Friday, April 24, 2009
Chautauqua began as a summer school for Sunday School teachers in Chautauqua, New York, in 1874. By the turn of the 20th century, Chautauqua had developed into a nationwide traveling educational and entertainment program. Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauqua "the most American thing in America."
Traveling Chautauquas in the late 1800s and early 1900s brought the world to rural communities across the nation, including those in Kansas and Nebraska. Chautauqua combined programs of political oratory and lectures about health science, and the humanities with entertainment such as opera singers and stage performances of Shakespeare.
Well-known speaker and politicians such as William McKinley, Rutherford B. Hays, William Howard Taft, and William Jennings Bryan toured the Chautauqua circuit. Audiences heard about national issues and discussed their views with their neighbors. For many rural Kansas and Nebraska towns, Chautauqua week was the most important week of the year.
The Kansas Humanities Council and Nebraska Humanities Council rekindled their states' Chautauqua traditions in 1984 with modern Chautauquas that use public forum and discussion to focus on a particular historical era. Rather than use contemporary speakers, the modern-day Chautauqua features history professionals portraying famous figures from the past.
In the spirit of the original traveling Chautauquas, the Kansas and Nebraska Humanities councils have brought their programs to rural and remote communities that may not have direct access to humanities or cultural centers.
The Plattsmouth Chautauqua, to be held on June 24-28 at Rhylander park, will explore "America in the Thirties" with President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Louisiana Gov. Huey Long; evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson; folklorist Zora Neale Hurston; and humorist Will Rogers.