.
The committee formed last fall was about ready to report. Stock in the
association would be offered with each share priced low so everyone could
buy at least one share. The committee for organization and the committee for
grounds were called to meet at the Elks club.
Jan. 18, 1907 – Adoption of Articles of Incorporation for the Kearney
Chautauqua Association. Capital $25,000 to be raised by sale of 1000 shares
at $25 each. $5000 of stock to be subscribed. Pay 25% up front and the rest
“upon call”. [$1,250 cash up front] Debt allowed to be no more than 2/3 of
subscribed stock. [$3,333] A board of 9 directors and such officers as the
Boars shall elect or appoint. Board elected by the stockholders, members to
hold staggered 3-year terms. Election of Board on 2nd Monday in Sept.
Directors choose pres, vp, and secretary from among themselves and appoint
any other officers
Committee to sell stock were leading business men in town. Settled on a plot
of 30 acres north of and adjoining third ward park. Options have been
secured and purchase will be made when stock subscriptions have been
secured. Grounds command a view of the city and the Platte River valley.
Bounded on the south by 30th St., east by 5th Ave. From those boundaries
through lease and purchase go as far as is necessary. There follows in the
article a description of an elaborate plan for use of this property,
including construction of an auditorium for use for statewide conventions.
Jan. 23, 1907 – Although people were taking it up, no committee member had
appeared yet to offer stock in the Chautauqua association.
Feb. 1, 1907 (Fri.) – Meeting at the Elks on Tuesday. This would be the
deciding time. Either the plan will die or, after filling some vacancies on
the committee, the plan will go forward with the first subscriptions opened
Feb. 6, 1907 – Decision made to go ahead. Search for talent for next summer
to begin immediately. To be held in Third Ward Park where a temporary
pavilion would be erected. Experience elsewhere has been that it is easier
to get stock subscriptions after a successful meeting. A committee of three
businessmen was appointed to get $10 from 100 people to pay for the talent.
Mar. 16, 1907 – Part of program announced for
the Chautauqua which will be held July 13-21. Grounds including Third Ward
park and a large tract adjoining it would be fenced in and seeded to grass
as soon as possible and arranged with drives, water fountains and lighting.
Williams’ Dixie Jubilee Singers
Sappho Ladies Quartette
Royal Hungarian Orchestra
Harmonic Concert Company
American Vitigraph Co. – Am.
Vitagraph Co. was a movie studio formed in 1897.
By 1907 it was the most prolific American film company. Warner Bros. bought
it in 1925.
Dr. Frank G Smith
Dr. Campbell (sermon)
Gilbert A. Eldridge, impersonator
Mgr Tihen, the highest titled priest
J. Adam Bede, humorist of Congress
Opie Reed (lecture)
J. Elton Packard
John P. Dolliver – address, The
Working Man of Nazareth.
Mar. 20, 1907 – description of first day’s program, July 13
Mar. 29, 1907 – Tents will be available to rent for the season from $2.50 to
$5. Chautauqua management s asking permission from the city to fence and
seed 3rd Ward park and close some streets north of the park so that land
will be connected. Plan to use several adjoining blocks which will be seeded
to a grass which can be mowed and will hold down the soil.
Mar. 30, 1907 – Ralph Bingham was known as the ‘boy orator’ starting 26
years ago  at age six. From Richmond, VA. An entertainer, not a
lecturer. Plays violin, speaks in Negro, Dutch & Yankee dialects
Dr. James Montgomery, pastor of Fowler Methodist Episcopal Church in
Apr. 30, 1907 – City Council granted
permission to close the following streets for two weeks during Chautauqua:
5th Ave from 29th to 31st
30th St. from 4th to 6th ave
Permission to temporarily fence the park had to be referred to the state
park board. Also the use of the park needed the concurrence of the park
May 4, 1907 – article about Crayon artist Alton Packard and Congressman J.
May 11, 1907 – article about Opie Read.
