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Reviewed by:
  • The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas
  • Millie Jackson
The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas. By James R. Schultz. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. xi, 185 pp. $29.95. ISBN 0-8262-1440-1.

James R. Schultz touches on the origins of the Chautauqua movement but concentrates on the development of the movement across the Midwest and into the Northeast during the beginning of the twentieth century. Schultz begins with the story of Keith Vawter, who purchased part of James Redpath's lecture and lyceum circuit in 1901. Based in Chicago, Vawter began the first traveling tent show on the Chautauqua circuit in 1904. His proposal to take the shows to the rural areas of America was new. The Chautauqua Institute in New York State was well established by the time Vawter and his caravans began their travels. The Redpath circuit moved through eight small towns in Iowa the first summer, providing education and entertainment. Schultz states, "America was striving for culture, and lyceum lectures became a popular medium for informing the public and generating discussion on the issues of the day" (1). The summer Chautauqua circuit offered the quality of lectures and entertainment to rural America that the lecture circuit offered to larger towns.

In The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas Schultz primarily provides anecdotes and photographs from the Chautauqua movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. The book presents the history of Chautauqua, but it focuses on the personal story of two brothers, Richie and Eben Schultz, who were born in Canton, Mississippi, and spent their young adult years working back and forth across the Midwest and East Coast in Chautauqua. The Schultz brothers are the author's father and uncle, and he draws from family memories and archives for much of his material. University archives and local historical societies provided many of the previously unpublished photographs and information. Schultz draws heavily from the collections at Allegheny College, where his father was a college professor, and the archives of the University of Iowa. The author's childhood stories and memories are also interwoven in the text.

While it is a rather informal study with little analysis regarding the meaning of the movement for the audiences, the book adds to the information available and provides a beginning point for further analysis. Well-known speakers such as Robert M. La Follette and Ida Tarbell are featured as well as the lesser-known workers of the circuit. Advertisements for shows and photos of tents and small towns capture the spirit of the movement. A chapter is devoted to the Junior Chautauqua programs, which "extended through the week and included a mix of education and entertainment that appealed to children" (131). This educational aspect featured supervised play and the production of pageants, which were performed as part of the Chautauqua program.

The management of the Chautauqua is also a topic of the book, since the Schultz brothers were both employed as managers. The reader does not learn what the qualifications were or gain much insight into how the circuit ran, however. Many of the circuit's workers were college-age students trying to make money to continue their studies. We do learn about the logistics of moving tents [End Page 191] and a large show from town to town during the summer months. Travel and accommodations were often difficult to arrange in the small towns. Local Chautauqua committees, which made arrangements and facilitated ticket sales, were crucial to the success of the shows.

There is value in the book. It introduces personal and oral histories of performers and management. This book belongs to those behind-the-scenes workers who toiled daily and whose stories have not been told. It is the first step in analyzing a movement that was important in the lives of small-town America during the early twentieth century. There is much to discover, and Schultz provides a starting point for others to examine and analyze the entertainment and educational value of the movement.

Millie Jackson
Grand Valley State University, Jonesborough, Tennessee


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pp. 191-192
Launched on MUSE
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