May 18, 1907 – article about Father Tihen
June 10, 1907 – Every town in the vicinity advertising the Chautauqua.
June 19, 1907 – Hub office had printed the official programs for the
June 21, 1907 – Concessions to be let (price to get that concession right
included in article)
Dining hall, ice cream stand, fruit & confectionary, peanut & popcorn, soft
drinks, cigars, and check stand. Person who operates check stand will pay
for rent of tent and act as messenger on the grounds.
June 29, 1907 – Advance sale of tickets for $1.75 ends at midnight July 1.
Then price goes up to $2 for a season ticket. Souvenir programs available at
Henline’s. No more than 2 per family, children will not be interested, no
Buster Brown pictures. Concessions had all been awarded, except there were
no applications for dining hall. No complimentary or free tickets. Members
of the committee have to pay too. Tickets are nontransferable. [Two people
cannot share a season ticket.]
July 10, 1907 – Kearney Chautauqua management ased stores to close early,
5:30, so their clerks could attend the programs.
July 11, 1907 – Union Sunday School planned.
Children free is they enter the grounds before10 a.m. If a child leaves he
has to pay the regular 15¢ fee to get back in again. Meeting called of all
Sunday School superintendents in the city to coordinate plans.
Two cars of tents from Fremont were unloaded.
July 12, 1907 (Friday) – Domestic Science demonstrations on food preparation
to be given every day for a week at 10 a.m. under the direction of the
Nineteenth Century Club.
Union Sunday School to meet on July 14, 9 a.m.
July 13, 1907 – Baseball games every afternoon next week. With Grand Island
M,T,W and with Fremont Th, F, S. A diversion between the heavy talking and
July 15, 1907 – reminder that grocery stores would close at 7 and dry goods
stores at 5:30 during Chautauqua.
Arrivals & Departures column named many people in town for Chautauqua [each
1448 single adult tickets and 112 children’s tickets sold Sunday. Many
season tickets now being sold.
150 came by train from Calloway
July 18, 1907 – Thunder storm cancelled the Ralph Bingham program last night
[Each day the program of the past evening was reported on and the programs
of the current day up to press time.]
July 20, 1907 – Normal School students and a large group from Elm Creek
July 22, 1907 – Viewed as a success. Few Chautauquas pay expenses the first
year but Kearney’s did. Only one minor attraction failed to appear.
Intellectually stimulating. People discovered Kearney has a beautiful park
which could be expanded by making the Chautauqua permanent. Hub called for
an incorporated association and that it could be enlarged.
Local musical talent on last day, men’s quartet and Midway Military Band.
July 29, 1907 – Committee advertised for 100 people who would subscribe
$100-$500 each toward purchase of 8 acres on the west.
Aug. 15, 1907 – Articles of Incorporation were drawn up and signed by 23
businessmen in Kearney.'
Sept. 7, 1907 – Dream of extending Chautauqua park over Capitol Hill,
extensive landscaping with trees, flowers, walkways and a lake.
Oct. 23, 1907 – Stock to raise funds for purchase of 80 acres were now
available in amounts from $1 up and could be made payable in four
Mar. 4, 1908 – meeting called to begin planning for next Chautauqua
Mar. 7, 1908 – Move to incorporate, which had been interrupted due to a
financial panic last fall, was to move forward again. Next Chautauqua to
begin July 4. Program was nearly full.
Mar. 26, 1908 – Incorporation completed. Shares $1 each, $250 raised so far.
Apr. 25, 1908 – Dates for next Chautauqua are July 4-12. Daily program
published. Each evening to conclude with moving pictures. Different moving
pictures each night.
May 2, 1908 – Season tickets $2.00 adults, $1.00 children. Daily tickets 25¢
each except on July 4 when price will be 50¢ because of the heavy expense
for that day. Henline would again be in charge of rental and placement of
May 15, 1908 – In past years surrounding towns in the county have had
celebrations but Kearney has been relatively quiet. This year the Fourth of
July program will end with a “monster display of fireworks.”
May 16, 1908 – Listing of ticket and tent rental prices. Tents were 10x12,
12x14, & 12x19'
May 26, 1908 – Incorporation now finalized, election of new Board of
Directors held, officers and committee members chosen. Five committees –
Program, advertising, grounds, concessions, and tents. Additional
concessions – add lemonade to soft drinks, add a newspaper and post card
stand. $500 collection of fireworks.
June 9, 1908 – Program for July 4 beginning at 10 a.m. with parade including
fire equipment, then hose race to throw water, hook and ladder exhibition,
high dive, all kinds of races. Then at 2 p.m. to Chautauqua park. Grounds
open at 9 p.m. for free admission to fireworks.
July 10, 1908 – July 9 was designated “Kearney Day” (Stores had been asked
to close for the afternoon.) Tent was not big enough for the crowd to all
sit under. Hub estimate of 3500 people.
July 13, 1908 – A second successful Chautauqua has ended. Such was the
enthusiasm that $1000 worth of stock shares in the corp. were sold the last
July 25, 1908 – Final accounting showed expenses over income of about $400.
Association was still planning to purchase property to make a permanent
Chautauqua park north of the existing one but now they were planning on
buying 12-15 acres which would be fenced, planted to trees and grass and an
artificial lake at a cost of $5000. When more money was raised a permanent
pavilion could be built.
July 29, 1908 – Plans were underway for the 1909 session which would be held
Sept. 1, 1908 – S C Bassett suggested since the Chautauqua needed a park and
holds its session in June or July and since a county fair should be held in
the county seat, needs the same kind of facilities only with more buildings
to display its exhibits and holds its session in August, the two should
consider joining efforts .
Oct. 22, 1908 – Association called for payment of subscriptions so 14 acres
of land north and west of the park could be purchased at a cost of $2400.
Apr. 15, 1909 – Third annual meeting of the Chautauqua Association was held
and election of Board of Directors held. Over the winter they have purchased
three blocks just north of Third Ward Park and have options on a fourth
where the large tent has stood in the last two years. Intend to put a small
lake in the north end of the land. It was thought the city would be able to
help in the beautification of the area since the Chautauqua only two weeks
out of the year and the public can use it the rest of the time. Won’t be
able to afford to build the pavilion this year.
June 10, 1909 – City Council passed an ordinance closing 31st & 32nd St.
between 5th & 7th Ave. and 6th Ave between 33rd St. and the alley between
30th & 31st St. to form part of what is known as Kearney Chautauqua Park.
July 31, 1909 – Came out financially even despite some problems. Receipts
were lower but so were expenses. Kearney Day attendance was lower because
speaker, Sen. Morris Brown could not attend. Also the evening program had a
conflict with Glidden tourists who were in the city. Ringling Circus
performed on a Saturday afternoon, reducing attendance, and a storm that
evening cancelled the program altogether.
Aug. 6, 1909 – Chautauqua Association to meet that evening. There was
enthusiasm for building the lake on their property. A contractor would
report on estimated cost of dirt moving. Water would be piped from the east
end of Kearney Lake.
Nov. 16, 1909 – Next Chautauqua to be July 16-24.
Apr. 12, 1910 – Dunlap Begins Work of Parking the Chautauqua. This included
planting 500 trees around the grounds. [Not clear if that means around the
outer boundaries or scattered about the grounds]
June 23, 1910 – Time to lease tent space. Henline still in charge.
July 8, 1910 – “Improvement of Chautauqua park has gone forward as far as
the funds in hand would permit. Two rows of trees have been set out around
the entire tract…..”
Aug. 1, 1910 – Ended with a profit of almost $300. Talent was the largest
Sep 23, 1910 – Next Chautauqua to be July 15-23.
Apr. 19, 1911 – Annual meeting scheduled for Apr. 18 adjourned without
transacting any business due to lack of a quorum.
July 20, 1911 – Letter to editor from J. M. Easterling urging better
attendance at Chautauqua.
Aug. 2, 1911 – Came up $176 short.
July 22, 1912 – Number of campers spending the week has increased.
July. 22, 1912 – Not enough support for the amount of labor expended. Lack
of support is from that element which should be the most supportive. While
the program offered this year was the best ever, it is time to enlarge its
scope. Fine park circled with elm trees north of Third Ward park. The plans
t beautify with shrubbery, walks, an artificial lake and amphitheater would
encourage building of portable summer homes and use of tents. Rather than
talk of abandoning Chautauqua, we ought to move forward to make it greater.
July 29, 1912 – Chautauqua association and Commercial Club leaders met. The
result was the commercial Club planned to make a request of the City Council
that it revive its park plan.
Deficiency this year was $450 which the association board had
made arrangements to handle themselves but they would not do another year
without some assurance of support. They have 500 season tickets subscribed
and that many more would assure financial success. The Commercial Club voted
to sell $500 in stock to complete horticultural landscape plans including a
fairly large lake north of Third Ward park which could be used for skating
by children whose parents feared the depth of Kearney Lake. Plans currently
before the City Council were to make this park a sort of fairgrounds where
the county fair or fall festivals could be held.
Feb 28, 1913 – City Council passed ordinance to put a bond issue up for vote
for $40,000 for parks including purchasing a strip of land [location not
given] to enlarge Chautauqua park and make improvements including a large
auditorium and the fair association could build a track and such buildings
as they deemed necessary for holding fairs.
Apr. 2, 1913 – Park Bonds are Defeated. Lost by about 600 votes, getting
about 25% of votes cast. Hundreds heard to say it was a good idea but not at
the present time when an electric lighting issue was on the table for
May 7, 1914 – Chautauqua to be held at same place but later this year.
Aug. 25, 1917 – Over $900 profit
July 17, 1918 – Draft boys to be guess at first Chautauqua
July 1919 – Chautauqua held last week in July on high school grounds
June 19, 1920 – To be last week in July, probably not on high school grounds
like last year. Original Chautauqua grounds not favored.
July 1, 1920 – Proposed to go back at the Chautauqua grounds. Provide larger
number of tents. Tent life a strong social factor. Important part of Normal
School summer program being held last week of the session.
July 24, 1920 – Opening 3 p.m. July 25
Concert company from Chicago providing some of the music
The best in years - program for all eight days described
July 29, 1920 – One of the Chautauqua speakers agreed to give the
commencement address at the Normal School.
Friday, July 30, 1920 – Large crowd expected for Sunday afternoon and
evening performances. People were reminded that city ordinance prohibited
sale of tickets on Sunday so they should buy them ahead if time.
April 1, 1921 – Kearney Chautauqua Association voted 3-1 to not have a
Chautauqua this summer because the president, Morris, and treasurer, Henline,
planned to be out of town during the summer
The Association is out of debt and owns 11 acres of inside [inside the city
limits?] property [Location not given]
May 31, 1921 – Since there would not be a Chautauqua in Kearney this year,
the Elm Creek Chautauqua was expecting larger attendance. It was scheduled
for five days, June 5-9.
August 25, 1922 – for sale at auction, 30 lots between 2nd & 5th Ave, 32nd &
33rd St. facing Chautauqua Park by H. J. Hull Advertised Aug 17
Aug. 18, 1922 – Chautauqua in Calloway well attended
June 23, 1923 – Riverdale having a Chautauqua in July
July 7, 1923 – Kearney to have Chautauqua Aug. 20-25
Aug. 4, 1923 – Children will have a Junior Chautauqua where they will
organize themselves in Junior Town, elect mayor, commissioners and business
Aug. 13, 1923 – Chautauqua and fair to be held at the same time. Chautauqua
management did not inform themselves of fair dates until it was too late to
change bookings. Being operated independent of local organization having
acquired financial underwriting by a group of local citizens.
The fair includes three days of horse racing
August 17, 1923 – Local committee selling tickets and doing publicity. See
exhibits at fair between Chautauqua programs. New brown tent to be pitched
on the half block immediately east of St. James school. Company carries 1000
with each tent. Standard Chautauqua System
Aug. 21-22, 1923 – described the programs of the previous night and of the
coming ones, all with high praise.
Aug. 29, 1923 – “The Chautauqua was a financial failure this year and the
guarantors were held for practically the entire amount they had pledged, in
addition to the comparatively large number of tickets they had purchased.”
The programs were excellent but with other interests in the community,
attendance dropped off.
July 14, 1925 – Chautauqua to begin July 30. To include a Broadway hit play
July 17, 1925 – Last day of Chautauqua is Father and Sons Day.
July 18, 1925 – Redpath-Horner Circuit running Chautauqua. Advance men in
town. YWCA was in charge of ticket sales. They will get all the money not
guaranteed to Redpath-Hornor.
July 30, 1925 – being held “at the old Chautauqua grounds at the Third Ward
June 19, 1926 – Local Chautauqua Association announced the dates for this
year, July 30-Aug 5. City is on the Redpath-Horner Circuit.
July 16, 1926 – Association met and elected officers. Will be under the
Primer Circuit this year. Ticket sales same as last year. >A trained
supervisor will be in charge of the children’s work. Games, sports, stories,
and attractive features will be included under her direction.”
July 6, 1927 – Guarantors of Chautauqua to meet that evening. Important that
all 50 be there. Rumors that Chautauqua has been cancelled are not true.
July 7, 1927 – Fifteen guarantors showed up and elected officers. 50
guarantors had signed o back this year’s Chautauqua. Those in attendance
were enthusiastic about this year’s performances. They decided that any
profit would be donated to Harmon Field. Will be held Aug. 3-9. No
performances on Sunday.
July 27, 1927 – Chautauqua comes in the dead of summer. During the school
year there are lectures, dramas, and musical programs put on by the local
college and high school but there is nothing during the summer.
Aug. 1, 1927 – Streamers and banners were appearing advertising the upcoming
Tuesday, Aug. 2, 1927 – Chautauqua begins tomorrow “….The Chautauqua tent
will be pitched just north of Third Ward park as has been the custom
formerly. “ because of rin and cooler weather the school superintendent
agreed to allow the Wednesday afternoon and evening programs to be held in
the Junior High auditorium [Central Elem.]
August 4, 1927 – For the first time in 10 years the Chautauqua was expected
to go over the top financially. A guarantee of `1500 had to be raised. They
had $1300. Anything over would go to Harmon Field.
August 5, 1927 – A big union program was to be held on Sunday evening by the
Methodists and Baptists. They had met on the last two Sunday evenings first
at the Baptist church and then at the Presbyterian. Members of the
Presbyterian and Christian churches had also been attending.
August 13, 1927 – Chautauqua declared a success. They thought there would be
a small amount left over but4 with some expenses higher than expected they
broke even. But all were excited about next year. The list of guarantors was
published. Profit for Harmon Field expected next year.
Sept. 18, 1927 – Sum of Sixty-Two Cents is Cleared
Chautauqua Association Gives it to Harmon Field
Saturday, July 14, 1928 – The Chautauqua guarantors were to meet Monday
evening at the C of C rooms.
Aug. 18, 1928 – Officers were elected and committee chairs names. Voted to
hold it on lots north of Third ward park. Constitution and by-laws were
adopted. To work with Redpath-Horner again.
Aug. 31, 1929 – Article about Redpath Chautauqua which is now 16 years old.
Members traveled f\by bus or train. This year for the first time the
traveled by automobile on the deluxe circuit. Six cylinder Chevrolet sedans
hauling 40 members of the company from Florida to northern Wisconsin, from
April 1 into September, 140 towns, 7,000 miles
“Chautauqua” by Edna Luce, Buffalo Tales, Volume 10, No.7,
Redpath-Horner had the first Chautauquas in Nebraska and the states south
and west. For three years she and her sister traveled the circuit with their
uncle and learned much about how Chautauquas were handled.
The circuit managers booked the towns so that the talent could reach the
next town the next day, keeping seven Chautauquas going at all times. The
7-day Chautauquas required nine crews, each of which consisted of a Platform
manager, whose job was to see that the townspeople were happy and that
things were running on schedule, and most important to get the contract for
the next year. There were two boys assigned to each crew whose duties
included putting up and tearing down the big tents ... sacking the canvas
sections for shipment, taking tickets, and in general, keeping an eye on the
entire set-up. Living in a town for an entire week gave the crew special
attention from the townspeople. Picnics, ice cream freezes, watermelon
feeds, dinners, etc. In fact, they were royally entertained and made many
good friends over the whole circuit.
The peak year for tent Chautauqua was 1924 when 30 million Americans in
twelve thousand towns attended programs of political oratory, plays, musical
entertainment and lectures of the "hearth, home and heaven" variety. With
the coming of talking pictures, radios, more cars, air conditioning, and the
beginning of the depression of the 30's, the idea began to fall and it
finally died in 1932. There has never been anything like Chautauqua that has
affected the lives of so many people.
Records of the Redpath Chautauqua
ROBERT A. McCOWN
Circuit or "tent" Chautauqua had its beginnings in the lyceum movement,
which had started in Massachusetts as early as 1826, and in the Chautauqua
assemblies held at Lake Chautauqua, New York, beginning in 1874. The purpose
of the lyceum movement was self-improvement by lectures and discussions on
literary, scientific, and moral topics. Lyceums soon spread to all of the
New England states, New York, and eventually to the southern and western
states. After the Civil War, commercial lecture bureaus were founded, among
them the Redpath Lyceum Bureau of James C. Redpath in 1868. In the next ten
years such famous names as Susan B. Anthony, P. T. Barnum, Henry Ward
Beecher, James G. Blaine, Wilkie Collins, Mark Twain, and Ralph Waldo
Emerson were represented by the Redpath Bureau. Lyceums continued to exist
into the twentieth century, although by 1925 they were found for the most
part only in small towns, often in combination with musical programs….
Traveling to the Chautauqua Assembly in New York was not possible for
everyone who wanted to attend such a summer school. Consequently, assemblies
similar to the one at Lake Chautauqua appeared in various parts of the
United States and called themselves daughter Chautauquas or independent
Keith Vawter was the man who attempted a solution to this problem of the
independent assemblies, and in the process he invented tent or circuit
Chautauqua.  In the 1890's Vawter, a native Iowan, was working in a book
store in Des Moines. At the same time he aided Professor Edward Amherst Ott
of the speech department of Drake University in obtaining lecture talent for
the Des Moines Lyceum. Ott, himself, was quite a famous lecturer on the
subject of heredity versus environment. In 1901, Vawter purchased a
one-third interest in the Redpath Lyceum Bureau and became the Redpath agent
in Chicago for a few years until he moved his operations to Cedar Rapids. In
the summer of 1904, Vawter launched the first Chautauqua circuit. Vawter
proposed to group a number of towns with independent assemblies and some
other towns in a circuit (lecturers would move on a specified course from
town to town) and each town would have the same uniform program of talent.
In this way, the lecturers would work full time, open dates would be
eliminated, talent costs would be reduced by the use of long-time contracts,
and railroad trips would be shorter. Fifteen towns in Iowa and Nebraska
signed contracts for Vawter to provide talent for their Chautauquas in the
summer of 1904. Vawter's venture lost money, but he determined to try again
after improving the circuit idea.
In 1907 Vawter ran a circuit of thirty-three towns. According to the
contract, Vawter furnished all of the talent, tents, advertising, and work
crews, and the local citizens handled the advance sale of tickets. In the
following years, Vawter made improvements in his circuit system. In 1909 he
started the seven-day Chautauqua. A tent was set up in a new town on a
Monday morning, for example, and the Chautauqua was ready for business on
Monday afternoon. The last program was on Sunday, after which the tent was
taken down, put into a railroad baggage car and moved to another town. The
year 1910 saw the introduction of the final sophistication in program
arrangement. Each performer or group was assigned to a definite day on the
program and always performed in that sequence throughout the summer season.
Thus, first-day talent remained first-day talent all season long. The same
was true for second-day talent and so on for the seven groups of talent. The
tent remained in a town for a whole week under the direction of a
superintendent who had charge of all the programs in that town, but the
first-day talent moved at once to another town and opened another first day.
Eventually there were also five-day and three-day circuits, but these were
usually not Redpath circuits.
The basic business arrangement for Chautauqua involved the "contract" and a
system of "guarantors." Under this method a local Chautauqua committee
signed a contract pledging its cooperation in the sale of tickets for next
summer's Chautauqua and also guaranteeing payment in the event of a deficit.
Members of the committee were usually prominent businessmen of each
community. Thus, this committee was responsible for promoting season ticket
sales and thereby ensuring the success of the Chautauqua. If the committee
failed in its ticket sales, they would be the losers financially….
[This is exactly how it worked in Kearney in the 1920’s]
Charles F. Horner helped Keith Vawter organize the circuit Chautauqua
system. In 1912 Horner established in Kansas City the "Western Redpath
Chautauqua" or "Redpath-Horner." His territory was Missouri, Arkansas,
Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota.
Horner was notable for encouraging amateurs to enter Chautauqua work. He
even set up his own school, The Horner Institute of Fine Arts, to train
Children had their own special program called "junior Chautauqua." This
innovation to keep the children busy also came from the inventive mind of
Charles Homer. A "junior girl" took charge of the children for the seven
days that Chautauqua was in town. She told them stories; organized games,
parties, stunts, folk dances, and athletics; set up a "junior town
organization" with a mayor, town clerk, etc.; and finally directed a pageant
which was produced for admiring parents.
The program, of course, was what the Chautauqua was all about. "Talent"
included musicians, lecturers, humorists, actors, interpretive readers,
magicians, and others. Some of the talent worked the year around as
entertainers: lyceum in the winter and tent Chautauqua in the summer. For
others, such as authors, teachers, clergymen, and politicians, Chautauqua
provided a little extra salary in the summertime….
Many reasons have been suggested for the decline of Chautauqua. Perhaps one
of the main reasons for the end of the movement was the vast increase and
oversupply in the number of Chautauquas. Every small town had to have its
own Chautauqua for three days at least. As the number of Chautauquas
increased, the balance between education and entertainment on the program
shifted towards entertainment, and the quality decreased. A second reason
was that America was changing its image: the small town, the little red
schoolhouse, evangelistic Christianity, and William Jennings Bryan were
losing their grip. The isolation of the middle border was over and Americans
were introduced to rural free delivery, mail-order catalogues, hard-surface
roads, automobiles and trucks, rural electrification, the telephone, radio,
talking motion pictures, golf courses, and summer vacation trips. Keith
Vawter wrote to his fellow Chautauqua managers: "I still insist that the
radio did not materially affect lyceum and Chautauquas, but rather the
advent of Country Clubs and Dancing Mothers."  A third reason probably
was economic: the rural areas felt hard times in the 1920's and then after
1929 the Great Depression brought a final end to the circuits. Although an
independent assembly Chautauqua lasted at Mediapolis, Iowa, until 1944, the
final circuit folded its tents in 1932 and the splendor of tent Chautauqua
was over. …
See Charles F. Homer, Strike the Tents, The Story of Chautauqua
(Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1954).
Keith Vawter to C. A. Peffer, Louis J. Alber, et al., January 17, 1929,
Keith Vawter Papers.